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Mitchell's Top 20 Films of 2013: #4 "Inside Llewyn Davis"

"Inside Llewyn Davis" (2013)
"Inside Llewyn Davis" (2013)
CBS Films, StudioCanal

4. “Inside Llewyn Davis” – In the dead of winter in 1961 New York City, gray skies loom overhead and leafless trees occasionally appear next to frozen sidewalks.

The Big Apple’s residents rush under these skies and on these sidewalks to their destined heated office buildings or establishments.

In Greenwich Village, many people head to a local coffee shop, cafe or dive bar for a drink, a cigarette and music.

The folk music scene is taking hold, and as the movie “Inside Llewyn Davis” opens, we see Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) performing at the Gaslight Cafe.

While strumming an acoustic guitar, he softly sings “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” under a bright spotlight in a dark room.

As one might expect with the given title, he is not performing an uplifting number, but he beautifully delivers it.

No one in the audience makes a sound while their coffees sit on tables and their burning cigarettes lie in ashtrays.

They know (and we realize) Llewyn is very talented.

Shortly after the song, however, our performer runs into a very ugly and violent situation.

Directors Joel and Ethan Coen give a beautiful moment but then suddenly set a dark tone.

This tradeoff between beautiful moments and dark tones plays all through this film.

“Inside Llewyn Davis” is a story about the title character’s struggle to make it in the music business, and his journey is anything but easy.

Without a home, without a steady paycheck and without a winter coat, Llewyn spends his days sleeping at various friends’ apartments, trying to scrape a couple bucks together and freezing in the wintery cold in between errands and gigs.

He is working through a difficult streak of bad luck, and while feeling like gum at the bottom of life’s shoe, it just seems to get worse.

Can his luck turn around?

It can, but only if he makes the right choices.

Llewyn needs to realize he is his own worst enemy, and Isaac’s wonderful performance brings plenty of suspense to the film’s question: Will Llewyn get out of his own way to find success, or will he not?

Along Llewyn’s 1 hour 44 minute voyage, the Coens drop in several folk songs - performed live during the filming - along the way.

Isaac and costars Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, Stark Sands, and Adam Driver deliver celebrated period tracks which thankfully stick in your long-term memory long after the picture ends.

Speaking of co-stars, Mulligan surprisingly takes a deliciously mean-spirited and perturbed turn as a fellow folk singer named Jean, and Timberlake and Driver team up with Isaac with an absolutely hilarious original, “Please Mr. Kennedy”.

Their song - which feels like a sequel to "Monster Mash" - is one of those classicly weird moments only the Coens can possibly provide.

At times, this movie is very funny - including a feriously comical supporting performance by John Goodman - but be warned, the film's narrative is about bad attitudes and bad luck.

Don’t plan on dancing in the isles during the film.

That is the not the point, and no question, “Inside Llewyn Davis” does dance near the top of my list of favorite Coen brothers’ films, and Isaac delivered the best lead male performance I saw in 2013.

Follow me on Twitter: @MitchFilmCritic

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