At the age 68 Tony Scott, one of our best summer movie filmmakers, committed suicide. At the time of this writing it isn’t known what led him to the decision to take his own life. He’s a loss to his family and friends, and a loss to the world in the form of the future work that could have been. He most commonly existed in a class of filmmaker along with Michael Bay and Roland Emerich but different than them because his films weren’t dumb. Scott could execute a slick action packed summer blockbuster that didn’t insult your intelligence. He had his share of misses but when he was on, he made some true action and thriller classics.
Here is my top five list of his best works. A list like this are extremely subjective. One of my picks, Man on Fire, is below 40% on Rotten Tomatoes. Some will complain that there are some absences in this list, most notably Top Gun. As much fun as that film is it just doesn’t stand the test of time the way other films from the director do. Also, this is only a list from films he has directed. Scott has produced many other fantastic films but for this list I just wanted to focus on the films he truly had his hands on. They aren’t in the list but Enemy of the State and Spy Game are two films that were almost there. They are great films that hold up; the ones on the list just slightly edge these two out. Scott was a filmmaker that made his bones in music videos, an area that’s almost completely dead these days. Of the filmmakers that came from that area he is one of the few that truly had talent outside of just the visual. He knew how to work with actors and get their best performances. Even in his worst movies the acting was always top notch. He was a rare breed and will be dearly missed by anyone who truly loves film.
1. True Romance
In a lot of ways this film is the perfect cross of indie writing and slick production and directing. The script was written by Quinton Tarantino. Tarantino would most likely have approached this story with his trademark 70’s motif. So it’s actually fresh to see a grindhouse story with Tarantino’s catchy dialogue in tow brought to us so clean and bright. The mix makes for Scott’s most unique film and one of Tarantino’s best too. Scott seemed to attempt to return to this combo with Domino but that film just didn’t work. True Romance stars Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette as two lovers on the run from well, just about everyone. Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken share one of the most iconic moments ever put on film in this movie.
2. The Last Boy Scout
Bruce Willis had perfected the super cop by accident in Die Hard by the time this film came along in 1991. Scott took the whole thing to the next level by making Willis’ character nearly completely unlikable. Willis’ character was in truth a depressed and beaten man with only his daughter as a ray of hope. This film also gave Damon Wayans a chance to shine that he didn’t take advantage of in subsequent acting decisions. The Last Boy Scout is a summer action-fest with heart. Look for a young Danielle Harris in a fun role as Willis’ daughter.
3. Man on Fire
Man on Fire is a film that was critically panned back in 2004 but movie goers loved the visceral retro action feel to the movie. It’s a simple but surprisingly vicious story for a Scott big budget action flick. Denzel Washington plays a jaded ex-mercenary doing guard duty for a little girl. When he fails at his job and the girl is taken and presumed dead he returns to his killer roots to discover the truth and exact a little revenge. The film is well acted and gorgeous to look at. It features the coolest riff on subtitles ever, an approach still being ripped off in new films.
4. Beverly Hills Cop II
Martin Brest directed the first Beverly Hills Cop film in 1984 and its success warranted taking everything up a notch for the sequel. So Tony Scott was brought in to execute the film and it was a brilliant move because the film he crafted was a step above its predecessor in virtually every way. Scott’s deft hand with action and Eddie Murphy’s unstoppable charisma and rough edged comedy chops made this film a classic of the 80’s. Along with bringing back Judge Reinhold from the previous film Brigitte Nielsen was introduced as a leggy hard to forget villain. The balance of action and comedy was near perfection in this film back in 1987. Yes it was once ok to do an R rated action movie.
5. Crimson Tide
Crimson Tide pitted Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington against each other as officers on a submarine that has received partial orders to launch nuclear weapons. Scott is out of his normal “space” with this film because he can’t get those gorgeous wider shots he had become known for up to the point of this film. Nearly the entire film takes place in a claustrophobic submarine and it sits heavily on the shoulders of the two leads and they carry the story admirably. The film is suspenseful, thought provoking, and action packed.