Well, I don't think you'll be hearing this too many times in the obituaries and reminiscences that are going to be out and about in the wake of his tragic suicide, but I think I'd compare him most to Martin Scorcese. Yes, Martin Scorcese.
Because I think the experience of going to the movies isn't just about if a movie is good or bad but about the memories it creates. There are directors who don't create memories at all, I can't rouse myself to like or dislike a Betty Thomas film, let's say, Beverly Hillbillies wasn't good but I don't dwell on it. But at both his best and at his worst, Tony Scott created great memories.
There's Top Gun, which I'm now watching on Blu Ray. It was made 20 years before Blu Ray and yet if you're wondering if it's worth upgrading from a regular DVD, Top Gun could be the test reel. It wasn't the first movie I saw at the Loews Astor Plaza, but it was the first I saw after I started working in New York City, a few months before I moved to NYC, the first movie when the Astor Plaza was my hometown theatre. Like the best Tony Scott, it's got great special effects and lively music and an OD of testosterone. Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman, Christian Slater, Will Smith -- Tony Scott always loved his leading men. Many of the actors he worked with including Cruise, Denzel and Hackman, found the Tony Scott experience one worth repeating.
And there's the needless remake ot The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 which was memorably bad.
Scorcese has Goodfellas and The Age of Innocence, Tony Scott had Top Gun and The Taking of Pelham, and I'll give Tony Scott an advantage here because the bad Tony Scott films were never as excruciatingly dull and miserable to sit through as The Age of Innocence or The Last Temptation of Christ.
When I was in college, I saw a Scorcese movie I really really liked called After Hours, which I've never seen again.
That too has an almost analog in True Romance, which I saw in 1993 and didn't revisit for 18 years. It held up. I don't think I can call it a masterpiece, but it's full of charm and romance and spunk, it's fun. When I went to see Oliver Stone's Savages several weeks ago, with more recent memories of True Romance fresh in my mind, I sat through the movie thinking "wow, this is probably the best and funnest violent drug movie since True Romance." And the interesting thing was that the person I was seeing the movie with was thinking that exact same thing.
And then Tony Scott could come up with Man on Fire, a thoroughly entertaining and entirely reprehensible movie which tells us that all that is wrong in the world can be taken care of with a little bit of maiming and torture. Well, I did loathe and detest Man on Fire on multiple levels, but I'm never going to forget it.
There's the quintessential Tony Scott, movies like Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State that maybe aren't particularly memorable or particularly worth a repeat viewing but which were well done examples of everything Tony Scott could do well.
And when you have things that you can do well, you can sometimes make a movie that surpasses simply by being the best of all of your best qualities. I'd put Unstoppable in that category. It's just so unstoppably good at all of the good things it is. There's Denzel, again, no longer the young guy with a gleam in his eye but being oh so Denzel and sharing the stage with Chris Pine, who is everything the Tony Scott leading man could be. You can't help but think if Tony Scott were with us, probably someday he'd be back working with Chris Pine again. The special effects were quietly good, Tony Scott wasn't a Peter Jackson who can get lost in the joys of fake special effects. This is a train going down train tracks looking to make a real tight curve in a real midwest city. You can feel it rumbling down the tracks way more than you can feel anything that was going on in King Kong. Like a train slowly gaining speed, Unstoppable just chugs along and chugs along and then comes up with about as good a last 40 minutes as you can find in film, 40 minutes that won't have you looking at your watch or squirming in your seat or doing anything other than looking rapt at the screen until the final moment of release.
So ultimately, what I can say about Tony Scott is, that it would sure have been nice to have seen another Tony Scott film come along. I don't know if it would have been Top Gun or Man on Fire, but there's a darned good chance it would have created some kind of cinematic memory for me.
I mean, every time that Top Gun theme starts playing, Howard Faltermeyer's bah-da-da-da-dum da-da-dum da-da-dum, I've got to look up at the TV and see what it's underscoring, and there's Tom Cruise beautifully lit and radiating the same kind of charisma that we'd get every single time from every single leading man in every single Tony Scott film being what movies and movie stars are all about.
As one Marvin Hamlisch song says "nobody does it better."