|David O. Russell|
There are few people that are practically as synonymous nowadays with The Oscars as David O. Russell. Among the working talents, very few directors have had a track record so perfect as him (maybe Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese come close). Since 2010 with The Fighter, he has racked up 25 Oscar nominations between three films, including the achievement of having nominations in all four acting categories TWICE between Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. It is no laughing matter. It is an honor very few films hold with the last one being director Warren Beatty's 1981 masterpiece Reds. With today marking his 57th birthday, I pose a question that I ponder every awards season just because of his clout: Will Russell ever win an Oscar?
This may be tough to believe largely because of how high profile he is. He is the quintessential director for "prestige" mainstream dramas. He's been considered an actor's director. He's lead Jennifer Lawrence (Best Actress - Silver Linings Playbook), Christian Bale (Best Supporting Actor - The Fighter), and Melissa Leo (Best Supporting Actress - The Fighter) to their first Oscar win. There's something to his appeal, otherwise he wouldn't be nominated so much. In this sense, I do believe that he is shooting for an Oscar every time out now. I think it's the only way to describe American Hustle, which for its enjoyable nature felt mired in shoving the most prestigious cast available to do a period piece - a genre that has usually done well at the Oscars.
To centralize his own track record a little better, Russell has five Oscar nominations to his credit: all for writing and directing between his last three films. He has won zero. While my general argument is that theoretically he is being set up to eventually win Best Picture, I am more curious to know if he'll just win a category in general. It does seem like despite being the prestige of the mainstream, he is always second place to something more popular. Films like The King's Speech, Life of Pi, and 12 Years a Slave have stood in his way. With the general consensus being that the awards are a popularity contest (which I tend to sway back and forth on agreement), it doesn't make sense why Russell has such a lousy track record.
Before I continue, I likely should share my thoughts on Russell, as it feels mandatory for all Oscar prognosticators to have nowadays. While I do think he does applicable work, I cannot say that he is an overall favorite for me. While his early work like Three Kings and Flirting with Disaster captured an edgy and exciting director, his recent films have mostly been more serviceable as wholesome entertainment with an edge. With that said, The Fighter is arguably my favorite of his work and feel it reflects the ideal point in this argument. It was a character drama with fantastic performances and a nice blend of drama and comedy. It is his most mature film to date and one that clarifies what I hoped everything since would have been. While I really like American Hustle, it is more for its sporadic unevenness (and that I have forgotten most of it after each time). I do think that there's potential for him to make something on par with The Fighter again, but from the looks of Joy - he is probably too self-conscious and working in the "feel good" genre that has ruminated in his last two films.
That isn't to say that I don't look forward to each new film he does. I even saw Accidental Love. I do think that there's something between the awards and the acclaim that is present with the most prolific of Oscar contenders throughout history. It feels like everyone is overdue for an award, even if it's to symbolize a career achievement. I am unsure if Russell's best work is officially behind him, but I do think that it would be bizarre to not win at least one in any field. Do I think he should have won for any of his filmography? Not necessarily. But if you consider that films meant to be crowd favorites like Slumdog Millionaire win, why not Russell? I am sure that his filmography is working inevitably to a film that is both timely and an effective balance of drama and comedy. It is what he's good at and why he likely keeps getting nominated for. We just need that masterpiece now.
One of the closest comparisons that I can think of is for Peter O'Toole. For what it's worth, the great actor appeared in two Best Picture winners (Lawrence of Arabia and The Last Emperor) and received 8 Oscar nominations. This record would be astounding for anyone. However, his legacy as a charismatic actor hasn't worked out and his only award was an Honorary Oscar. While most would be baffled and annoyed by this, I do think that it shows that even the best can have a run of bad luck. I am not saying Russell as a director is as good as O'Toole as an actor. I'm simply stating that since both had noticeable presence, it doesn't make sense why they never won. Even if one was to do a more apt (stylistically) comparison for Russell, director Mike Nichols won an Oscar for his character dramas even as his later films saw actors receive nominations.
In the end, this is a tertiary argument and simply to be an Oscar nominee holds its own certain weight. Most people haven't gotten to 5 nominations personally and 25 cumulative for their directed films. Russell already has quite the impressive record even if he is never to be seen again. Yet there is a part of me that thinks that he is going to fall into a camp like Scorsese: winning long after he should have. His win will likely be more of a career recognition award than a legitimate craft one. Then again, I don't know how Joy will do. For all I know, it will be the film I am hypothesizing about. For now, I can only answer my question with a shrugging yes. While a lot of greats have only ever been nominated and never won, there is something to those elite who do. I am not saying that Russell is the greatest, but he does have a special place in the current Oscar trend, and it would be impossible to totally write off him actually winning, whether it be for writing or directing.