An Oscar winner, and one of the finest purveyors of Hollywood blockbuster fare, director Curtis Hanson passed away yesterday at the age of 71.
Few stories of high school dropouts take on the trajectory that Hanson’s did, with the filmmaker first getting behind the camera as a photographer, moving into writing, and in 1973, directing his debut feature film, “Sweet Kill.” His first string of pictures through the ’70s and ’80s were mostly genre efforts ranging from horror to family fare (“The Little Dragons“) to comedy (“Losin’ It” starring a young Tom Cruise), but in the 1990s, Hanson hit the creative and commercial sweet spot.
1992’s “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle” and 1994’s “The River Wild” found Hanson taking on the kind of pulpy material he favored until then, but elevating it into box office hits that began to make people take notice of his storytelling talents. But those pictures merely set the stage for what would arguably be his career peak with “L.A. Confidential.” The steamy noir, based on the book by James Ellroy, is one of the best the genre has ever seen, and found Hanson in the Oscar mix for the first time. The film earned nine nominations including Best Picture, and won two: one for Best Actress, with Hanson taking home the other for Best Adapted Screenplay.
And while “L.A. Confidential” might have been the summit, it was followed by two very strong pictures in 2000’s “Wonder Boys” (nominated for three Oscars, winning Best Original Song) and the hip hop saga “8 Mile.” The latter saw Hanson rolling the dice on rapper Eminem in the lead role of his own life story, which paid off in a huge way, with the rousing drama earning plenty at the multiplex and once again finding Hanson at the Academy Awards where the movie won Best Original Song. The final film from the director was 2012’s “Chasing Mavericks,” where he shared a credit with Michael Apted, who finished filming while Hanson recovered from heart surgery.
A filmmaker who moved easily between styles, and earned plenty of respect from everyone he worked with, Hanson will be missed.