December 09, 2016

Oscars: Why ‘American Hustle’ went home empty handed

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One of the more interesting and unlikely developments from this past weekend’s Academy Awards telecast was David O. Russell’s film American Hustle managing to lose in each of the ten categories it was nominated in. Historically, 0-fors almost never happen. Recent examples include Gangs of New York and True Grit, but by and large, if your movie is among the most nominated of the year, it winds up going home with at least a token win. So, how did American Hustle wind up being shut out, and why exactly did it happen?

In short, it was mainly due to the competition. The flick wasn’t nominated in any one particular category where it had an easy road to a win. Maybe if you took away The Great Gatsby from contention, maybe Best Costume Design would have been the place? American Hustle was the runner up in a lot of places, likely including Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Screenplay, but there wasn’t an obvious place to reward it, so a concerted effort was never made to just honor it in one particular place. The closest things to that was the Supporting Actress race, where Jennifer Lawrence nearly upset Lupita Nyong’o, but that was always going to be a toss up category.

American Hustle probably also suffered to some degree because of the Olympics. That stretched out the season and gave members of the Academy extra time to get around to 12 Years a Slave and to revisit films like Gravity, The Great Gatsby, and Her. With a shorter decision time, Oscar voters who were flirting with Russell’s movie might have just up and committed to it, instead of holding back and ultimately going in a different direction. You never can be sure about something like this, but I have a feeling that over the last week or two, the flick really had its momentum come to a screeching halt.

Personally, I liked the film more than a lot of my colleagues did, so I take no enjoyment in seeing it go home empty handed. That’s just the nature of the business though. There are only so many awards to be given out, and in a super competitive year like this one, something had to give. In a very literal way, the nominations turned out to be the reward for American Hustle.

You have to give the film a great deal of credit though for going hard for Best Picture right up until the last moment. Go big or go home, right? Well, in this case, the movie went big and went home, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. In the end, American Hustle came up short everywhere, but it one thing you can’t accuse anyone involved with the film of is not making a huge effort, and for that they deserve a commendation.

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He also contributes to several other film-related websites.

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