The Coen brothers have made the move from idiosyncratic filmmakers to perennial Oscar fodder, and their latest film, Inside Llewyn Davis, has gotten plenty of acclaim already, and had some Oscar buzz to be sure. However, some of that buzz may have faded, and the Golden Globes largely ignored it (and everybody puts so much stock into those), but the Coens probably don't care all that much. They like to make their films, and they've made another good one.
This movie is hard to peg within the world of the Coen brothers eclectic ouevre. It is closest to A Serious Man, but it is wholly original and unique, which is what people said about A Serious Man as well. The movie tells the tale of the titular Llewyn Davis, and a brief snippet of his life in a New York winter in 1961. Davis is a periphery member of the New York folk scene, and things aren't going great for him, but he is also not entirely sympathetic. However, he's not entirely unsympathetic either. The movie seems slight, because nothing huge happens, and Llewyn is a fairly unchanging character, but it isn't slight. It is just subtle. It has some of the Coen brothers' offbeat humor, but it isn't a terribly funny movie. It just has some funny moments. The drama isn't overwrought. Nobody gets shot. Things just sort of happen, and they clearly mean something, and as a viewer you understand this, and in the end even if nothing "big" goes down, the movie has plenty of substance.
Hey, the Coens know how to make movies. This surprises nobody. This isn't their best movie, but it isn't their worst. It is strongly a good movie. This may not be their best script, or their most interesting film, but it's well-done in its slice-of-life way, much like A Serious Man.
Oscar Isaac stars as Davis, and is asked to largely carry the movie. This includes playing the guitar and singing. As an actor he does a fine job, but he is also a very good singer, making his performance that much more impressive. There is a subtle nuance to the character that needs to be hit, and Isaac can do that.
Everybody else in the movie doesn't appear all that much. Carey Mulligan does well in the second largest role. John Goodman shows up and is great. Justin Timberlake and F. Murray Abraham also show up. The film is shot really well, even though Roger Deakins could not work on the movie, and the soundtrack is, perhaps unsurprisingly, top notch.
Inside Llewyn Davis explores an interesting world that has largely been uncommented upon in cinema, at least recently, even if the movie isn't really trying to capture the '60s folk scene. If you are a Coen brothers fan, obviously you are going to see it, and you will probably enjoy it even if it doesn't "feel" like a Coen brothers movie. However, this could be a good thing for folks who find them alternately either too violent and bleak or goofy and glib. This movie feels more traditional, but with enough of that Coen brothers charm to keep their diehards happy. Maybe this movie fell out of the Oscar race. The nominations may be sparse. That doesn't mean it isn't a well-made movie that is worth watching regardless of what you think about the directors.