When we look back at the films of 2013, even with the late edition of David O. Russell's "American Hustle" that opened on Dec 20 in San Francisco, it will be clear that this is the best film of this year. It has it all - excellent cinematography and art direction but more than that, the script is almost kinetic in its picture perfect phrasing.
Written by Russell and Eric Singer, the two writers most definitely collaborated in a brilliant ensemble. As a director, one can feel that Russell is like an artist putting the touches on a canvas that requires extraordinary balance but he is instinctive in knowing how to do this. He knows how to put actors together and to inspire the best from their performances. He knows how to create movement in the script and make the story flow so that it goes way beyond acting performances into the language of cinema.
The story about bribery in New York, from personal bribery between a man and the woman he know longer loves, to the one that he does and official bribery to the FBI and the local Mafia is an all American tale that is part of our folklore. "American Hustle" is set in a New York that is familiar to filmgoers regarding this kind of corruption.
An interesting parallel can be made Luc Besson's "The Family" (2013), starring Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer who are in a witness protection program together with their two teenager children in a small town in France. De Niro plays Giovanni Manzoni, a mobster who is sought after by a top Brooklyn Mafia boss serving out a prison sentence. When Giovanni is asked to comment on Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990) for a local French cinema club he can't help excelling in telling this familiar story about New York crime, the kind of subject that we have been raised on at the movies. He is applauded for his analysis of a film and its terrain though it is really his own experience that makes him such an avid expert - his film experience is his life experience. For us, our life experience is often our film experience for our film history is a major part of our rich multiethnic culture.
So too, a story like "American Hustle" is familiar to us with the scandals of Watergate and organized crime - and the Abscam sting operation of the late 1970s that the film treats. David O. Russell updates the story for us in 2013 in a crisp elegant film style that is mesmerizing, in particular the speed of the film that is neither overly conspicuous or overdrawn. It is just the right feature film length to tell the story and sustain major curiosity and interest.