Joel and Ethan Coen are two of the most reliably brilliant film-makers in the world. Their films are almost always beautifully written, feature a host of unique characters and have the capacity to surprise and confound audience expectations. They're also all unmistakably Coen films too.
Their latest effort, Inside Llewyn Davis, is a wonderfully detailed snapshot of the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1962 New York, and our conduit into this world is the abrasive but talented folk singer, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac). The film opens with Davis on stage at the Gaslight club exhibiting his singular talent in the first of several perfectly judged folk songs. These aren't simple pastiches, they're terrific songs in their own right and the soundtrack album will still be played long after the film leaves cinemas.
Davis is a far more accomplished singer and songwriter than any other artists we see perform in the film but due to his unsympathetic personality and unwillingness to play the game, he's failing to get the career he thinks he deserves. With no fixed abode, he moves from acquaintance's couch to acquaintance's couch, struggling to earn a living.
The duration of the story is just a week but in that time Davis loses a friend's cat, travels to Chicago for a demoralising audition, plays on a toe-tapping potential chart topper (one of the film's highlights) and ends up right back where he started. As always with the Coen's the film is littered with fascinating supporting characters played by a terrific cast, including Justin Timberlake as a wholesome folk singer - almost the anti-Davis, Carey Mulligan and Coen regular John Goodman as an irascible windbag.
It's a lyrical, witty and razor-sharp film held together by a star-making lead performance from Oscar Isaac. Previously seen in supporting roles in Drive and Robin Hood, Isaac has us sympathizing with a character who, let's face it, is a bit of a douchebag. It's a film that feels effortless in its execution and is something only the Coen's could make. It is one to savour.
Richard Ayoade is one of those personalities whose talent seemingly knows no end. He's a gifted comedic actor and he also made a superbly accomplished directorial debut in 2011 with Submarine. It was funny, inventive and beautifully acted without appearing too contrived and as a result, his follow-up The Double is hotly anticipated. Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon James, an awkward office drone in a mundane job who secretly lusts after his co-worker, Hannah (Mia Wasikowksa). His ordinary existence is thrown into disarray when the office employs his doppelganger. This new employee is everything Simon is not, confident, funny and good with women. Loosely based on a Dostoyevsky novella this heavily stylized comedy starts off in impressive fashion, recalling Terry Gilliam as the intriguing world is established. However Eisenberg's performance is difficult to engage with and the plot drags as the tone switches from comedy to something much darker. In his hilarious introduction to the film, Ayoade said the 85 minute runtime can often feel like 90. Sadly he was being generous.
The Dare gala at this year's festival was French drama and winner of the Un Certain Regard directing prize at Cannes this year, Stranger By The Lake. Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) is a regular at a lakeside cruising spot for men. Over the course of a few days he falls in love with the mysterious Michel (Christophe Paou). Their encounters are passionate and physical but when Franck sees Michel killing another man, instead of being turned off, it further piques his curiosity. It's an extremely frank and slow moving thriller about the nature of desire that builds to a breathlessly tense climax.
Finally, Hide Your Smiling Faces is one of the twelve films in the first feature competition. In rural America, a group of young boys lives are shaken when one of their friends dies in a tragic accident. The boys struggle to come to terms with the loss as they are confronted with their own mortality and their parents offer inadequate support. Director Daniel Patrick Carbone's coming-of-age tale is atmospheric and elegaic but its determination to present its story without any sentiment can render it a little cold. Still, Carbone shows enough to mark him out as one to watch.