Multiplex moviegoers weren't the only ones paying attention to "American Hustle's" recent awards-season onslaught.
Over the weekend, the film grossed $690,000 from just six theaters, and David O. Russell's freewheeling con artist dramedy also screened for academy members at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. The 1,000-seat room wasn't entirely full, but eyeball estimates had about 750 people in attendance, more than any recent screening and a great number for this hectic, most wonderful time of year.
We've already covered the waterfront on "Hustle's" late-arriving momentum, and the rousing response at last night's academy screening further confirms the notion that it has emerged as the clear alternative to Steve McQueen's serious-minded historical drama "12 Years a Slave." It would be Russell's third best picture nomination in four years, a fact not lost on some academy members Sunday night.
"From people I talk to, there's this feeling that this guy is making movies for the here and now," an actor said, following the screening. "You look at 'The Fighter,' 'Silver Linings Playbook' and now this, and I think, in one way or another, they're all interested in exploring American society today. And they're all great. I think [Russell] has really earned his due."
Russell and actress Amy Adams were among the participants in a post-screening Q&A, but the loudest ovation of the night came for an actress not in the house at all -- Jennifer Lawrence. Playing the hilarious, half-crazy stay-at-home wife of Christian Bale's flimflam man, Lawrence delivers a big, brassy, risk-taking performance in "Hustle" that has wowed nearly everyone. Academy members applauded generously for each end-credits title card, but for Lawrence, they roared their approval.
"If she hadn't just won the Oscar last year, I'd say she'd be a sure thing," observed one voter, noting Lawrence's lead actress victory last year for Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook."
"Even so, I wouldn't want to be competing against her," added another academy member. "['12 Years a Slave' actress] Lupita [Nyong'o] had better watch out."
Tom Hanks was the last actor to win back-to-back Oscars, taking lead actor awards for "Philadelphia" and "Forest Gump" nearly two decades ago. Four others have pulled off the feat: Luise Rainer ("The Great Ziegfeld," 1936; "The Good Earth," 1937), Spencer Tracy ("Captains Courageous," 1937; "Boys Town," 1938), Katharine Hepburn ("Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," 1967; "The Lion in Winter," 1968) and Jason Robards ("All the President's Men," 1976; "Julia," 1977).
Unlike the members of this group, who won their acting Oscars in the same category, Lawrence would be shifting from lead to supporting. Between the novelty of the switch, the quality of the work and the high regard for Lawrence in general (the massive success of "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" doesn't hurt; even older academy members might have seen it with their grandchildren), Lawrence could join the club. She clearly won a few votes last night at the Goldwyn.
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