REVIEW: American Hustle

Christian Bale;Jeremy Renner;Bradley Cooper

American Hustle
Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: Eric Singer & David O. Russell
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence

Two cartoonishly ’70s-looking men stand in an art gallery gazing at a Rembrandt painting, or at least what one of them thinks is a Rembrandt painting.  The other guy, a con man played by Christian Bale, explains with his thick Brooklyn accent that it’s a fake.

“The guy who made this was so good, that it’s real to everybody.  Now, who’s the master: the painter or the forger?” he asks.

It’s as if director David O. Russell is speaking through Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) at this moment, pondering the question a little too sincerely.  American Hustle, his sleek and contagiously energetic latest endeavor, is also somewhat of a forgery. It’s being released nationwide the week before The Wolf of Wall Street, and I’m curious to see which one is more widely praised, the original Scorsese or this loving knockoff.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Silver Linings Playbook

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Silver Linings Playbook
Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: David O. Russell (screenplay), Matthew Quick (novel)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver

Silver Linings Playbook ends on the thrillingly odd culmination of a dance competition and an NFL football game, the result of a high stakes parlay bet between an obsessive compulsive Philadelphia Eagles fan (Robert De Niro) and a rival gambler who favors the Dallas Cowboys (Paul Herman).  It is a fitting conclusion given that the rest of the movie, for all its seeming narrative conformity, is a rampant, lively piece of work that does what it wants, when it wants.

Part of the reason for this is that its two main characters, two damaged, mentally unstable people played by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, do that as well and director David O. Russell is just trying to keep up with them. It could also be the other way around, though.  Russell has such a lively way with camera movement and atmosphere that the constant sense of motion and organized chaos seems exhausting. For the most part the performers, especially Lawrence, are more than up to the task.  She makes Tiffany such a force of nature that the miscasting of Bradley Cooper is barely noticeable.

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2013 Oscar predictions: Matt’s picks

I must preface my list of predictions as I do every year: I really could care less who wins any of these awards, even though this is a surprisingly decent year as far as the Oscars go.  With that said, here are my thoughts on this year’s nominees, including who should have been nominated.

Argo

Best Picture: Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty

  • Will Win: Argo.  Ben Affleck’s spy thriller has been gaining crucial late-season momentum, and even though it is without a Best Director nomination, it has surpassed both the Weinstein-backed Silver Linings Playbook and the seemingly unstoppable Lincoln as the front-runner.
  • Should Win: Beasts of the Southern Wild or Zero Dark Thirty.  Both were groundbreaking, uniquely powerful movie-going experiences.  Not to say that I wasn’t moved in some way by each of the others (even Les Mis), but as a whole, those two and Amour were the three best movies I saw from 2012.
  • Left out: This is one of the least upsetting batches of Best Picture nominees in recent memory, but I can still complain about the exclusion of The Master, Dark Horse and Take This Waltz.  All would’ve made fine substitutions for a certain horrendously dull musical that I think I’ve complained about enough for a lifetime.

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Best Director: Michael Haneke (Amour), Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Ang Lee (Life of Pi), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) and David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

  • Will Win: Steven Spielberg.  Though he is likely to lose the biggest prize of the night, he will be honored here for his superb, subdued direction in Lincoln.
  • Should Win: All are fine nominees, but I would pick Zeitlin or Lee over Spielberg.  Lee pulled off astonishing technical feats in Life of Pi and used it to enhance the story rather than overshadow it.  That’s the kind of thing this trophy should reward.
  • Left out: Obviously the biggest omission here is Kathryn Bigelow, though seeing Paul Thomas Anderson or Quentin Tarantino up there wouldn’t have been upsetting.  As it stands though, not a bad batch of nominees.

troubled lincoln at desk

Best Actor: Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) and Denzel Washington (Flight)

  • Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis, obviously.
  • Should Win: Day-Lewis, Phoenix and Washington are all worthy, so no complaints about DDL collecting his third Best Actor trophy.
  • Left out: Richard Gere in Arbitrage, Jean-Louis Trintignant in Amour and/or Jack Black in Bernie should have replaced Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper.

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Best Actress: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and Naomi Watts (The Impossible)

  • Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence is the only near-certain victory for Silver Linings Playbook, and deservedly so.
  • Should Win: This is one of the stronger, more surprising categories.  Emanuelle Riva gives the best performance of the bunch, though I haven’t seen The Impossible yet.
  • Left out: Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone and Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea were both incredible performances, but if they had been nominated I would complain about the exclusion of one of the others.

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Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) and Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

  • Will Win: This may be the most unpredictable category of the night, though I think Tommy Lee Jones and his wig will walk away victorious.
  • Should Win: Jones was incredibly entertaining in Lincoln, but so was De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook.  Waltz and Hoffman were both leads in my eye (The Master is named after Hoffman’s character), and Arkin was spunky but not really anything special in Argo.  
  • Left out: Matthew McConaughey had a hell of a year in 2012, and could’ve been nominated for either Magic Mike or Bernie.  It would’ve been nice to see Javier Bardem make history and be the first Bond villain nominated, and Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson were also terrific baddies in Django Unchained.

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Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams (The Master), Sally Fields (Lincoln), Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)

  • Will Win: Despite a series of increasingly unbearable acceptance speeches, Anne Hathaway has this one on lockdown.
  • Should Win: Sally Fields would be my first choice, but Amy Adams is a close second.  Both stick out in male-dominated movies, and Fields in particular brings astonishing life to her character, the volatile, mentally anguished Mary Todd Lincoln.
  • Left out: Overall this is a weak category.  Jacki Weaver was good but very minimal in Silver Linings Playbook, and Anne Hathaway is really only nominated for singing well.  She was very good in The Dark Knight Rises, and should have been nominated for that instead.  I haven’t seen The Sessions, but I would’ve given this category an overhaul and nominated Frances McDormand in Promised Land, Cécile de France in The Kid With a Bike and Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy.

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Best Original Screenplay: Michael Haneke (Amour), Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), John Gatins (Flight), Wes Anderon & Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom) and Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)

  • Will Win: I’m going to take a risk here and bet on Michael Haneke, though Tarantino could win since the Academy likes to recognize him more as a writer.
  • Should Win: I need to revisit Amour, but its screenplay was subtle and haunting and Haneke deserves recognition.  However, Mark Boal’s work with Zero Dark Thirty is a layered, incredibly complex piece of work.
  • Left out: Paul Thomas Anderson deserved to be nominated for The Master, but I would also lighten it up more with Leslye Headland’s brutally comedic script for Bachelorette.

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Best Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio (Argo), Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild), David Magee (Life of Pi), Tony Kushner (Lincoln) and David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook).

  • Will Win: Tony Kushner, though Terrio could upset if Argo steals more awards from Lincoln.
  • Should Win: Kushner’s immaculately detailed flair for language is one of Lincoln’s biggest strengths.  He is far and away the most deserving nominee in this category.
  • Left out: Richard Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth deserved to be nominated for their Bernie screenplay, but the greatest omission here is David Cronenberg for the richly layered copy-and-paste job he did with Cosmopolis.  Without that intense dedication to capturing Dom DeLillo’s language, the movie would’ve failed miserably.

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My predictions in the remaining categories:

Cinematography: Life of Pi

Animated Feature: Wreck It Ralph

Costume DesignLincoln

Art DirectionLincoln

EditingArgo 

Foreign Language FilmAmour

DocumentarySearching for Sugar Man

MakeupThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Original ScoreLincoln

Original Song: “Skyfall”- Adele

Visual EffectsLife of Pi

Sound EditingLife of Pi

Sound Mixing: Les Misérables

Our Favorite Performances of 2012

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1. Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)- There must be something about Paul Thomas Anderson that gets such raw, elemental performances for his movies.  Phoenix, after his faux crazy odyssey, gives The Master such ferocious, filthy life that he managed to beat all the other fantastic roles this year, including the great Daniel Day-Lewis (who also gave Anderson an immortal performance in There Will Be Blood).

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2. Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)- Though Lincoln is an ensemble drama, it is built from the ground up around a character that needed to be reigned in and humanized.  Day-Lewis is not larger than life as our 16th president because that would’ve added layers of cheese to a movie that was already scored by John Williams.  His take on Lincoln often appears exhausted, both physically and emotionally, as he should be while overseeing the Civil War while trying to push through the 13th amendment to ban slavery and contend with family drama.

Emmanuelle+Riva+Amour

3.  Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)- The slow, ruthless decline of Anne during Michael Haneke’s Amour is essential to the movie’s success.  From her first, silent stroke at the breakfast table to her crippled, mangled body by the end, this is a performance that required great emotional honesty without overdoing it.  She gives one of the most wrenching depictions of hopeless, helpless illness ever.

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REVIEW: Silver Linings Playbook

silver-linings-playbook-review

Silver Linings Playbook
Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: David O. Russell (screenplay), Matthew Quick (novel)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver

Silver Linings Playbook ends on the thrillingly odd culmination of a dance competition and an NFL football game, the result of a high stakes parlay bet between an obsessive compulsive Philadelphia Eagles fan (Robert De Niro) and a rival gambler who favors the Dallas Cowboys (Paul Herman).  It is a fitting conclusion given that the rest of the movie, for all its seeming narrative conformity, is a rampant, lively piece of work that does what it wants, when it wants.

Part of the reason for this is that its two main characters, two damaged, mentally unstable people played by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, do that as well and director David O. Russell is just trying to keep up with them. It could also be the other way around, though.  Russell has such a lively way with camera movement and atmosphere that the constant sense of motion and organized chaos seems exhausting. For the most part the performers, especially Lawrence, are more than up to the task.  She makes Tiffany such a force of nature that the miscasting of Bradley Cooper is barely noticeable.

Like in Russell’s last movie, The Fighter, this is more of an ensemble effort than based off of a single performance.  It is about Pat Jr. (Cooper) recovering from a mental breakdown after catching his wife cheating and beating the other guy within an inch of his life, but it is also about his dad (De Niro) and mom (Jacki Weaver) coming to terms with his condition.  It forces an American family to confront mental illness, a bold thing to do in a country that increasingly resists that confrontation to its own detriment.

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