Here’s an unpopular opinion: The best film trilogy of the 2000s wasn’t “The Lord of the Rings.” It was Steven Soderbergh’s star-studded heist trifecta. Here’s another: The finest of those was the silly middle entry — the one that was clearly a paid European vacation for celebrities who didn’t need them, where you can tell everyone involved was more interested in goofing around than telling a story. Thing is, no one has ever goofed around quite like this. Soderbergh has rarely been more formally playful, the cast never loopier. And yet buried in all the loud colors, screen-filling title cards and weirdo ad-libbing lies Catherine Zeta-Jones’ finest screen work. As a dogged Interpol agent, she’s steely, vulnerable, thrilling. Or maybe it’s just that her hair looks better in a bob than as a flowing mane.
Here’s another nutso hot take: The infamous third of the Christopher Reeve “Superman”s doesn’t suck — sometimes. We’d never defend all of it, and it’s a precursor for the bloat that would come to dominate our current superhero apocalypse. It also has three great, great set pieces. There’s the slapstick opener, which jettisons the traditional bombastic outer space titles for Rube Goldbergian sight gags, courtesy one of comedy’s finest directors, Richard Lester (“A Hard Day’s Night”). There’s the stretch where our caped crusader turns into a Johnnie Walker-guzzling psycho, culminating in the brutal Evil Supes-vs.-Clark Kent smackdown. And then, of course, there’s the surreal image of jazz singer Annie Ross turning into a robot. Skip to the best bits and you’ve got 15 minutes of comic book movie bliss.
‘To Be or Not to Be’
Tough times, they say, make for great art. And since we appear to be heading into another grim era, hopefully some comedy genius will gift us with a laugh riot as hilarious and biting as Ernst Lubitsch’s 1942 romp, which was set in good ol’ Nazi-occupied Warsaw — and made, mind you, while war was in full swing. Carole Lombard and Jack Benny play Shakespearean actors who decide to infiltrate the local German unit, the latter by posing as a concentration camp honcho. The famous “Lubitsch touch” was never applied to edgier material, and yet he still managed to wring yuks from front-page horrors. What the film did 75 years ago can be seen on “SNL” today: They help us laugh at our considerable pain.