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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

In Memoriam: Tony Scott

Written by Kirk Baird

Tony Scott may have been Hollywood’s most successful director who wasn’t a brand name.

His 16 films combined to earn nearly $1.1 billion at the box office, and he helped pioneer a fast-paced editing technique that’s de rigueur in modern action cinema. Yet he was often derided by critics for that same style and worked in the shadow of more accomplished older brother Ridley.

Scott died Sunday at the age 68 after jumping from the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Los Angeles. An unnamed source told ABC News that the British-born filmmaker had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.

He is survived by his wife Donna and two children.

Scott’s foray into filmmaking began while lensing commercials for his brother’s advertising agency in the 1970s. He made the leap to feature films in 1983 with the vampire tale The Hunger starring Susan Sarandon, Catherin Deneuve, and David Bowie. The film failed to attract large audiences, but Scott’s fortunes would change — literally — with his second film, Top Gun, in 1986, a box-office smash that turned Tom Cruise into a superstar and created such catchphrases as “I have the need, the need for speed.”

Top Gun was Scott’s first action film and showcased the kinetic style that would become his hallmark and influence a younger generation of action directors, perhaps most notably Michael Bay.

Scott teamed with Cruise again on Days of Thunder, and was in the planning stages of a Top Gun sequel. He also directed Denzel Washington five times in Crimson Tide, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Deja Vu, Man on Fire, and Unstoppable, his final film behind the camera.

Other films included Beverly Hills Cop II, True Romance, and Enemy of the State.

Along with Ridley and their production company, Scott also produced a number of projects, including 2008’s The Andromeda Strain TV miniseries, 2010’s big-screen adaption of the TV series A-Team, the acclaimed CBS series The Good Wife, and this summer’s Prometheus, which his brother also directed.

Unlike the work of many of his peers, a Scott film was consistent in its qualities: top-notch production values, a cast of big-name actors clearly enjoying their time on the set and in front of the camera, polished action sequences, and the sound cranked up to theatre-rattling decibels.

Those characteristics helped define his work and made him a popular favorite among audiences, even if many moviegoers didn’t know his name — or perhaps confused him for Ridley.

Scott wasn’t a great director — certainly not by the critical acclaim and trophies by which filmmakers are judged. But he was good at what he did — at times very good. And that should be good enough.

Five Scott films to check out:

Top Gun: The Tom Cruise aerial adventure that helped define modern action movies.

Crimson Tide: A terrific thriller anchored by ferocious face-offs between a nuclear submarine captain played by Gene Hackman and his mutinous first officer played by Denzel Washington.

True Romance: Quentin Tarantino wrote this quirky and violent tale of two lovers on the lam from the mob.

Man on Fire: Washington plays a burnt-out ex-CIA operative-turned vengeful bodyguard.

Unstoppable: Washington and Chris Pine team up to stop a runaway locomotive loaded with dangerous cargo in this film inspired by a true story.

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