Friday, December 20, 2013

An awards season movie, at last

One of the things I always loved in LA was seeing which movie was going to appear on the billboard closest to my house. I kind of loved the idea of a movie being sold specifically to me, to my neighborhood. The resulting sense of ownership actually made me more interested in seeing the film, in some cases.

Now that the Green party in Melbourne has finally turned over the advertising space that it was using for a full two months after the most recent election, I've got a movie billboard in my neighborhood here, too. Something about this one feels a bit more intimate, though. Sure, it's also off a main road, like the one in LA. But it's turned inward, toward the neighborhood, so that only those coming from within the neighborhood to the main road can really get a good look at it. As there are a lot fewer movie billboards in Australia in general, it feels all the more special.

Adding one degree of specialness: It signals that an end-of-year movie getting substantial awards buzz is finally being released in Australia.

Oh, we're getting your Hunger Gameses and your Anchormen and your Hobbits on time -- Hobbits two weeks late, but that's hardly worth quibbling over. It's the movies garnering all the Oscar talk that are really delayed, as I have written about a couple times before.

But not American Hustle. American Hustle is like Gravity in that it came out one day before its release in the U.S. Actually, it came out eight days before its wide release, which I believe is your tomorrow (though my today). Throw in the time change and those lead times stretch out to two and nine days, respectively.

Breathing a tremendous sigh of relief, I saw American Hustle this past Monday, and for only $6 at that.

Well, it won't be getting any year-end awards from me, though I appear to be the only one, assuming its 89 on Metacritic is more than just hot air.

I did like David O. Russell's latest, but it's dueling The Fighter for his second-worst film to date. The Fighter is another pretty good to very good movie, which tells you something about Russell's career. He's had only one turd, that being I Heart Huckabees. Everything else has been gold, up to and including last year's Silver Linings Playbook, which I rated as my third favorite movie of the year.

This one does a lot of things. Did you think I was going to say "does a lot of things right"? It does, but it's more accurate to just say that it does a lot of things. American Hustle is an overload of ideas, tones and quirky characters. I'd say that it has attention deficit disorder if it weren't such a cliched way to discuss the all-over-the-placeness of a movie.

The parts that are good are really good. The opening scene, in which we witness what goes into Christian Bale's elaborate combover, had me ready to immediately thrust the movie into contention as one of my favorites of the year. It does get some other big laughs, too.

But "sprawling" is too tame a word for this movie, and it can rarely find its center. I've read reviews in which it has been called a variety hour, and that's a good way of describing what you're getting here. Russell is certainly going for that, but he wants to have it both ways -- he wants the lighter moments of Goodfellas as well as some of its darker moments (though certainly not as dark). (If you're wondering about the Goodfellas comparisons, they're inescapable, most notably in the use of voiceover and the wall-to-wall contemporaneous pop music soundtrack.)

There's no doubt I was entertained by this movie, but I was also perplexed. It's the ultimate spaghetti-against-the-wall 70s movie romantic comedy heist movie drama. With bad hair.

However, just seeing this movie gave me a certain delight. For months now I have been feeling behind the U.S. in terms of new movies, and the feeling has only become more acute with the annual onslaught of holiday prestige pictures. At least here's one I wouldn't have to wait until February to see.

The movie I saw last Monday -- The Spectacular Now -- was released back in August in the U.S. But this week, it handed off the baton to something that hadn't even been released everywhere in the very country whose name appears in its title.

One step forward, two steps back ... and those two steps are Drinking Buddies and Short Term 12, next in my sights upon finally getting their release next week.

You can't have everything, I guess. Unless you're Russell in American Hustle, and then I guess you can.


Nick Prigge said...

"It's the ultimate spaghetti-against-the-wall 70s movie romantic comedy heist movie drama. With bad hair." THAT is the perfect pitch. Pitch me that movie, I'm seeing it. I'm making it. I'm greenlighting it.

And, of course, that probably explains why I love "American Hustle" so much. I'm planning on forcing my family to see this with me when I'm home for Christmas so maybe a second look will change my view and feel it flaws (which I wholly admit are there) more, but as it stands now.....if there was ever a movie that won me over in spite of its flaws, it's this one. I just had a blast with it.

Vancetastic said...

I love moments in this film. There are few dreamier images I saw in 2013 than Bale and Adams kissing as the dry cleaning carousel goes around them. I just wish it was more consistently thought through.

As an example ... the one (one!) negative review that was available on Metacritic mentioned Louis CK's character and the fact that Bradley Cooper assaults him with a phone, an act that would ordinarily leave him out of a job and possibly jailed. In this movie it has no consequences. Why even include it?

There are parts of this movie that, no doubt, are incredibly fun. I guess the difference between you and me is whether we think it's sloppy in a good way or sloppy in a bad way.