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I'm not one of those people who thinks that Oscars and Oscar nominations can be equated with quality. Sometimes, the nominees and winners are responsible for transcendent movies, but not always … and my list of movies that "will win" and my list of movies that "should win" usually have nothing to do with each other.

Which is a long way of getting to this morning's point - that Inside Llewyn Davis may be one of the best movies not nominated for the Best Picture award, with Oscar Isaac's performance in the titular role easily one of the best of the year, despite the lack of a nomination.

In some ways, the lack of recognition - and popularity, I'm afraid, since Inside Llewyn Davis has not exactly been setting the box office on fire - isn't all that surprising, since the movie, directed by brothers Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, essentially is about failure.

The movie takes place in the early sixties, as Davis tries to gain traction and energize his career as a folk singer. It almost all takes place in New York's Greenwich Village (save for an entertaining side trip to Chicago that sends in an epiphany for Davis), and the period feeling is flawless. But Davis's problem is that he has alienated almost everyone around him in his single-minded pursuit of artistic excellence, and his artistry may be out of synch with what audiences want at this particular time. (That said, the soundtrack is wonderful.)

Inside Llewyn Davis has a challenging and thought-provoking structure; the Coen brothers, as they've shown in such films as Fargo, Blood Simple, No Country For Old Men, O Brother, Where Are Thou? and The Big Lebowski, are willing to take the creative road less traveled. I can tell you this: Inside Llewyn Davis is easily one of the best movies of the year, and you should go see it.




"Bull River" is the new novel by Robert Knott, who is continuing the Robert B. Parker series of westerns about lawmen Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch; the first, "Appaloosa," was turned into a film of the same name by Ed Harris, who directed and co-wrote the movie with, as it happens, Robert Knott.

I find myself having mixed opinions about Knott's work. He doesn't strike me as a natural novelist, but on the other hand, I have profound respect for anyone who can write one. And oddly enough for someone who is a screenwriter, I think his strength seems to be atmosphere and context rather than plot. As I read the book, I found myself vividly seeing the places and people he described, almost tasting the dust whipped up by winds cutting across open plains, though sometimes I found the narrative a trifle meandering.

The book takes Cole and Hitch on a long journey, tracking down bank robbers, trying to rescue a kidnapped woman, figuring out the truth about two brothers with dicey pasts, and reluctantly using a charismatic Mexican criminal to aid them in their quest. Everything is interconnected, but at one point, toward the end of the book, Knott spends time explaining what it all means … and my first thought was that since I'd read the book, he didn't need to do that quite so baldly. It is almost as if he doesn't quite trust his own skills.

All in all, though, I enjoyed "Bull River." Cole and Hitch are agreeable company, and I'd love to see them brought back to life on the screen again … one of the things I did while reading the novel was listen to the terrific Appaloosa soundtrack while doing so. Knott is not as good as Ace Atkins, a natural and accomplished novelist who is continuing Parker's Spenser series of novels (the next one, "Cheap Shot," will be out in May), but he's getting better with practice. Maybe next time out, he can tackle a plot that is a little more self-contained, along the lines of High Noon; it;'d be an interesting challenge, and I'd love to see what he'd do with something like that.




Ironically, tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of Robert B. Parker's death, working at his desk in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The obit I wrote at the time can be read here. I continue to miss his unique voice and, ultimately, I'm glad his characters continue to live on and have new adventures.




That's it for this week.

Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

Slàinte!
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