When it comes to cinema, forget about it: January really is the most wonderful time of the year. It's when most of the Oscar contenders line up for release and there's something worth queuing for every week. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and 12 Years a Slave are both to come in the next 10 days and the month and year begin with American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter director David O Russell's story of Seventies schemers who just can't stop scheming.

Based on (some) real-life events, it brings us into the fly-by-night world of Irving Rosenfeld (Bale), a dry cleaning store owner turned serious scam artist who finds his dream partner (and lover) in Sydney Prosser (Adams), a former stripper who now works under the name of 'Lady Edith Greensley'. During a time of crippling interest rates Irving and Sydney find a way to fleece businessmen who are desperate for funds. But among them is an undercover FBI agent, Richard 'Richie' DiMaso (Cooper).

Duly cornered, Irving and Sydney are 'persuaded' to work for Richie on sting operations. Already chock full of sexual tension, ego and distrust, the trio's relationship becomes even more dysfunctional and co-dependent when Richie decides to pursue a career-making case involving corruption and a pompadour-wearing New Jersey mayor named Carmine Polito (Renner). Everyone in this shakedown/takedown is already in way over their heads. And that's before the Mob and Irving's motormouth wife Rosalyn (Lawrence) become involved.

In grifter parlance, director Russell really knows how to put together a crew. By pairing Bale and Adams from The Fighter with Cooper and Lawrence from Silver Linings..., and throwing Renner into the bargain, he has given viewers the chance to see a great ensemble tear it up in a comedy-crime mash-up powered more by cringe than cool. From outfits to outbursts, American Hustle's debt to Goodfellas is huge and while it's slower and pudgier than Martin Scorsese's masterpiece, the performances make it a must-see – great examples of the difference between being a film star and an actor. Icon status, you feel, awaits Jennifer Lawrence as the latter. It takes some kind of talent to steal the show from Bale, but here, as "The Princess of Passive-Aggressive Karate", she makes it all look so easy.

You should gladly give up your money for a piece of this action. Do the Hustle.

Harry Guerin