January is a time for Top 10 lists of the previous year, for catching up on holiday releases that you somehow never got around to seeing, and for recommending the only flick that's just edgy enough for one of your parents but not too risque for the other (scratch Wolf of Wall Street off that list). In any of these practices, you're bound to consider American Hustle, director David O. Russell's 2013 follow-up to Oscar contenders Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter. Surely, even if you've somehow put off seeing the film, you've happened upon some decidedly lavish advertisements. The very first thing you're likely to have noticed upon scanning the Hustle posters or watching the trailer: the hair. But a second glance might awaken quite an interesting realization about the movie's all-star cast... especially for fans of the superhero genre.
Not only have each of the main players taken high, if not top, billing in a major superhero release (or, in the case of Bradley Cooper, one on the way), but a good number of the supporting actors have history in the genre as well.
Superhero: Batman, natch. More synonymous with his DC character than any of the other American Hustle stars are with their respective comic book roles, Bale redesigned Bruce Wayne with filmmaker Christopher Nolan, graduating from the property after trilogy capper The Dark Knight Rises.In American Hustle: Bale plays the schlubby but charismatic Irving Rosenfeld — a working class con artist who manages to work the magic of deceit with a strange air of earnestness.Powers in Common: Deception. Bruce Wayne spends his days cavorting, schmoozing, hobnobbing, elbow-rubbing, and other gerunds exclusive to the very rich. All the while, he's masking his true identity. Irv obscures his hidden intentions all throughout Hustle, living up to a Wayne-like standard of secrecy.
Superhero: Lois Lane, who, though not a superhero in the traditional sense, is the de facto sidekick of the most iconic comic book legend of all time (Superman) and a force to be reckoned with in 2013's DC release Man of Steel. Adams will return as Lane in the forthcoming Batman vs. Superman, opposite Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill, respectively.In American Hustle: Adams plays Sydney Prosser, a.k.a. Lady Edith Greensley — a colossally powerful con artist at frequent odds with her own quest to forget who she really is.Powers in Common: Working people over. In Hustle Sydney/Edith is able to permeate the minds and hearts of everyone she meets. In Man of Steel, Lois Lane is the only Earthling (save maybe for a long deceased Jonathan Kent) who can get through to the lonely ol' Kryptonian Kal-El. Adams does have that charm.
Superhero: Rocket Raccoon. Technically Cooper hasn't played him yet, but he's slated to voice the animated live-wire in this summer's Marvel release Guardians of the Galaxy.In American Hustle: Cooper deals in Russell's special brand of emotional volatility with FBI Agent Richie DiMaso, prone to explosive bouts of "passion" (let's call it what it is — lunacy), such as fussing with partner/rival Irv's immaculately prepared toupee or beating the hell out of his own boss at the agency.Powers in Common: Unpredictability. Fans of the Guardians of the Galaxy comics recognize Rocket Raccoon as a bit of a wild card among the interplanetary heroes. You can easily say the same for DiMaso, whose hair-trigger temper gets him in a bit of (though not nearly enough) trouble.
Superhero: Mystique, the pupil-deficient X-Men villain. Lawrence plays Mystique and her alter ego, Raven Darkholme, in 2011's X-Men: First Class and the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past.In American Hustle: Lawrence plays Rosalyn Rosenfeld, Irv's hot-tempered, "free spirit" wife who just can't quite seem to stop setting things on fire, and loves the smell of a good rotting nail polish.Powers in Common: Funnily enough, Rosalyn is one of the only people in this movie not employing some metaphorical sort of shape-shifting (Mystique's signature ability). But the character's propensity for interloping the communities of kingpin criminals and persuading them to do her bidding does ring true for the X-Men villain.
Superhero: Hawkeye, the Zeppo Marx of the Avengers Initiative.In American Hustle: Renner plays good-hearted politician (go figure) Carmine Polito, who bends the law in order to afford his New Jersey community the funds it needs to thrive.Powers in Common: They're both straight-shooters!
It's not only the central five who have superheroic roots. Renner's screen wife Elisabeth Röhm was a recurring player on the fourth season of NBC's Heroes. Hustle mafioso Jack Huston had a role in the sci-fi epic Outlander. Cooper's FBI boss Louis C.K. wrote and directed Pootie Tang (it's kind of a superhero movie...). And Michael Peña has gone on record saying he'd like to work with Robert Rodriguez to develop a Mexican superhero flick. As you can see, Russell's movie runs deep with super powered blood... and the costumes are flashier than your standard cape-and-tights get-up to boot.
American Hustle is now open in theaters everywhere.
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The Writers Guild of America selected the 101 best written TV series of all time. Here's what we have to say about the top five.
1. The Sopranos It would be a crime NOT to put David Chase's mob drama about Italian-American mobster Tony Soprano (played by James Gandolfini) at the top of the list. By showcasing intense issues with an artistically graphic and entertaining flair, the writers struck ground in the mafia genre and created a family that "gave us an offer we couldn't refuse." Six un-fogget-able seasons led us to an infamous series finale that left viewers forever in disbelief. No one can remember what the episode was about, but the cliffhanger ending will forever stick in our minds. Cue "Don't Stop Believing."
2. Seinfeld There might be "no soup for you" but WGA gave a second place nod to Seinfeld's co-creators, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David. Although David's spot at #30 for Curb Your Enthusiasm recognizes the show's "retroscripting" of an outlined plot filled with improvised dialogue, Seinfeld is a sitcom where the writers essentially write about "nothing." While episodes are mainly based on the writers' real-life experiences, the fictionalized antics of Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer have become a cultural phenomenon through classic episodes such as "The Puffy Shirt" and "The Pez Dispenser." Yada, yada, yada.
3. The Twilight Zone It is easy to recognize the haunting success of the sci-fi fantasy series through its evolution into a feature film, a radio series, a comic book and a variety of other spin-offs. But however revered the series is in the world of sci-fi lovers, it is difficult to decipher who should be commemorated for the series' lasting effect on pop culture: the writers of the series or the composers of the iconic theme song. The thrilling Twilight Zone achieves something that is less common in television today by allowing the politically symbolic stories to be the star of the series, even though several of the actors (i.e. Robert Redford, William Shatner, and Carol Burnett) went on to become icons.
4. All in the Family While the CBS sitcom wasn't initially a television hit, it soon blew up with its depiction of controversial issues never before seen in a sitcom format. Notorious for using television comedy to generate a national conversation on difficult issues, the writers revolved present day conflicts around family life inside a Queens home. A true test of the show's success is that even though the show ended over 30 years ago, the well-written but not always politially correct characters still influence their most faithful viewers: the recent death of beloved actress Jean Stapelton, best known as the family's matriarch Edith Bunker, has left many fans in mourning.
5. M*A*S*H M*A*S*H, starring Alan Alda and Wayne Rogers, is most notable for being the only long-running series based around a war zone. However, it is also commemorated for its flawless integration of comedy and the traumatic themes inevitable in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. The series spans a three-year military conflict during the Korean War, but the real beauty of many of the plotlines is that they were founded on stories told by real MASH surgeons interviewed by the production team. To make M*A*S*H even more deserving of a top spot on the list, its series finale in 1983 was the most-watched television show of that time.
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It was the trickle of pee heard around the world. Cannes attendees were aghast and/or amused an infamous scene from The Paperboy that shows Nicole Kidman urinating on Zac Efron; this is apparently a great salve for jellyfish burns which were covering our Ken Doll-like protagonist. (In fact the term protagonist should be used very loosely for Efron's character Jack who is mostly acted upon than active throughout.)
Lurid! Sexy! Perverse! Trashy! Whether or not it's actually effective is overshadowed by all the hubbub that's attached itself to the movie for better or worse. In fact the movie is all of these things — but that's actually not a compliment. What could have become somethingmemorable is jaw-droppingly bad (when it's not hilarious). Director Lee Daniels uses a few different visual styles throughout from a stark black and white palette for a crime scene recreation at the beginning to a '70s porno aesthetic that oscillates between psychedelic and straight-up sweaty with an emphasis on Efron's tighty-whiteys. This only enhances the sloppiness of the script which uses lines like narrator/housekeeper/nanny Anita's (Macy Gray) "You ain't tired enough to be retired " to conjure up the down-home wisdom of the South. Despite Gray's musical talents she is not a good choice for a narrator or an actor for that matter. In a way — insofar as they're perhaps the only female characters given a chunk of screen time — her foil is Charlotte Bless Nicole Kidman's character. Anita is the mother figure who wears as we see in an early scene control-top pantyhose whereas Charlotte is all clam diggers and Barbie doll make-up. Or as Anita puts it "an oversexed Barbie doll."
The slapdash plot is that Jack's older brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey) comes back to town with his colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo) to investigate the case of a death row criminal named Hillary Van Wetter. Yardley is black and British which seems to confuse many of the people he meets in this backwoods town. Hillary (John Cusack) hidden under a mop of greasy black hair) is a slack-jawed yokel who could care less if he's going to be killed for a crime he might or might not have committed. He is way more interested in his bride-to-be Charlotte who has fallen in love with him through letters — this is her thing apparently writing letters and falling in love with inmates — and has rushed to help Ward and Yardley free her man. In the meantime we're subjected to at least one simulated sex scene that will haunt your dreams forever. Besides Hillary's shortcomings as a character that could rustle up any sort of empathy the case itself is so boring it begs the question why a respected journalist would be interested enough to pursue it.
The rest of the movie is filled with longing an attempt to place any the story in some sort of social context via class and race even more Zac Efron's underwear sexual violence alligator innards swamp people in comically ramshackle homes and a glimpse of one glistening McConaughey 'tock. Harmony Korine called and he wants his Gummo back.
It's probably tantalizing for this cast to take on "serious" "edgy" work by an Oscar-nominated director. Cusack ditched his boombox blasting "In Your Eyes" long ago and Efron's been trying to shed his squeaky clean image for so long that he finally dropped a condom on the red carpet for The Lorax so we'd know he's not smooth like a Ken doll despite how he was filmed by Daniels. On the other hand Nicole Kidman has been making interesting and varied career choices for years so it's confounding why she'd be interested in a one-dimensional character like Charlotte. McConaughey's on a roll and like the rest of the cast he's got plenty of interesting projects worth watching so this probably won't slow him down. Even Daniels is already shooting a new film The Butler as we can see from Oprah's dazzling Instagram feed. It's as if they all want to put The Paperboy behind them as soon as possible. It's hard to blame them.