Thursday, January 9, 2014

My Favorite Movie of 2013

It's been 17 years since "The Year of the Indie," when the independent film movement of the '90s reached its peak and movies like Shine, Secrets & Lies, Sling Blade, The English Patient and Trainspotting took big money and big awards.

Possibly the most highly-regarded of the indie hits of that year was the Coen brothers' Fargo. The Coens had had a small but strong following since their 1984 debut, Blood Simple. But it was Fargo - the perfect movie at the perfect moment - that raised their profile for a mass audience. Ever since then, just about every Coen movie has been met with reflex praise by critics, film students, and people who are just trying to look smart when awards season rolls around.

Well, I apologize if it seems too obvious, but my favorite movie of 2013 is...

Inside Llewyn Davis

From the very first frame, with Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography immediately evoking (without ripping off) the iconic imagery of the '60s folk music scene, this movie had me. All the more so as that first song kicked in, produced by frequent Coen collaborator T-Bone Burnett. (Inside Llewyn Davis is, on one level, a spiritual sequel to the Coen/Burnett movie O Brother, Where Art Thou, which was set a couple decades prior.)

Admittedly, the 1960s Greenwich Village setting and American folk revival soundtrack gave this movie a huge head start with me. I dug into the Dylan catalogue in my teens, and haven't strayed too far from folk since. But the movie has far more to offer than simply a recreation of a time and place.

The Coens are once again operating at the top of their game. They are, at this point, technical, formal and artistic masters. Every turn of the story, every move of every character, the Coens make with confidence and self-assurance. They make it look easy.

As a character, Llewyn Davis can be difficult to relate to. His grief is legitimate, but his inability to process it only alienates him further. He's not looking for a free ride, but he expects favors. He has bad timing, but also a stubborn refusal to see beyond his own expectations. Oscar Isaac, a relative unknown, strikes a perfect balance between being the cause of his own misery and being a victim of circumstance. He delivers a nuanced performance disguised as morose and monotone. And he can sing too!

Inside Llewyn Davis is smart and insightful, visually and aurally beautiful - another grand achievement by Joel and Ethan Coen. How have these two been this good for this long?


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