Oscars Oversight: American Hustle

Grant Tillery

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not one for cinema.  I find staring at a screen for two to three hours to be taxing, and I’d much rather be breathing in fresh air than re-circulated cinema fumes. 

But occasionally there’s a movie so compelling that I’ll watch it in one sitting.  Nicholas Winding Refn’s “Drive” was one.  Steve McQueen’s “Shame” was another.  So was David O. Russell’s “American Hustle,” which was so captivating I saw it in theatres twice in three days. It was also robbed of any Oscars tonight.

A lot of critics dismissed “American Hustle” as empty and predictable.  Slate’s Willa Paskin believed it to be one of the worst Best Picture nominees ever: “The film pulls back, chickens out on the realistic possibility of anything life-threatening happening in this underworld of low lives, scam artists, shady characters, and wise guys. Ugly consequences wouldn’t be any fun at all.”

What critics like Paskin fail to see is that’s the beauty of “American Hustle.”  “American Hustle” is entirely superficial and glitzy, a glamorization of seediness.  The writing is deadpan and to the point, and it’s not designed to be a complex narrative like “12 Years A Slave.”  It succeeds due to brilliant marketing and production, and the all-star cast elevates a great movie to a blockbuster. 

That the actors in “American Hustle” failed to win awards for their individual performances is also surprising, especially Bradley Cooper for “Best Supporting Actor” as Richie DiMaso.  Cooper plays DiMaso with conviction, and is totally comfortable inhabiting the role of an overcompensating playboy wannabe.  He schmaltzes up DiMaso as much as possible, becoming a phenomenal caricature of 1978, hair curlers, low buttoned shirts and all.

I’m surprised Jennifer Lawrence didn’t win “Best Supporting Actress” for her role as Rosalyn, Irving’s (Christian Bale) wife.  Lawrence glues “American Hustle” together with her under-the-radar, firecracker wit, and simultaneously creates a farce of the Hollywood stereotype of the bored, sultry housewife. 

Was “American Hustle” the most complex, moving film gunning for “Best Picture?”  Not by a long shot.  But that’s why it succeeds.  It’s not trying to create meaning or provide greater understanding to a historical scenario.  It’s there for our entertainment and keeps our eyes peeled to the screen, and that’s what a good movie is supposed to do.