Yes, American Hustle certainly had some merit to it, and deserved some recognition. But did it deserve to win the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Best Musical or Comedy? Absolutely not.
The film definitely had some redeeming qualities to it. Namely, the acting and dialogue. There is no denying that the actors did well at delivering the entertaining, and typically smart, dialogue. As such, they deserved awards like Amy Adam’s Golden Globe for Best Actress, and even Jennifer Lawrence’s award for Best Supporting Actress (though this one is debatable).
But there is far too much wrong with the story to overlook. In addition to having a relatively bland plot, American Hustle opens with a present timeline, which lasts for about five minutes. In this time, you learn that there’s an uncomfortable love triangle between Amy Adams, Christian Bale, and Bradley Cooper’s characters, and Bale’s character is self-conscious of his baldness. Then prepare yourself for a solid hour of awkwardly-narrated exposition.
Yes, backstory is a critical component to any story. But does it really require an hour just to bring your audience up to speed with the story? Why not just start the film off at the backstory? Yes, moves like this can be artistic, but they must have a purpose. There didn’t appear to be any good reason to have the film structured in this manner, as it contributed very little to the final product. Quite the contrary, it resulted in a distracting, slow mess.
All the while, the audience has to labor through terrible narration, detailing every move that is taking place on the screen. Like the exposition structure, narration can be an effective tool, but not when it treats the audience like idiots who need to be told what’s happening.
So how did it win the Golden Globe award for Best Musical or Comedy?
As stated, the film does boast some outstanding performances from its cast ensemble. Bale, Adams, Lawrence, and Bradley all put forth their best foot (although Lawrence’s foot may have been a bit too young for the role). It’s not uncommon for an actor to elevate the quality of the script with their performances. A good actor can turn a dead script, and make it come alive, providing the illusion of a good story (which is what happened here).
But that’s why there are separate categories for acting! While acting plays a large role in a film’s quality, you cannot simply ignore its gaping faults, judging the final product on this criterion alone (otherwise, we demand that The Dark Knight receive the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture).
So who deserved to win?
In all honesty, it’s a difficult tossup between Her and Inside Llewyn Davis. Although both films also have their areas of weakness, overall, they were not simply good because of the performances. They both boast smart, well-paced scripts that are accessible and entertaining.
When judging a best film, all factors must be weighed and considered. In the end, the question that must be asked is, would this be a good movie if the performances hadn’t been so great? A good movie can exist without outstanding performances, simply coasting on a solid script alone. But a great film—a film deserving of titles like “Best Motion Picture”—should promise a nice balance between all pieces. Unfortunately, American Hustle cannot make that promise.