The rehabilitation of David O. Russell

Posted by · 5:40 pm · December 13th, 2010

As “The Social Network” continues to steamroll its way through the season’s first act, and antsy analysts begin to look elsewhere for a bit of conflict in the race, I find myself wondering what kind of sneak attack David O. Russell’s “The Fighter” might yet launch in the Best Picture field.

The film, which goes into wide release on Sunday, is perhaps the most rousing title in the Oscar mix, and if audiences take to it as an unexpected amount of critics have, it could supplant “The King’s Speech” as the warmer, scrappier alternative to the chilly precision of David Fincher’s precursor-guzzler.

Earlier in the year, “The Fighter” seemed to face one sizable obstacle to Oscar glory — the thorny reputation of Russell himself, whose ugly meltdown on the set of “I Heart Huckabees” has unfortunately became the stuff of YouTube legend, despite being the kind of private professional lapse that only his collaborators should have been party to. Between that and the addled (and finally aborted) production of his his political satire “Nailed,” Russell didn’t really seem a viable contender for much industry backpatting.

And yet, surely enough, David O. Russell seems to be turning things around. Having made the most approachable film of his career — though, despite fears I expressed in an earlier Long Shot column, the winningly rowdy “The Fighter” isn’t the vanillafication of his odd directorial personality that it threatened to be on paper — he’s clearly working on being equally accessible to the media.

He comes off well in this interview at The Envelope, in which he declares himself “humbled” by the story material he’s been given to work with on this project — that it’s his first film on which he doesn’t have screenplay credit handily ties in with the angle of a tamed creative ego. Of the film’s unusually — for him — efficient production, he adds, “Briskness keeps you out of the recesses of your own head … There’s no time for nonsense.” (Alluding to said nonsense, he matter-of-factly expresses regret over his well-publicised strops with Lily Tomlin and George Clooney.)

The reward for all this good behavior, then, is one of those generous PR platforms disguised as a festival award. It was announced last week that Russell will receive the Director of the Year award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival — an honor that has recently anticipated Oscar nods for the likes of Jason Reitman, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Alexander Payne. (Less lucky? Another prickly personality — Sean Penn.) I’m fascinated to see if the man, already years overdue for some respect from the Academy, can crack the Best Director five, or if a grudge still holds. The rapidly tightening narrative of the Best Picture race depends on it.

[Photo: The Hollywood Reporter]

→ 27 Comments Tags: , , , | Filed in: Daily

27 responses so far

  • 1 12-13-2010 at 5:51 pm

    Graysmith said...

    Three Kings is one of my all-time favourites, and I Love Huckabees was fantastic as well.. Yet I just can’t muster up any excitement about The Fighter, not even after the good reviews and notices it’s been getting. I will surely see it, but more out of wanting to see all the Oscar contenders than really wanting to see it. I am glad that Russell seems to be on a right path back after his past troubles and reputation. He’s definitely a terrific director.

  • 2 12-13-2010 at 5:58 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    See it. I was surprised.

  • 3 12-13-2010 at 6:04 pm

    Filipe said...

    Best Director seems kinda tight. IMO there’s 6 in the race, Aronofsky, Nolan, Hooper, Fincher, Coen bros and Boyle. With these top directors bringing their A-game, it’s unlikely to O. Russell get a spot for his own.

  • 4 12-13-2010 at 6:13 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I’m unconvinced about three of those, actually.

  • 5 12-13-2010 at 6:18 pm

    Frank Lee said...

    Maybe Lily Tomlin had it coming.

  • 6 12-13-2010 at 7:14 pm

    James said...

    Anyway to make this race more interesting. As much as I love The Social Network(favorite film of the year), I still have plenty to see and I’d like this race to get a tad more interesting. Its still somewhat early though.

  • 7 12-13-2010 at 7:30 pm

    Jake D said...

    Yeah, Fincher is the only director I’d put money on right now. Dunno if True Grit is going to catch on for the Coens yet. Hooper’s movie isn’t necessarily something directors will go ape for. Nolan has missed before. Aronofsky has to get Black Swan recognized. Boyle’s movie is sinking fast.

    Hell, David O. Russell looks GOOD right now. I don’t really buy the hype that’s built around The Fighter the last week or so as the possible spoiler (it seems manufactured), but there’s room up at the top.

  • 8 12-13-2010 at 7:57 pm

    daveylow said...

    I really don’t see any similarity between The King’s Speech and The Fighter. They are very different kinds of movies, except they are both the kind of movies that can appeal to larger audiences. I really think once The King’s Speech opens wide, it’s going to do very well.

    At this point it doesn’t look like anything is going to take down TSN, and certainly not The Fighter.

    I notice in the coverage of The Fighter, a lot more attention is being paid to the actors and not to Russell. I’ve been a fan of Russell’s work for years but this almost feels like a mainstream movie for him, like The Wrestler felt for Aronofsky.

  • 9 12-13-2010 at 9:18 pm

    Aaron said...

    Seriously what ever happened to Nailed? The premise sounded so strangely intriguing…

  • 10 12-13-2010 at 9:27 pm

    Michael said...

    I hope The Fighter lives up to my expectations for it as I am a huge fan of David O. Russell. I really want an alternative movie to see later this weekend after watching Tron Legacy on Friday and that looks like the perfect movie. The idea of Christian Bale possibly winning an Oscar makes me extremely happy and I would love nothing more than to see Russell be nominated (along with Fincher and Arronofsky if I could have my way.)

    On a side note – does anyone know what is going on with The Kings Speech? Seriously I wonder what the Weinsteins are doing with that movie and when are they releasing it wide? I kinda feel like they are self sabotaging the film’s momentum and other things (like Black Swan for example) are filling in the void rather nicely. I feel like they should’ve released the movie wide by now so that it could start to make a splash with the public (and could have made up for the lack of quality adult fare last weekend with The Tourist sucking hard) – but what do I know? It’s probably not going wide until early January or maybe they are waiting until after the Oscar announcements to really see what business they can drive up or something. I just feel like that movie is like some cloud that is looming and I really want to get it over with and see the damn thing (and not because I necessarily am interested in it either.)

  • 11 12-13-2010 at 9:41 pm

    daveylow said...

    I know The King’s Speech is opening wider on Dec. 25 but I’m not sure how wide.

  • 12 12-13-2010 at 9:41 pm

    Napoli said...

    David O. Russell is a horrible human being and no amount of PR rehab will change that. Those videos were just the tip of the iceberg, this guy has crazy skeletons in his closet. But people love an underdog so maybe his humbling will work for him.

  • 13 12-13-2010 at 9:45 pm

    Colin said...

    Agree with Jake about the manufactured hype. I was at a screening where it was liked well enough, then I start reading about how my audience was going crazy for it and cheering and doing standing ovations. It’s a good film, but I have to question the amount of attention this site has been giving it (and other Paramount films) as of late.

  • 14 12-13-2010 at 10:08 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    No mention of David O Russell putting Christopher Nolan in a headlock at a Hollywood house party.

  • 15 12-13-2010 at 10:09 pm

    Zack said...

    Volatile directors do seem to have more of a problem getting awards love than their acting counterparts; I mean, look at Sean Penn and Russell Crowe. Or hell, Christian Bale, who, unlike Russell, I don’t think has ever moved from anyone’s predicted lineup all year.

  • 16 12-14-2010 at 2:49 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    daveylow: I really don’t see any similarity between The King’s Speech and The Fighter. They are very different kinds of movies, except they are both the kind of movies that can appeal to larger audiences.

    So you do see a similarity, then.

    Obviously, I’m not saying they’re alike at all. But they are both audience-pleasing biopics with narratives built around different varieties of human triumph.

    Napoli and /3rtfu11: I don’t really follow industry gossip, and I’m not really all that interested. Plenty of great artists are less-than-great human beings.

  • 17 12-14-2010 at 4:06 am

    Graysmith said...

    “Plenty of great artists are less-than-great human beings.”

    Not to mention, people can change their ways. Russell must’ve surely understood after the tensions of making Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees and the public backlash that he has to change his behaviour if he wants to keep making movies.. And I haven’t heard a single peep or rumour about The Fighter having had any trouble.

  • 18 12-14-2010 at 5:14 am

    JJ1 said...

    Cowering in the corner — I’ve never seen a David O. Russell movie yet. The Fighter, which I’m highly anticipating, will be my first.

    Box office gurus, is The King’s Speech opening wide(r) on Christmas a good decision, or should it be earlier?

  • 19 12-14-2010 at 5:48 am

    Michael W. said...

    And congratulations to David O. Russell with the Golden Globe director nod. The Fighter had a strong showing. Wahlberg also got in.

    I have said it since March/April. The Fighter wins the Oscar for best picture. And until The Social Network might begin to win all the industry awards too, I stick by that! :-D

  • 20 12-14-2010 at 7:32 am

    Leone said...

    David Russell comeback — I like it! Storybook really since the movie is about a comeback. And very cool he was recognized for his work on this movie at the Golden Globes this morning.

    To Jake and Colin — I was at two screenings of this movie – the AFI Film Festival screening and a SAG screening. Both reactions were really great. And there actually was a standing ovation at the SAG screening I attended and the AFI audience clearly loved the movie. So I’m not sure what screenings you attended (maybe SAG is just a more exuberant group?) but I can say that what I felt in the room was quite enthusiastic and organic. People really seemed to love the movie. I know I sure did. I’m nobody special, of course, so I’m sure critics and “insiders” know more, but the heat was definitely in those rooms… even I could feel it.

  • 21 12-14-2010 at 10:42 am

    Ben M. said...

    I wonder if the stories were a bit overblown and feel that usually if the work is good the academy will ignore some personal issues.

    I remember two years ago when Benjamin Button was starting its campaign some stories were circulating about David Fincher being an unlikeable person, and now he is about to get his second directing nomination (and quite possibly a director win).

  • 22 12-14-2010 at 11:13 am

    Ed O. said...

    The stories are not overblown. The man is a monster. Had the misfortune to work with him and am kind of surprised that the REAL stories aren’t getting out.

    And The Fighter was not the peaceful, loving set everyone is making it out to be now. Melissa Leo couldn’t stand him, but its funny how awards attention will make people forgetful.

  • 23 12-14-2010 at 11:16 am

    Maxim said...

    Care to go into a bit more detail, Ed?

  • 24 12-14-2010 at 12:02 pm

    sosgemini said...

    And again, no mention of his “if not racist” then damn inappropriate statement in the recent NYT write up. :sigh:

  • 25 12-14-2010 at 12:50 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    ^^“Behind the camera, Checking the ego” Are you referring to this article? I want to read for myself what potentially racially insensitive thing he said.

  • 26 12-14-2010 at 1:03 pm

    sosgemini said...

    ^^^^That’s it. This is comment that has stirred up discussion on black blogs but that is totally missing on the Oscarwatch blogiverse.

    “Dicky is basically a black guy, like a Muhammad Ali type of black guy who never stops moving and talking, which was very liberating to Christian because he is a very quiet person.”

    Either he is saying that all black people are tweaking crackheads or that we are all smooth Muhammad Ali movers. Either way, epic FAIL!

  • 27 12-15-2010 at 12:31 am

    Jake D said...

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, I can’t judge. The weird Best Picture buzz that suddenly happened about a week ago just felt weird and unnatural. But hey, right now it looks like it can back up the hype, so more power to it. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if it deflated in, say, two weeks’ time.