Once again we lose a fine film-maker who learnt his chops in Roger Corman's University of Economical Exploitation. It's true. Curtis Hanson, who won a screenwriting Oscar for "L.A. Confidential" and directed the psychological thriller "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" and Eminem's tale of Detroit hip-hop "8 Mile," has died. He was 71.
According to reports, paramedics responded to a call about an unconscious man and Hanson was pronounced dead at the scene. A cause of death has yet to be confirmed, though a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department said Hanson died of "natural causes."
A tweet from the Academy on Wednesday read, "Thank you Curtis Hanson for all that you've given us. You'll be missed." (topic “#ripcurtishanson" at Twitter)
Hanson was born in Reno, Nevada on March 24, 1945. He got his start in Hollywood as a screenwriter, penning scripts for low-budget thrillers and horror movies. He spent time on the Board of Governors for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and served on the executive board for the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.
His first credit arrived in 1970 when he co-wrote an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's classic weird tale The Dunwich Horror for American International Pictures, making him one of many successful filmmakers to have gotten their start in the low-budget world of producer Roger Corman. He made his directorial debut with the 1972 thriller Sweet Kill before writing the scripts for the 1978 thriller The Silent Partner (starring Christopher Plummer and Elliot Gould) and Samuel Fuller's provocative 1982 drama White Dog.
Although Hanson directed several films during the '80s (including the Tom Cruise sex comedy Losin' It), he truly came into his own in the early '90s with a string of successful thrillers. 1990's Bad Influence, a thriller headlined by Rob Lowe and James Spader, led to 1992's The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, which was a box office hit that struck enough of a cultural nerve to inspire its fair share of cliches and parodies. His 1994 thriller, The River Wild, saw him directing Meryl Streep, Kevin Bacon, David Strathairn and John C. Reilly, the kind of ensemble that would soon become the norm in a Hanson production.
In 1997, Hanson produced, co-wrote, and directed the adaptation of James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential and the resulting film has stood the test of time as one of the best movies of the '90s and one of the great neo-noirs. Despite being largely overshadowed by Titanic during awards season, the film ultimately won two Oscars: Best Supporting Actress for Kim Basinger and Best Adapted Screenplay for Hanson and Brian Helgeland. The film is especially noteworthy for taking a chance on two largely unknown actors in the two lead roles – L.A. Confidential is the incredible "before and after" pivot for Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce.
Hanson followed that masterpiece with another. 2000's Wonder Boys is one of the best movies ever made about writing, with Michael Douglas and Tobey Maguire turning in two of the best performances of their careers. In 2002, Hanson was tasked with building a movie around Marshall "Eminem" Mathers and 8 Mile wasn't just a hit – it was a legitimately fantastic movie about the American dream in the crumbling heart of Detroit (and its theme song, "Lose Yourself," would become the unlikely recipient of an Oscar).
Hanson continued to direct throughout the rest of the '00s, helming the poker drama Lucky You, the well-liked comedic drama In Her Shoes, and the HBO original movie Too Big to Fail. His final credit as a director was 2012's Chasing Mavericks.
Curtis Hanson may not be a household name, but he was a unique and consistent filmmaker whose filmography is littered with gems both beloved and under-appreciated. He left a definitive mark on Hollywood and will be missed.
"Great director. Great man. Riding that river with him was one of the greatest gigs of my life." - Kevin Bacon, Streep's villainous co-star in "The River Wild.".
In Her Shoes
More filmography can be found here.
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