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From now until the Friday before the Oscars we'll be running daily pieces about why a film does or does not deserve Best Picture. Here is Mack with his argument for David O. Russell's American Hustle!
I left my showing of American Hustle with a smile on my face and a healthy appreciation for what I’d just seen. I knew, without a doubt, it would go on my yearly Top 10 Movies list. The where was the only question. I initially assumed it would end up about seventh or eighth, but when I sat down to actually make the list, it kept getting bumped up and bumped up until it was my single highest rated movie of the year.
To explain why, I need to talk a little about James Bond.
A year and a half ago, I sat down alongside my very understanding wife and watched every single Bond movie in the generally accepted canon. I took notes on great moments, great villains and cheeky dialogue, and I took others on bizarre plot developments, awkward musical choices and poor pacing. Then, I wrote the name of every film on its own post-it note and went to town arranging and re-arranging on a poster board. In the end, I picked Goldfinger as my favorite. A few other films had better villains. A few others had more iconic moments and still more had better visual effects, but in the end, there’s no single film that rates as high in every single category as Goldfinger. It’s an eight or better across the board, and that’s exactly how I feel about American Hustle.
Led by Academy Award nominees Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle doesn’t contain any of the showiest performances of the year (see Dallas Buyers Club and Blue Jasmine), but its average starting value across the board is incredible. It’s boasts the type of depth the SAG Best Ensemble category is made for, and it’s not forced to hide any weak spots at all. Even the supporting parts like Louis CK and Jeremy Renner are top notch.
Similar praise could be heaped upon the screenplay as well. It somehow finds the time to explain (reasonably well) a complicated political corruption scheme and to provide a wealth of backstory for four principal characters, plus a fifth who comes outfitted with a wife who’s a few strokes more interesting than your average Hollywood wife. It also makes brilliant and hysterical usage of a story it intentionally doesn’t finish and is smart enough to openly admit it takes liberties with the source material, something many recent films haven’t done.
And how about directing? David O Russell is so confident with his camera and so willing to be patient. Sometimes he slows the action down enough to let characters wallow in a single moment to prove a larger point and to offer a window into their personalities. Other times, he lets music completely take over the scene, knowing the basic emotion and the general gist of what’s going on is far more important than the intricacies of the dialogue, no matter how beautiful it might look on the page.
Some people choose a Best Picture winner because it takes one or two elements and absolutely, positively crushes them in a way audience members haven’t seen before. American Hustle doesn’t do that. It might not even be the best at anything. If you’re the type of person who takes the overall quality of everything and meshes it together to honor the greatest overall experience of the year, however, then American Hustle has to be your choice. The cinematography is great. The costuming is great. The pacing, the subject matter and the character development are all great. It’s a consistent high five all the way across the board, and if that counts, it should walk away with Best Picture.