Oscar Watch: American Hustle

American Hustle seems to be in an odd position in this year’s Oscar race. While it has been seen as a dark horse candidate for some big awards (including Best Picture), passions for the movie seem to have cooled a bit.

It is, by all accounts, a very good movie. It was one of my favorites of 2013, and a much better “fun” awards contender than Wolf of Wall Street. David O. Russell doing a Scorsese-an crime caper that actually outdid Scorsese himself is something we all wanted to see. And O. Russell pulled it off flawlessly.

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American Hustle, nominated for 10 Oscars, will pick up a few, but go home empty-handed in most major categories.

But it’s far from perfect, and I’m not even sure it’s as good as the director’s brilliant romantic comedy Silver Linings Playbook. But Hustle has too many strong elements to be ignored. And, nominated for 10 Oscars, the Academy sure seems to have taken a shine to it.

Just look at the actors in the film. You’ve got Christian Bale (Best Actor), Amy Adams (Best Actress), Jennifer Lawrence (Best Supporting Actress) and Bradley Cooper (Best Supporting Actor). How often is a film nominated in all four acting categories? The last time it happened, appropriately, was last year’s Silver Linings Playbook. But before that, it was Warren Beatty’s Reds in 1981.

All the actors here are brilliant, but they’re up against some tough competition. The general consensus is that Christian Bale is out, and Lawrence is up against frontrunner Lupita Nyong’o, but some Academy voters have expressed that they are voting for both. There is no contest for Amy Adams; she will lose to Cate Blanchett, and the consideration for Bradley Cooper seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

That leaves room for Hustle to sweep up in its other categories, though I believe it will lose out to Gravity in most of those, that film will take home the largest number of total statues. Michael Wilkinson’s costume design seems like a given; the film is a glorious gallery of sequins, plunging necklines and standout toupees. The costumes add significantly to the film’s unique character.

O.Russell’s editing team did a brilliant job with Playbook, and Hustle is even more breathtakingly cut than that. But its tough to imagine it beating out Gravity; the way that film ties its cutting directly into its thematic episodes is too impressive to ignore.

Hustle’s other big enemy is actually The Great Gatsby. There’s no way Catherine Martin’s lavish production design, which made an okay movie significantly better, is losing even to a movie as snazzy as Hustle.

I’d love to see David O. Russell win a Best Director award someday, but this is not his year. That award easily goes to Alfonso Cuaron. I’m really rooting for O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer’s original screenplay, which was funny and twisty and all-around brilliant. But Spike Jonze’s Her is the very definition of “original;” funny, insightful, and very, very quirky. That seems to be the frontrunner here.

Hustle was a dark horse Best Picture contender, but that seems less likely now. It’s seems a distant third to Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. Could a lavishly nominated period piece go home empty-handed on Sunday? It certainly has happened before. But I’m willing to be this infectious crime caper will pick up at least a few Oscars.

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