Where Do Oscar Isaac & 'Inside Llewyn Davis' Fit into the Oscar Race?
by Joey Magidson
September 30, 2013
I finally saw Joel & Ethan Coen's new film Inside Llewyn Davis and boy oh boy is it a good one. Leading man Oscar Isaac especially is phenomenal. As for its Oscar prospects (no pun intended), well… that's a more complicated situation. This is the sort of movie that's going to need a very targeted campaign in order to be successful. Some flicks can just put out a "For Your Consideration" (or FYC for short) ad proclaiming that the work needs to be acknowledged everywhere and feel good about their chances. Inside Llewyn Davis is not quite that sort of beast, so it's hardly a contender likely to be shut out when all is said and done.
On the one hand, if someone who's historically not a huge fan of the Coens like myself can fall in love with this film and be as smitten with Isaac's performance as I, that has to bode well for its awards chances, right? On the other hand, perhaps the Academy's long time Coen fans won't necessarily be as inclined to embrace it. Basically, Oscar either goes all in on their work like with Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and True Grit, acknowledges them in a small way like with A Serious Man, or ignores them completely like with Burn After Reading. The latter result is unlikely this year, so it really comes down to how much the voters like this flick.
In the title role, Oscar Isaac is absolutely stunning, delivering a career best performance that's fully worthy of Academy recognition. In a less stacked Best Actor lineup, he'd be a lock, but right now he could certainly wind up on the outside looking in. He's likely the least well known of a group of contenders which include Christian Bale, Bruce Dern, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tom Hanks, Hugh Jackman, Matthew McConaughey, Robert Redford, Ben Stiller, Forest Whitaker, and others. Isaac is better than just about any other performance I've seen this year aside from Hanks in Captain Phillips, but he'll have to really get out there and sell himself. He can do it, but I'm not sure that the Academy will ultimately go the extra mile to cite him.
As for the other categories Inside Llewyn Davis could appear in besides Best Actor, I'd only say that Best Original Screenplay is pretty solidly set for a nomination. They'll want to cite Joel & Ethan somewhere, and while Best Director is a harder call (especially with both credited), the screenplay category makes a lot of sense. Original Screenplay is a more competitive category than Adapted, but the Coens should manage to get in as Original anyway. The most likely place to expect the film to pop up is in Best Original Song.
The tune called "Please, Mr. Kennedy" is amusing and the only original one in a movie filled with classic folk songs. It fits in perfectly, too. Hell, I think this is a likely win for Inside Llewyn Davis here, not just a nomination. The songs are all around amazing, so I'd expect anyone in the Academy who even mildly enjoys the movie will make sure the eligible song is cited.
I don't buy it as a big time Best Director contender unless the Academy fully falls for the film, including a Best Picture nod and multiple tech noms, but stranger things have happened. The same goes for both John Goodman in Best Supporting Actor and Carey Mulligan in Best Supporting Actress. It'll have a better chance to score a Best Cinematography nomination or perhaps even a Sound Editing/Sound Mixing citation, but Best Director for the Coens seems like a longer shot than many of the other players.
In terms of the big one… it all depends on how many nominees we get. I think a similar amount of people who embraced A Serious Man will also give Inside Llewyn Davis enough of the #1 votes required to secure a Best Picture nomination, but the question is just how many that turns out to be this year. I could see it just as easily being locked out as nominee, so it's a hard one to totally get a read on this early in the game. At the moment, I have it just barely scoring a Best Picture nomination, but I'm not taking that to the bank at all.
Aside from all of this early awards discussion, Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the very best films I've seen all year, so I'll be thrilled to see it contend throughout the precursor season, but I'm not blind to its potential issues. The most interesting nomination it'll fight for is Isaac's candidacy, which is well deserved but could get caught up in a numbers game. Keep a close eye on the early awards, as Oscar Isaac (and the film itself) will need consistent support to not run the risk of getting lost in the winter shuffle once it's released. The quality is there, Oscar voters just need to notice! Inside Llewyn Davis hits theaters starting December 6th.