Sydney Pollack, the director and producer who won a pair of Oscars for Out of Africa, died Monday at his home, of cancer. One of Hollywood's premier directors of the eighties — in addition to Africa, he helmed Tootsie and Absence of Malice in the first half of the decade — Pollack's impact on film for the past twenty years has been as a sometime actor (playing benevolent or, in the case of Michael Clayton, malevolent grandfatherly figures) and as a prolific producer with excellent taste. Often in conjunction with Scott Rudin or Anthony Minghella, Pollack helped develop dozens of terrific, intelligent movies, shepherding films as diverse as The Talented Mister Ripley, Sense and Sensibility, Iris, Searching for Bobby Fischer, and Michael Clayton to theaters.
Pollack had been ill for some time, and indeed just Sunday Recount, a film he was originally slated to direct, premiered on HBO; Pollack was listed as an executive producer on the acclaimed project but had to bow out of directing the movie, replaced by Jay Roach. That the movie still maintained Pollack's spiky intelligence is testament to how closely his influence was felt in his projects, seemingly even as his illness advanced. Forthcoming from Pollack are Minghella's pilot for The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret, and the adaptation of Bernard Schlink's novel The Reader.