Total Recall

Total Recall: Steven Soderbergh's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Haywire director.

by | January 19, 2012 | Comments

Steven Soderbergh

With some directors, you pretty much always know what you’re going to get (paging Michael Bay to the red awesome button next to the white courtesy phone); with others, you can depend on certain stylistic sensibilities regardless of the genre they’re exploring (come on down, Danny Boyle!). And then there’s Steven Soderbergh: restless, eclectic, award-winning, and equally at home in the arthouse and the megaplex. With Haywire, Soderbergh is aiming squarely for the latter, but bringing his own unique style to the ever-popular action genre — and making this week’s Total Recall the perfect place to look back at some of his brightest critical highlights!


79%

10. Che: Part Two (Guerrilla)

A year after concluding the Ocean’s trilogy, Soderbergh turned his attention to a sprawling, nearly five-hour biopic of iconic revolutionary/unintentional t-shirt model Che Guevara. Originally spearheaded by Terrence Malick but abandoned when funding fell through, Che made waves on the festival circuit — where star Benicio del Toro won a Best Actor trophy at Cannes — but even split into two chapters, it had little more than niche appeal to mainstream American filmgoers. For those who dared brave its imposing length, however, critics promised an experience worth the investment. As Peter Bradshaw wrote for the Guardian, “Che Two is deeply impressive: austerely confident, coherent and mysterious.”


83%

9. Ocean’s Eleven

Glamour is a big part of what used to make going to the movies so much fun — and thanks to a variety of factors, not least the rising tide of paparazzi journalism, the wonderful spectacle of Hollywood’s brightest stars has lost a great deal of its wattage over the last decade and change. Soderbergh managed to turn back the clock a little with his 2001 remake of the minor 1960 Rat Pack classic, lining up a cast of heavyweights so impressive that even the most jaded filmgoers couldn’t help but give in to the spectacle. Critics were suitably dazzled, too, noting that the fun being had onscreen by George Clooney (as the titular Danny Ocean) and his luminous co-stars (including Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, and Julia Roberts) was too infectious to resist. Writing for the Philadelphia Weekly, Sean Burns applauded, “It’s a giant ice-cream cake of a movie that tickles the pleasure centers of your brain — restoring the good name of large-scale, old-fashioned Hollywood entertainment.”


85%

8. Erin Brockovich

Soderbergh earned a slew of Golden Globe and Academy Awards nominations — including Best Picture and Best Director nominations at the Oscars — for this fact-based courtroom drama about a legal file clerk (Julia Roberts) who discovered that a town’s public utility company was poisoning its water supply, and continued to pursue the case until justice was served. Roberts’ Brockovich performance cleaned up at the awards circuit, winning her Best Actress honors from SAG, BAFTA, the Golden Globes, and the Oscars — and the film was a hit with audiences as well as critics, earning more than $250 million at the box office while bringing praise from critics like Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune, who called it “One of the gutsiest, most exciting, and most satisfying courtroom docudramas ever, one that genuinely lifts the spirits as you watch it.”


85%

7. Contagion

Movies about virus epidemics are nothing new — who can forget Dustin Hoffman saving the world from a monkey virus in Outbreak? — but Soderbergh gave the genre a fresh, chilly twist with Contagion. Using an Altman-worthy assortment of famous faces, including Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, and Gwyneth Paltrow, Soderbergh depicted the deadly spread of the illness with what some critics felt was overly clinical precision, but as far as most writers were concerned, its lack of colorful melodrama was precisely the point. “The most terrifying aspect of Contagion, ultimately, is the plausibility of its premise,” wrote Jeanette Catsoulis for NPR. “Meticulous and low-key, the film reminds us that disaster lies in the most mundane interactions.”


91%

6. And Everything Is Going Fine

Spalding Gray was a singular talent, and after his mysterious death (ruled a suicide) in 2004, Soderbergh set about giving him a singular biopic. The result: 2010’s And Everything Is Going Fine, which uses judiciously edited performance footage to tell Gray’s story in his own words. Its theatrical run was mostly restricted to the festival circuit (including screenings at Slamdance and SXSW), but even if it wasn’t one of Soderbergh’s more commercial efforts, it gave the director a chance to show a rarely-seen side of his artistry. “This is not a standard bio-documentary,” wrote Misha Berson of the Seattle Times. “It is the artist giving us a guided tour of himself, through a mosaic of clips from his shows and TV interviews, craftily assembled by Soderbergh.”

92%

5. Traffic

One of the more darkly ambitious films to make its way through the studio system over the last decade, Soderbergh’s Traffic looks at the human cost of the drug trade by following seemingly unconnected stories that slowly converge. In Mexico, a police officer (Benicio del Toro) becomes the unwitting employee of a drug lord; in San Diego, a major dealer (Miguel Ferrer) is targeted by a pair of DEA agents (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman); and in the Midwest, a crusading judge (Michael Douglas) finds his black-and-white views on drugs challenged when his teenage daughter (Erika Christensen) develops a cocaine addiction. In condensing the six-part BBC series Traffik, Soderbergh had to trim some of the original’s heft, but Traffic was still a four-time Academy Award winner (including Best Director) as well as one of the best-reviewed films of the year, thanks to critics like Andrew Sarris of the New York Observer, who proclaimed, “The promise of Sex, Lies, and Videotape has been fulfilled.”


92%

4. The Limey

Soderbergh followed the critical and commercial triumph of Out of Sight with The Limey, a gritty neo-noir showcase for the talent of leading man Terence Stamp. Here, Stamp plays Wilson, a British ex-con hellbent on bloody revenge for the death of his daughter. Surrounded by an ace cast that included Peter Fonda, Lesley Ann Warren, and Luis Guzman, Stamp led The Limey to some of the year’s best reviews — including an enthusiastic endorsement from the San Francisco Chronicle’s Edward Guthmann, who called it “a first-rate crime thriller and further proof that director Stephen Soderbergh is one of our great contemporary film stylists.”


94%

3. Out of Sight

With his adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s bestselling novel, Soderbergh could have created just another heist flick, but Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney’s chemistry, along with Scott Frank’s razor-sharp screenplay, takes it to another level. As Sisco, Lopez gets to alternate between tough and vulnerable, all while being lovingly lit by Soderbergh and cinematographer Elliot Davis; meanwhile, Clooney’s screen presence fully evolves here from “moonlighting TV star” to “certified leading man.” As Radheyan Simonpillai noted in his review for AskMen.com, “Soderbergh finds the perfect equilibrium between mainstream entertainment and arty panache, lacing this heist movie/romantic comedy with character-motivated time shifting, prominent freeze-frames, a funky soundtrack and an all-around hip vibe.”


91%

2. King of the Hill

After the relative disappointment of 1991’s Kafka, Soderbergh bounced back (critically speaking, anyway) with his next picture, 1993’s King of the Hill. With a script Soderbergh adapted from A.E. Hotchner’s memoir, Hill tells the tale of a Depression-era teenager (played by Jesse Bradford) who whiles his time in a fleabag St. Louis hotel while his father works the road as a traveling salesman and his mother is treated for tuberculosis. Not the cheeriest stuff, and hardly blockbuster material, but it impressed most of the critics who saw it — including James Berardinelli of ReelViews, who called it “a remarkable odyssey about a resilient young hero who uses both his imagination and his sense of reality to survive.”


96%

1. sex, lies, and videotape

The DNA of the 1990s indie film boom can be traced back directly to Soderbergh’s debut, which took a deceptively simple premise — four people talking about their relationships — and turned it into a Palme d’Or winner that essentially made Miramax a viable studio. Viewed through modern eyes, it may not seem like much more than a series of well-acted conversations, but at the time, sex, lies, and videotape was a breath of fresh air that Hollywood desperately needed — and, as the New York Times’ Caryn James put it, “a film whose enormous authority and intelligence extend to every detail.”


In case you were wondering, here are Soderbergh’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Traffic — 81%

2. Schizopolis — 79%

3. King of the Hill — 77%

4. Ocean’s Eleven — 76%

5. Erin Brockovich — 76%

6. Che: Part One (The Argentine) — 75%

7. The Limey — 75%

8. Ocean’s Thirteen — 74%

9. sex, lies, and videotape — 73%

10. Kafka — 73%


Take a look through Soderbergh’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Haywire.

 

Tag Cloud

Fantasy Lifetime Christmas movies hist ABC Family wonder woman Legendary DC Comics Exclusive Video Geeked Week USA Network series travel historical drama emmy awards ghosts BAFTA elevated horror Song of Ice and Fire Sundance TV Black Mirror boxing video on demand spider-verse AMC IFC Films Pop TV Polls and Games Awards Tour monster movies Musicals mutant thriller Mary Tyler Moore hidden camera Character Guide RT History SXSW 2022 award winner PaleyFest renewed TV shows Nominations Anna Paquin Star Wars Celebration worst Comics on TV Set visit cancelled breaking bad free movies posters PlayStation Lucasfilm MGM Cartoon Network Winter TV spain politics technology San Diego Comic-Con foreign Chernobyl Comedy Central rotten movies we love harry potter GLAAD The Walking Dead APB TV One criterion screen actors guild satire scene in color series Fall TV toronto Warner Bros. CBS All Access Hallmark transformers kids Martial Arts E3 Brie Larson anime spanish language Universal Pictures basketball sports marvel cinematic universe Star Wars TBS Vudu CBS Comedy facebook werewolf stand-up comedy legend Superheroes Starz HBO Go movies deadpool spider-man international australia Turner VH1 Instagram Live doctor who dceu dark TCA Winter 2020 docuseries The Academy HFPA Family Cosplay game show universal monsters Disney streaming service The Witch HBO Max TV RT21 olympics mission: impossible Marathons sopranos 2018 73rd Emmy Awards hispanic heritage month Mary Poppins Returns hollywood asian-american Focus Features 1990s 2017 Biopics TV renewals mob Reality Competition Image Comics new star wars movies TIFF rom-coms Heroines Interview superman PBS Classic Film MCU summer TV a nightmare on elm street miniseries razzies El Rey Indigenous golden globe awards telelvision Toys Best and Worst The Walt Disney Company football DirecTV dogs Spectrum Originals OneApp obituary Mystery TCA Awards 45 twilight Tokyo Olympics Horror BBC America crossover Calendar television Emmy Nominations leaderboard target YouTube Red Thanksgiving venice Television Critics Association ratings supernatural robots king arthur ESPN MSNBC prank Fox News docudrama tv talk crime drama toy story Food Network cooking strong female leads summer preview casting true crime Film Festival french Pride Month revenge Dark Horse Comics Kids & Family psychological thriller Opinion fresh Disney serial killer nature Epix Cannes heist movie 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards USA nbcuniversal Universal Apple TV Plus Arrowverse Music Discovery Channel streaming black action-comedy TLC Native medical drama Esquire lord of the rings documentaries unscripted Ovation stop motion aliens TV movies FX on Hulu comics Tubi American Society of Cinematographers Disney Channel Pacific Islander Sundance New York Comic Con Hallmark Christmas movies Sci-Fi Winners new zealand Masterpiece Chilling Adventures of Sabrina films jurassic park adenture Apple TV+ Adult Swim indiana jones genre Animation japan 24 frames scorecard 72 Emmy Awards sequels 4/20 james bond 2019 Countdown live event HBO laika Election book Amazon Prime Crunchyroll CW Seed Women's History Month Extras comiccon The Purge singing competition Film japanese TV Land aapi game of thrones joker YouTube Premium Paramount 90s documentary reboot latino children's TV science fiction Valentine's Day The Arrangement Red Carpet Grammys Holidays Holiday pirates of the caribbean Wes Anderson Academy Awards spinoff biopic Stephen King YouTube See It Skip It 21st Century Fox Marvel Studios scene in color film series BBC LGBTQ Paramount Network broadcast indie SDCC Amazon Studios talk show Captain marvel jamie lee curtis parents Disney+ Disney Plus vampires quibi canceled TV shows SXSW 93rd Oscars 94th Oscars romantic comedy Ghostbusters stoner WGN concert Spring TV Black History Month festival royal family Tarantino BET VOD Walt Disney Pictures Watching Series zombies dc Best Actor dexter Trivia BBC One dragons slashers Mindy Kaling Acorn TV natural history Box Office Rocketman President ViacomCBS ABC Signature Infographic 2020 teaser blaxploitation Best Actress sequel FOX ID Superheroe Podcast streaming movies kaiju cancelled TV shows trophy comic books Trailer spy thriller 2015 The CW X-Men worst movies social media Video Games VICE Comic Book TCA 2017 what to watch History Peacock halloween tv DC Universe green book Showtime south america franchise dreamworks italian GIFs NBC biography cops interviews WarnerMedia rt labs critics edition 2016 TruTV richard e. Grant animated Sundance Now disaster Rocky obi wan live action Netflix marvel comics CMT streamig fast and furious psycho cats new york GoT 007 rotten scary Musical E! Elton John Fox Searchlight ITV Awards Prime Video First Look rt archives screenings Sony mockumentary Netflix Christmas movies mcc crime thriller composers 20th Century Fox feel good Britbox 2021 child's play Best Director 99% TNT Binge Guide video Trophy Talk slasher Action Fargo Shudder Country IFC scene in color Oscars DGA Sneak Peek Teen sitcom scary movies Freeform Mudbound batman 71st Emmy Awards nfl Tumblr MTV Comic-Con@Home 2021 king kong Marvel Television FXX NYCC NBA ABC Travel Channel debate period drama Summer sag awards TCM Pirates First Reviews comic book movie all-time golden globes comic book movies Lifetime Television Academy critic resources Baby Yoda Endgame news LGBT vs. art house FX versus Mary poppins popular adaptation high school based on movie blockbusters Columbia Pictures summer TV preview CNN Hollywood Foreign Press Association Emmys Crackle target scene in color Pop movie South by Southwest Film Festival superhero Super Bowl Tomatazos zombie police drama Lionsgate rt labs Drama zero dark thirty trailers Amazon Prime Video Logo Pet Sematary Sony Pictures Reality independent boxoffice saw black comedy theme song classics kong Spike Funimation OWN Photos Schedule cancelled television diversity women discovery SundanceTV Bravo Neflix Broadway halloween Best Picture justice league Avengers Nickelodeon chucky Oscar dramedy canceled Syfy Tags: Comedy binge adventure A&E spanish YA witnail Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Alien National Geographic IMDb TV Year in Review 79th Golden Globes Awards DC streaming service Apple Hear Us Out Paramount Pictures Rom-Com Marvel Quiz comic hispanic Writers Guild of America TCA Star Trek Ellie Kemper crime know your critic cancelled TV series gangster best Premiere Dates cinemax Turner Classic Movies Christmas anthology space cars directors Shondaland suspense book adaptation critics archives christmas movies finale Creative Arts Emmys AMC Plus cartoon Hulu young adult A24 Western die hard Disney Plus romance Nat Geo Pixar Rock cults Certified Fresh reviews blockbuster BET Awards Paramount Plus comedies name the review political drama festivals remakes godzilla war Amazon