Out today on DVD and BluRay is the most overlooked film this awards season, Inside Llewyn Davis. Just another Coen Brothers’ masterpiece, the film follows a phenomenally flawed young artist struggling to stay true to his vision and get a break in the Sixties Greenwich Village folk scene. Immersive, funny, expertly crafted and brilliantly acted – particularly by Oscar Isaac in the title role – the film ranks among the very best of 2013. Perhaps more impressively, it also ranks among the very best of the brothers’ careers.
A hot mess of a film that’s still weirdly fascinating, especially for Bob Dylan fans, is the artist’s own meandering fantasy Masked and Anonymous. Dylan co-writes and stars (that second bit is a little more of a sketchy decision), and he’s joined by an enviable cast: John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz, Bruce Dern, Ed Harris, Angela Bassett and scores of others. Together they piece together themes and characters from Dylan’s countless lyrical tales, creating a nearly coherent storyline about nasty music promoters looking to score a “benefit concert” with the help of a living legend. More beautiful mess than masterpiece, the film is still compelling viewing for Dylan fans.
The Oscar nominations always cause a stir, what with the Academy’s glaring myopia when it comes to certain films. This year, the snubs were fewer and less harsh than in years past (like that year they totally ignored three of the best films of the year inDrive, Take Shelter andYoung Adult, and failed to nominate the year’s best lead actress performances). We may never get over 2011.
Still, as always, there are some very curious omissions. Here we run down our 5 biggest gripes.
1. Inside Llewyn Davis
The magnificent Coen brothers’ immersive character study set in the unforgiving winter of the Greenwich Village folk scene garnered no love for its outstanding lead performance or its pristine screenplay or its rich and textured direction or even its music! That’s a lot of snubs for one film. It would certainly have been tough to find room for the wondrous Oscar Isaac in a leading actor field more crowded than most, and though the Coens are perpetual competitors for best director (by Oscar’s standards or anyone else’s), who would we bump this year? Scorsese? That’s a hard choice.
When it comes to original screenplay, we may have dumped Dallas Buyers Club in favor of Llewyn. There’s no question that we would have given it the best picture nod over Philomena.
2. Stories We Tell
The Academy had their heads up their asses with this one. In fact, there are a number of documentaries better suited to the award than this lineup suggests, but Sarah Polley’s deceptively complicated, brave and clever film cries out for recognition. Not only among the best documentaries of the year but one of the very best films overall, we would certainly have knocked Dirty Wars from the list in favor of Polley’s film. Truth be told, the only film in the category more deserving is The Act of Killing, so we’d have been fine with kicking any of the others to the curb to make room.
The most imaginative and lovely film of 2013 went without acknowledgment in acting and directing, which is sinful. Our first order of business would be to get Scarlett Johansson a best actress nomination, even though the studio pushed her for supporting. Let’s be honest, regardless of the fact that she’s never onscreen, she plays one of two lovers in a love story. She’s the lead. And in a brilliant voice-only effort, she easily deserves Sandra Bullock’s spot. (In fact, we’d pick Johansson over Bullock, Streep or even Dench this year.)
Joaquin Phoenix should have edged out Leo (though we loved Leo’s work, it’s just a very tight race this year!). Director is as tight as actor, and while Alexander Payne and Martin Scorsese are 1) geniuses and 2) nominated for outstanding work this year, we’d have given one of their places to Spike Jonze for crafting a beautiful love story set in an unerringly crafted near-future, and doing so without a hint of cynicism or derivation.
4. Blue Is the Warmest Color
Apparently France couldn’t get off its cheese eating ass to get the film released in time for Oscar consideration, which is an absolute tragedy. The film should, by all accounts, boast two nominations, one for Best Foreign Language Film and another for Best Actress. The fact that Adele Exarchopoulos’s career-defining turn in this romantic drama will go unacknowledged is a crime.
5. And the Rest
We’d rather see Julie Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said) for Best Actress than Meryl Streep. We know that sounds like heresy, but her performance in August: Osage County is so hyperbolic that it’s more exaggeration than acting. True, the weak direction of A: OC is most likely to blame, but the end result just doesn’t measure up.
We would also have given either Daniel Bruhl (Rush) or James Gandolfini (Enough Said) the nod over Jonah Hill for Best Supporting Actor.
For more on our Oscar picks, listen to George’s stint on the Sunny 95 (WSNY Columbus, OH) morning show.
The engrossing and immersive romantic drama may be best known for its NC-17 rating, but the beauty and heartbreak in this loose narrative make it one of the best films of 2013. Adele Exarchopoulos provides among the strongest performances onscreen this year in a love story that is as emotionally explicit as it is sexually frank.
9. Stories We Tell
Sarah Polley proves her mettle as a documentarian with a private story that becomes universal, entertaining and genuinely moving. Through a profoundly personal investigation, Polley looks at the validity of those comfortable truths that live in every family, and it’s all clever, fascinating, funny stuff. Polley has quickly become a filmmaker you cannot ignore, and it is a testament to her own storytelling skill that even as she turns her focus inward, you can’t help but look at your own world in a different way.
8. The Wolf of Wall Street
Director Martin Scorcese’s three hour showcase of unchecked hedonism is a terrifically frenzied, wickedly funny ride. Leonardo DiCaprio is electric as Jordan Belfort, the real life Wall Street wizard who made millions before the Feds brought him down for rampant securities fraud. This is no hand-wringing reflection on the wages of sin, just a swaggering, appropriately superficial and completely entertaining lesson in the American dream.
The great Alexander Payne exceeds admittedly high expectations with this gracefully restrained father/son journey. The Oscar favorite will no doubt pull in a nomination for its lead, an unforgettable Bruce Dern, but the entire ensemble – June Squibb as Dern’s spitfire of a wife, in particular – beautifully convey the spite, regret, hilarity and insanity of family. Wistful and rambunctious, the film packs a dramatic punch but still leaves you smiling.
Alfonso Cuaron redefines SciFi with a jaw-dropping interstellar adventure – undoubtedly this year’s most surprisingly tense action flick. He untethers a novice astronaut in outer space, and his audience with her, in the most intimate and epic journey of the year. His stunning directorial achievement reminds us of why people started making movies in the first place.
Though it won’t hit many theaters until January, this film is too magnificent to be relegated to the category of afterthought. Spike Jonze has written and directed this year’s most poignant love story, cast it impeccably and set it just far enough into the future to let breathe. The eternally underappreciated Joaquin Phoenix breaks your heart as the lonesome lover in a world that encourages isolation, while Scarlett Johannson – in her second excellent turn this year, following Don Jon – delivers an award worthy performance with just her voice. It’s a beautiful, imaginative, relevant image of love in the modern world.
4. Inside Llewyn Davis
The Brothers Coen offer just another nearly flawless film, this time immersing us in the tribulations of a struggling musician in the 1961 Greenwich Village folk scene. Boasting a beautifully nuanced lead performance from Oscar Isaac and populated with hilarious and touching supporting turns, the film is the brothers’ most impeccably crafted character study. It’s also another great exploration of the artistic connections possible between cinema and music, reminding us again of that Coen genius.
3. The Act of Killing
Those responsible for exterminating more than a million Indonesians during the 1965 government overthrow re-enact their savagery for Joshua Oppenheimer’s camera in the most surreal and riveting documentary of this year, or perhaps any other. You simply cannot believe what you are seeing. The film is absolutely not what you expect it to be, regardless of what those expectations may be. It is essential viewing.
2. American Hustle
With a dream ensemble, wickedly sharp writing and an explosive pace, director David O. Russell gives us a con movie that explodes with heart and humor. Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper erupt while Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner anchor a very human, impossibly captivating comedy/drama.
1. 12 Years a Slave
Intimate storytelling and flawless acting come together to eliminate the distance of time and create a powerful, visceral, unforgettable cinematic and human experience. Director Steve McQueen has created a film that makes all others set during the shameful American history of slavery seem almost precious. His film is a profound and brutal experience, and an awe-inspiring feat of moviemaking. There is no close second in a list of the best films of 2013.