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Countdown to the Oscars 14’ – Best Picture Nominees (‘American Hustle’)

There’s no doubt we have seen plenty of surprises with the Oscars over the years, especially from this famed category. And while I may joke and ridicule about why a certain film should or shouldn’t win, it’s all in the spirit of what makes this ceremony so grand. Because let’s face it, unless you’re in the Academy with an actual vote to cast, none of us know what it’s like to have to pick and choose one great film over another great film. Sure, we all make our own picks, but do so with nothing on the line. So, I won’t pretend I know the pressure, but if I had a vote, I would definitely pick the film that deserves to win Academy Award for ‘Best Picture,’ not the one that would be right for Hollywood politically. But, politics are as much a part of this ceremony now as the actual 13.5 inch tall, gold-plated statuette handed out to each winner has been over the years. However, this year, those same politics will work against the “norm” and allow a dark horse like “American Hustle” to swoop in. That’s right boys and girls, the fact that “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” split the vote for the Producers Guild of America Award, leaves the door open for “American Hustle.” Yeah, it’s a crazy scenario, but more likely than you think given the history of this ceremony, which tends to go for the ‘shock and awe’ with its final award of the night.

Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale in "American Hustle"
Columbia Pictures

Think about this. If it wins, “Gravity” will become the first science-fiction film to do so, which for this ceremony would truly be something to talk about around the water cooler the next day. I mean, if “Avatar” can’t win Best Picture, why in the world would the lesser film like “Gravity” win? Just saying, which is why I think out of the two, “12 Years a Slave” has a better chance, even though it also has some skeletons in the closet to deal with. Controversy is usually not good for potential Best Picture winner, so it will be interesting if all the chatter about how brutal some of the scenes within this film are will actually hurt it. I personally think it shouldn’t, given it helps to drive home the story and what it was like back then to be a slave. But, if it somehow does, make way for “American Hustle,” which very much deserves to be here thanks to writer/director David O. Russell. If ever there was an award for Best Writer/Director, Russell might be undefeated, given what he did with “The Fighter” and last years “Silver Linings Playbook.” And like those, he also wore both hats here, earning a nomination for both. And while this may not be as serious as the prior two, it still was fun to watch thanks to a cast that gets your attention one way or another. Yeah, ‘fun’ normally is not part of the equation for a Best Picture winner, but it really should be when it’s done this well; which is why I can easily see David O’ Russell pulling an upset and walking home with the Oscar for Directing or Original Screenplay.

For those not paying attention this award season, “American Hustle” did win the Golden Globe for ‘Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy’ and the SAG award for ‘Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.’ That’s two more than let’s say “Gravity,” so before you jump on that bandwagon with “Gravity,” you might want to study its competition a little more. Because “American Hustle” is nominated in 10 categories, just like “Gravity,” and while that might not always result in a win, it still is worth talking about this late in the game. Yeah, it could get shut out from all 10 categories, kind of like “Gangs of New York” was back in 2002 and “The Color Purple” in 1985, but I just don’t see it. Not when the race for Best Picture has been this inconsistent, indirectly affecting a host of categories. So, while I might favor another nominee for the categories of Production Design or even Film Editing, “American Hustle” can just as easily win based on the work put in by three-time nominee Jay Cassidy (Editing) and his team, as well as newcomers Judy Becker (Production Design) and Heather Loeffler (Set Decorator). Then there’s the nomination for Costume Design, which again to me will probably go to another film like “The Invisible Woman” or “The Great Gatsby,” but don’t be shocked if “American Hustle” steals that Oscar away thanks to a retroactive wardrobe that really took you back to that time period in the late 70’s, early 80’s.

I think out of the nominees this year, you will be hard pressed to find a better, more rounded cast than the one put together by Russell for this film. And it all started with Christian Bale who led this star-studded group from start to finish, easily slipping into the background at times to allow a Bradley Cooper or Amy Adams to make their mark. Well, it worked, as both Adams and Cooper couldn’t have been better in their respective roles. Especially Adams, who I admit I’m becoming quite the fan of after another groundbreaking performance. This now five-time nominee could care less what people may think; choosing roles you would never expect her in and then knocking them out of the park like she did in “American Hustle.” Having said that, I can’t imagine a scenario where she will on stage to accept her very first Oscar, as this year belongs to Cate Blanchett for “Blue Jasmine.” Yup, the performance no one saw, but should have given it was one of the best 2013 had to offer. As for Cooper, what else can I say other than director David O. Russell seems to get the best out of him, as this marks two years in a row he and his co-star Jennifer Lawrence have been nominated in one of his films.

When asked during an interview with about working with Russell again, Cooper said “I think any director who’s worth their weight in gold has a unique way of working. With David’s way of working, it just happens to align with my own sensibilities. And if I ever get a chance to direct, touch wood, I will definitely adopt a lot of his ways.” That’s a big compliment from an actor many people probably still don’t appreciate given his role in “The Hangover” series. But, like Adams, Cooper will fall short to an almost unfair performance, in this case turned in by Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club.” As for my girl Jennifer Lawrence, who just picked up her third nomination in four years; she just keeps improving. To be this good already is remarkable and even in this small role, she stole one or two scenes proving once again she is much more than the star you see in “The Hunger Games” series. And if her name is called Sunday night, it will be just the third time in the history of this ceremony an actress has won an Oscar in back to back years; the last being Katharine Hepburn for “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967) and “The Lion in Winter” (1968). But, get this; Hepburn actually shared the award that year with Barbra Streisand after her work in “Funny Girl,” resulting in the first and so far, only tie for acting in Oscar history. That’s amazing and a prime example of why I love to dig into the history of this ceremony so much each and every year.

CLICK HERE to read my original, uncut review on “American Hustle”

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