Curtis Hanson, a gifted director whose devotion to cinema knew no bounds and who enjoyed a nearly 30-year run of potency from ’78’s The Silent Partner (Hanson’s superb script was directed by Daryl Duke) to ’05’s In Her Shoes, was found dead today. He was 71. The poor guy had been out of the game for the last four-plus years due to Alzheimer’s disease, but he was one of the near-greats and a first-rate human being — brilliant, warm-hearted, a good listener, perceptive.
I knew Curtis somewhat, especially during his hot-streak run between the early ’90s and mid-aughts, and he was always friendly and, when questions arose, as candid as the situation allowed. Hanson came to one of my Hot-Shot Movies classes in September ’97 to screen L.A. Confidential and field questions. I remember saying to the crowd that Confidential was a brilliant translation of a dense and sprawling James Ellroy novel, and was like a beautifully assembled Swiss watch, every shot, line and scene contributing smartly to the whole and fitting together just so.
Confidential was Hanson’s best film — nobody will dispute that. But he also directed (and forgive me for repeating myself) the under-rated Losin’ It (Tom Cruise and his teenage pals getting into trouble in Tijuana), The Bedroom Window (’87), Bad Influence (’90), The Hand That Rocks The Cradle (’92), The River Wild (’94), Wonder Boys (’00 — a great stoner flick), 8 Mile (’02) and In Her Shoes. Ten serious winners.
My favorite Hanson story happened at a holiday party at Robert Towne‘s home in mid-November of 1997. Towne had hired three professional singers to roam around his large Pacific Palisades abode and sing Christmas carols in perfect harmony, all dressed in Dickensian garb such as top hats, shawls, bonnets, gloves and hoop skirts. Towne’s home smelled of cinnamon, turkey, cigar smoke, turkey gravy, stuffing, egg nog…glorious.
Hanson was there; ditto Jerry Bruckheimer. Everyone was buzzing about L.A. Confidential and what seemed like an excellent chance of it winning the Best Picture Oscar. And then director Phillip Noyce told Hanson he’d just seen Titanic. “It really works,” Noyce said, and I think on some level (and I felt badly about this) Hanson sensed an inkling of what was to come. The dashing of his dream. And if he didn’t sense it, I sure did.