Inside Llewyn Davis
Chalk up another for Joel and Ethan Coen. Inside Llewyn Davis is a beautifully-crafted flick with all we've come to expect from the brothers. Set in 1961 on the Greenwich Village folk music scene, the story is rich in symbolism, eccentric characters, and subtle humor. Llewyn is a young man struggling to make a career in music. He's hindered by his own personal short-comings and by a recent tragedy involving his music partner. Oscar Isaac was convincing in the title role and John Goodman delighted with his cameo as an enigmatic jazz performer. The flick is a gentle admonishment to the idealists among us: in case you're wondering, the world just doesn't give a good god-damn.
David O. Russell is now on my list of great directors. Just as with two of his earlier works, Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, American Hustle engrosses with its gritty portrayal of Americana. The flick examines the ambiguous nature of truth through the eyes of Irving Rosenthal (masterfully played by Christian Bale), a con man in New Jersey in the late '70s and early '80s. The entire cast delivers top-knotch performances, which is a tribute to Russell's skill as a director. Add in a lively script, loaded with unexpected twists and turns and you've got a great flick. American Hustle is probably the best film I've seen this year.
Another perplexing film by Alexander Payne. (See my review of The Descendants.) Quirky, dry, and vaguely morose, Nebraska is the story of Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), an age-enfeebled auto mechanic who is determined to make his way to Nebraska to claim a million-dollar sweepstakes prize. His long-suffering family at first attempts to dissuade him from his quixotic endeavor, but eventually his younger son, David (Will Forte), agrees to drive Woody the 850 miles to Lincoln. Their journey conveys them across both years and miles and together they confront the fading memories, good and bad, of a man near the end of his life. Despite all the critical acclaim, I didn't find this film to be exceptional. The performances worked, but didn't stand out. It's done in black-and-white which suits the landscapes it depicts, with lots of pleasingly aesthetic views of vast grain-fields and grazing cattle. But I found the story itself lacking. Not a bad flick. But not a great one, either.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese does it again. The Wolf of Wall Street is a high-intensity romp through the very worst excesses of Wall Street in the '90s. Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a stock-broker who gathers a collection of fast-talking buddies to create Stratton Oakmont, a fraudulent brokerage that peddles penny stocks to gullible investors. The lucrative scheme takes Belfort to the pinnacle of financial success, but also attracts the attention of the SEC and the FBI. Belfort's personal failings compound his problems, and the whole thing unwinds as yet another demonstration of the tragic Greek hero. DiCaprio's performance is sterling, as were those of the entire cast. Jonah Hill nearly stole the show with his brilliant interpretation of Donnie Azov, Belfort's right-hand man. This flick recalled an earlier Scorsese flick, Good Fellas, in its frantic, out-of-control pace which is relentless throughout its 180 minute run-time.
Happy New Year
Well, friends, that will wrap it up for 2013. My story, River, will continue into next year, but I hope to continue with other posts as well. I'm happiest when I'm creating. Thanks for reading and my very best wishes for a fulfilling year to come.