‘American’… what?!

I blame American Sniper. (Damn you Bradley Cooper.) Maybe this film was the final straw. To explain: over the last few years (or even the last few decades) there’s been a regular slew of films that start with the word ‘American’. Is it a sure fire way to gets bums (at least, American ones) on seats? Or does it simply sound cooler to have that word at the start of a film’s title? I mean, c’mon… French Sniper, British Sniper, German Sniper – they just don’t inspire, do they?

Maybe it’s just simpler.

American Sniper. You know what you’re going to get. Job done. Whatever the reason, here are my top 5 (in order) that proudly wear that word loud and proud for all to see.

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Photo courtest of http://gabrielttoroart.com

1. American Beauty (1999)
The debut of Sam Mendes as a director and the introduction (largely) of Kevin Spacey to the moviegoing public. Getting close to two decades old, the film still stands up perfectly today and is immensely watchable. No scene is wasted, every line loaded with meaning. A modern classic which reminds us of all the beauty in the world.

2. American Psycho (2000)
Upon hearing the part of Patrick Bateman had gone to Ewan Mcgregor, Christian Bale allegedly called him and argued (convincingly) that he’d be better for the part. And he really was. Played as a dark comedy, the world was finally introduced to the twisted, mad intensity of the man that would be responsible (along with Nolan) for reinventing Batman.

3. American History X (1998)
Yet another introduction (in a way) to a manly, pumped up and thoroughly volatile Ed Norton. As a modern-day Lieutenant in a right wing neo-Nazi gang, the arc Norton’s character goes through is hugely affecting. A riveting and towering performance that commands your attention in a film which deals with some big and complex issues.

4. American Pie (1999)
I remember explaining this film to my parents. ‘Well, there’s a guy that has sex with an apple pie, it’s full of crude humour yet…. you have to watch it.’ They were skeptical, but watched anyway. My poor description failed to explain that it was a warm, incredibly well-observed, coming-of-age tale about four very likeable lads. Sadly, the magic was never captured again with the franchise that followed.

5. American Hustle (2013)
Bit of a guilty pleasure this one, featuring both Bale and Cooper (again). It will be interesting to see if this movie stands up over time. Ultimately it’s a fairly shallow tale, but a fabulously looking one with an impressive cast. Worth your time for Bale’s combover and beer belly and all the huge hair and power dresses. As well as Bale, both Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence were also on fine form.

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American Hustle: another stone cold zinger from David O. Russell?

Big hair, big actors, big performances and small dresses. That’s what you get from this latest offering by writer-director David O. Russell – the man behind award winning films, Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter.american-hustle

Set in the ’70s and loosely following the FBI Abscam operation, we start with our main character, conman Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), sporting a hairy paunch and possibly the best combover since Bill Murray in Kingpin.

He meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) and the pair fall for each other, becoming a successful con artist couple until getting busted by Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), an FBI man trying to make a name for himself.PDC - Best Films - American Hustle DiMaso convinces the pair to set up various politicians, including Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), which then leads his operation onto bigger fish, namely mobsters.

There’s the setup. There’s a lot more but suffice to say that films featuring con artists often have numerous double crosses, shady backhanders and ambiguous motives galore. It’s essentially the director playing the three cups game with the audience. Just when you think you know which cup hides the plot twist, boom, deception!

That said, the con part of this film isn’t hugely tough to follow, the plot ticks along nicely. The whole Abscam thing almost more of a backdrop to allow O. Russell to showcase a host of interesting characters. In short, this is a character study.

Indeed, it’s a character driven movie with Irving front and centre as the driving force. Plaudits already seem to be going to Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence – the former Irving’s mistress the latter his unhinged wife, Rosalyn – yet it’s Bale who anchors the whole thingAmy-Adams -American-Hustle--02 with a commanding yet vulnerable performance; as a man who recognises his place in the criminal world and feels control gradually slipping from his grasp.

Amy Adams’ Sydney is partly responsible for Irving’s loss of control. Blaming him for getting her busted in the first place, she puts herself in the centre of a love triangle between Irving and Bradley Cooper’s DiMaso. Is she conning them both? Does she have genuine feelings for DiMaso? Huge credit to Adams for leading us down this sexy garden path with a fiercely seductive performance yet… she’s similar to Irving. The deeper she goes the more she feels things are spinning out of control.

Enter DiMaso. Cooper’s portrayal of an ambitious – and possibly quite naive – FBI man is yet another feather in O. Russell’s cap – and Cooper’s too. He charges about the place, manipulating Irving and Sydney, intimidating his boss (brilliantly played by Louis C.K.) yet he’s the same… never quite in control, mentally or emotionally.

And if we’re on the subject of emotional control, Jennifer Lawrence’s Rosalyn gives a masterclass in how to be an unmanageable wife. Jennifer-Lawrence -American-Hustle--04Furiously demanding Irving’s attention and love, setting fire to the science oven (microwaves were just coming out), getting him in trouble with the mob. Perhaps this is all summed up in one beautiful scene where she sings ‘Live and let die’ whilst furiously cleaning.

So… coming back to my title, is this a zinger? Well, mostly. It’s a great film, lots of fun. It doesn’t have the emotional wallop of The Fighter or the intricate nuances of Silver Linings Playbook, but there’s no doubt it will pick up a stack of awards. And it shows that, with O.Russell we’ve got a director who’s found his ’70s flair and shared the secret with his mad, bad cast. Groovy baby.

Take your ass back to the trailer park

jennifer lawrence american hustleBun pun intended, as the title in this case refers to a little vignette of trailers for upcoming films that, to me, look amazing. So I’d like to share them with you. Looks like the rest of the year promises much in terms of movies that stir our soul and entertain. Will they deliver?

American Hustle (2013)

David O. Russell is going from strength to strength. What with The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, this almost feels like a reunion: bringing together Christian Bale and Amy Adams from the former and Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro from the latter; plus the excellent Jeremy Renner, in this ’70s set tale based on the FBI Abscam operation.


The Counselor
(2013)

Reuniting Penelope Cruz with Cameron Diaz (from their time on Vanilla Sky) and Javier Bardem (Vicky Christina Barcelona), along with Brad Pitt and the mighty Michael Fassbender, this film has a killer cast. Ridley Scott takes the helm as director, with an original screenplay from Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men), delving into the world of greedy lawyers and drug trafficking.


The Dirties
(2013)

Described by filmmaker Kevin Smith as ‘the most important film you will see all year’, a fresh, compelling, semi-comic take on bullying. Largely improvised in terms of script by the two leads, one of which (Matthew Johnson) is a recent graduate from York University film school. Impressive stuff and worth your time. Although likely to only be available in a limited number of screens across the country. Seek it out.


The Wolf Of Wall Street
(2013)

Martin Scorsese is cinema. Indeed, he’s one of its greatest living directors. That’s a fact. This film marks the latest in an ever-growing list of outstanding collaborations he’s had with Leonardo DiCaprio in recent years. It tells the tale of corrupt New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort and, along with DiCaprio, features the talented Jonah Hill as well as a man in the midst of a renaissance, Matthew McConaughey.


Anchorman 2
(2013)
So…the legend of Ron Burgandy lives on. Big question is, was the first film lightning in a bottle? Steve Carrell is a much bigger star now, will he unbalance the group dynamic? And more importantly, will this film give us more of the same or take Ron and the team to places new? Ideally we’d want both. Pleasingly the trailer looks to provide just that, with Ron and team now in the ’80s, looking to re-form the team with a 24-hour news channel.


There’s obviously a lot more films with great trailers I’d like to talk about, but I’ll stop here. Ok, maybe just a quick mention of some. Hunger Games: Catching Fire looks really good and gives us yet more of the beautiful Jennifer Lawrence this year, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug looks epic and intense and sees Peter Jackson really get into his stride. Captain Phillips with Tom Hanks and directed by Paul Greengrass looks to be a thoroughly engrossing tale, and finally, How to Train Your Dragon 2 sees Hiccup and Toothless return in what could potentially be another sweet and uplifting tale. There’s loads more but, as Shrek says, ‘That’ll do donkey, that’ll do.’