The Essential Films of Curtis Hanson

On September 20th filmmaker Curtis Hanson died at the age of 71. While social media was buzzing about the end of Brangelina, the loss of Hanson went largely unnoticed. Film fans however will definitely notice his absence. Hanson was a high school dropout who started working for Cinema Magazine. His first screenwriting credit came in 1970. It took three years for his directorial debut with the the B-Movie Sweet Kill. It wasn't until two decades later when Hanson truly found his footing and began making the movies that would be his legacy. These are the movies that define his career.

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992)

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle

What could have easily been a disaster with a plot so contrived and melodramatic that it should have been a Lifetime movie. The Hand that Rocks the Cradle tactfully managed to escape the made-for-TV mentality. Hanson’s directing gives the film a certain urgency to emphasize the thriller aspect of the story. Rebecca De Mornay's psychotic nanny is top-notch at makes the film mesmerizing and a perfect movie for a lazy rainy Sunday afternoon.

The River Wild (1994)

The early nineties seemed to define Hanson as the director of thrillers. First with The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and then then with the release of The River Wild. The River Wild follows a couple (Meryl Streep, David Strathairn) who take their children on a river rafting trip only to realize that the two drifters that are on the raft with them are insane criminals. Kevin Bacon plays one of the escaped convicts and Meryl Streep is just as delightful to watch in this silly action thriller. As she is in everything else, of course.

L.A. Confidential (1997)

L.A. Confidential

After devouring six novels by James Ellroy, Hanson decided to adapt his L.A. Confidential to the big screen. The film about corrupt cops in Los Angeles who uncover a murder mystery is a beautiful film noir with its 1950s time period and glossy cinematography. Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce find chemistry by infusing their charm and innate acting abilities. Kim Basinger plays our mysterious lady as she sashays in and out of the film as the surrogate Veronica Lake. L.A. Confidential was nominated for a handful of Academy Awards and earned Hanson his only win for best adapted screenplay.

Wonder Boys (2000)

While L.A Confidential may be the best Curtis Hanson film in which he served as writer and director, Wonder Boys is hard to beat for a Hanson film overall. Michael Douglas is at his absolute best as a college professor and novelist who can’t seem to finish his massive manuscript. Robert Downey Jr., Tobey Maguire, and Frances Mcdormand are all phenomenal in this eloquent and funny film based on Michael Chabon’s novel.

8 Mile (2002)

8 Mile Quad Poster

The 2003 film showed audiences a thinly veiled characterization of Eminem. The drama was a surprising turn for Hanson. But what was more surprising was that the film was legitimately good. 8 Mile follows the story of an aspiring rapper living in Detroit. Besides building a career, the protagonist had to deal with his trailer park mom while working to raise his little sister. Hanson impressively pulled a quality debut performance from Marshall Mathers, a strong point in the rappers acting career. The film was able to delve into the underground rap world in a sharp and entertaining way.

In Her Shoes (2005)

Curtis Hanson took on this romantic comedy/drama that was written by chick lit author Jennifer Wiener. No small task, but he turned it into a film anyone could enjoy. The film featured a strong script by Susannah Grant. Piggy backing the screenplay, Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette showcased strong performances as the wild sister and the responsible one, respectively. In Her Shoes ended up being a sweet film about the importance of the sisterly bond.