Am I a dispassionate pundit, weighing the relative merits and demerits of this and that film with a sense of fairness, restraint and balance? Uhm, nope. I have strong feelings yea and nay, and I let fly and play favorites during award season. It’s certainly no secret that I’m in the tank for Silver Linings Playbook, and that I’ve been setting up camp in this tank since Toronto. And so last night I co-hosted a special SLP screening along with director-producer JJ Abrams at Bad Robot in Santa Monica.

Invitation art styled by Dylan Wells.

Six or seven or eight HE readers attended along with Abrams, director Charles Shyer and various journalist pallies. Here are some reactions:

Variety‘s Jeff Sneider: “I just wanted to thank you and J.J. Abrams for hosting last night’s screening of Silver Linings Playbook at Bad Robot, which has one of the coolest offices I’ve ever seen. I could’ve spent all night admiring the artwork (both professional and amateur) lining the walls, as well as the numerous knick-knacks in the lobby.

“I thought David O. Russell did a great job with the movie, which was fantastic and is, in my mind, a sure-fire Best Picture nominee. Bradley Cooper displayed more range than I’d ever seen from him, and Jennifer Lawrence was a human stick of dynamite. But oddly enough, it was Robert De Niro who I came away most impressed with. I thought he was note-perfect, and I’m surprised he’s not being leading the Best Supporting Actor conversation. Perhaps he is in some circles, though Lawrence and to a lesser extent Cooper seem to have dominated the awards prospects for the film. I thought De Niro’s scenes with Cooper were messy and real and wonderful, clearly the result of developing some chemistry during Limitless.

“I loved the quirky tone of the script and how it could veer from funny to serious from one line to the next. I was also impressed with the editing, which did a nice job of conveying the manic energy of the characters. But aside from the movie itself, it was just nice to sit down in a comfortable screening room surrounded by like-minded movie lovers, some of whom I met during the pre-screening cocktail hour. J.J. and the rest of the Bad Robot staff were very gracious hosts, and it was a pleasure to share an evening with a carefully selected group of your friends and readers. Thanks again for having me.”

Director-writer Charles Shyer (Baby Boom, Father of the Bride, Affair of the Necklace, Alfie): “I don’t know where to begin. There was absolutely nothing predictable about this film…except of course, that the picture, the actors, the screenplay, and the direction are all going to be nominated for Oscars…and that most will win.”

HE reader “Lane”: “Silver Linings Playbook is a human dramedy that explodes with exuberance, pathos, and empathy. Some have described it as Capra-esque, and I agree, if Capra were making films for the ADD generation. Much has been said of Jennifer Lawrence, and yes, she’s fantastic, but this is Bradley Cooper‘s film. Like Jack Black did in Bernie, Cooper completely escapes into the role and is absolutely invested, convincing and on-target as Pat. A nomination is absolutely in order, and if the award was given for sheer emotional investment to a role, he would win.

“And it’s so fantastic to see Robert DeNiro back in form. There wasn’t an off moment for him. He nearly brought me to tears and it just shows what he is still capable of with great writing.

“The film plays at a breakneck speed, which wonderfully mirrors the psychological state of Cooper’s Pat Solitano. The second half starts to feel more ‘normal,’ but this also mirrors Pat’s psyche. Some have complained that the second half falls into more traditional ‘romantic comedy’ tropes. But I think they’re missing the point. It’s a fantastic use of editing and pacing that only enhances this emotionally and intellectually engaging piece.

“With so much going on, this is a character piece through and through, and it takes a talent as supreme as David O. Russell to rein it all in and feel methodical and complete. With its generous screenplay and performances, a deliberate and cohesive aesthetic, a rocking soundtrack, and a strong sense of empathy, Silver Linings Playbook is a crowd-pleasing gem.

(l. to r.) Once Upon A Time co-scripter Vladimir Cvetko, editor David Scott Smith, Graemme McGavin at Bad Robot complex following Monday night’s screening.

‘We don’t see this alchemy achieved very often or so well in today’s movies. Sorry, Argo — you’ve got nothing on SLP. With many deserving contenders this year, I’d be happy if Silver Linings Playbook took Best Picture. Tackling so many genres throughout his career, with a clear voice and vision, O. Russell has cemented himself as one of America’s best.”

L.A. Daily News critic/staffer Bob Strauss: “Silver Linings Playbook not only presents us with the best acting jobs of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence‘s careers; Masanobu Takayanagi‘s cinematography is in perfect, jittery harmony with their characters’ volatile mannerisms. Who knew such an edgy style was even possible? Probably Russell, who’s chased this kind of look in several films but has never quite gotten it nailed this smooth and precisely.”

HE reader “Buster”: “SLP was challenging, which was good, but filled with unlikable characters and improbable situations, not quite as far-fetched as I Heart Huckabees but still in that wheelhouse of steaming hot psychobabble that likely comes from too many years of therapy. From this collection of clinically crazy characters, omniscient shrinks and shrieking parents came something completely unexpected and welcome.

“Particularly in the form of Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Tiffany, a seriously ‘wounded bird” who deals with her dead husband by becoming a nymphomaniac, a woman with a heart of gold and a mouth that makes men melt.

“Jeffrey Wells has compared Lawrence to Shirley MacLaine‘s Fran Kubelik in The Apartment. I wouldn’t go nearly as far. MacLaine did a lot more with a lot less than Lawrence does here. Still, Lawrence is a joy to behold, and — apart from her physical attributes — knows how to make the most of a glance, a smile or other small gestures. Jeff seems right in giving her a near-lock on the Best Actress Oscar, at least as far as I can tell this far in the Academy sweepstakes.

“And I can see a slew of other nominations but few if any wins for the rest of the Silver Linings crew — Bradley Cooper in the lead role of an obsessed psycho, Robert DeNiro as his gambling fool of a father, and Jacki Weaver as his long-suffering mom. The movie zips along with rarely a dull moment, the music selections are mostly spot-on (although I occasionally wondered why a 1969 Stevie Wonder song pushed Cooper over the edge, yet he could dance effortlessly to a somewhat similar 1973 Wonder number, ‘Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing’).

“This is a movie you’ll recommend to your cinema-loving friends, but steer your dopey movie pals far away to something safe and fun like Skyfall or Argo. Because, like it or not, Silver Linings Playbook isn’t safe or fun — it’s actually pretty sick, but even with a slightly cop-out Hollywood ending, it’s also pretty smart.”

HE reader Jesse Crall: “In a crude fashion, I can divide David O. Russell‘s films into two categories: (a) Intense subjects handled with dark comedic flourishes and (b) more playful exercises twisted by surreal qualities. The Fighter, Three Kings and Spanking the Monkey fit the former, and Flirting With Disaster, I Heart Huckabees, and now Silver Linings Playbook fall into the latter — ostensible comedies that refuse to adhere to genre or tonal expectations.

Silver Linings is the best comedy Russell’s ever directed. Like The Fighter, he takes a worn premise and turns it into a special viewing experience thanks to the careful manner through which he presents his subjects.

“Like Lincoln, Silver Linings arrives with a built-in ending, but while Spielberg and company opt for appropriate sepia tones and a reserved presentation, Russell lets his film unfold in a skewed manner unlike any mainstream comedy this year. Like the best works of Hal Ashby (Shampoo, Harold and Maude), Silver Linings embraces the capacity for high comedy and conflict that emerge through the genuine interactions between eccentric personalities.

Invitation styled by Mark Frenden.

“Among Russell’s comedies, it feels the most representative of honest relationships, lacking the philosophical satire of Huckabees or screwball elements of Flirting With Disaster. It understands its universe, finds the right place to jump in, and foregoes distracting embellishments for a poignant look at how even turbulence can produce the well-earned silver linings so earnestly sought by Bradley Cooper‘s Pat and Jennifer Lawrence‘s Tiffany.

“Despite its romcom plot, Silver Linings is shot in gray tones to match Philadelphia’s autumn skies. Extreme close-ups of faces inject the viewer into characters’ lives, sometimes intrusively to highlight their claustrophobic mental realms. A stand-out scene features Cooper thrashing through a late-night manic episode with frantic cuts scored to Zeppelin’s unwieldy rocker ‘What is and What Should Never Be,’ an unnerving scene that substantially enhances the path to the film’s eventual resolution.

“Lawrence, a grounded, sturdy force in the wilds of Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games, ironically moves with feral qualities in the suburban settings of Silver Linings. Whip-smart, pissed off and sexually entangled, her unstable Tiffany matches the neuroses of Cooper’s Pat, a manic-depressive prone to enraged outbursts and sudden infusions of unrestrained enthusiasm. Both characters keep their bodies moving through jogging, though dance, through fighting…Cooper and Lawrence nail the physical demands of unfocused hyperactivity as well as honestly handling the emotional damage threading their characters’ choices.

“Russell’s script does them plenty of favors though, turning moments of high contention into unlikely reservoirs for comedic banter. Cooper’s demonstrated his ability to nail the Caustic Asshole roles but in Silver Linings, he delivers a touching portrait of fluctuating hopes battling against uncontrolled impulses.

Robert De Niro stands out most among the supporting players, turning his decade-long infatuation with gruff fathers into his most satisfying portrayal yet as Pat Sr. He’s all tense shoulders and vein-popping anxiety brought on by a nasty trifecta of high-stakes gambling, a dangerous Eagles football obsession, and an inability to understand his son’s personal complications. His face and Cooper’s fill the screen when they interact in scenes often awkward or charged with uncertainties. Jackie Weaver, as Pat’s well-intentioned mother, offers a more stable counterbalance though her short stature sinks beneath the looming frustrations of the two Pats. Just as her men command the screen, Weaver’s Dolores shrinks thanks to Russell’s wise decisions to highlight her timidity through high angled shots.

Silver Linings falls victim to placing the entire plot’s fortunes on the result of ‘The Big Event,’ in this case a same-day football bet and dance competition for which Tiffany solicits Pat as a partner. A subplot involving Pat Sr.’s financial straights doesn’t carry as much weight as his son’s romance and the Eagles references only pay off during a scene in which Lawrence confronts his bizarre game-day superstitions. Still, despite my knowing Silver Linings‘ conclusion a half an hour in, the film delivers a helluva time as we move toward the finish.

“Despite its genre, Silver Linings never descends into twee styling or cute contrivances. A deep chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence establishes itself within seconds of their meeting, playing off each other with acerbic wit, sweet dependence, and the physical exploits of dance, jogging, and cruel disputes, sometimes in the same sequence.

Silver Linings Playbook again confirms Russell’s mastery of presentation, someone who looks beyond the supposed limitations of a plot by focusing instead on nuance. Precise details like Pat and Pat Sr’s matching necklaces, Pat’s oft-mentioned weight loss and desire to ‘get fit,’ or Tiffany’s donning black clothes and make-up all serve to make the characters unshakably familiar.

“Some critics have called Silver Linings a pleasant male fantasy thanks to the young Lawrence’s built body and her character’s penchant toward bed-hopping. These critics are making the mistake of shallow plot reading, ignoring the complexity behind Tiffany’s sexual exploits and failing to appreciate how moving her coupling with Pat becomes. Lawrence’s talent allows her to build a Tiffany that’s both mature and frightening in her capacity to alienate family and friends and a tactless ‘meet cute’ with Pat warps the notion of love at first site.”