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December 13, 2013


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This was a really awesome review/post Glenn. I'm disappointed to hear that "Hustle" didn't really work for you, since I still want to see it in theaters and it looks at the very least to be loads of fun, but I couldn't agree with you more about critics who get so bowled over by that "jazzy", "he loves his actors man!" vibe of certain directors and their films. What I can't stand is how some of these critics, and I'm thinking about Edelstein, Zacharek, and Charles Taylor back when he wrote for Salon, use their obsession with "humanism" as a cudgel to beat up on filmmakers who dare to think that performance and atmosphere need to work at the service of narrative and overall theme. So by definition directors like Russell are better than Fincher or the Coens or a movie like "Premium Rush" is better than "The Master", because it just seems so tossed off. Edelstein says he loved the lead performances in "Blue is the Warmest Color", but needs to mention that he doesn't like that the director made the actresses go through tons of takes to get them, as if that matters in the end. And I'm already seeing a few comments on how "Wolf of Wall Street" is "frigid".

It's frustrating, since the attitudes you're criticizing here still dominate way too much film discussion. Is film writing ever going to get out from under the shadow of Pauline Kael?


I think it's really unfair to just dismiss people who didn't have the same opinion as you. To call people who loved the movie "idiotic" or act like they were "conned" is actually pretty unfair and naive. Maybe you found the film sloppy and poorly executed, but maybe for others this so called "sloppiness" is ambitious and admirable. You may think the film can't make up its mind by having so much going on, but others may think it has made up its mind. It wants to be ALL of those things. Some may think it succeeds in doing so, some make think its poorly executed. Everyone has their own views an opinions. Just because you didn't think it was a great film doesn't mean it isn't. Art is subjective. You act like your opinion is the one and only that can be right. Respect other's views and opinions. I love most of your reviews but this write-up frustrated me.

Don R. Lewis

I agree with your basic premise, and Lawd knows Glenn and I have argued about similar...issues. It's not nice to call people idiotic and I don't know who he's referring to but it's probably a few of my friends/colleagues and I agree, it's rude. BUT, Glenn's point's as to WHY the opinion(s) expressed are "idiotic" are very good ones.

As a "younger" critic still I am constantly angered and frustrated by critics (who really are "reviewers" technically....which is fine, but still) who don't understand much about film aesthetics, editing or even film history. What they're really obsessed with is getting a review out FIRST(!) without giving much thought as to what is being said in the review. I had a friend who's a critic call a movie "a modern day "Harold and Maude" if Maude wasn't an older woman" which made me literally grab and pull at my hair out of anger.

However there are many esteemed, educated and learned critics out there who are in the same business so there's a constant pressure to try and puff out ones chest and make some kind of loosey-gooesy comparison that's usually a pretty thin one. "This movie is (insert well thought of, not extremely popular, critical darling) ______________ but in (modern day, not proven, lesser filmmakers) own way."

I get sick of this kind of stuff almost as much as I'm sick of the younger critics labeling and pining for "the NEXT KUBRICK!" or "the NEXT LUCAS!" as if in order to be taken seriously, they have to extend a hand to some filmmaker with 2-3 films under their belts and herald them. Be Pauline Kael to their DePalma and Truffaut to their Hitchcock. It's really an extension of the "FIRST!" and "toldja!" internet criticism.

I've yet to see "American Hustle" but I think Glenn's point is that yeah, on the surface "American Hustle" might look like "Goodfellas" or smell like "Casino." But Russell isn't operating in the same kitchen as Scorsese, at least not yet. And copying something or cherry picking motifs and cues doesn't make you or your film as good as that of a master. Catching a whiff of an influence then comparing 2 films is lazy and sloppy, especially if no evidence or backup is cited in the review...which is why most film criticism is in fact reviewing.


Glenn Kenny

Thanks, Don. I'm not going to get into the extent to which I'm Grinch-y or not here (and you should check in after you see "Hustle"), but when someone actually comes out with a deliberate provocation like the "this is a better Scorsese movie than Scorsese has made" remark, I really don't know what the "proper" response to that is. Or what other response a sensible person should be expected to make.

Josh Z

It's disappointing to hear a filmmaker as smart as Soderbergh act so defensive about critics. It's his job as a director to make movies for people to watch. If those people (including critics) don't understand what he's doing, then he has failed at his job, no matter how much other directors may appreciate it. That's not to say that he needs to pander to the audience, but he should at least recognize that critics are part of that audience, rather than dismiss them.

Besides which, it's not like Soderbergh is some populist hack who makes "movies for the people, not the critics." Sure, he's had some mainstream efforts, but I'd dare say that films like Bubble or The Girlfriend Experience were hardly seen by anybody EXCEPT critics. If he has so little respect for critics, then who the hell does he make movies like that for? Solely for his own narcissistic ego-stroking?

I like Soderbergh, and I like most of his movies. But an attitude like that strikes me as extremely bizarre for someone who wouldn't have a career at all if critics hadn't championed his early works (and many of his later works too).


Russell's distinct style seems to involve chaos. Sure, he loves his actors, but I think that he especially loves working his actors into hysterics, and then contrasting it with a still moment or character at the center. In Silver Linings, it was the calm on Cooper's face at the end, where stillness = love. In The Fighter, the whole movie took place in Wahlberg's blank expressions as dozens of people shouted at him outside the frame. This might be the reason Wahlberg has served Russell so well--his default is emotive blankness, but he's pretty funny when he loses control.


"What other response a sensible person should be expected to make."

That depends on whether it's a sensible person you're responding to in the first place, or just (say) the likes of LexG.


Great writing about film, GK. Having not really seen any of the movies you're discussing, I can't really comment other than to say I like your intellectual approach and easy going writing style.

Between this and your top 30, I was really hoping you'd have something to say about "Oldboy." I rarely read reviews of movies I know I'm going to see, prefer serious film criticism after I've formed my own thoughts, but since I'd seen the original and wasn't worried about spoilers, I went ahead and read the reviews. After seeing it, it's one of those situations where you wonder if you've seen the same movie as the critics.

Your point about the technical aspects of scene construction is what prompted this. Oldboy struck me as being almost impeccably constructed; clearly a great filmmaker at the top of his game. The downside I saw was in the story, which is certainly not realistic and I suspect for most goes beyond their ability to suspend disbelief. Perhaps ultimately that aspect is redeemable by its Manga roots and Lee's presentation which I think acknowledges some of the absurdities. And again, the incredible skill of the filmmaker. I hated the original, btw.

Anyway, maybe I'm just a nice fella (actually, I don't think my mom even feels that way), but I hope I'm not making too big of an ass of myself with those comments. I'm just getting ever increasingly annoyed when critics (in general, not attacking you) seem to judge Lee more by his sometime asinine behavior than by his skills as a director and don't give his films the same respect as the Scorseses and the (cough) David O. Russells. Having not seen the great majority of your top 30, I can't be too critical of your failure to include it. But "Francis Ha?" Really? Is the fact that we live in Brooklyn and recognize the people and locations overly influencing our opinion there?

Glenn Kenny

@ mw: I think it's pretty common knowledge that I think Spike Lee is a capital-G Great filmmaker, but I'm not gonna get into "Oldboy" right now because I don't feel sufficiently confident to tackle it or its implications. As far as "Frances Ha" goes, my familiarity with its milieu would be more apt to breed skepticism if not contempt, rather than the reflexive embrace you suspect me of giving it. So the fact that I DID end up rating it high should be an indicator of my sincerity and critical disinterest, so there! But seriously, I do think it's a very sharp movie.

Jeff McMahon

I preferred Russell's early, weirder movies. For me the greatest thing he's ever been a part of was that Youtube video he starred in.


Russell just loooooves his actors. Especially George Clooney and Lili Tomlin.

Jeff McMahon

Also, to GK, I was under the impression that being "not supposed to write about Soderbergh" was a self-imposed ethical boundary based on your relationship with him.

Don R. Lewis

Speaking of David O. Russell and his YouTube stardom...how the HELL did that guy get out of directors jail so fast?? That YouTube thing should been the death of him and then like, 2 years ago didn't he sexually harass his gender confused niece or something??I bet Tony Kaye with he had David O. Russell's talent....and vice versa.Weird.


Someone read Christy Lemire's review!

''David O. Russell out-Scorseses Martin Scorsese with "American Hustle.''

Daniel Plainview

AMERICAN HUSTLE is patently "a better Scorsese movie than WOLF OF WALL STREET." Especially because WOLF is feebly trying to recreate the magic while HUSTLE is knocking it out like so many baby chocolate chip cookies.

Glenn Kenny

@ Sal: Awk-ward! Honestly, I had not looked at my esteemed colleague Lemire's review before writing this. That said, I think she is seriously misguided.

As I believe is Mr. Plainview. I do like the idea of Scorsese trying to "recreate the magic" of "Goodfellas," like it was a Hallmark movie or something. "The characters you love...doing bad things, but with less stabbing." Please note, however, that nobody who's made the "out Scorseses-Scorsese" claim has cited an actual specific instance that they can say is better, or more accomplished, than anything in "Goodfellas" or "Wolf of Wall Street." Or "Boxcar Bertha." Or whatever.


"I preferred Russell's early, weirder movies."

Yeah. I don't think he's topped FLIRTING WITH DISASTER. He should have continued with quirky little comedies instead of trying to ape Scorsese and P.T. Anderson.

It doesn't help that Russell has an arrogant personality, and thinks he's the smartest guy in any room. At least that's the impression his interviews give. Kudos to George Clooney for punching him out.

I can't comment on AMERICAN HUSTLE because I haven't seen it, but I thought SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK was ridiculously overrated, and the Jennifer Lawrence character was utterly unbelievable. It was a good movie, but not the cinematic landmark some people believed it to be.


Fucking fantastic, Glenn. Well done.

Jeff McMahon

"...knocking it out like so many baby chocolate chip cookies."

Whuh? Is this a reference to something in one of those movies?

George, I'll go you one better and say that Silver Linings is a bad movie, and only buoyed by Lawrence's performance. Her character as written is bizarre and unbelievable, but her commitment and star power did a good job of distracting from that.


David O. Russell was born in 1958, so he should have some memory of the '70s. As a teenager in that decade (as Russell was), I mainly remember T-shirts, blue jeans and long, straight hair parted in the middle -- on both genders.

I don't remember a garish parade of grotesque, overdressed freaks. That sounds more like the '80s: the decade of big hair, big shoulder pads and unbridled materialism.

Aside from watching GOODFELLAS and CASINO (and BOOGIE NIGHTS and MAGNOLIA), Russell's research must have consisted of studying photos taken at Studio 54 circa 1978. But, of course, most people in the real world weren't hanging out at a snooty Manhattan disco.

I've read that Russell rewrote the AMERICAN HUSTLE script, turning the characters into cartoons. And for this many critics are praising him as America's greatest living director, the heir to Scorsese's throne. Disgusting.

Jeff: I should have described SILVER LININGS as an "OK movie." The more I think about it, the less highly I think of it.


Having just seen AMERICAN HUSTLE and INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS in the last few days, I'm in complete agreement with you Glenn. I enjoyed HUSTLE for about 70mins or so and then I thought it went off the rails into unfocused bloat. INSIDE had me from the first scene to the last.


What's missing in American Hustle, as in way too many contemporary Hwd movies, is synchronous, demonstrative storytelling. I guess those are dry terms, but what they signify--to me, at least--are the very basic, visceral pleasures of storytelling that Hollywood used to provide as a matter of course. Almost none of the imagery, physical action or editing juxtapositions in Russell's movie is sufficient enough to move the story along without Goodfellas-derived voiceover aids or awkwardly inserted exposition in the dialogue. Scorsese's film used voiceover hyper-narration experimentally; Russell uses it imitatively, and the memoir-ish patina it gives his film seems less important than the storytelling shortcuts it provides. Each scene seems closed off from the others, a (dubious) dramatic reward in itself rather than a dependent part of a whole.

It's hard to recall many recent Hwd movies in which plot turns are demonstrated implicitly, storylines converge without being glued together with glaring exposition, and scenes articulate each other implicitly. Tony Scott's Deja Vu, with the rules of its sci-fi conceit explained by jargon-ridden character monologues, was a lamentable example of this decline; The Nolan Batmans were even worse, and Inception turns the defect into its central narrative strategy. Show-don't-tell has been discarded in favour of tell-don't-show. Those films are thrillers, which makes the shitty storytelling all the more disappointing; Russell's film is a character-based faux-journalistic drama, but it does attempt to convey an escalating tension when the scenes just fall one after another and the voiceover feels like fix-it glue.


Saw HUSTLE last night, and I completely agree with ZS's take. HUSTLE gets by through the 1st half on the power of it's actors and it's volatile energy, but really has nowhere to go after the confrontation between Lawrence and Adams, which is admittedly a great scene. But once it's over, the movie starts tying up all the loose strings and it becomes impossible to ignore the sloppiness of the storytelling. Plus, these manic, borderline psychotic characters start to become exhausting.

And enough can't be said about the ridiculousness of the Scorsese comparisons. I didn't think HUSTLE was anything like a Scorsese movie. Glenn's comparison to THE INFORMANT! are much more on the mark.


May Santa bring us many good movies for 2014...



I saw HUSTLE yesterday. Entertaining, well made and well acted, with a hilarious performance by Lawrence. Of course, if you want a factual or realistic take on the Abscam scandal, you should look elsewhere ... probably to a book.

The Scorsese cribbing did get annoying in the second half, especially when De Niro showed up as a gangster. The INFORMANT comparison is also valid. Both movies play real-life scandals for laughs. They probably weren't very funny for the people who went to jail.

Don R. Lewis

Finally caught up with AMERICAN HUSTLE and this review/backsmack totally and completely nails it. My biggest issue (and Glenn, you echo this) is that for as sloppy, lame and nonsensical as this movie is, by the end, it had somehow effing won me over.

Russell did this with SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK too. The whole time I watched that one I kept saying "this isn't a good movie, don't let it sway you..." and God damn it, by the end, it got me.

I can't even go to a guilty pleasure kind of excuse either; it's a badly made film with some great, fun performances. The music cues were more obnoxious than any I've ever seen (save FLIGHT) and still, I was rooting for Bale by the end. I do not know how this was accomplished. And just so we all know now, it's going to win Best Picture.


I saw the movie last Tuesday. I suppose I might have liked it more if it was not the front runner for best picture. As it stands, three problems strike me with it. (1) There is the ostentatious seventies of it, starting with Bale's sunglasses in the first scene, and never really letting up. It's more a compendium of seventies cliches then an appreciation of what that period was actually like. There is no strange or original detail, just flattering us for reminding of what we think we already know. (For a start, granted that I was only 10 in 1979, I've seen enough popular culture to know that women didn't wear Adams' absurdly low cut shirts to business meetings. And in fact the historical character didn't really attend the stings.) (2) It's also irritating that with a few exceptions, we learn how we're supposed to think of the five principals in the first 90 or seconds after we're introduced themselves (or reintroduced, in the case of Bale, Adams and Cooper). The contrast with Adams' last Oscar nominated movie, THE MASTER, in which the Hoffman-Phoenix relationship clearly doesn't develop into the Svengali cult dependency one would expect, is rather striking. (3) If the meaning of SHREK is that external appearances don't count, unless you're short, then the meaning of AMERICAN HUSTLE is that a little corruption is OK as long as Amy Adams likes you. Considering all the problems the United States had in the seventies, to focus what little moral outrage on Cooper's over ambitiousness (as opposed to far more damaging abuses of prosecutorial power by far more powerful people) is crowd pleasing gutlessness. Making a movie about how while Americans both North and South ostentatiously denied their racism while making sure they wouldn't have to share that schools with African-Americans, now that's a movie from the seventies we're never going to see.

Jeff McMahon

I finally saw this last night and have to generally agree with the points made above by others: it's a piffle of a movie, one that worked better for me when it moved away from the overt (and heavy) Scorsese-isms and into pure Russelliana (by which I mean, more into the kind of screwball/pinball atmosphere of I Heart Huckabee's). For me the performances were a mixed bag. I'm more and more tired of Christian Bale's performances, which seem mannered and reliant on gimmicks. I can see him working, and he's not a generous performer. Adams and Lawrence are both terrific, even if JL is a tad miscast. And the movie didn't seem to know what to do with Bradley Cooper, except that it seemed to loathe him for unclear reasons leading to his ultimate humiliation.

As for Deeper Meanings, the movie constantly dances around the idea of "Hustling man, everyone does it! Crazy, right?" but this seems less like an exploration of a moral/existential concept and more like cozy self-justification on the part of the filmmakers.

And for everything that has been said about Wolf of Wall Street glamorizing its law-breaking characters, I'd point out that the folk in this movie are pretty scummy too, and played with much more traditional movie-star industrial charm.

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