And off we go: It’s time for an alphabetical countdown of the nominees for the Academy Award for Best Picture, — because, yes, it’s only nine working days until Oscar night. (That will be March 2. I’ll be hosting a live chat that night, as always, and am still figuring out my ensemble, as for some reason no stylists have been in touch. Yet.) So let us begin with “American Hustle,” the movie that begins with perhaps the year’s most delightful title card: “Some of this actually happened.” The loosely based-on-fact story of the 1970s Abscam scandal, in which a New York con man was hired by the FBI to work a sting operation, “American Hustle” opened late in the year and immediately jumped to the front of the Oscar line — an impressive feat for director David O. Russell, who just the previous year saw his “Silver Linings Playbook” get eight nominations. Not to mention seven nominations for “The Fighter” just two years before that; this guy’s on a roll.
Still in theaters? Yes.
Total U.S. box office: $141 million (second to “Gravity” among the Best Picture nominees)
Total Oscar nominations: 10, for best picture, director, actor (Christian Bale), actress (Amy Adams), supporting actor (Bradley Cooper), supporting actress (Jennifer Lawrence), original screenplay, costume design, production design, film editing. Most egregiously, it was not nominated for best makeup and hairstyling, despite the fact that anyone who was breathing in the ’70s (which would include, I would imagine, most of the Academy) can tell you that the hair is astonishingly (and labor-intensively) spot-on.
Best chance for a win: The big awards are really down to three finalists: this movie, “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity.” Any of these could take best picture or best director; I’m thinking “American Hustle” is more likely to rewarded in other categories, but that could just be a hunch. My best guess: it’ll win costume design and supporting actress (who didn’t adore Lawrence in this movie?); maybe original screenplay — but I wouldn’t bat an eye if “American Hustle” won it all.
Odds of this movie creating some fabulous Oscar-night weirdness: Russell’s a famously free-spirited guy (when I interviewed him years ago for “I Heart Huckabees,” he demonstrated the Pee-Wee Herman “Tequila’ dance for me, for reasons that I no longer remember, but he was charming), so if he should happen to win for director or screenplay, expect an entertaining speech. And Lawrence, should she prevail over Lupita Nyong’o (“12 years a Slave”), needs to demonstrate that she can make it up the stairs to the stage without tripping.
Fun fact: Both “American Hustle” and “Silver Linings Playbook” had actors nominated in all four categories — a feat achieved only fifteen times in Oscar history, and never twice by the same director. And, even more fun fact: Bradley Cooper’s fabulous ’70s perm wasn’t actually a perm: he had 110 curlers put into his hair and then spent 45 minutes under a heat lamp every morning. “We made it a character thing, that he likes that much control and he enjoys this [routine] he does every day,” Cooper said in an interview.
The “American Hustle” cast and their spectacular hair. (Photo by Francois Duhamel; copyright 2013 Annapurna Productions LLC.)