Friday, 14 February 2014

Alternate Best Actor 2013: Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis

Oscar Isaac did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Llewyn Davis in Inside Llewyn Davis.

Inside Llewyn Davis is an excellent film that depicts a week in the life of a folk singer in the early 60's.

The last film by the Joel and Ethan Coen to deal with the life of an artist was Barton Fink about a playwright struggling with writer's block while working on a screenplay in Hollywood. In both films they really do not allow the artist to have any pretension. Barton Fink was portrayed as a writer who despite having success decries it for not finding the theater of the people, a place where the common man will tell their story yet he consistently interrupts a seemingly common man when he tries to tell the story. The less successful Llewyn Davis is the artist this time and again there is no pedestal that he is being place on by the film, although in this case it is not for slight delusions of grandeur but rather that Llewyn Davis is not a good man.

This is not a case of a villainous protagonist like Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood or Tatsuya Nakadai in The Sword of Doom, but it is perhaps is just as much of a challenge for Oscar Isaac as he must play essentially a jerk. The film stays with Llewyn throughout its course as well, and although there are definitely comic moments in the film that is not the only intent unlike say Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street who also played a jerk. Llewyn is a different breed of lout than Jordan Belfort, and Isaac has to meet the requirements of the role which is to make us not only follow Llewyn Davis but as well actually care about him throughout his week long journey depicted in the film which involves Llewyn suffering but as well making plenty of setbacks for himself.

Llewyn is a folk singer who seems to be perhaps on the fringe of some sort of success although part of his potential has been taken away because his old musical partner committed suicide leaving him to have to try and launch a solo career. There are some who recognize he has talents but no one in particularly really wants to pay him for said talents, although there are a few people willing to lend him their couch for him to stay on as he really does not live anywhere himself. Oscar Isaac is actually absolutely perfect in finding just the right way to play Llewyn in the film. He does not try to avoid portraying Llewyn as the questionable sort he is, but rather goes about embracing this factor as honestly as he can. Isaac does not try to make Llewyn sympathetic but rather he tries to make Llewyn just a man that you could actually meet in life.

Isaac simply is the part of a folk singer of the period there is not even a question of that in any regard. Firstly in the various musical scenes of the film Isaac is terrific in being the type of performer that Llewyn should be. As a folk singer this is not about a larger than life stage personality but rather the opposite in sort of purposefully presenting one self as kind of a man on the fringe of things. Isaac is very effective in portraying this style of performance and carries himself in a very authentic feeling fashion. When Llewyn performs Isaac throws himself into the moment in the right fashion. You can see the effort of the musical performance in Isaac's work, and most importantly in these scenes you can see a strong albeit low key passion that Isaac gives Llewyn in these scenes that properly reinforces the idea that Llewyn does care about his music.

Outside of performing Llewyn's songs is when the more obnoxious behavior of Llewyn begins to surface and it would have been very easy for the film to become rather unwatchable because of the fact that Llewyn is a jerk. Isaac does not shirk this fact but he is incredibly watchable, and it is exceedingly easy to follow him throughout the film. Isaac does have his own charisma that is effective and fitting in his folk singer sort of way, but that is not really what makes Isaac's performance work as well as it does. One thing that helps is Isaac's portrayal of the attitude of Llewyn during the film. Llewyn has a somber streak to him to be sure, but Isaac never makes him a man constantly feeling sorry for himself. Instead Isaac shows his behavior is often that he does not reflect on his behavior enough.

Isaac in part does make some of his uncouth behavior such as ignoring the fact that he is not wanted just to continually ask to be able to sleep on a couch. Isaac is funny whenever he needs to be like many of the great performances in Coen Brothers films, but this performance is not chiefly about the laughs, although it definitely is a nice bonus. What is most remarkably about his work is how authentic he is in his portrayal of Llewyn's attitude. He not especially forceful about it all the time rather he is a more realistic jerk in that he has such a relaxed attitude toward his behavior. He does not hesitate to say something, and even further than that Isaac shows Llewyn constant defense of his various actions just that of a man who just rather casually refuses to really look back on how his actions can hurt others.

One thing that really helps Isaac's performance though is that he does not make Llewyn amoral so to speak even though it would have been very easy for him to portrayed as such. Isaac is very careful though to give those very brief moments where it seems Llewyn could turn around. Llewyn never reflects enough on himself to ever say he is sorry, or change his ways, but Isaac is wonderful in showing that Llewyn could always almost do the right thing. One of the strongest moments in his performance is when Llewyn leaves his temporary companion cat behind in car even though its prospects for survival seems slim. Llewyn goes through with this despicable action, but Isaac in only his silent reaction really gives the moment the impact by suggesting that Llewyn does definitely thinks hard about doing the right thing but decides against it.

Isaac even though he plays a questionable character is actually able to make you sympathize with him because of how honest Isaac is with Llewyn Davis. The somber streak I noted earlier is one of these places where it is easy to sympathize with him, and it is the careful way that Isaac plays it. The truly morose moments in Llewyn are all carefully placed by Isaac and they are found when Llewyn has to remember his old partner who committed suicide. The film never says it directly that Llewyn misses his old friend but Isaac establishes this beautifully through his performance. Whenever Llewyn directly remembers something about him you can see in Isaac's portrayal an true reflection in Llewyn for once, and see that Llewyn's loss was more than simply his music career.

This is a great performance by Oscar Isaac, and one that I really just loved watching. Isaac is so naturally part of he atmosphere of the film yet he is never overwhelmed by it. Isaac is amazing in the role because he absolutely merely becomes Llewyn Davis for the course of it. Llewyn is far from a good man, and by the end of the film he really has not really learned any sort of a lesson rather staying as man in his circular pattern he seems to have developed. Watching the journey that Llewyn takes through film though you feel though you have spent time with an actual man in this life. He does not need to learn anything because well he should not really learn anything since it is opposed to a nature of this man, this man that Oscar Isaac vividly brings to life.


luke higham said...


I absolutely loved this performance, my Fourth Favourite after Mcconaghuey, Dicaprio & Ejiofor.

luke higham said...

Louis: Where does Inside Llewyn Davis rank in your top 10 films of 2013.

Michael Patison said...

I do have a request as far as the comments are concerned. Could people (looking at you, Luke) try to get as many of their points in one comment as possible instead of posting like 6? I know I do it too sometimes but I try not to. This is, of course, a selfish request as I'm lazy and don't want to have to scroll as much as I do currently

luke higham said...

Michael Patison: I'll try the best I can, but i'm always likely to forget something to ask, & sometimes I do copy comments and paste them into one, but It's a nuisance, having to delete the originals.

Michael Patison said...

Fair enough. I can always scroll more. My laziness much be destroyed. On the other hand, fewer comments does mean fewer views for Louis, so I guess more comments is a good thing.

Michael McCarthy said...

I've gotten into so many arguments about this movie. So many people say, "How can you think it's a good movie when the character is so unlikeable?" And then I always talk about how fantastic Isaac was at showing why he was such a jerk. Louis didn't point this out, but whenever Llewyn sang Isaac put so much heart into his performance that you could see Llewyn exposing his soul to the world. In that way, whenever anyone rejected his music (which was frequently) it's like they were rejecting him as a person. The impression I got was that THAT was the primary reason he was so negative and jaded, and Isaac did a masterful job of expressing this.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke: It might be my favorite film of 2013 actually.

luke higham said...

Louis: if you are, going back to the 30s again, please can it be '39.

Michael McCarthy said...

I say either '39 or '37 supporting, I'm ever-so slightly OCD about all the half-complete years.

luke higham said...

Michael McCarthy: If so, the first, I would rather see finished off is 1992.

Matt Mustin said...

So wait, did you prefer this to 12 Years A Slave? Also, what's your favourite Coen Brothers film?

Michael Patison said...

Same here, Michael. Every time Louis finishes a year I find myself hoping he'll go finish up all of the years he has half-finished:
1937 Supporting
1957 Supporting
1992 Supporting
I may have missed one, but I know everybody gets what I'm talking about.

At the same time, after a remarkably strong year like this one (amazing that "remarkable" is arguably an understatement), I'd be interested to see how 1939 stacks up.

Michael McCarthy said...

For the record Michael, the only one you missed was 1965 Supporting.

luke higham said...

Matt Mustin: Depending on his thoughts on Her, 12 Years a Slave is still his choice out of the actual nominees for Best Picture.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke: My only hesitation with doing 39 is it seems to be the most exciting year for that decade, particularly in supporting, and I would hate for it to be downhill from year.

Michael: I really should get on those years, particularly 37 since it probably won't be a full five anyway.

Matt: I think I have to say yes as much as I do like 12 Years a Slave.

My favorite Coen brothers film would have to be Barton Fink I think, although with Fargo being a very close second.

luke higham said...

Louis: what are your ratings for the casts of 300 & Watchmen.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I fucking adore Isaac's performance. I can't stress that enough. I especially love the way he managed to incorporate the character's emotions into his singing. His rendition of "Fare Thee Well" cemented him as my win for the year.

luke higham said...

Louis: Lastly, your ratings & thoughts on Eddie Marsan in Filth & Sharlto Copley in Oldboy.

Anonymous said...

The years I am looking most forward to out of the 30s and 40s.

1)1930 (I loved Lew Ayres)
2)1939 (The number of great films is astounding)
3)1945 (Children Of Paradise is a must see)
4)1946 (for entertainment purposes lol)

Louis Morgan said...



Butler: 2.5
Headey: 2
West: 2
Wenham: 3.5
Regan: 2.5
Wisdom: 2
Tiernan: 2
Santoro: 1
Fassbender: 3

Watchmen: (I purposefully excluded Haley and Morgan)

Ackerman: 1
Crudup: 3
Goode: 1
Gugino: 2.5
Wilson: 2.5
The political impersonators: 1

Marsan 4.5(Marsan is so great at playing these meek characters and even bests his strong work in The World's End. Once again he is very sweet and moving in the role yet also very funny)

Copley 4(Really the main reason I wanted to see the Oldboy remake was to see Copley perform the unforgettable elevator scene from the original but they took it out! The major change from the original came in his character's motivation which is somehow even creepier yet less effective. Nevertheless, being a Copley apologist I guess, I found Copley's performance engaging and at times rather compelling to watch.)

Kevin said...

Glad you are gonna review Jeffrey Dean Morgan. I never really understood why Haley was always the one being praised, he was great yeah, but I thought Morgan was perfect as the Comedian. He just captured the essence of such a complex character

luke higham said...

Louis: what were your thoughts on Wenham in 300.

Kevin said...

Louis, what are your ratings and thoughts for the cast of The Avengers, as well as for Sam Rockwell in iron Man 2?

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I actually loved Hiddleston in the original Thor and found him to be disappointingly two-dimensional in The Avengers.

luke higham said...

Louis: what were your ratings & thoughts on Brendan Gleeson in 28 Days Later, Gangs of New York & Six Shooter.

Louis Morgan said...

28 Days Later - 4.5(He makes himself the heart of the film by honestly showing how a loving father would be in such a situation)

Gangs of New York - 4(Makes his impact well in his limited time, frankly I wish the film had gone into greater detail with his character)

Six Shooter - 4.5(Love that Martin McDonagh is already an Oscar winner for this brilliant short film. Gleeson is great giving a rather heartbreaking and nicely humorous bit of work as a depressed man watching some strange things occur around him)

Matt Mustin said...

Louis, what are your thoughts on Ted Levine and Jackie Earle Haley in Shutter Island, as well as Barry Pepper in True Grit?

Matt Mustin said...

Also, what's your ratings and thoughts on Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace and Skyfall?

Michael Patison said...

I just watched Synecdoche, New York and was blown away. Such a fascinating movie. I really can't recommend Philip Seymour Hoffman's lead performance highly enough for another performance to add for your 2008 Lead ranking.

Louis Morgan said...

Kevin: Rockwell 4(Having rewatched the film very recently I have to say Rockwell made my day. The film obviously should have just been a pure comedy as the awkward tone was troublesome and Rockwell I feel came unscathed with his performance since he just goes for the right comedic approach in his usual Rockwellian method.)


Levine and Haley 4(Both are very memorable one scene wonders with Haley having his excellent precision of his character's bitterness, and Levine being so great at being so casually terrifying)

Pepper 4(My favorite part of the film other than perhaps Deakins's cinematography. Pepper just owns the film in his brief time first capturing the language better than any other actor, disappearing completely into the environment, bringing the right instant menace yet showing that Ned Pepper is a far more complex man than that, and suggesting that Pepper's probably has his own grander story going on but ends up getting screwed over by Chaney's problems)

Craig - Quantum of Solace - 4 (Still very solid in bringing the intensity but with the right emotional resonance. One of his great strengths as Bond is his ability to play off the other characters so well. This was especially true in Royale with Eva Green and especially that torture scene with Mads Mikkelsen. This time he does not have a great love interest to play off of or a great villain but at least he gets the great Giancarlo Giannini again for a few scenes)

Craig- Skyfall - 4.5(Upgrade from Quantum because this time he gets a properly utilized Judi Dench and especially Javier Bardem to playoff of)

Michael: That's one I definitely need to seek out.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Glad you came around to my view on Rockwell in that movie. He's the only thing I'd recommend to people to watch.

Matt Mustin said...

I just watched Dallas Buyers Club. I loved it, and I thought McConaughey and Leto were both amazing.

luke higham said...

Louis: your ratings & thoughts on Choi Min Sik in Nameless Gangster & New World.

As well as Hwang Jung-min & Lee Jung-Jae in New World.

Louis Morgan said...

Min-sik - Nameless Gangster - 4.5(Great performance and once again Min-sik is so good in portraying extreme changes of his characters this time going from a hapless nobody, to an overly confidant gangster, down to a regretful man who wants to do the right thing. Every change is completely smooth and makes a strong impact in Min-sik's hands)

Min-sik - New World - 4(A lesser role to be sure in his cannon, but Min-sik is such a charismatic performer that he still does plenty of scene stealing from the actors playing honestly more interesting characters)

Hwang Jung-min 4(Reminded me a bit Pesci in Goodfellas, although a bit more amiable. He very good in showing the intensity of a gangster but along with it the casual enjoyment he has from the benefits he gets from the lifestyle)

Lee Jung-Jae 4(Effective for most of it of bringing the desperation of the undercover cop. He does not quite perfectly connect to the rather cold ending of the film though, but he's definitely not bad at trying to connect the rest of the film to its extreme final twist even if he does not quite do it perfectly)

luke higham said...

Louis: when will the review be up.

Louis Morgan said...

Most likely later today.

luke higham said...

Louis; During this year, Our you willing to give ratings on the casts of films that you've seen, without giving away the official & potential alternative lineup nominees for 2014.

Louis Morgan said...

I would not really mind.

luke higham said...

Louis: what was your ratings & thoughts on Judi Dench in Skyfall & Emmanuelle Riva in Amour.

luke higham said...

Ejiofor wins BAFTA:)

Congrats to Abdi as well.

luke higham said...

12YAS wins Best Film & should still be the frontrunner.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke: Dench - 4(I actually like her M in all the Craig ones, and she is strong her in portraying both M's passionate resolve but as well a certain coldness that sets up her history with Silva nicely)

Riva - 4.5 (She's very effective in showing her physical decay as well as her extreme depression but I would be lying if I did say that I thought Trintignant overshadowed her)

Picture certainly is going to be a close one that's for sure.

I'm really happy Abdi won, and I would love for him to upset Leto although I don't think that will happen.

luke higham said...

Louis: do you think Ejiofor has any chance of winning best actor.

Louis Morgan said...

The Academy clearly loved Dallas Buyers Club and the best part of the film is McConaughey so I doubt he will lose.

Matt Mustin said...

I'm beyond thrilled for Ejiofor, and I'm happy for Abdi, but I was hoping for Fassbender.

Mark said...

I never really thought the BAFTAs have been that great of a predictor, since they have a tendency to have a slight British bias at times (can't really blame them for that). These are my current predictions:

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
Best Original Screenplay: Her
Best Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave

Leslie Lim said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I truly appreciate your efforts and I am waiting for your next write ups thanks once again.


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