While still in his 20s, Steven Soderbergh wrote this screenplay, and made his feature directorial debut, quickly and cheaply, but with an impressive level of artistry. Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)—sometimes, for some reason, written out all in lowercase—won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and when it opened in theaters (fairly close to Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing) it contributed to a general and growing excitement over independent film, and the bright future it promised. Nowadays, the 1980s look of the film is impossible to ignore, and it doesn’t feel as timeless as it once might have.
Regardless, the brilliant, bold screenplay focuses on four characters. Ann (Andie MacDowell) is more worried about garbage than sex with her husband, John (Peter Gallagher). John, on the other hand, is sleeping with Ann’s sexy sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). An old friend of John’s, Graham (James Spader), comes to town, wearing black shirts and carrying an outsider air. Graham and Ann strike up a friendship, and he admits that he likes to videotape women talking about their sexual fantasies, and that he can only get off by watching the tapes. This leads to a rather stunning turnaround. Soderbergh impressively balances the ensemble cast, and stages, lights, and shoots like a pro. His screenplay received an Oscar nomination (as did Lee’s), but both lost to Dead Poets Society.