10DoO #2 – American Hustle (2013)

by Jaime Grijalba.

Not every movie that is nominated to best picture is good, we know that, specially since it expanded from 5 to 10, and then from 5 to 6 or 7 or 8 or 9 or 10, we’ve always had our share of films that just aren’t worthy of being in the list of the best films of the year. It’s charming in a way and disrupting in another to see those movies carry the “Nominated to Best Picture” as a proud banner for generations to come and see, only to then be dissapointed. This year we had the risk of a couple of films falling into what ended up being the fateful 9 nominated movies, but the difference is that a lock this year, a movie that has been winning awards by the critics and the guilds alike, a movie that is found to be great among critics in general and viewers as well (over a 90% in Metacritic says a lot), that is the movie that in the future will be watched by a large majority of people, maybe based on its nominated status or maybe on the awards that it might win that fateful night of March (may it not be so), and they will put us to shame, that our generation relished and actually swam in the dark waters of ‘American Hustle’ (2013) via praising it to high heavens and at the same time being one of the most overrated and overpraised, as well as over-awarded, films that the Oscars have ever awarded or nominated.

What I mean with all this? The movie isn’t awful, it has the prospect and the possibility of becoming something wonderful or the most dreadful piece of dreck that you’ve ever seen, and that delicate balance is what makes this movie baffling to me when it comes to awards and prizes, how can they award a movie that just doesn’t seem to take any risks whatsoever in terms of storytelling, directing, characters and writing; it’s one of those movies that you may end up seeing once and forget it the day or the week after (depending on your level of praise in the end). I mean, really, out of all the people who have seen this 2+ hours film and found it at least decent would go through that again any time soon? I’m guessing no one would be able to do that, I mean, the movie is barely any fun to be had, and the lauded performances are barely tolerable in the context of certain work that was showcased (or not) this year, all of them seem to come out of a caricature, and the over-serious tone that the story has when it comes to the cons and the rip offs, you feel that there’s a disconnection between those elements, the script and even the way that the camera moves. The only times that this movie seems to find its own pace were on the scenes with Louis C.K. in them, he seemed to nail the perfect performance for the story, he was a comedian playing a character completely straight, his situations and dialogue were entertaining but never ridiculous to watch or hear, and given his position in  the story, he was entitled to those moments.

Yet, at the same time, those same scenes represent what I seemed to suffer while watching this movie. There was this great character, the one played by Louis C.K. who managed to nail the script and the performance and the tone of the film entirely, but there it came to Bradley Cooper’s character, who appears every time only to interrupt and yell, be obnoxious and get C.K.’s character angry. It seemed like the film wanted to be this one epic tale about the americana and how everyone seems to be shitting on someone else’s mouth every time they talk (the original title of the script of this movie was ‘American Bullshit’), but they were overshadowed by the artistic or performative elements that just put it to shame, like the over-exaggerated wigs and hairstyles present, the performances that are just not up to standard, and when they over-react to certain moments, you either feel that it was way too late for you to care about it, or they are just unmistakeably badly done. Now, this doesn’t mean that the script is flawless, as it’s the script itself that gives leaway to the elements that interrupt storytelling to exist. The whole concept and structure of the film is distracting, and David O. Russell adapts the original script to apease his own longings for over-written dialogue and where every line seems to be a revelation of the true state of the soul of the character who is speaking or a big morale that everyone should be paying attention to.

More than anything, it’s a dissapointment, a movie that maybe could’ve been something interesting and recommendable, but it’s own messy distribution of its worthy elements make it fail miserably. You have Jennifer Lawrence, nominated again for an Oscar, in a role that seems to be just wrong for her, it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t know how to play it, but her age and body seem to be wrong for the kind of character that she was aiming for. I was expecting the big moment that people would point at when saying that she deserved the award or nomination, but I kept waiting, and it was just an accent and kissing a woman. If that’s what she needs to do to win an Oscar, she might as well be clearing space in her parents cupboard, because at least we know she can do that in a way that will earn her an award, and I assure you, there was no amount of acting there that I could find in any way spectacular or worth rewatching. Same goes for the rest of the nominees and performers, except again for Louis C.K., who I must say, was robbed out of a nomination (not that he deserves it, but if you want to nominate someone from this film, at least nominate him). I can’t help but wonder, what would’ve happened if this movie was released in June or August, would it have the same award traction that it had with its Christmas debut?

This might not be the worst movie nominated for an Oscar, not of all time, and not even since I started making these 10 Days of Oscar posts, but maybe it’s the most dissapointing that is nominated and may win some major awards under serious consideration.

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