Sydney Pollack was easily one of the most important people in Hollywood in his day. When you see the amount of great films that he had his fingerprints on, it is mind-boggling. Let's begin with his work as a filmmaker: in 1969, he directed the Academy Award nominated film They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. The film was applauded for it's wonderful cast (Gig Young won Best Supporting Actor), but it's demonstration of Depression Era desperation and self-deprecation makes it one of the single most haunting films of it's era.
In the 70's, Pollack directed both the dreary western Jeramiah Johnson, and the romance classic The Way We Were. Both films starred Robert Redford, whom Pollack would cast once again in 1975's Three Days At The Condor, a political thriller. In 1981, Pollack helmed another romantic film with Absence of Malice starring Paul Newman (in an Oscar-nominated performance) against Sally Field.
In 1982, Pollack directed what was probably his most popular film, Tootsie. Starring Dustin Hoffman as an actor who pretends to be a woman in order to get work, the film also marked another landmark in Pollack's career: it was the first film in which he appeared as an actor in close to twenty years (starring as Hoffman's agent). The film itself was a huge hit both critically and financially, and picked up ten Oscar nominations, and won one of them for Jessica Lange's Supporting Actress performance. To this day, Tootsie is still considered one of the greatest comedies in movie history.
In 1985, Pollack than directed Out of Africa, starring Meryl Streep and Pollack main-stay Robert Redford. The film won Pollack his first and only Academy Award for Best Director. The film also won six other Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film cemented Pollack's status as a Hollywood hard-hitter, but his films afterward would not be as memorable. Pollack, though, would put his stamp on film in other ways, as an actor and a producer.
After Tootsie, Pollack became an accomplished actor, with memorable performances in such films as Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives and Robert Altman's The Player. Later, he would become the go-to actor for playing characters of supreme authority. He would show this within his performances in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut and Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton. As a producer, Pollack worked on other memorable films such as Sense and Sensibility, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Cold Mountain, and the before mentioned Michael Clayton (for which he was nominated for his sixth and final Academy Award).
It's hard to say in which role Pollack had more of an impact on Hollywood. He has directed some legendary pictures, he has had some great performances, and his influence has allowed many smaller pictures get up off the ground. It's safe to say that his mere presence had the biggest impact. There are few people on this planet who command the respect of such men as George Clooney, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Redford. Pollack was one of those men. He was a living legend, even if nobody knew it, and Hollywood will be a much different place without him.
"With the responsibility of making motion pictures, comes the responsibility of making them good."