As the awards season publicity is now prominently appearing on our television screens in the UK, many of the frontrunners are starting to appear in cinemas across the country. To me the cinematic calendar is now partially defined by this first month of the year as the awards contenders show their faces. The first movie of the year is always an event for me; in 2013 I began the year with Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained and this year I was lucky enough to start my cinematic year with director David O. Russell's glorious American Hustle (2013).

The movie stars Bale as conman Irving Rosenfield, with Amy Adams as his mistress and accomplice Sydney Prosser, and Jennifer Lawrence as his vibrantly eccentric wife Rosalyn Rosenfield. Irving and Sydney are recruited by an egotistical FBI agent played by Bradley Cooper to help him to entrap Jeremy Renner's erstwhile mayor who would like to secure the return of gambling to Atlantic City.

The movie is set during the '70s and it owes a lot of its camera aesthetic to the work of Martin Scorsese in his stellar 1990 movie Goodfellas. However, while Goodfellas offered a telling insight into mafia life and culture it also offered little in the way of a cohesive arc for many of its characters. Nor was it easy to find compassion for the central protagonist and narrator. Here the central theme running through the main characters is the idea that life itself can at times be a con and a deceitful conceit that is illustrated outwardly and contextually by the characters played by Bale and Adams.

O. Russell and his screenwriter are quite explicit about the fact that while this story is an archetypal caper movie, it is also a telling portrayal of the transitionally organic nature of our lives; as our desires change and our aspirations are affected by existential experience we create emotional and professional myths for ourselves that change over the course of our lives. The movie asks the questions, are we the same person at work that we are at home or with our families, lovers and friends? What is the impact of these strange paradoxes to ourselves? Because this movie is so decidedly centred in Americana and duly the contingencies of western culture and aspiration, it is able to ask if these facets of life are defined by a consumerist and monetarily aspirational culture. The director lets these ideas bubble under the surface of a movie that is outrageously funny, sexy, quirky and uplifting. Most reviewers have tended to suggest that American Hustle is all surface and yet the fact is it is able to unite fun and frolics with an emotionally satisfying arc this is a wonderful string in its bow.

  • Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle

The performances here are uniformly sensational. Amy Adams manages to combine a sense of awareness, sexuality and vulnerability that is simply a joy to watch. Jennifer Lawrence has perhaps a less sympathetic character to portray and yet she brings a bruised heart to the proceedings when her character could have ended up being a cardboard cut out (her rendition of 'Live and Let Die' as she vengefully cleans is clearly a sight to behold!). Bale offers much comedic value with the worst comb over I have ever seen, and his character has a political and moral awareness that betrays the amorality of his chosen profession. Bradley Cooper's character is as unsympathetic as can be and his performance is tonally correct. Cooper dances with the snake hips of John Travolta and he even curls his hair as much as the ladies do! There are wonderful angry remnants here from his performance in Silver Linings Playbook (2012) in his scenes with FBI supervisor Stoddard Thorse (played by Louis C.K). Cooper deserves much credit for another great performance here. Jeremy Renner is better than he has been for a long time and there is also a cameo from a seasoned veteran that I won't ruin for anybody who has yet to see the movie.

The movie is assisted by an upbeat and rhythmically cathartic soundtrack which features Donna Summer, Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra amongst many others. These songs are illuminated by cinematographer Linus Sandgren, and it is when the characters get to dance, drink and socialize that these two elements come together to help to elevate the movie. The use of music is truly breathtaking and again owes a debt to Scorsese. A few scenes made me reminisce about Robert De Niro seeing Sharon Stone for the first time in Casino (1995).

While David O. Russell has clearly been influenced by the work of Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson and to an extent Steven Soderbergh, he has still managed to craft a movie that is funny, sexy, emotional and that roars along at a pace many of his peers will seek to emulate themselves in years to come. He is assisted by a great ensemble cast and a script that betrays its seemingly banal story. There are emotional riches here too; maybe that's part of a beautiful con?