9 Down, 1 to Go: Steven Soderbergh for Traffic

STEVEN SODERBERGH FOR TRAFFIC (2000)

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The competition (Cliff: 5 for 5!)

Stephen Daldry for Billy Elliot

Ang Lee for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Ridley Scott for Gladiator

Steven Soderbergh for Erin Brockovich

NOTE: dark blue text denotes individuals who won Oscars for the film being discussed, while light bluee indicates those who were nominated.

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This must unfortunately be a capsule review, as I’m flat out of time to head off to Westwood for the conclusion of my Best Director Quest.  But apart from the elusive Drag and the swiftly approaching Short Cuts, the film viewing is done!

Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic shows off the director’s famously versatile talent, breathing rich meaning into every frame of even slightly subpar material.  Stephen Gaghan‘s screenplay has some strengths but some considerable weaknesses, including the incredibly contrived Michael Douglas storyline that seems like it’s trying to cram too much political discourse into one perspective.  I have it on good information that Simon Moore’s teleplay for the original British miniseries is the superior work, and I look forward to catching up with it sometime soon.  But Soderbergh intelligently uses a prodigious expertise with editing (thanks to Stephen Mirrione‘s colossal efforts keeping everything straight) and cinematography (finding nuance in the at-first obvious visual schemes for the separate storylines) to probe the heart of each character’s experience.  I was a particular fan of Catherine Zeta-Jones’ rudely awakened drug lord wife and Benicio Del Toro‘s Oscar-winning turn as the morally beleaguered Mexico undercover agent.

 

THE VOTE

Despite Soderbergh’s estimable work on both this and the intriguing Erin Brockovich, and the interesting range of choices offered by Ridley Scott’s spectacular Gladiator, Stephen Daldry’s charming Billy Elliot, I have to hand this one to Ang Lee for his opulent period drama Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon–perhaps not the finest wuxia film ever made, but certainly the most simultaneously sweeping and subtle.

And now, off to see Short Cuts!  If you’re in the neighborhood and can make it over in the next ten minutes, drop by!

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