David O. Russell

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“Unconsciously we all have a standard by which we measure other men, and if we examine closely we find that this standard is a very simple one, and is this: we admire them, we envy them, for great qualities we ourselves lack. Hero worship consists in just that. Our heroes are men who do things which we recognize, with regret, and sometimes with a secret shame, that we cannot do. We find not much in ourselves to admire, we are always privately wanting to be like somebody else. If everybody was satisfied with himself, there would be no heroes.”
― Mark Twain

As we march towards the Oscars and Hollywood readies itself to crown its new king, the director category sits there like the guests at the dance who didn’t bring a popular date. Every other member of every other branch, seven in total, but only six if you count the individual branches using the preferential ballot, picked Argo.  But the directors didn’t.

In the past 40 years of Academy history, Chariots of Fire is lone Best Picture winner that trailed its competition with the 4th highest nominations tally overall.  Argo stands in line behind 4 other films this year with only the 5th highest total.  With that 8th nomination, a directors nod, Argo would have tied with Silver Linings Playbook and Les Miserables, giving Affleck a realistic chance to win.  But there was a reason Argo was left off the Best Director list.  No one has adequately come up with a good enough reason to satisfy his fans.  “It was a fluke,” some say. “It was just a quirk of weird timing in a weird year.” But the truth is that the directors branch knew Argo was a frontrunner and they knew everyone expected them to nominate Affleck.  We were all surprised when he wasn’t on the list.   Probably he split up the vote along with Bigelow, Tarantino, Anderson and other strong directors in a strong year.  Affleck’s unexpected absence ended up working in the film’s favor and now, inexplicably, Argo is the film to beat.  No film has ever won with the fifth most nominations.

If the names that replaced Affleck and Bigelow had been bad choices, lazy choices I could see condemning the Academy.  But you have to admire a group that picked Benh Zeitlin and Michael Haneke, stepping outside the box to reward visionary auteurs.  How can you complain about that? For once, the Academy has proved itself more daring than the critics.  Whoda thunk it?

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After a six-year absence from both arthouses and multiplexes, filmmaker David O. Russell (Flirting with Disaster, Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees) returned in 2010 with The Fighter. The family/boxing drama received seven Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Director, winning for Best Supporting Actor (Christian Bale) and Best Supporting Actress (Melissa Leo), and went on to gross $129 million worldwide.

Russell followed the success of The Fighter with the recently released Silver Linings Playbook, his most personal film to date. The film, based on the novel of the same name by Matthew Quick, follows Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), home after a stint in a mental institution where he’s been coping with his bipolar disorder. His parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) attempt to help Pat regain his life, but it’s Pat’s equally troubled new friend Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), whose ability to gently guide Pat out of his comfort zone, may be the key to Pat’s Silver Linings. I recently had a chance to speak with Russell in celebration of him being nominated for a Golden Globe (Best Screenplay), two Critics Choice awards (Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay), and two Independent Spirit awards (Best Director and Best Screenplay). Here’s what Russell shared with me about his first experience adapting a book, how his experiences with his son helped him find the emotional core of the film, and crafting Silver Linings Playbook.

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