David O. Russell is among the best directors working today. Bursting into mainstream notoriety with 2010’s The Fighter, Russell had few films under his belt before it. However, his early films boasted dark humor and family dysfunction, traits the director has never lost. Often his films depict complex relationships between dysfunctional families, but he still manages to inject heart and meaning into his films. Through his nine films, Russell has earned several Oscar nominations and critical acclaim. Here is a look at five of his very best films.
#5. Flirting With Disaster
Russell’s second feature film stars Ben Stiller and a huge cast that includes names like Patricia Arquette, Tea Leoni, Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, Josh Brolin, Mary Tyler Moore, and Richard Jenkins. The cast list is exhaustive, but the film is hysterically funny and twisty. Ben Stiller stars as a man who goes looking for his real parents with the help of an agent of the adoption agency from which his parents adopted him. It’s a zany and quirky road trip comedy that offers up some surprising moments of heartfelt dialogue. It transcends many of the tropes associated with screwball comedies.
Rich in period detail, and brilliantly cast, American Hustle is a film with some great acting and a complex, but never convoluted, narrative. It’s sharp and witty dialogue allows its talented cast to thrive in a stylish and energetic environment. Eric Warren Singer and Russell’s script is frenetic. Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence all earned Oscar nominations for their work in the movie and Jeremy Renner is also fantastic. With it’s complicated FBI sting narrative unfolding, the movie also has some witty comedy and often hilarious sequences that only adds to the authenticity of the film.
A biting satire of U.S. foreign policies, and war, Russell’s Three Kings is an intelligent film. Once the Gulf War has ended three soldiers want to go home rich, but instead they end up having a morality crisis. Russell’s script has a lot to say about the politics of the war and its effects on the people who fight on both sides. Mark Wahlberg, George Clooney, and Ice Cube are wonderful in this anti-war film. It is funny and features some great action sequences. Three Kings is a rare war thriller that has something say without coming off heavy-handed.
Russell’s biopic of boxer Mickey Ward is a stunning achievement. Mark Wahlberg delivers an emotional performance and dives into one of his most complex and layered characters. Christian Bale is also terrific in the movie and earned his first Oscar win. The Fighter leans into some of the more predictable elements of the boxing drama genre, however, it’s captivating real-life story and compelling performances elevate the film. It is overflowing with heart and emotion with a touching redemption story on two fronts. A man seeking his former glory and his brother seeking his own glory. Family often gets in the way, and Russell’s tender approach to the material delivers a knockout punch.
Though he looks formidable in A Star is Born, Bradley Cooper unearths his best performance to date in this incredible movie. A layered performance, Cooper’s turn as Pat Solitano is heartbreaking and funny. Tackling the heavy issues surrounding mental health, Russell’s careful with his approach, but doesn’t shy away from the gritty nature of bipolar disorder. It’s a constant balancing act for Pat and his father Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro) to get along. Pat Sr. has OCD, an affliction he frequently ignores, and disguises with his gambling. Pat Jr. is just looking to piece his life together, and with a mysterious new woman in his life (Jennifer Lawrence) he finds his match. Silver Linings Playbook is a wonderful film that is the crowning jewel of Russell’s filmography.