Steven Soderbergh

Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney in Out of Sight (1998)

Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney in Out of Sight (1998)

  • Born:  1963
  • Rank:  39
  • Score:  609.90
  • Awards:  Oscar / NYFC / LAFC / 2 NSFC / NBR / CFC / BFCA
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars / 2 DGA / 2 Golden Globes / 2 BAFTA’s / BFCA
  • Feature Films:  19
  • Best:  Traffic
  • Worst:  Kafka

Top 5 Feature Films:

  1. Traffic – 2000
  2. Out of Sight – 1998
  3. Solaris – 2002
  4. sex, lies and videotape – 1989
  5. The Good German – 2006

Top 10 Best Director Finishes (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 1998 – 2nd – Out of Sight
  • 2000 – 2nd – Traffic
  • 2002 – 10th – Solaris

Steven Soderbergh burst onto the scene as a 26 year old writer-director, winning the Cannes Film Festival with sex, lies and videotape.  Nine years later, Soderbergh burst onto the scene again, winning the NSFC for Best Picture and Director, now reborn as a director who does most of his own editing and cinematography but who rarely writes.

The rebirth was necessary.  After sex, Soderbergh got lost in the fray, making the dreadful Kafka and then being forgotten about.  He made a very good film in 1993 (King of the Hill) that was completely ignored.  He followed that up with another terrible film (The Underneath) before making Schizopolis, a very good film that was completely without commercial possibilities.  His career was stranded at 34.  Then he made the best choice of his career; he teamed with George Clooney and together they made Out of Sight, the sexiest film of 1998 (and quite possibly ever).  He followed that up with the critical hit, The Limey and in 2000 became the first person in 62 years to get double nominations for Best Director at the Oscars.  He had an amazing year, both critically and commercially and Traffic and Erin Brockovich had completed the resurrection of his career.  The next year he made the first Ocean’s film with Clooney and the money they brought in allowed them to work on more daring projects.  Soderbergh has balanced his commercial films with more challenging projects that have included films made on digital, films released on DVD the same day as in theaters, a film of a conversation with an ex-porn star and a two-part epic about Che Guevera.  He has also made two more Ocean films as well as two films with Clooney that while excellent, did not find much commercial appeal.  Outside of directing, he has continued to partner with Clooney, executive producing Clooney’s first two directorial efforts as well as both films which landed Clooney Oscar nominations (Syriana and Michael Clayton).  Given their artistic collaborations outside of actor/director, they have become the most important combo in film in the last decade and show no signs of slowing down.

Out of Sight – #1 film of 1998

George Clooney needed to make a successful film.  He had left E.R. to focus on his movie career and made two decent films and one film that was so bad on both a commercial and critical level that it destroyed a blockbuster franchise.  He found himself teamed with Steven Soderbergh who had been an Oscar nominee at age 27, but whose own career was in terrible shape.  Their film, Out of Sight, was not a big success.  It made $37 million on a $48 million budget.

But commercial success was only one part of the puzzle.  Critics praised Soderbergh and his career was suddenly back on track.  They realized that Clooney could, in fact, act and truly carry a movie.  At the end of the year, the National Society of Film Critics gave it Best Picture and Best Director.  The WGA gave it Best Adapted Screenplay.  It was nominated for two Oscars; for its brilliant screenplay and its amazing complex editing.

This was the start of something amazing.  We’re 11 years down the line.  Clooney has now starred in 6 Soderbergh films.  Soderbergh has produced 4 films with Clooney.  They are both now Academy Award winners.  And it all began with this one film that they both needed.  The same film that Entertainment Weekly calls the sexiest film ever made.

And they just might be right.  Of course, Clooney wasn’t the only star.  There was also Jennifer Lopez, who has never come close to being as good or as sexy as she s as Karen Sisco in this film.  There is the great performance by Dennis Farina, in a more nice guy role then he has ever played as Karen’s father.  There are subtle nods towards Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, also a critical but not commercial hit adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel, released just 8 months before, with the casting of Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson.  There are the great supporting players of Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Steve Zahn and Albert Brooks.

There is the story, but is it really necessary to recap the story?  The film doesn’t quite give us the story in order anyway.  The film is about the moments, especially the moments in the lives of Jack Foley, the thief who breaks out of prison, and Karen Sisco, the U.S. Marshall who happens upon him.  Those moments include the time in the trunk and the wave and then the shared thoughts of both of them as they want to see more of each other.  The screenplay and the editing (both of which not only deserved their Oscar nominations but should have won) show how their lives cycle  back on each other and they keep coming back to those moments.  And the film is so elliptical for a reason.  As we see these moments unfold, we learn more about these two characters.  And of course, these two characters learn more about each other as well.  And we come to love them and they come to love each other.  And it is those moments which make this film such a treasure.