The final big smackeroo of the 2013 Santa Barbara Film Festival was Roger Durling‘s on-stage encounter with guaranteed Best Actress Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence. Durling is an open-hearted admirer of the 22 year-old actress and offered much effusive praise, but this tends to make Lawrence glaze over a bit. (What can you say when someone says you’re the greatest? “Yeah, I guess I am”?) But he was knowledgable and polite and gentle with her, and it was all to the good.

Silver Linings Playbook star Jennifer Lawrence, Santa Barbara Film Festival director Roger Durling during last night’s tribute — Saturday, 2.2, 8:55 pm.

Lawrence spoke about how she likes to keep her acting fresh and instinctual. She doesn’t like to prepare too much and waits until the day of a scene to memorize her lines.

Her performance as Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook shows she has great hot-flash instincts and loads of intense primal energy. But — let’ s be honest — this didn’t come through in a vivid and unmissable way until she hooked up with the mesmerizing David O. Russell.

Last night’s message, in short, is that Lawrence is a very fine actress, but only in the right film and under the right director is she wowser. Durling called her the bee’s knees. What he meant was “under Russell she was.”

She was tough and planted — a paragon of backwoods backbone — in Debra Granik‘s Winter’s Bone, and blazingly alive and vulnerable and sometimes gobsmack in SLP, but her other performances (The Beaver, Burning Plain, Like Crazy, X-Men) are just okay — agreeable, sufficient — by contrast.

The clips of Hunger Games that were shown last night reminded me what a lousy film it is, and what a painfully tedious director Gary Ross can be with average or sub-average material, especially when you compare Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen with Tiffany and what Russell got from her.

For me, the best part of the tribute was a collection of clips (which Durling personally assembled) that showed how Lawrence is cut from the same cloth as Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey, Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night, Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve and I forget who else. Everyone got it. Lawrence’s Tiffany belongs to a long tradition of spunk.

Watch this clip for Russell’s imitation of Robert De Niro‘s reaction to Lawrence after they performed their first scene together: