4. The Fighter
Inventive sports movies are hard to come by these days. Unfortunately, The Fighter is not inventive. In fact, it’s pretty standard stuff as far as fighting movies go. Originality is not the selling point of David O. Russell’s 2010 Oscar darling. It still has the sappy melodrama, the tense boxing scenes, and the predictable plot. However, unlike so many other factory-made fighting movies that pop up, The Fighter has a hell of a lot of heart. It also has the benefit of having an A-list cast and a passionate director.
Actually, the passion found within the film is a result of the tremendous cast and crew. The script is rock solid, but it’s also a bit hokey and a lot formulaic. Granted, it’s based on a true story so there isn’t much wiggle room, but that doesn’t completely excuse the feelings of deja-vu.
Basically, the people behind and in front of the camera are what really liven things up. Russell’s passionate direction is evident from the very first scene, and Bale’s Oscar winning performance is both transformative and spirited. The two supporting actresses are also (unsurprisingly) sublime.
With all of the skill put into the film, it’s easy to forgive the sappy tone and generic plot. Russell’s most dramatic endeavor is an engaging film through-and-through. This is the first film in his career to push him toward stardom, and for good reason. It’s clearly the work of a committed filmmaker. Luckily for viewers, this was only the beginning his winning streak.
3. American Hustle
American Hustle scored a whopping ten Oscar nominations shortly following its release. While it couldn’t manage to take home any wins, the Oscar attention still showed that Russell is a fiery talent that’s hard to overlook. Thanks to a laugh-out-loud script, delightful performances, and undeniable energy, American Hustle consistently works even when it shouldn’t. The thing is, there are plenty of minor flaws. Thankfully, they mostly go unnoticed due to all of the onscreen magic.
By bringing together one of the greatest ensemble casts of the decade, American Hustle really puts the performers first. Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence are an absolute joy to watch. It’s no surprise the movie picked up the SAG award for best ensemble.
Not only are the cast members great choices, but they also put everything they’ve got into their roles. Meanwhile, the zany story, while less focused than The Fighter or Silver Linings Playbook, is still easy to digest and plenty of fun.
The lack of focus is in fact the only thing keeping American Hustle from claiming the top spot. The story has a tendency to feel convoluted when the true story it’s based off of isn’t exactly hard to follow. It’s not detrimental by any means, but it will definitely scare some viewers away. The 90% of viewers willing to embrace the sheer insanity will find a movie that’s the perfect combination of smart and silly. There’s a reason this bad boy was an awards season giant after all.
2. Three Kings
Despite the lack of Oscar-attention, Three Kings is actually one of Russell’s best received films, and for good reason. Being one of the few mainstream movies about the Gulf War, Three Kings has its setting on its side. It feels refreshing after so many World War II movies have made their way to the masses. It also feels refreshing because, like usual, Russell presents viewers with bizarre characters, quirky dialog, and masterful genre-blending. It’s both a hilarious satire and a grounded wartime drama.
The mixing of genres never results in colliding tones though. Three Kings still manages to feel like one cohesive movie instead of a mish-mash of conflicting ideas. The laughs come so quickly after moments of suspense that you’re liable to miss them if you’re not paying attention. In other words, Russell doesn’t waste a second. He happily invites viewers to sit down, relax, and enjoy the ride.
As usual, the performances are great, even if they were the product of on-set tension and physical aggression. Also unsurprising is the fact that the dialog is so naturally charming that all of the exposition is just as fun as it is informative. In the end, everything great about David O Russell comes together to form one of his most effortlessly thrilling motion pictures. This may have been the days before Cooper, Lawrence, and Deniro, but that hardly makes a difference.
1. Silver Linings Playbook
In 2012, David O Russell took an unnoticed novel by Matthew Quick and turned it into gold. With a few minor tweaks to the original novel, Russell turned a good story into a phenomenal one. He turned Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper into critical darlings in the process. He also helped bring attention to mental illness while also proving that things like depression and anxiety are completely normal and acceptable. It may not seem like it, but Silver Linings Playbook was one hell of an influential film.
It quickly faced backlash after it stole the hearts of critics, but haters be damned. Silver Linings Playbook is funny, sentimental, intelligent, inspiring, and beautiful. Seriously, someone grab a thesaurus because it’s hard for one man to think of so adjectives. The acting is exemplary, the dialog is engaging, and the themes are timeless.
If Jennifer Lawrence didn’t make an impression with Winter’s Bone, she certainly did this time around. If Russell couldn’t make you laugh in even his funniest movies, this one may do the trick. If Three Kings or The Fighter didn’t make statements that stuck with you, then Silver Linings Playbook may be the movie for you.
2012 was a great year for movies. Beasts of the Southern Wild, Zero Dark Thirty, The Master, Argo, Moonrise Kingdom, and Argo are just a few examples of other standout films. The fact that this modestly budgeted comedy drama managed to make an impression is admirable. This may not have been the most provocative movie of the year, but it had so much going for it in terms of dialog, characters, and performances that you’d be hard-pressed to hate it. Russell still has room to grow, but this is his peak.
Author Bio: Justin is a paraprofessional teaching assistant and full-time film enthusiast with a degree in English. When he’s not writing about films, he’s probably watching them in his spare time.