Guest Discussion. The Reader Spotlight is coming back soon but here's the last of our Reader Guest Posts for the moment. This one is from Matthew Eng, who has been sending in quite awesome Smackdown ballots (share yours for 1968 soon). Here he is to talk American Hustle anxiety/anticipation. - Nathaniel
I’m only slightly ashamed to say that I’d almost gladly forego seeing everything else that’s slated for release this season if it meant getting my eyes on American Hustle right. this. second. I still have only the vaguest notion of the movie’s actual plot (corrupt politicos? mob-tied wheeler-dealers? ABSCAM? Jersey?), and yet my eagerness sky-rocketed the very second those opening chords of “Good Times, Bad Times” kicked in.
Alright, fine, it was upon seeing that glorious perm in action.
Two knockout trailers later, it hasn’t dissipated a bit, not even during that only somewhat-discouraging “bigger balls”-off that ends the first teaser. There’s a supremely high level of expectation behind this project to be the complete Oscar package, what with its high-profile director, dynamic cast, juicy Black-Listed script, period costuming, retro textures, and Christmas release, etc. etc. But there’s also, interestingly, a lot of pressure for both its alluring cadre of stars, each with varying levels of something to prove, and its increasingly in-demand helmer.
The following is a ranked analysis of which of American Hustle’s main players has the most on the line (from lowest to highest) and what each serve to gain and/or lose this Oscar season, with a slight emphasis on one player in particular:
06 Jennifer Lawrence
Lawrence faces one of two exciting possibilities with Hustle...
...she’ll either be a riotous, sexy scene-snatcher with more screen time than anyone anticipated and reap an afterglow Supporting nomination, or she’ll be a riotous, sexy scene-snatcher with four or five really sensational scenes but little else and will go on being beloved all the same. I can’t help but imagine the latter, and, though she looks as effortlessly magnetic here as ever, is she even attempting an accent in that centerpiece “Your father’s a son of a bitch”-scene in the second trailer? For her part, Jennifer, is sitting on a beach somewhere in Hawaii, paging through the Mockingjay script, a beer in one hand (and probably a joint in the other, god bless her), asking her agent to call David and see when that 70s film is coming out again.
05 Christian Bale
Bale remains that unusual anomaly of being one of those “Greatest of His Generation,” Oscar-rewarded actors whose career choices don’t necessarily reflect that vaunted status. The fact that barely anyone seems to consider him a surefire contender in an already-overstuffed Best Actor field is rather telling, even more so when you factor in that it’s another one of his extreme shape-shifting roles, this time for a film with plenty of eyes on it. As it stands now, Bale’s apparently De Niro-tinged performance seems poised to earn praise if not necessarily plaudits, a fact that may not sit well with Columbia and Megan Ellison, although I can’t help but feel that Bale himself probably won’t mind.
04 Bradley Cooper
Last year was a different sort of breakout one for Cooper, an experienced actor who looked all but destined to remain That Hangover/“Sexiest Man Alive” Guy for all eternity, that is until Silver Linings Playbook revealed to everyone that, yeah, he actually can act. American Hustle will be a test of whether that revelation sticks, and from what we’ve seen so far, Cooper’s stylish, Aviator-sporting, Timberlake-haired FBI agent looks like another nervy, charismatic turn to match the one he pretty fabulously delivered in SLP. He’s finally peaking after a long tour of duty in the Douchebag Boyfriend Trenches, drew a Paul Newman comparison last year, and appears to be attached to roughly fifty projects in pre- or post-production. That the Hustle performance itself is being campaigned as a Supporting one, regardless of the seemingly co-lead nature of the role, surely can’t hurt either.
03 Jeremy Renner
What exactly happened between The Hurt Locker and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters? Renner’s still getting prominent, Oscar-baity gigs (including his role in James Gray’s delayed The Immigrant), but surely I’m not the only one feeling that paycheck-waving breeze coming from Renner’s direction, what with all the Bournes, Avengerses, Missions: Impossible, and (yikes) Hansel and Gretel: Wage Hunters currently in-development. Hustle could very well be a decisive moment in Renner’s career, indicative of where his artistic loyalties truly lie: will he be reliably terrific but unrewarded without even a nomination, or if he is nominated, will he thereafter continue selling his soul to sequels? The scope and size of Renner’s Hustle role as a crooked bureaucrat isn’t absolutely clear, other than being a showy supporting one, but he’ll have to contend with the much-buzzier (and probably leading) Cooper for the spotlight. And, in all honesty, if this list were ranked in terms of plain excitement, would anyone really rank Renner in their top three? Top four, even?
02 David O. Russell
Just four years ago, Russell was the dependably manic and, if you believe George Clooney, maddening mind behind Three Kings and a series of nutty, folksy comedies that a small but substantial audience generally admires. Against some stacked odds, Russell is no longer (solely) remembered for going berserk on Lily Tomlin, and is now the three-time Oscar nominee behind two films that tons of people totally love, the type of director whose inclusion in last year’s field over Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow is extremely revealing of his current standing in Hollywood. Compared with The Fighter’s muscular, character-driven take on a familiar underdog story and Silver Linings’ twitchy mix of warmth and whimsy, American Hustle feels like Russell’s first deliberate Oscar movie, a film that could have excusably sent out each casting announcement with an accompanying picture of a golden statue. One can’t help but wonder if Russell will deliver on the promise of these two trailers, while still maintaining his own eccentricities and waggish energy. Hustle looks and feels, thrillingly so, like a wild blend of scenes and characters we’ve seen before, in films ranging from Boogie Nights and People vs. Larry Flynt to Goodfellas and Casino. But one can assuredly predict from the always-unpredictable Russell that Hustle will be more than just a fashionable rehashing of time-tested plot points, performances, and motifs.
But even if it were, would Oscar necessarily mind? Russell's absence from the Best Director field seems unlikely, even if an actual win against heavier opponents like Cuarón, Greengrass, or McQueen seems less in the cards. Either way, he’s gradually racking up enough goodwill amongst Oscar voters to eventually become famously “overdue,” which leads us to...
01 Amy Adams
I don’t know what purpose the internet serves other than to produce a super-cut of everything Amy Adams does in these trailers, including, but not limited to, strutting the streets in slinky V-necked ensembles, grinding up on Bradley Cooper, finding love in a hopeless place laundromat with Christian Bale, slapping the shit out of Christian Bale, staring down a teary-eyed J. Law, plotting to get over on all those guys with Lady Macbeth levels of craftiness, intriguingly slipping in and out of a British accent, shedding that fur coat like she’s playing Ann-Margret playing a Bond Girl, etc.
We are a long, long way from those meerkats.
But besides all the fierceness and frivolity on display in the previews, there’s a lot riding on Adams this season to garner a Best Actress nomination, the first in a respected film career that’s been built in its near-entirety on a diverse array of strong, pigeonhole- rebuking supporting roles, with side forays into leading lady territory in what tended to be underwhelming commercial fare, Enchanted aside. If Hustle’s Sydney Prosser was the supporting role we all initially assumed it to be then Adams would have this nomination in the bag, and, in all likelihood, an overdue win. But because we now know that Adams’ right-hand gal is not merely the film’s female support system, but rather the actress’ first bona fide, Oscar-caliber leading role, there’s suddenly a lot more at stake here for Adams.
If she makes it onto the ballot, it could very likely be a coronation for an ever- reliable, highly-admired supporting player, whose category ascendancy will surely reap her principal roles more in the vein of American Hustle than Leap Year and The Trouble with the Curve, in movies by great, gifted filmmakers who will continue to aptly, subtly challenge her in ways that prior directors refused or failed to. If she fails to make the cut, it’ll likely be seen as an affirmative, valiant effort from one of our most well-regarded working actresses, if not, admittedly, one of our most sought-after leading ladies. There seems to be more than a little hesitancy among Oscar pundits to rank Adams in their presumed ballots, and most who place her don’t see her as holding even the slightest chance of breaking down that Blanchett-Bullock-Dench-Streep barrier for a win. Yes, this year’s Best Actresses is a progressively-competitive and arguably-rigged field, but might there be some still-lingering wariness amongst those who see Adams as little more than a talented lady with two noteworthy performances and a whole lot of luck? The bashing that occurred last season—in which Adams was slandered as pretty-but- overrated, a seat-filler, a Marsha Mason—has turned me into some sort of Ardent Amy Advocate, and indeed, while I too have my qualms about those Doubt and Master nominations, I can’t help but get defensive when someone tries to deny even her most emphatic triumphs (Junebug and The Fighter obviously, but what about her inspired and playfully chipper homage to Disney princesshood in Enchanted or her gently neurotic believability in the little-remembered Sunshine Cleaning?). Whatever one’s opinions, there’s a lot of momentum sitting on Amy’s shoulders to really show her mettle in a way that’s so rarely asked of a four–time Oscar nominee. It helps that the role looks even more deliciously out of Adams’ element than The Figher’s Charlene “Call me skank and I’ll rip that nasty hair right outta ya fuckin’ head” Fleming, and it definitely can’t hurt to once again be in the sure and confident hands of a director as actor-friendly as Russell. Plus, with the rapid accumulation of those four, Winsletish nominations under her belt, it’s exceedingly clear that the Academy respects her. Only time and tireless campaigning will tell if that’s enough, but in the meantime, let’s get to work on that still non-existent super-cut, shall we?
Your turn. Do you see the ranking differently. What's on the line for you?