My five favorite Curtis Hanson films

Curtis Hanson was one of the most respected filmmakers of his generation. The 1998 Oscar winner for Best Adapted Screenplay for L.A. Confidential passed away yesterday. I present my five favorite movies from his varied filmography.

Bad Influence – 1990 (Director)

In this thriller, James Spader plays a yuppie who meets a mysterious stranger (Rob Lowe) who encourages him to explore his darker side. The film’s villain is loosely based on a real person, a nomadic surfer who befriended executive producer Morrie Eisenman. On a creepy, yet probably highly effective, note, Lowe researched his part by watching hours of footage of serial killer Ted Bundy. We’ve all heard the phrase, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Anyone associated with the film probably hoped the cliché was very true as Rob Lowe’s infamous sex tape was released around the same time as the film’s release. In his autobiography, Lowe describes Tom Brokaw leading the evening news with the Rob Lowe sex tapes and following that item with news about Tiananmen square.

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle – 1992 (Director)

The tale follows a vengeful nanny, Peyton (Rebecca De Mornay), out to destroy a naive woman, Claire (Annabella Sciorra), and steal her family. Originally, De Mornay initially auditioned for the role of Claire Bartel and Sciorra auditioned for the role of Peyton Flanders. De Mornay actively campaigned for a role in this film after actively campaigning for the role of Tinkerbell in Hook. In an ironic twist of fate, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle opened at #1 on January 10th, knocking Hook from the top spot it had held for four weeks. Though she was a Daytime Emmy winner, this was the second big screen role, and first hit, for Julianne Moore. Celebrity film critic, Gene Siskel panned the film, but praised Moore’s performance, foreshadowing her eventual critical acclaim.

The River Wild – 1994 (Director)

This action film is about a family (Meryl Streep, David Strathairn, Joseph Mazzello) on a whitewater rafting trip who encounter two violent criminals (Kevin Bacon, John C. Reilly) in the wilderness. Though Streep was already a celebrity by then, having earned a Tony nomination, one of her two Emmys and two of her three Oscars, this was the first time audiences saw Streep as an action heroine. Though it’s not as much of a big deal now, action heroines weren’t near as common then as they are now. Hanson would would work Strathairn again on his next project, L.A. Confidential.

L.A. Confidential – 1997 (Director, Producer, Writer)

Based on the James Ellroy novel, the film tells the story of a group of LAPD officers in 1953 and the intersection of police corruption and Hollywood celebrity. The title refers to the 1950s scandal magazine Confidential, portrayed in the film as Hush-Hush. Many of the events in the movie were based upon real events. These include the Bloody Christmas scene where drunken police officers brutally beat up Hispanic prisoners suspected of beating up two uniformed cops (the real-life cops involved were named Trojanowski and Brownson. In the film, they’re referred to as Helenowski and Brown); the plot line of real-life gangster Mickey Cohen’s arrest touching off a gang war for control of the rackets; the LAPD Goon Squad which would kidnap out-of-town gangsters, beat them up and threaten to kill them if they ever tried to come back to set up their operations; Lana Turner dating gangster Johnny Stompanato (although this movie is set in 1953, and the real Turner and Stompanato didn’t start dating until 1957). The murders of Tony Broncanto and Tony Trombino also occurred in real life, the main difference being they were shot from behind by LA mobster Jimmy Fratianno, instead of machine gunned from outside.

Too Big to Fail – 2011 (Director)

This indictment of the government and financial sectors would sadly be Hanson’s last finished project. The HBO film chronicled the 2008 financial meltdown and was based on Andrew Ross Sorkin’s non-fiction book, Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System—and Themselves. The title refers to the fact that 10 financial institutions held 77% of all U.S. banking assets and have been declared too big to fail, an ironic fact since they almost did until the government bailout. Too Big to Fail received ten Emmy nominations including a directing nod for Hanson.

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