Why Oscar snubbed the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, what some are saying is the best film of the year.
The Coen brothers have had a solid relationship with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, particularly in the last few years. After their breakthrough with Fargo in 1997, they have continued to receive plenty of nominations and wins throughout the years, but their latest offering, Inside Llewyn Davis, wasn’t included in the Oscar 2014 Best Picture nominations shortlist. To make things worse, it was also left out of Best Screenplay, Best Director and it didn’t get a single acting nod, and critics and film lovers alike have been airing their outrage wondering how this could be.
The Academy loves a success story. Last year’s Best Picture, Argo, is a prime example; the same cannot be said for Inside Llewyn Davis
Inside Llewyn Davis is the story of a struggling musician trying to make ends meet in a cold and unforgiving winter in Greenwich Village, New York, 1961. Llewyn Davis, played brilliantly by Oscar Isaac, is stuck playing the same venue to the same people week in, week out. He’s constantly borrowing money, sleeping on sofas of “friends” and fellow musicians and not getting anywhere with his music endeavours. Although Inside Llewyn Davis seems grim, it doesn’t automatically mean that it wouldn’t be Oscar-worthy – looking at some of the Best Picture nominees this year, there’s a lot of serious subject matter (12 Years A Slave and Dallas Buyers Club, for example). So why leave it out?
The Academy loves a success story – characters defeating the odds and overcoming their external and/or internal struggles. Last year’s Best Picture winner Argo is a prime example. Many of the nomees for the Academy Awards this year have the same themes (Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, Captain Phillips), but the same cannot be said for Inside Llewyn Davis.
Like many other projects by the Coen brothers, Inside Llewyn Davis is a funny, intelligent movie, but there’s an undercurrent of melancholy. This continuous, infectious sadness takes over you, even though you feel that it will never get better (and it doesn’t). You do root for the main character, even though he’s not entirely likeable and you know he will never succeed. He’s stuck in a continuous loop of failure, mostly down to his own choices. This doesn’t comply with what the Academy looks for in the movies of the year, even if they’ve made exceptions before.
There’s no question that the competition this year is fierce, but the Academy have ignored Isaac’s beautifully subtle performance
Also important for Oscar is big, bold performances that are larger than life. Oscar Isaac, not one of Hollywood’s biggest names, gives a truly outstanding performance as Llewyn Davis. But it’s incredibly turned-down, purposefully – subtle and underplayed, as the role needed. The Best Actor nominees this year are far from subtle: Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a very physical and emotionally demanding performance in 12 Years A Slave, while Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey went through physical transformations for their roles in American Hustle and Dallas Buyers Club. There’s no question that the competition for this year’s awards is fierce, but the Academy have ignored the beautifully subtle performance from Isaac.
Many critics have commented how Inside Llewyn Davis is a great example of ‘art imitating life’. Though I agree, I’d go further and say that it’s a fine example of ‘art imitating art’. By that I mean it’s an incredible depiction of a man chasing his artistic dreams and literally being left out in the cold. It’s a vicious cycle, ultimately routine but utterly relatable.
The Academy would ideally want Llewyn Davis to succeed, but the film is about falling short and, in the end, not truly giving it your all
The Academy would ideally want Llewyn Davis to succeed and get his big break, but the film is not about that. It’s about falling short, losing and, in the end, not truly giving it your all. It’s a bleak but beautiful point from the Coen brothers. The movie itself is an experience and an utterly mesmerising one. It takes you off as if you were actually stood in Greenwich Village in the 60s with these characters. Its washed-out visuals are unparalleled, while the soundtrack soothes you and makes the journey whole (thankfully, the film was recognised in both sound and cinematography).
Inside Llewyn Davis may not be as powerful as 12 Years a Slave, nor may it have a world-renowned movie star in the lead role like The Wolf of Wall Street, but it’s captivating and compelling. Initially, after watching, I thought it was the best Coen brothers film since No Country For Old Men. Now I’d say it’s the best Coen brothers film since Fargo. So don’t let the lack of Oscar nominations put you off – it may not be Academy-friendly, but Inside Llewyn Davis is truly brilliant.
All images: CBS Films/StudioCanal