Sunday, January 19, 2014

Inside on the Outside

Out in the cold again.
I have some brief thoughts on the Oscars. The main talk about the nominations right now seems to be that while the vast majority of a large group of excellent films got some love, a few didn't, like The Butler, Fruitvale Station, and Inside Llewyn Davis. The last named was my favorite movie of the past year and I thought it would get a lot of nominations, in part because Joel and Ethan Coen have been Academy darlings in recent years. It got snubbed for all but two minor awards and thinking about it, I can guess why.

Like it or not, Davis is a niche film. I'm a huge music fan and I'm familiar with the 60's Greenwich Village folk scene, but how many other people in the greater audience are?  All the publicity for the film mentioned that it was inspired by the life and career of Dave Van Ronk.  How many people out there had even heard the name Dave Van Ronk before this movie came along?

Davis' narrow, self-defeating version of "artistic integrity" may resonate beyond the period but you had to get beyond references to Peter, Paul and Mary, novelty songs about the space program and other period names and places to get there. It was a movie where the protagonist meanders between different peoples' apartments, takes a fruitless trip to Chicago and ends up in the exact same place where he started. It was expertly told but had no forward movement at all, unlike the heavily nominated and equally striking small film Nebraska where another futile trip at least leads to some character development and growth.

The understated, somber mood of this film isn't like the goony, crowd-pleasing humor of the Coens' other more celebrated "folk" musical, Oh, Brother Where Are Thou? It's more like their dryly humorous take on Hebrew traditions and the story of Job, A Simple Man and that was no Oscar bait movie either. In other words I cannot bring myself to be mad about Davis' Oscar snubbing.  Heck, there was another great film about a later generation of New York folksinger that came along this year, Greetings From Tim Buckley and almost no one is championing that.

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