Of course, the headline film should really be the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, but instead I’m choosing Tracks – John Curran’s recreation of Robyn Davidson’s solo walk 2700km across the Australian outback, from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean. Inspired by the images of Rick Smolan whose photographs appeared in National Geographic to document the camel lady’s incredible trek, it’s a visual feast of parched deserts, smoking dust and grumbling camels. It’s not a journey with a higher purpose, explained neither through the flashbacks which contextualise her decision nor through a search for meaning – she knows full well it’s pointless. And yet, as she reaches the ocean it’s quietly moving, her proud defiance of society and desire to be by herself replaced with a more human desire for company.
By comparison, the Coen Brother’s film is slight. And yet Inside Llewyn Davis is one of their best in years. Due in large part to Oscar Isaac’s all singing all worrying performance as the eponymous hero on the verge of quitting on his dreams of making it as a folk singer. It’s more like an album than a film, pieced together out of disparate episodes, sometimes funny, sometimes painful. And while Inside Llewyn Davis‘s circular structure gives an empty feeling of closure to a story in which, essentially, nothing happens, it’s nevertheless an enjoyable scherzo.
Even more angst-ridden is Daniel Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12, only without the comic edge. Taking place inside an institute for young offenders, the film follows Grace who’s got troubles of her own. With a brilliant performance from Brie Larson, it’s an uplifting film of boundless forgiveness and finding the strength to overcome one’s problems through love and friendship.
And it’s the complete opposite of Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves, which follows three militant eco-terrorists plotting to send a statement to the world by blowing up a damn. With Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning, it’s beautifully acted with some delicate, intimate performances, and an intriguing story of the moral collapse from righteous ecologist to cold-hearted killer.