By: G. H. Harding
George Clooney

THE HUSTLE --- Everything you've heard about David O’ Russell’s American Hustle is overwhelmingly true; it is the best movie I've seen this year. Russell is reported to be one dubious cat for sure, his Silver Linings Play book from last year was a charmer through and through; but, he reportedly got into a fist-fight with George Clooney when he had the actor in his brilliant Three Kings movie in 1999. Sure, he’s an artist, but Hustle just completely blew me away in every way possible.

It’s certainly the best performance ever from Christian Bale (who essays lifelong con artist Irving Rosenfeld), who brings his patented intensity to every scene he’s in. From the opening shot where he gamely applies a hair piece to his dwindling bald pate; it’s both sad and truly funny; Bale reportedly added 40 pounds to his frame for this role. His edginess has never been better presented either; I've not seen him in everything he’s done, but this is a certain tour de force; certainly the best performance I've seen this year.

Amy Adams (Sydney Prosser), as his fellow con is utterly brilliant as well. Talk about switching your game face, she’s sexy, sultry and totally convincing in this role. Again, another stellar performance. Bradley Cooper, who’s been hot and cold in a number of recent performances, sizzles here, as well as Jennifer Lawrence and just a terrific performance from Jeremy Renner; arguably, the best thing he’s done … ever. A cameo from Robert DeNiro is stunningly good too; reminiscent of his role in Good Fellas, he almost steals the movie.

There’s one point when Bale’s character goes eye-to-eye with DeNiro’s and the effect almost toppled me over. The intensity generated ... palpable.

The movie, based on the late-70’s Abscam (short for Abdul Scam) plot which I well remember, is remarkably well written (Eric Singer) and though it might take one a moment or two to catch up, spins brilliantly. Russell also excels with various set pieces: a scene in a disco with Adams and Cooper, was brilliantly staged, with a strobe light just perfectly used going beat-for-beat with the a soundtrack. I almost felt as if I was back at Studio 54 listening to the late-great Richie Kaczor. Russell’s choices music-wise are just spot-on brilliant as well with an ample helping of ELO. If there’s an album to this movie; I predict is could be another Saturday Night Fever.

Up to this point Blue Jasmine was my year-favorite; but, American Hustle (with all due respect to Prizzi’s Honor; Goodfellas; and Married To The Mob; now wins hands-down. If you're a movie fan, you won't do better this year than this one.

NEBRAKSA --- We also caught Alexander Payne’s Nebraksa, which moves, as all of his movies, at its own pace. Certainly not the pop-culture miasma of his great movie The Descendants, again with George Clooney, nor his brilliant Sideways, but we loved his take on mid-western Americana.

With a stellar Bruce Dern, Payne has taken a tale of Dern’s character (Woody Grant) believing he has won the lottery and traveling to pick up his winnings. Along the way, he meets an array of die-hard American characters; most notably Stacy Keach, who feels that Dern’s character, owes his money.

Payne’s message is how people view you after you win … interesting for sure. SNL’s Will Forte, as one of Dern’s sons (Bob Odenkirk is the other), is terrific too. The script by Bob Nelson is full of witticisms and irony. It’s an emotional ride, slow, but sure. We loved it.

LOOSE BRUCE --- Bruce Springsteen’s entire 2014 release High Hopes, not due until mid-January, made a brief appearance on Amazon this week and is now being shared on several download sites.

High Hopes has an official release date of January 17 but appeared briefly for sale via Amazon.com on December 28. It quickly made its way onto file sharing sites and is being exchanged illegally via bit torrent files.

Earlier this month, Beyonce surprised fans with the sudden release of her 5th studio album Beyonce without notice. The publicity generated by the unexpected release sent the album to the top of the US chart in its first week.

The Springsteen release may or may not be a cleverly disguised promotional stunt as well.

High Hopes is his 18th album. It features various songs recorded over the past 10 years and includes appearances by former members Danny Federici, who passed away in 2008 and Clarence Clemons, who died in 2011.

CLOSING NOTES --- Nile Rogers’ We Are Family Foundation will next honor Steve Van Zandt on Tuesday, January 21, 2014. The evening begins with a reception at 6:30 PM with dinner, live auction and concert following at 7:30 PM.

Taking as its theme the Nelson Mandela quote and philosophy, "It is music and dancing that make me at peace with the world," the annual WAFF benefit event, hosted this year by actor/comedian Russell Peters, will include a concert and musical tribute to Mandela featuring Steven Van Zandt, Nile Rodgers & CHIC and special guests … wonder if he'll do “Sun City".

Engelbert Humperdinck is believed to be in discussions with producer Simon Cowell after he was spotted leaving Cowell’s London office on Thursday with his manager/son Scott Dorsey.

As reported last week by Noise11.com, the legendary singer recently recorded a new version of his classic “Spanish Eyes” with Cowell discovery and mentored band Il Divo. The song will be featured on Engelbert’s upcoming duets record Engelbert Calling.

Noise11 has heard that Cowell was so impressed with the Il Divo/Engelbert Humperdinck duet that he called a meeting with the singer and his manager to discuss a mentoring position for one of his shows.

Cowell is the creator of The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent and was heavily involved with the American Idol franchise.

The decision for Engelbert Humperdinck to join one of the shows would not be an easy decision to make. The 77-year old music legend is still one of the hardest working acts in showbiz performing over 100 shows around the world every year.

Humperdinck is still earning over $10 million a year, according to industry publications, and has a net worth of $150 million, according to celebrityworth.com

HAPPY NEW YEAR! See you in 2014!