Helping to establish the career of Jennifer Lawrence with the films Silver Linings Playbook and Joy, filmmaker David O. Russell is known for his dark vein of comedy and snappy, sparky storylines. A mainstay of contemporary cinema, he has been nominated for five separate Academy Awards for writing and directing achievements, though he has never been fortunate enough to take an iconic Oscar statuette home.
Displaying an obvious passion for his craft, he explained to Film Comment in 2014, “You must do every film like it’s your final film, every scene like it’s your last scene, and that’s the only chance you have to land on that very narrow landing strip”.
Continuing, he adds, “It means you’ve really got to hit it hard from the heart. It has to be a very captivating cinematic experience on many levels. The characters have to be very soulful and riveting in a way that’s very satisfying, that makes you love and care, and before you know it, it’s over”.
With nine films currently in his filmography, he hasn’t made a film since 2015’s Joy, though his upcoming untitled project is absolutely star-studded, featuring Margot Robbie, Robert De Niro, Christian Bale, Anya Taylor-Joy, Mike Myers, Chris Rock and Taylor Swift.
Though whilst we wait for that upcoming film bloated with acting prowess, let’s take a look into the director’s nine best films ranked in order of quality.
Every David O. Russell film ranked in order of greatness:
9. Accidental Love (2015)
David O. Russell had quite the bad boy reputation for his anger issues and on-set tantrums. By the time he started shooting his film Accidental Love in 2008, people were already wary of him as he was pretty difficult to work with.
The production of the film not only suffered and went into an unprecedented hiatus due to lack of finances and funding, but also Russell’s reputation took a toll on it. Realising his position, Russell was pragmatic enough to quit the production and take a break to analyse and reassess his career choices. The studio tried to use his later success to their advantage by releasing the film in 2015, resulting in a disastrous piece of cinema that squandered a stupendous cast and was an utter failure. Russell withdrew his name from the filmography credits, and his credits have been given to a ‘Stephen Greene’.
8. I Heart Huckabees (2004)
The wannabe follow-up to Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, I Heart Huckabees is a pop philosophy PowerPoint presentation, dictating its briefly researched topics without properly exploring them.
Starring Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Naomi Watts, Mark Wahlberg and Dustin Hoffman, and Lily Tomlin, the latter reported to Movieline of her many disputes with Russell on set, noting, “It was just crazy, crazy stuff. We were always doing something, and then we’d get manic and crazy, and I just flipped out on him. Then he flipped out on me. And you know, stuff goes on. But it’s nothing. It’s like family. If you have a big fight in your family, usually it’s treated that way on the set”.
7. Joy (2015)
From David O. Russell’s debut film to his latest one, starring his recurring leading lady Jennifer Lawrence. The comedy-drama is based on the true story of American inventor and entrepreneur Joy Mangano who created the Miracle Mop, among other ideas.
With audiences expecting a revival of the glory of Silver Linings Playbook, instead, Russell and Jennifer Lawrences’ first collaboration fell on deaf ears and failed to gather considerable momentum. As it is, it’s a solid comedy-drama though not one that is particularly memorable. As the director noted to Indiewire, “What turned me on about it was that it was not pandering, it was not glamorous, that there wasn’t a big romance; she’s the princess that doesn’t have a Prince Charming”.
6. Spanking the Monkey (1994)
The debut film from David O. Russell is a strange incestuous comedy following a med student who is forced to cancel his summer plans to look after his attractive mother whose bedridden with a broken leg.
Despite the peculiar subject matter, Russell’s film was a critical success, earning Best First Screenplay and Best First Feature from the Independent Spirit Awards and the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Elevated by an endearing plot all about the struggle of letting go, David O. Russell creates a compelling comedy filled with strange, offbeat humour and an odd touch of sentimentality.
5. Flirting with Disaster (1996)
A specific master of the screwball comedy, David O. Russell’s Flirting with Disaster, may be the best example of the director’s expertise in this area, starring the likes of Ben Stiller, Patricia Arquette and Josh Brolin.
Following a neurotic man who travels with his wife and coworker to find his biological parents, Russell’s film was screened at the Cannes Festival in 1996 and was received with positivity. Perhaps the funniest film of the director’s career, Flirting with Disaster, is a product of its 1990s context, with the director stating to Indiewire, “In the mid-’90s, sexual dysfunction and family dysfunction was all the rage”.
4. American Hustle (2013)
With a star-studded lead cast including Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, American Hustle was David O. Russell’s Hollywood statement piece with a glitzy storyline that involved the FBI, powerbrokers and the Mafia.
Revolving around the con artists Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Adams) being forced to work for the crooked FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Renner), the film brought together some of the director’s most favoured actors into one ensemble piece. Nominated for a total of ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Russell’s punchy, stylish crime drama is a Hollywood powerhouse.
3. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Having toyed with the idea of casting Anne Hathaway, Elizabeth Banks, Kirsten Dunst or Angelina Jolie in the lead role for Silver Linings Playbook, Russell eventually saw through his hesitancy to cast Jennifer Lawrence, resulting in her finest performance to date.
Playing the highly nuanced and complex role of Tiffany, a troubled young woman who suffers from psychological disorders, Lawrence strikes up a beautiful and bizarre relationship with Pat (Bradley Cooper), a man who has bipolar disorder. The actress’s performance in the film is powerful and layered with a tender emotion that frequently resonates in something as simple as a glare to co-star Bradley Cooper or a slight change in her voice. It’s a role made up of moments both grand and quiet that the actress completely owns.
2. Three Kings (1999)
David O. Russell’s third feature film proved to be a massive step-up for the director, going from being in charge of relative unknowns to working with George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Spike Jonze and Ice Cube.
The satirical black comedy was adapted by the former stand-up comedian John Ridley and follows three American soldiers who devise a plan to steal hidden gold during the Iraqi uprising against Saddam Hussein. Such creates an unusually perfect blend of action, comedy and surprisingly thoughtful drama that well utilises its eclectic lead actors. Best described as a screwball comedy set during the Gulf war, this is a surprising treat that really works.
1. The Fighter (2010)
Undoubtedly the director’s finest piece of cinema, David O. Russell’s incredible adaptation of the true story of Micky Ward, a small-time boxer trying to escape the shadow of his famous, though troubled older brother, is an altogether powerful piece of filmmaking.
Featuring a tremendous, Oscar-winning performance from Christian Bale, who fuels the film from its dramatic core, Russell’s film also stars the likes of Mark Wahlberg and the Supporting Actress winner Melissa Leo. A major critical and commercial success, The Fighter was nominated for several Academy Awards and remains a dramatic boulder-train, telling the story of familial love whilst delivering a compelling sports drama.