Wednesday, January 1, 2014

American Hustle

David O. Russell is my favorite director of the 21st century. As you can imagine, after this pronouncement, my expectations were way up in the clouds before I went to see his newest film American Hustle this afternoon.

What I love about Russell's role as director is that he's doesn't go about his job in the obvious Hollywood way. He's not known for making your token mob movies, romantic comedies, bombs and blasts thrillers or historic period pieces. He's created his own brand that can't really be defined in "business" terms.

His latest three movies centered around a boxer, a bipolar mending his life and a couple of con artists. Or were they about a junkie, a dance contest and government corruption? There's no clear way to say.

The reason David O. Russell can't be pinned to a genre is because he transcends the term.His movie-making style, rather than be plot-driven, comes from his hallmark brilliance in creating fully fleshed out characters as his theme instead. Characters that live and breathe. Stories touched with familial conflict and complex love stories that are never nice, neat or fairy tale driven. Often raw, always believable and very real.

He makes dramas, but with large enough doses of comedy to make them watchable. And, rewatchable. And, then purchasable when that time comes. Rewatchable dramas are really hard to come by, if you think about it.

Important stories can be beautifully cinematic, but not always enjoyable. I didn't buy Lincoln on DVD, even though it was on my top five list of last years releases. But, I've watched Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter more times than I can count.

I guess maybe that is Russell's very special genre. Watchable drama. He knows that stories that are real or gritty or hard or full of pain, shouldn't be deprived of lightness and humor. LIFE is real and gritty and hard and full of pain, but who has never laughed? I'm glad someone in charge of our entertainment has come to realize this.

So did Hustle meet the D.O.R. standard? Pfft... yeah!

Once again, he's chosen from his favorite returning team players, adding a few fresh faces into the mix to keep the ball rolling. His dream team of modern talent:

AMY ADAMSBack in the saddle with Russell after her amazing turn in The Fighter. Brilliantly playing the female lead con, Sydney/Edith... whoever she is. Her most enigmatic role to date. She's been nominated before, she's come awfully close, but with this performance she's practically demanding her Oscar already!

BRADLEY COOPERBack from his Silver Linings Playbook nomination, Cooper plays FBI agent Richie DiMaso in an equally intriguing and hilarious performance. (And with a better perm than I've ever had!) I was never sure if I was rooting for him or against the entire film, but I was certainly glad to be in the audience. ( and I'll say it again, "No more Hangover movies!")

JEREMY RENNER I am a HUGE Jeremy Renner fan. I've always thought of him as being one of the most overlooked and underused talents in today's cinema world. So, I was ecstatic to see that Russell added him to his cast list. (Meaning there's a great chance of seeing him in future David O. Russell projects.) Looking adorable in his pompadour (making me think he should do only period pieces from here on out), Renner delivered a career-standout performance as New Jersey Mayor Polito. Heartfelt, slick, tender and charismatic. I'm rooting for him at the SAG Awards, disappointed in the oversight for a Golden Globe and crossing my fingers for a surprise Oscar nomination.

JENNIFER LAWRENCE Back with Russell after her Oscar Win for Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence delivers once again as expected. Nutty, heartbreaking and hilarious all at once, she can expect to be busy once again this award season. (And, seeing that her role as Rosayln was a supporting one, we can root for both her and Adams this year and not feel the need to choose a favorite between the two.)

CHRISTIAN BALETeaming with Russell for a second time after his winning role in The Fighter, what more can be said about the talent that is Christian Bale? Always magnificent, never duplicated. He is easily the most dependably amazing and diverse performers of the modern era. Unrecognizable, once again. A busy award season should be his expected M.O. for the season (and, for the remainder of his career.)

I'm not going to give you a plot review or any hints about twists and turns. With film-making like this, no such reviews are necessary. If you want to see a great director turn out amazing performances from his beyond stellar cast, go see American Hustle.
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