Thursday, January 30, 2014

Five best dystopian films ever

Thanks to the phenomenal success of Young Adult novels like the “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent”, what was once a somewhat obscure sub-genre of classic science fiction has become all the rage. Dystopian films, including the ones on this list, have traditionally been relegated to cult status. With “Catching Fire” breaking box office records and the movie version of “Divergent” set up to become the blockbuster of the spring, that has all changed.

What is the definition of a dystopia? What makes a story—albeit book or film—dystopian. The dystopian sub-genre of science fiction takes some negative or potentially destructive aspect of current society and extrapolates what would happen if that negative thing were pushed to the extreme. Examples are pollution, nuclear war, climate change, corporate greed, religious fanaticism, over-population, disease, militarism, technology run amuck, and even zombie viruses.

Here is a list of this reviewer’s top five dystopian films of all time.

“Robocop” (1987) directed by Paul Verhoeven
Written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner

Paul Vehoeven’s smash-mouth, irreverent science fiction classic is both a bold, rousing, action film, and a brilliant satire. In the post Citizens United world of the Koch brothers and Tea Party controlled government, Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner’s prophetic masterpiece of a screenplay resonates more than ever. Forget about the neutered, CGI dominated remake due out later this year. Instead go watch the director’s cut of this landmark, revolutionary film.

“Silent Running” (1972) directed by Douglas Trumbull

Written by Deric Washburn, Michael Cimino, and Steven Bochco
In the future—after decades of climate change denial—corporate greed run amuck as the earth will become a polluted wasteland. The only green life remaining will be forests in floating domed spaceships maintained and overseen by a sole human caretaker—the lone environmentalist left. Bruce Dern (up for an Oscar this year for Nebraska) is absolutely brilliant in a tour-de-force performance. This movie has a wonderful, independent feel to it and yet contains excellent special effects courtesy of its director, Douglas Trumbull, the visual effects wizard behind “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Blade Runner”, and “Brainstorm” (which he directed as well).

“Blade Runner” (1982) directed by Riddley Scott
Written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples
Based on the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Phillip K. Dick

What is there left to say about “Blade Runner” that has not already been said? Arguably the greatest science film of all time—certainly in the discussion—the film continues to improve with age. It is still one of the best looking movies ever made. There is something about the organic feel of real sets, physical models, and pre-CGI visual effects that has yet to be captured in a CGI film. The thematic material and questions posed in “Blade Runner” have continued to be explored in science fiction, most notably Steven Spielberg’s “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” and the re-imagining of “Battlestar Galactica”.

“The Road Warrior” (1982) directed by George Miller
Written by Terry Hayes, George Miller, and Brian Hannant

Technically this was a 1981 film because it premiered in Australia in December of 1981. But for most of the world, including North America, this movie was part of the fabled cinematic all-star line-up of 1982. I still remember reading Richard Corliss’s rave review in the May, 10 1982 issue of “Time Magazine” under the title of “Apocalypse Pow!” And “Pow” is the best word to describe this trend-setting (punk rock styling, piercings, WWE, etc.) adrenaline-fueled action classic. Man, this is a movie with attitude. The propulsive final chase scene is one of the best directed action sequences of all time—not matched until years later in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”.

“Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” (1972) directed by J. Lee Thompson
Written by Paul Dehn

“Dark” can mean many things and is a word used to describe many films on this list. But if any film is worthy of that all-encompassing adjective it is this bleak, brooding—and brilliant—fourth film in the original “Planet of the Apes” movie series.

There is an oppressing, Orwellian feel to the film, which is really an origin story akin to the outstanding 2011 film “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”. What is cool about the new franchise re-launch is that (unlike the new “Star Trek”) it does not prevent any of the first five films from happening—it actually sets them up! Think about it; the new movie series gets us to the first film, which leads to Cornelius, Zira, and Dr. Milo escaping in a rocket and traveling back to 1971 earth thus creating a new timeline—the original series.

Suggested by the author

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Seven super scribes

An eclectic list to be sure with a lot of film and television scribes—these are writers whose output I have enjoyed the most, and no doubt have had an influence my work.

Robert E. Howard

I recall Harlan Ellison once saying something like, “Howard was better than any of us because he was crazier than a bedbug.”

There is a raw physicality to Howard’s writing style and colorful action sequences that was ingeniously captured by the legendary cover paintings of Frank Frazetta. Although his “Conan” stories are classified as Sword & Sorcery (Howard practically created the genre), Howard creates real, naturalistic worlds and writes stories that feel like they may have actually happened sometime during the mythical lost history “between the years the ocean drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities…”

What to check out:
Almost any “Conan” book (or comic book) but this is the best collection because it is contains the fully restored and unedited text of Howard, The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Conan the Cimmerian #1)

Robert Silverberg

There is a wonderful article written by Silverberg in the outstanding pulp retrospective book “Sin-O-Rama” where he talks about cranking out a new 50,000 word erotic pulp novel—every two weeks! And you know what? I have read many of them and they are damn good reads.

How good is Silverberg? One of my favorite books ever was this scanner-type science fiction romantic thriller I picked up in the ‘70s. It was a reprint and when he was asked to write a new forward Silverberg confessed it was something he had cranked out just to pay the bills and had forgotten about it.

Of course, nobody but me even remembers any of these old pulps and today Robert Silverberg is best known for his artful, poetic prose and award-winning, intelligent science fiction and fantasy novels. 

"The World Inside" is highly recommended for fans of the recent best-seller "Divergent".

What to check out:

Joan Ellis

I am a huge fan of vintage pulp fiction from the early and mid ‘60s known as “the sleazy pulps”, especially those published by a company called Midwood. Most stories were set in Manhattan and have a very “Mad Men” quality to them. Often the characters even worked in advertising.

Joan Ellis was the all-time best at this sub-genre of fiction. Do not let the term sleazy pulps fool you. Her books are rich, expertly crafted, romantic, noir-ish works of wonder. Ellis has a real knack for creating vivid, young female characters dealing with teen angst and blossoming sexuality. Today these books would be called “Young Adult”.

What to check out:
Just about anything she wrote at Midwood Publishing. Personal favorites include “In The Shadows”, “Sooner or Later”, “Gang Girl”, and "Reluctant Nympho".

D.C. Fontana

Okay, I know this one will be unfamiliar to most people. D.C. Fontana (a.k.a Dorothy Fontana) is a television writer who started out as Gene Roddenberry’s secretary then went on to write several of the greatest episodes of classic “Star Trek”. She served as story editor for “Star Trek” and several other shows including the Emmy Award winning animated “Star Trek”, “The Fantastic Journey” and “Logan’s Run”. The list of outstanding episodes she penned over the last five decades are too numerous to list here but include scripts for “Circle of Fear”, “Land of the Lost”, “The Six Million Dollar Man”, “Kung Fu”, “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”, “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, “Babylon 5”, “Deep Space Nine”, and “Earth: The Final Conflict”.

What to check out:
“This Side of Paradise” and “The Enterprise Incident” from classic “Star Trek”.
“Eslewhen” from “Land of the Lost”.

John Jakes

John Jakes may be the best writer of epic historical fiction ever—certainly of American history. There are many writers—and many of them quite successful—where you can feel the strain of the work the author put into it. As a result these books often do not make for a smooth read. In a John Jakes novel this is never an issue. He is just a gifted storyteller and a natural writer who delivers impeccable craftsmanship and flowing narratives you will get lost in. Most of his historical fiction is truly epic in scope and length—I am talking telephone book thick door stopper novels. Yet, they read fast and smooth.

Like Silverberg, Jakes started out in pulp fiction doing everything from sleazy romance to science fiction to a “Conan” inspired Sword & Sworcery series, “Brak the Barbarian”. All of it is great!

What to check out:
“The Bastard”, “North and South”, and his novelization to “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes”.

Glen Morgan and James Wong

It is staggering how many outstanding television scripts this writing team delivered in the ‘90s, including the majority of the best stuff from Chis Carter’s brooding tandem of “The X-Files” and “Millenium”. 

Everything these guys write is exciting, imaginative, and more often than not, groundbreaking.  In addition to their work for Carter, the duo created, produced, and wrote their own series—a barely seen gem of a show “Space Above and Beyond”.  “Space Above and Beyond” was an addictive, beautifully produced, intelligently written and acted show that should have become the “Battlestar Galactica” of the ‘90’s, but was poorly handled by FOX who kept pre-empting it and barely bothered with any promotion.

What to checkout:
“Space Above and Beyond” and the “X-Files” episodes “Home”, “Ice”, “E.B.E.”, “Squeeze”, “Little Green Men”, “The Field Where I Died” and “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man”. Also just about the entire second season of “Millenium”.

James Cameron

He is primarily known as a visionary director who creates revolutionary new technology to bring his vision to the screen. But all of those movies begin with a blank page. James Cameron writes all his own material and he is one hell of writer.

When I was studying screenwriting I read his scripts for “Rambo: First Blood part II”, “Aliens”, and “The Abyss” non-stop. His story-telling instincts are razor sharp, his expertly paced screenplays rich with vivid writing and memorable characters.

What to check out:

Anything with his name on it of course, but from a reading the screenplay point of view, “Aliens” and “The Abyss” read like great science fiction action-adventure novels.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Songs, scores, and controversy

Oscar music nominations 2013
It is that time of year— time to predict, hope, debate, and vent about those left out. Below are a list of the Academy Award nominations for Best Original Score and Best Original Song for 2013—along with my choice who I think should win, who I think will win, and who was left out.
Let us start with Best Original Song since this where all the raging gossip and controversy is happening, all because an unknown song from an obscure film received a nomination. Read the Hollywood Reporter story here and listen to the song and judge for yourself.
My opinion—this is sour grapes—loser talk. While I do not care for this particular tune, Bruce Broughton is an outstanding songwriter and a fantastic composer who, if anything, has been overlooked throughout his forty-year plus career. Back in the early to mid ‘80s, it seemed certain that James Horner and Bruce Broughton were poised to be the next Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams. Horner went on to A-list fame and fortune but Broughton never seemed to be able to hook up with the right film at the right time. His talent and craftsmanship is undeniable. If you are unfamiliar with his work check out “Silverado”, “Young Sherlock Holmes”, “The Boy Who Could Fly” and “Harry and the Hendersons” for starters.

Best Original Songs
"Alone, Yet Not Alone" from “Alone Yet Not Alone”
Music by Bruce Broughton
Lyrics by Dennis Spiegel
"Happy" from “Despicable Me 2”
Music and Lyrics by Pharrell Williams
"Let It Go" from “Frozen” 
Music and Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
"The Moon Song" from “Her”
Music by Karen O (Karen Lee Orzolek) 
Lyrics by Karen O and Spike Jonze
"Ordinary Love" from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” 
Music by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton (U2)
Lyrics by Paul Hewson (Bono)

What was snubbed?
Forget about Beyonce and Jay Z, the real snub here is “For the First Time in Forever” from “Frozen”—a magnificent, moving, magical song—an utter soaring, sonic delight reminiscent of the best of Alan Menkin.
My Choice:
Since my true song of the year was snubbed, I will go with the second best song from “Frozen”—and of the year—“Let It Go”.

What will win?
“Ordinary Love” of course. Hey, it’s Bono and truly is a wonderful story and a nice song.

Best Original Score
“The Book Thief” by John Williams
“Gravity” Steven Price
“Her” William Butler and Owen Pallett
“Philomena” Alexandre Desplat
“Saving Mr. Banks” Thomas Newman
What was snubbed?

What should have been the raging Oscar musical controversy of the year is why Howard Shore’s “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” was not nominated. Are you serious? Did anybody from the Academy actually listen to these scores? Are sequel scores no longer eligible?
My choice:
It is not even close—John William’s exquisite score for “The Book Thief” is in another universe than the other scores listed here.
What will win?
I have no idea. All I know is Williams will not win. He should have won for “Memories of a Geisha” in 2005. He should have easily won for “Warhorse” in 2011. Somehow the Academy must think because he is always nominated he must not win. Keep in mind despite the record-breaking 44 Best Original Score nominations, the maestro has won only four times, and has been shut out for over twenty years going back to “Schindler’s List” (1993).

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Basic Instinct: The Novelization

“Basic Instinct” (1992)
Novelization by Richard Osborne

Based on the screenplay by Joe Eszterhas
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a huge fan of the film, the director, the two leads, the composer, and even the cinematographer. “Basic Instinct” was a screenplay I read endlessly when I was studying screenwriting.  This neo-noir classic is number ten on my all-time favorite film list. If Hitchcock were alive and at his peak in the early 90s, this is the kind of film he would have made.

There is a reason a Hollywood bidding war broke out for the rights to the “Basic Instinct” script. It is a fantastic screenplay with pristine structure, a sensational main character, and knockout, profane-laced, rhythmic dialogue. This novelization captures all of that and adds a sheen of literary flair reminiscent of a great piece of hard-hitting sexually charged pulp fiction noir. Richard Osborne adapts the screenplay with flawless execution, seamlessly blending his own words and style with Ezterhas’s, creating a fast-paced, titillating, addictive read.

As an added bonus, this book comes in a beautifully packaged hardcover with the classic poster art from the theatrical one sheet. Well-worth tracking down and reading for fans of the film or those who love erotic thrillers and pulp fiction. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Ten best films of 2013

Directed by David O. Russell
There is this wonderful, romantic scene early in the movie showing how Sydney and Irving meet over a mutual love of Duke Ellington. The chemistry between Bale and Adams is off the charts and it is a scene that shows the true core of this story. Beneath all the con games, elaborate scheming, and outrageous humor—“American Hustle” is a love story. It is the best film of the year.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” (Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio team up for their best collaboration yet—an irreverent, spot-on, high-octane, hilarious, hold-nothing-back “Goodfellas” style dramatic insider’s view into the world of a notorious (and legendary, for those who worked in this business) Wall Street firm. This is the best piece of pure, uncensored adult entertainment to come out of Hollywood in decades. A masterpiece.

“Elyisum” (Tri-Star Pictures)
Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Neill Blomkamp proves he is the real deal with this sensational follow-up to his debut masterpiece “District 9” (2009). His ability to create visually dazzling, kinetic science fiction films blending smash-mouth action scenes with great characters is staggering. And yeah, his movies are about something—and that is a good thing dear critics—reminiscent of the days of George Romero, John Carpenter, and Paul Verhoeven. Speaking of Verhoeven; forget about the tired, CGI looking, toned-down, diluted, bland “Robocop” remake due out soon. “Elysium” is the new “Robocop” we have been waiting for.

“Gravity” (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Directed by Alfonso CuarĂ³n
“Gravity” is a two character drama about a somewhat routine space shuttle mission where something happens and propels the characters—Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney)—on a suspenseful journey where the tension and danger mount with every second. This movie is absolutely riveting. Every scene, every line of dialogue, every frame in this film matter. This is tight, focused storytelling at its best.

A harrowing—and at times relentlessly brutal and depressing—true story about the horrors of America’s past as experienced by a free man abducted from a free life and sold into slavery. I admit I wish there had been a little more emotional “Roots” style sweep to the story, but the power of this film in undeniable. Chiwetel Ejiofor is astonishing—the best performance of the year by an actor.

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (Warner Bros. Pictures, New Line Cinema)
Directed by Peter Jackson
Bottom line: ““The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is a rousing, colorful, immensely entertaining, spectacular epic fantasy that resonates from start to finish. The two hours and forty-one minute running time flew by and I left the theater longing for more.

Robert De Niro hasn’t been this good in a comedy since 1988’s “Midnight Run”. Tommy Lee Jones is terrific, Michelle Pfeiffer is an absolute joy, and Dianna Agron (from “Glee) is going to be a major star.

“To the Wonder” (Magnolia Pictures)
Directed by Terrence Malick
A true art film—a bold, beautiful, confounding, poetic, non-linear love story told in symbolic terms with stunning imagery. This experimental piece of cinema is one of two films on my list starring Rachel McAdams.

“Frozen” (Disney)
Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
“Frozen” recaptures some of that Disney magic from the early 1990s resurgence and “For the First Time in Forever” is the best animated movie song not written by Alan Menken since “The Lion King”.

“Passion” (Canal +, E Films)
Directed by Brian De Palma
“Passion” is a wild, entertaining, visual delight with solid performances, masterful camera work, and a sensational musical score.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Ten best movie novelizations ever

When a movie is made based on a novel, the source material is given automatic and unquestioned respect, often bordering on reverential. But when the process is reversed—when a novel is written based on a movie and its original screenplay—it is a very different story.

Novelizations are sometimes derided as some sub-mutant form of literature—not real novels and a lowly form of writing. Well, anyone who holds this snobbish, elitist viewpoint has never written a novelization—and probably never read one either.

The ratio of good to suck among novelizations is the same as all fictional works; most are forgettable, some are terrible, many are good, and a small percentage are outstanding works of art. As far as the mechanics of writing are concerned, it is actually much harder to write a novelization than an original novel from scratch. Turning an original screenplay into a novel that remains faithful to the vision of the script writer and film-makers and yet adds something unique to the experience is a challenging craft to master. Here is a list of the best ten novelizations ever—books that succeed as a stand-alone literary experience on their own while still paying proper homage to the cinematic source material that spawned them.

“The Abyss” (1989)
Novelization by Orson Scott Card
Based on the screenplay by James Cameron

One of best novelizations you will ever read. But to call it a novelization would be a dis-service. It is a brilliant epic science fiction novel by a master writer in top form. It pulls off the seemingly impossible and manages to take the vision of one of the most gifted cinematic storytellers of all time and translate it to the novel form. I love Michael Crichton’s “Sphere”, but this is a far more imaginative take on the same premise with better execution.

“Videodrome” (1983)
Novelization by Dennis Etchison (writing as Jack Martin)
Based on the screenplay David Cronenberg

While it is impossible for a novelization to capture Cronenberg’s relentlessly harrowing atmosphere of paranoia, James Woods killer performance, and Debra Harry’s haunting presence—Dennis Etchison (writing as Jack Martin) comes about as close as possible in this crisp, fast-moving, very readable and mostly faithful adaption of a revolutionary piece of avant-garde cinema.

“Final Destination 3” (2006)
Novelization by Christa Faust
Based on the Screenplay by James Wong and Glen Morgan
Based on characters created by Jeffry Reddick

James Wong and Glen Morgan wrote some of the greatest “X-Files” and “Millenium” episodes and do a bang up job with this spooky, supernatural slasher film. But here is a case where the novelization does not just compliment the movie—it surpasses it—by a lot. And keep in mind I really like this movie.

Christa Faust’s adaption is full of rich characterizations, insightful narrative, revealing interior monologues, and even some really emotional scenes. Everything in this book just feels right and rings true. If this were separated from the movie and released and marketed by a major publishing company as a young adult horror novel, it would garner rave reviews and be a smash success.

“Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” (1972)
Novelization by John Jakes
Based on the screenplay by Paul Dehn

Anybody who has ever read any of Jake’s popular historical fiction classics such as “The Bastard” or “North and South” knows what gifted and polished storyteller he is. He has a terrific readable style, good tight descriptions, and a great sense of pacing. Jakes really captures the dark, brooding Orwellian feel of the movie and does a great job getting us inside the mind of Caesar. A real page turner with exciting action sequences. The ending is based on an earlier version of the script and is even darker than what is the final theatrical cut.

“Basic Instinct” (1992)
Novelization by Richard Osborne
Based on the screenplay by Joe Eszterhas

There is a reason a Hollywood bidding war broke out for the rights to the “Basic Instinct” script. It is a fantastic screenplay with pristine structure, great characters, and knockout dialogue. This neo-noir classic was brought to life by director Paul Verhoeven.  Richard Osborne adapts the screenplay with flawless execution, seamlessly blending his own words and style with Ezterhas’s, creating a fast-paced, titillating, addictive read.

“Aliens” (1986)
Novelization by Alan Dean Foster
Based on the screenplay by James Cameron
Story by James Cameron, David Giler, Walter Hill
Based on characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett

This is can’t miss for two reasons. One—Alan Dean Foster is the all-time master of the novelization. Just about any of his adaptions are worth reading. Two—James Cameron films always make for great novels. Cameron is not just a control-obsessed visionary director. He is also one hell of writer and always creates realistic, memorable characters. Foster does a superb job in balancing character and action in this immensely entertaining novel.

“The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)
Novelization by Donald F. Glut
Based on the screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan
Based on the story by George Lucas

Maybe the greatest fantasy adventure story of all time, “The Empire Strikes Back” is just about universally considered to be the best “Star Wars” film, and it all starts with the marvelous screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan.  Having such wonderful and rich source material to work with is a mixed blessing because it also raises the expectations of the reader. Donald F. Glut succeeds immensely really capturing the flavor of the movie. As with “The Abyss”, this book succeeds as a novel on its own. All three novelizations of the original trilogy are outstanding.

“Close Encounters of the Third Kind”
Novelization by Steven Spielberg
Based on the screenplay by Steven Spielberg

“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was like a quasi-religious out of body experience for me on that Thanksgiving weekend back in 1977. I picked up this book the same weekend thinking it would be impossible to recreate the experience in fictional form, but this novelization—written by the man himself—comes pretty damn close. There is also great supplemental information, backstories, and some great insight into the Roy Neary and Lacombe characters. A well-done adaption of a powerful, classic film.

Here is a vintage interview with Spielberg done by RogerEbert in 1977 that provides evidence it was indeed the bearded one himself who wrote this novel and not a ghost writer. Of course he had no beard back then.

 “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)

Novelization by Greg Cox
Based on the screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Story by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan

Admittedly this book does not add much new material to the screenplay but Cox does a great job of capturing each character, delivering interior monologues, and pacing the epic action.  A strong, workman-like adaption that is a must own for those who dug the film and for Batman fans in general.

“Dressed to Kill”  (1980)

Novelization by Campbell Black
Based on the screenplay by Brian De Palma

This truly reads like a thriller novel. Campbell Black wisely stays away from trying to mimic De Palma’s visual poetry by simply describing what transpires on the screen and focuses on character development and motivation.

Editor's note: Since posting this I have read several novelizations worthy of consideration for this list including "Willow" by Wayland Drew, "Interstellar" by Greg Keyes, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" by Alex Irvine, and "Supergirl" by Norma Fox Mazor, and more. New article on the subject coming soon.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

High energy, killer performances make “American Hustle” best film of 2013

There have been many great con artist themed movies over the years—“The Grifters” (1990), “The Hustler” (1961), “Confidence” (2003), to name just a few. But the vibrant new David O. Russel directed film “American Hustle” just might be the best of them all. It is that good.
“American Hustle” stars the electrifying Amy Adams and the superb-as-always Christian Bale as a couple of gifted con artists who fall prey to an eccentric and ambitious FBI agent (played with hilarious, over-the-top-intensity by Bradley Cooper) and are forced to participate in an ill-conceived sting operation that goes wildly off the tracks.

“American Hustle” is set in the late 1970s New York City. Russel and his talented crew take full advantage—especially the production designer and music supervisor. There is a wonderful, disco-era high energy charge to this movie. If “The Wolf of Wall Street” is “Goodfellas” with stockbrokers then “American Hustle” is “Boogie Nights” with grifters—complete with beautifully staged steadicam shots and gorgeously composed push-ins on the photogenic actors and their spot-on wardrobe, accessories, and other 1978 era pop culture anchors.
The screenplay written by Eric Warren Singer and Russell—kinda, sorta based on actual people and real stuff that happened—is a masterwork of intricate plotting and complex characterizations brought to life with entertaining realism by an engaging cast who take their roles and run with them. There has been much hype, and deservedly so, about the work of Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn—the kooky, crazy wife of Christian Bale’s character Irving Rosenfeld. Her supporting role, as well as the work of Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Remmer, are Oscar worthy.

But make no mistake, this movie belongs to the two leads, Christian Bale and Amy Adams. The Oscar competition for Best Actor will be fierce this year, but Bale is as deserving as anyone. Amy Adams flat out gives the best performance of the year by an actress—easily the best.
Bale’s Irving Rosenfeld is a complicated and charismatic character who we root for because we sense that beneath all the swindling and gamesmanship, there is a truth and a sweetness to him. Bale has a long, storied history of inhabiting his roles with a beyond method-like transformational approach. It seems Amy Adams may have absorbed some of the actor’s process because she is flat out fantastic. Her Sydney Prosser/ Lady Edith Greensly is captivating, dark, mysterious, conflicted, and bursting with sexuality. Like Bale’s Rosenfeld, there are many layers, but beneath it all we can sense there is vulnerability, truth and goodness.
There is this wonderful, romantic scene early in the movie showing how Sydney and Irving meet over a mutual love of Duke Ellington. The chemistry between Bale and Adams is off the charts and it is a scene that shows the true core of this story. Beneath all the con games, elaborate scheming, and outrageous humor—“American Hustle” is a love story. It is the best film of the year.