Curtis Hanson, the Oscar-winning filmmaker behind L.A. Confidential and 8 Mile, passed away yesterday at the age of 71. He died of natural causes. According to Variety, he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.
After dropping out of high school, Hanson became a photographer and a film journalist. He later broke into filmmaking in the early ’70s, but it wasn’t until 1992 that he became a force to be reckoned with. That year, he surprised critics and audiences with The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. Hanson’s hit psychological thriller knocked Steven Spielberg’s Hook from the top spot at the box office and stayed at there for four weeks.
But the director’s most revered movie came in 1997 when he directed L.A. Confidential, the Oscar-winning neo-noir crime film he co-wrote with Brian Helgeland. The film has one of the best casts assembled in the late ’90s: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, James Cromwell, David Strathairn, and Danny DeVito. This loose adaptation of James Ellroy’s novel is credited with launching the Hollywood careers of its leading men, Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe. The Academy nominated L.A. Confidential for nine Oscars. Basinger took home one, Hanson and Helgeland took the other.
Then, in 2002, Hanson gave us 8 Mile. Loosely based on the life of rapper and star Eminem, the film was a massive hit. It also won an Oscar for Best Original Song, to no one’s surprise. Set in Detroit, the film uses rap battles like boxing matches and revels in the same blue-collar aesthetic as Rocky. The film was an utter triumph, winning over critics and raking in over $240 million at the box office.
Hanson wasn’t quite one of our heavyweight directors, but he came close. He was a damn good screenwriter, too. He could hit hard, and floated effortlessly from genre to genre. Curtis Hanson will be celebrated, and will be sorely missed.