"American Hustle" and "Her": 2 great American comedies

Jennifer Lawrence in "American Hustle"; Joaquin Phoenix in "Her."
Columbia PIctures/Warner Brothers

(CBS News)  'Tis the season for holiday movies . . . and our critic David Edelstein has seen two new films he really likes:

This is crazy: Two great American comedies, both unlike anything you've seen, opening within days of each other.

Cue the "Hallelujah Chorus"! No, wait, let me just tell you what they are.


The stars of the new '70s crime drama spoke t... 03:07
 "American Hustle" is directed by David O. Russell, who's near the top of my list of favorite directors. In "Three Kings," "The Fighter" and "Silver Linings Playbook," he cultivates a disequilibrium that liberates actors, and captures the messy collision of self-interests at the heart of this tragic-comedy we call American life.

Here, he takes on the late-seventies sting known as Abscam, where the FBI (with help from a con man) created a fake sheik and drew all sorts of sleazy politicians to the honey pot.

This is not, repeat, not the real story. Here, the New Jersey mayor played by Jeremy Renner isn't a greedhead but a good guy who wants to put his people to work, so the con man (played by Christian Bale) becomes a Judas figure. 

The hairstyles by themselves are worth the ticket price. Bale's is the most hideous comb-over in history, and Bradley Cooper's tight little curls as a desperately insecure FBI guy are almost as ridiculous.

The women are both nuts and gorgeous. Amy Adams flashes her blue eyes like stilettos as Bale's co-conspirator, and -- look out! -- it's Jennifer Lawrence as Bale's uninhibited wife, detonating one madcap line after another. 

I like "Her" even more, meaning the movie by Spike Jonze with the stupendous Joaquin Phoenix as a lonely man in an unspecified future who falls in love with his operating system.

She's voiced by Scarlett Johansson and sounds yummy.

For a while, the movie feels like it's going to be a satire of a world where people turn to social media for companionship, solace, even sex. But that's not what interests Jonze. He's not a satirist, he's a romantic. 

In "Her," the relationship between man and machine is real enough to make us ask what a relationship really is -- and if we can ever transcend our narrow shells and bond with another entity.

I think any species that can produce a movie as daft and yet lucid as this one has a shot.


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