Inside Llewyn Davis (CBS Films, R)

Inside-Llewyn-Davis 75It has occupied a lot of my brain space in the weeks since I’ve seen it, and I’m anxious to watch it again and again and again and again.

Inside-Llewyn-Davis 500

It’s well known that studios like to release their prestige pictures at the end of the calendar year, so that they’re fresh in people’s heads when it comes time for critics to write their year-end top 10 lists and for the Academy to vote for Oscar nominees and eventual winners. My brain works kind of the opposite, though, in that I am most likely to champion movies at the end of the year that I’ve had the chance to sit on for a while, to talk about and think about and read about, and see how well they hold up — if I see what appears to be a great film at the end of the year, a lot of times I worry it won’t hold up well upon further viewings and often overcompensate by putting it lower on my list of best movies than it deserves to be.

The first time I saw the new Coen brothers movie, Inside Llewyn Davis, I knew coming out of it that liked it, but I wasn’t sure just how much. This was about a month ago. Now that I’ve had that time to think about it, I can tell you how much: a whole lot. It has occupied a lot of my brain space in the weeks since I’ve seen it, and I’m anxious to watch it again and again and again and again.

Usually Coen brothers movies include that trademark Coen wink, but Inside Llewyn Davis doesn’t really have that. It still feels like a Coens film, but there’s a thick strain of melancholy running through it that hasn’t been so defined in their past work. As you can gather from the title, the film concerns Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac, who you may remember as Ryan Gosling’s ex-con neighbor in Drive), a great but underappreciated folk singer in Greenwich Village in the pre-Dylan era of the early ‘60s. Davis had been part of a duo, but prior to the events of the film his partner killed himself, and one has to assume that the dead partner was the businessman of the pair, as Llewyn’s people skills are often pretty lacking. He spends most of his time playing unglamorous (to him, at least) gigs, fighting with agents, and trying to figure out where he’ll sleep that night. He spends the night on many different couches over the course of the film, usually belonging to fellow folkies of the era, including the couple Jim and Jean (Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan, the latter of which you may recall as Ryan Gosling’s ex-con neighbor’s wife in Drive) and the goofy-looking and singing Al Cody (Girls’ Adam Driver, who is a welcome presence in just about everything). Along the way he takes a road trip to Chicago with John Goodman, he gets in fights that are almost always of his making, and he generally just struggles with, well, everything.

Despite all this downward trajectory and aforementioned lack of Coen wink, there are laughs to be had in Inside Llewyn Davis, so it’s not like you’re in for a two-hour depressorama if you go see it. And, like the Coens’ previous O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Inside Llewyn Davis seems a likely candidate for people to go batshit over its soundtrack, which is deservingly good as to warrant it. Nearly all of the tracks are sung by the film’s leads, namely Isaac, Timberlake, Mulligan, Driver, or some combination thereof, and it stands well on its own — I’ve been listening to it in my car for weeks now.

And like the soundtrack, basically every detail of the movie is great. I’m admittedly a sucker for movies set in New York, and I love Jess Gonchor’s production design and Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography — this is a great looking movie. Isaac should hopefully be getting a lot more plum roles after his work here, and while most of the rest of the cast is deservingly popular already, it’s always nice to see people I like, like Mulligan and Driver, get more exposure.

The Coen brothers have made 16 feature films, including Llewyn Davis, and I’m in the camp of people who contend that they have yet to make a bad one. Inside Llewyn Davis is one of their very best. | Pete Timmermann

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