When the Oscar nominations for Best Picture are read on January 16th there is a good chance Inside Llewyn Davis will not among the nominees. One of the best films of the year by far, one of the best reviewed, most intricately woven works of American art by Joel and Ethan Coen looks to be the year’s most glaring omission unless the Academy somehow does what the industry thus far has been unable to do.
The Coen brothers wonderful folk fable, Inside Llewyn Davis, hasn’t lost momentum since first being seen in Cannes, has not been recognized by any of the major industry guilds so far: the SAG, the Producers Guild or the Writers Guild. Despite it being among the best loved film of the year by far by critics and various other sorts who put out top ten lists.
What it’s starting to look like is that showbiz types, industry voters, can’t connect to an abject failure like Llewyn Davis. Perhaps it hits a little too close to the bone? No one really wants to believe that they could devote their entire creative lives to become someone but then fail to do so. That is the antithesis of what making your dreams come true in Hollywood is all about. Keeping the faith, pumping the dream – all of that is what drives people to come here and put it all on the line like they do. So why would struggling screenwriters or producers or actors want to identify with Llewyn? Critics and bloggers on the other hand are, many of them, failed filmmakers, or wannabe screenwriters or novelists – to them, life IS more like Llewyn Davis than it isn’t. Even if we all want to be Bob Dylan, at our best we’re maybe his opening act. If we got that lucky.
Or maybe it just boils down to the cat. When I saw Llewyn Davis with a big crowd at the AFI Fest, many of them were troubled about the cat. They don’t like Llewyn because — SPOILER WARNING — SPOILER WARNING — he abandons the cat at one point. We later see the cat injured and limping off the road.
The key to that lovely metaphor is that Llewyn is the cat. (And before you start saying I stole this idea from the Atlantic, I thought of it first and wrote about it already). The same thing happens to him. When he abandons his dreams of becoming a famous folk singer, or very nearly abandons them, it is as though he’s closing the door on all of the possibilities that may or may not lay ahead. Taking care of a wayward cat is not unlike how Llewyn has lived his life thus far – aimless, helpless in some ways, adept in other ways. That scene is also indicative of how little responsibility Llewyn is willing to take in life. He can’t handle a kid, much less a girlfriend, much less a cat. He does try with the cat at least. He tries to do the right thing but in the end just doesn’t.
When it comes to the notion of awarding “best,” it is always disappointing to realize that awards go to characters people like, stories that make them feel good, messages that pump them up by the end. The word “best” really shouldn’t come into play at all when you think about it. Thus, we’re about to live through one of those mind fucks where one of the best films of the year isn’t among the Best Picture nominees.
Funny, isn’t it?
With T Bone Burnett’s contribution to help fortify American folk music — a concert, then a concert movie, an album, Oscar Isaac’s beautiful rendition of Dink’s Song – Inside Llewyn Davis feels like the film of the year to me. How could the writers in the WGA omit this great screenplay? While I don’t necessarily expect the Directors Guild to go for the Coens, here’s to hoping the Academy does.