Hollywood is short a talented, sometimes brilliant director today, as Curtis Hanson has passed away at the age of 71. Hanson, director of films like The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, The River Wild, Too Big To Fail, 8 Mile, and-his masterpiece-LA Confidential,won only one Oscar in his career (for the screenplay to LA Confidential). Confidential is one of the top five films made in the 1990’s and it’s a shame that it went up against Titanic Fever at the Oscars, but many have discovered the noir classic at home and in the near 20 years since its release, it’s cast has developed into an ensemble of legends. Hanson was nothing if not willing to take on varied subject matter and prove himself adept at any genre he attempted. In recent years, Hanson has been suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, had not made a film since 2012. He will be greatly missed by all who love film and appreciate talent behind the lens. Variety’s obituary is below.
Variety is reporting that acclaimed filmmaker Curtis Hanson has passed away at the age of 71. The director is best known for a run of hits that included The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, The River Wild, L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys and 8 Mile, and sharing an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay with Brian Helgeland for L.A. Confidential in 1998. Hanson died of natural causes — possibly due to complications from Alzheimers — at his home in the Hollywood Hills.
Hanson cut his teeth on low-budget horror, first as a screenwriter on AIP’s 1970 Lovecraft adaptation The Dunwich Horror and then as director on the Roger Corman-produced sexploitation thriller Sweet Kill. He co-wrote Sam Fuller’s controversial racial drama White Dog, as well as another dog-themed movie, Carrol Ballard’s Never Cry Wolf. He directed Tom Cruise in his first major lead role in the sex comedy Losin’ It (also featuring a young Jackie Earle Haley, Shelly Long and future-director John Stockwell), as well as the Steve Guttenberg vehicle The Bedroom Window.
Hanson continued the thriller trend with the Rob Lowe/James Spader starrer Bad Influence, but he finally hit it big with The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, a psycho nanny movie starring Rebecca De Mornay that proved to be a sleeper hit. He cast Meryl Streep against type as an action lead in the thriller The River Wild opposite Kevin Bacon, which also succeeded at the box office. Using his newfound clout, he chose to adapt James Ellroy’s period noir L.A. Confidential, which gave starmaking turns to Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe and won Kim Basinger an Oscar.
Eager to prove his versatility, his next project was the comedy Wonder Boys, which cast Michael Douglas as a pot-addled professor/struggling novelist and co-starred Robert Downey Jr. and Tobey Maguire. Though not a box office success, the movie was praised by critics as an overlooked gem and even prompted an awards season re-release by Paramount which resulted in three Oscar nominations including a win for Best Original Song for Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed.” He followed this with his biggest success, Eminem’s semi-autobiographical drama 8 Mile, which grossed over $242 million at the worldwide box office and garnered the rapper a Best Original Song Oscar for “Lose Yourself.”
Hanson’s career slowed down a bit after 8 Mile, with a brief acting role in Spike Jonze’s Adaptation and a moderate success with the Cameron Diaz/Shirley MacLaine rom-com In Her Shoes. The critical and box office misfire Lucky You (starring Drew Barrymore and Eric Bana) proved a setback, though he bounced back with the made-for-HBO financial drama Too Big to Fail. His final film, the Gerard Butler surfing drama Chasing Mavericks, was marred when Hanson took ill as a result of a recent heart surgery, with British director Michael Apted stepping in to finish the picture.
To paraphrase one of the great quotes in L.A. Confidential, Curtis Hanson took a wrecking ball to convention with one of the most diverse and prestigious bodies of work of his generation. He also bucked the idea of the “hot young director” by building the most successful chapter of his career while in his ’50s. His choices were eclectic without making him a journeyman, and he was a true actor’s director.
Here are several industry tributes to Curtis Hanson since the news of his death:
“Curtis Hanson believed in me and our crazy idea to make a rap battle movie set in Detroit. He basically made me into an actor for 8 Mile. I’m lucky I got to know him,” Eminem said in a statement.