Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Thank You, Curtis Hanson

"Now this was an elegant, beautiful picture."  That high praise for L.A. CONFIDENTIAL came from master director and screenwriter Billy Wilder.  Curtis Hanson was the director and co-screenwriter of that 1997 screen classic.  I feel it's a screen classic, a must-see crime thriller based on a best-selling novel.  It's the film that put Russell Crowe on Hollywood's A-list.
I remember the day I saw it at a preview screening in the Warner Brothers screening room in Manhattan.  I was a regular on Fox5's GOOD DAY NEW YORK, a popular weekday morning news program that allowed me to do entertainment features.  I'd was scheduled to interview Kim Basinger.  I'd wanted to see the film mainly because of Russell Crowe as Officer Bud White.
In the early 90s, I had a highly enjoyable part time job as a clerk in an independent video rental store in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood.  It was called Video Blitz.  Films are my passion so that job didn't really feel like work, especially since I was a member of the kind of work staff that would've inspired a hit sitcom like CHEERS.  A bunch of misfits who were a fine fit together in that workplace.  As an employee, I could rent movies for free and I took full advantage of that opportunity.  I'd rented some Australian films and a young actor named Russell Crowe really caught my attention with his acting chops and versatility.  He could be tender and shy like he was as the gay athlete taking care of his widower dad and hoping to find romance in THE SUM OF US (1994).  He could be terrifying as the Asian-hating skinhead racist in ROMPER STOMPER (1992), a film that I believe influenced 1998's AMERICAN HISTORY X starring Edward Norton.  ROMPER STOMPER deservedly earned Russell Crowe Australian equivalent to the Best Actor Oscar.
I wanted to see how Australian film star Crowe would fare as a brutish member of the 1950s Los Angeles Police Department on the case of a complicated Christmastime mass murder mystery with a Hollywood connection.
I was outdoors for all my live segments on one edition of GOOD DAY NEW YORK. A book fair was underway on Fifth Avenue.  One writer was eager to be on camera and promote his work.  As well he should have been.  The writer was James Ellroy, the man who wrote that book that was adapted for the big screen.  But he did not help write the L.A. CONFIDENTIAL screenplay.  I asked him about that on camera.  Ellroy was so pleased with the film, so happy with the adaptation of his book that it made me even more excited about seeing the film.

I got the invite to a preview screening.

Wow.  I got that moviegoer tingle in the first 20 minutes...that tingle that tells you "This could be something superior."  And it was.  I paid to see Curtis Hanson's L.A. CONFIDENTIAL more than once when it opened nationwide.  I've rented it several times for home viewing.

The biggest mystery about that L.A. crime story is how Kim Basinger was the only member of the cast to get an Oscar nomination.  The movie made Russell Crowe a major player in Hollywood's eyes.  Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito and James Cromwell were in peak performance under Curtis Hanson's direction.  They did remarkable work.  So did Hanson.  I am not disrespecting Kim Basinger.  She did a fine job as the unhappy hooker in Hollywood.  But did The Academy not see the other performances in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL?

I totally agree with what the late, great Billy Wilder said about the movie.  L.A. CONFIDENTIAL is one of the finest Hollywood films of the 1990s.  Curtis Hanson died this week at age 71.  He's another artist who leaves great work behind for us to savor again and again.  He did other good films (WONDER BOYS, 8 MILE, THE RIVER WILD).  L.A. CONFIDENTIAL is my favorite.  Man, how I love that crime thriller.  It's like a big, beautiful juicy California orange -- with worms in it.  Yeah, baby.  Thank you, Mr. Hanson.

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