New on Blu-ray & DVD: Gravity (Over-rated) and American Hustle (Awesome)

At the 2014 Academy Awards, 12 Years a Slave won the Oscar for Best Picture. During the run-up to the awards ceremony, out of the nine films nominated for Best Picture, three were considered front-runners. 12 Years a Slave was one, and last week I had the opportunity to screen the other two.

Gravity (2013)

Gravity "was directed, co-written, co-produced and co-edited by Alfonso CuarĂ³n, and stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts involved in the mid-orbit destruction of a space shuttle and their attempt to return to Earth" (Wikipedia).

Gravity was well made and well acted with beautiful visuals, but the story felt completely contrived and was devoid of drama except for the suspense of the two astronauts being in peril. The dialogue was weak and the casting was unrealistic (even if Sandra Bullock still looks great in whort shorts and tank top).

This film was inexplicably over-rated; how it was even nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, let alone being considered a front-runner, is beyond me. This is science fiction for people who don't watch cience fiction. I've seen episodes of Star Trek, Stargate SG-1, and Battlestar Galactica that are way better than Gravita

American Hustle (2013)

American Hustle, "directed by David O. Russell, stars Christian Bale and Amy Adams as two con artists who are forced by an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) to set up an elaborate sting operation on corrupt politicians, including the mayor of Camden, New Jersey, (Jeremy Renner). Jennifer Lawrence plays the unpredictable wife of Bale's character" (Wikipedia).

Now we're talking, this is a truly great movie. The story is thoroughly original and unpredictable, with a gem of a script, written by Eric Warren Singer and Russell. The movie opens with a panel that reads "Some of this actually happened," referring to ABSCAM, an actual FBI sting operation from the late 1970s, which targeted corrupt politicians. Similar to the movie, 'the FBI, aided by a convicted con-man, videotaped politicians as they were offered bribes by a fictional Middle Eastern sheik in return for various political favors" (Wikipedia).

The superlative screenplay was placed in the hands of some insanely talented actors who so inhabited their characters that, for example, the first time through I didn't even realize it was Christian Bale in the leading role until the end credits. American Hustle is one of the rare few films ever to receive Oscar nominations in all four acting categories. Although it received a total of ten nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. It won none, giving it one of the largest shutouts in Oscar history. Gravity won seven, more Oscars than any other film this year.

The attention to period detail is amazing, from the clothes and the hairstyles and accessories to the interiors including the desktop telephone with the lighted line buttons to the manner of speech and the music, especially the music. There is lots of music in American Hustle, with songs perfectly chosen to reflect not only the time period but also the content of the story. The music here even outdoes Tarantino, who is the master of this sort of thing. In the following clip, the Christian Bale character meets the Amy Adams character for the first time. Enjoy the beauty of the dialogue and the construction of the scene with the music.

When I went looking for a clip to use, there were many available on YouTube, American Hustle is so good that it was really hard to pick just one. Actually, I wanted to use a sequence that encapsulates everything that's great about this movie. It begins with the high tension meeting during which the mobster from Florida (Robert De Niro) grills a phony sheik, in Arabic,. As the scene peaks we hear the Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit"msung in Arabic.

With the music still playing, we cut to the bathroom where the Christian Bale character's wife and girlfriend (Lawrence and Adams) are having a blowout confrontation that climaxes with Lawrence saying "Sometimes in life, all you have are fucked up, poisonous choices." Right on cue is the Bee Gees' "How Do You Mend a Broken Heart". While the song plays you see a succession of visuals ending with a speech by Carmine, the mayor of Camden; pure cinematic perfection. I found a clip with most of this sequence and I briefly thought of running it with a spoiler alert but then I decided that this is really too good not to see it in the context of the entire movie.

American Hustle is a triumph of writing, casting, acting, directing, editing, and music. You can see how all these elements fit together watching the trailer at the bottom of this article. During my second viewing of American Hustle I found myself at many points of the movie saying, "I love this movie."

The genius of David O. Russell is evident in numerous aspects of this movie. I really think that the best expression of Russell's talent is the way in which in both Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle he tells a compelling story with characters that are all damaged. As the movie progresses he peels away their layers to ultimately reveal each characters's humanity; that is why both of these films are so well loved.


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