Can ‘American Hustle’ pull off an Oscar ‘Sting’?

One of this year’s Oscar frontrunners is “American Hustle;” a film set in the Seventies about an American con. It can’t help but evoke memories of “The Sting,” a film made in 1973 but set in the Thirties about an American con. For “The Sting” — which has one of the most satisfying endings in cinema — the biggest hustle was winning Best Picture. Can its modern-day equivalent pull off the same feat this year?

Let’s compare them. 

The Players
Headlining “The Sting” were the two biggest movie stars of the time — Robert Redford and Paul Newman. While it could be hard to argue anyone in Hollywood today is of their stature, “American Hustle” is packed full of A-listers: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale and Amy Adams.

“The Sting” was directed by George Roy Hill who had been nominated four years early for the first film to co-star Redford and Newman, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” “American Hustle” was directed by David O. Russell who was nominated last year for “Silver Linings Playbook,” which paired Lawrence and Cooper together for the first time and in 2010 for “The Fighter,” which featured Bale and Adams. 

The Set-Up
“The Sting” won Best Picture at the National Board of Review while “American Hustle” won the top prize from the New York Film Critics. “The Sting” was snubbed at the Globes, earning only a screenplay nomination while American Hustle” pulled off a last minute switcheroo to the comedy/musical field and picked up seven nominations. 

The Hook
“The Sting” was a feel good, fun film that stood in stark contrast to the dark horror of rival nominee “The Exorcist.” It had an ending that got people talking. While the final scene in “American Hustle” may not be as iconic, it has the same hook — a satisfying film that’s fun to watch up against darker fare about slavery and space exploration. 

The Tale
“The Sting” was the number one film of 1973, earning a whopping $156 million. “American Hustle” has taken in $60 million and is on track to break the $100 million barrier. As that falls well short of  the $250 million made by “Gravity,” “Hustle” will need to find momentum elsewhere, by winning precursor prizes. 

The Wire
The best forecast for the Oscar hopes of “American Hustle” will be when nominations are announced on Jan. 16. “The Sting” tied “The Exorcist” for most nominations with 10 apiece. “American Hustle” will be battling “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity” for that record. 

The Finale
“The Sting” went on to win seven Oscars including Best Picture and Director. No one felt more stung than William Peter Blatty who won an Oscar for adapting his bestseller and produced the picture as well. He griped that “everything was ‘down with ‘The Exorcist!’ … ‘The Exorcist’ is head and shoulders the finest film made this year or in several years.” 

What will be the outcome of this year’s Oscars. Which film will win Best Picture? Vote below using our easy drag-and-drop menu. 

7 thoughts on “Can ‘American Hustle’ pull off an Oscar ‘Sting’?

  1. If American Hustle can be like The Sting,just maybe Bruce Dern can pull an Art Carney and beat both Matthew McConaughey and Chiwetel Ejiofor.Think about it.

  2. Utterly brilliant, this piece. Bravo. Notice that Matt breaks it up into subheads that match the chapter titles in the film — savvy touch by a master writer at Gold Derby!

  3. G’Day, A. Duong, I wasn’t really trying to say Exorcist was a similar film to 12 Years just trying to make the point that the Sting and American Hustle were the fun choices compared to their cheif rivals; that’s surely not much of a straw clutch? Not sure how many straws I actually cluth since I am more than willing to point out differences between the two films in the article as well. Am happy to be corrected though!

    johnlsullivan, ‘tense’ is probably a better word than ‘dark’ to describe Gravity.

    and Marcus, watch it! rewatched it the other day and it’s just as good as I remember it. Thanks for reading guys.

  4. Matt, while “dark and intense” in its mood, The Exorcist pure and simple was entertainment. The Sting might have been #1 in b.o. during its year, its total gross is around $160M, while Exorcist eventually grossed more than $440M. Its BP loss wasn’t due to the fact that it was dark and intense, but more likely that it wasn’t “serious” enough of a topic. It was perceived as a horror movie genre. In that sense, Exorcist correlates more to AH and Gravity than it would be to 12. While Sting was an entertaining movie, it was done via the “purer” art of clever writing, directing and acting. Between the two, it was probably considered more “artistic”.

    12 and Gravity are not going to split votes for AH to sneak in. It would be Gravity and AH splitting votes for 12 to sneak in. 12 currently winning more precursor BP awards than all the other contenders combined (twice as many even) is because it is most serious-minded and LEAST entertaining than the others. In a field full of entertaining movies, 12’s darkness works for its favor rather than against. It’s going be 12 versus everyone else.

    But I applaud you for bringing The Sting back to life.

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