The Coen Brothers are no doubt two of the most eccentric movie makers ever. Their films range from almost every genre one could think of. The one common stream, be subversive. While they have missed here and there, no experience at the theatre is going to be dull when it comes to this duo. These are my Top 7 Coen Brothers Movies of all time.
7. “A Serious Man” (2009):
This feels on the surface like a bit of a banal tail about a nerdy teacher, but “A Serious Man” is total Coen Bros. subversive humor. Michael Stuhlbarg really broke out starring in this Oscar nominated pic as Larry Gopnik, a midwestern physics teacher in 1967 simply trying to keep his sanity together as his Jewish family is falling apart. Larry’s students are bored of his giant chalkboard presentations. His brother Arthur (Richard Kind), an unwelcome house guest, is constantly complaining about TV reception. His daughter is stealing from him to save up for a nose job. His wife is openly sleeping with another man who even comes to the families home. And finally, his son is a complete pot-head, even showing up to his bar mitzvah celebration high as a kite. But Larry is doing everything to stay afloat. “A Serious Man” is absolutely hilarious, but not in an obvious way. One of those great comedies where it takes you a second to simply chuckle before you get how funny it is.
6. “The Big Lebowski” (1998):
Talk about a movie that has aged well. When “The Big Lebowski” was released initially critics did not love it and the box office was no bueno. Now it is a cultural icon. There is an actual religion based on this movie called ‘Dudeism’ with more than 400,000 members around the world. The annual ‘Lebowski Fest’ started in 2002 in Louisville, Kentucky has gone to multiple cities around America to celebrate the film and everyone drinking White Russians. This movie is bonkers from beginning to end. I mean that in a good way. The story of The Dude (Jeff Bridges) is so unbelievable it’s great. So many blatantly hilarious jokes with tons more underneath the surface which is what makes the mystique behind it bring viewers back year after year. And yes, this is about a deadbeat old single guy named The Dude who loves bowling and has basically stopped caring in life. Why not? Best line; “NO ONE F**** WITH THE JESUS”!
5. “O Brother, Where Art Though?” (2001):
If you didn’t think the Coen Bros. were crazy enough yet, enter in “O Brother, Where Art Thou”. These guys take the famous Greek epic poem ‘The Odyssey’ by Homer and plug it into a 1930’s rural South setting about prisoners on the run. Huh? Led by George Clooney, the soon to be legendary Soggy Bottom Boys maneuver their way through multiple challenges and adversaries in hopes of gaining freedom. And of course they have that famous run in with those seductively sexy singing sirens. “O Brother, Where Art Thou” is certainly the most charming movie The Coen’s have made, highlighted by the crew laying down a track in a back roads studio. I’m not much of a folk music person, but I don’t know anybody who does not love this jam above.
4. “Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013):
This one is a bit of a downer, but still has some of that Coen Brothers charm. Oscar Isaac plays a folk music artist trying to survive in Greenwich Village, New York in 1961. Always with his guitar close by, Llewyn Davis is having one bad week during a bitter winter in the city. While yes he has fallen on tough times, being a musician ain’t easy, Davis is also a stubborn a-hole. The man is incredibly talented, yet he pushes away positive people or situations as though he is allergic to being just a little happy. With “Inside Llewyn Davis” the Bros. are exploring the idea of an artist so good at his craft that he is tired of people that just don’t get it. Music is like math to him. Everyone has something that just makes sense to them. I have mine and so does everybody I’ve known. Unfortunately, many of us end up not being used in the right way and become a Llewyn Davis.
3. “Miller’s Crossing” (1990):
Other than perhaps “L.A., Confidential” the Coen’s made perhaps the best modern day Noir-Style mobster movie ever. “Miller’s Crossing” is an upside down version of the genre while also staying true to it. Gabriel Byrne plays Tom Reagan. He’s a, let’s just say ‘handyman’, for a top crime boss during the prohibition-era. Things are already complicated as Tom is sleeping with his boss’s young wife and a rival mafia group is moving to takeover. What makes “Miller’s Crossing” so great is that it has a certain awkwardness not accustom to your typical gangster movie. It also takes things seriously when needed, highlighted by a potential murder scene in the woods against a sniveling little rat played by John Turturro. “Miller’s Crossing” is not what you’d think when renting an old shoot-em-up. It’s better than that.
2. “No Country, For Old Men” (2007):
“No Country, For Old Men” finally delivered the amazing Coen Bros. their first Oscar. Still think it was the second best movie of the year (“The Will Be Blood”), but that’s besides the point. While a sprinkle of Coen style subversion exists, this is by far the most straight and serious story they ever filmed. Based on the Cormac McCarthy novel, “No Country” is a simple cat-and-mouse thriller. A small town country boy played by James Brolin stumbles upon a bunch of dead gangsters after a drug deal gone wrong. Then he finds a bag full of cash and, with nobody looking, takes off with it. Now the chase begins. An old school cop played by Tommy Lee Jones is not the only one after him. The devil incarnate Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) has been tasked with retrieving the cash for the drug kingpins. Things become a race to stay alive for a desperate man trying to hold onto a small fortune. Beautifully shot and acted, the best way to describe “No Country” is with one simple word. Clean.
1. “Fargo” (1996):
Arguing “Fargo” is not the Coen Bros. best is a futile activity to me. While they did have solid several well received previous pictures, “Fargo” solidified that these guys are genius. From beginning to end, the story of a dumbass car dealer hiring two eccentric hitmen to kidnap his wife gets more ridiculous every minute. William H. Macy as the bumbling husband entering the criminal world, not much different as selling cars, becomes a deer in headlights once the deal is initiated. The two thugs assigned to make the kidnapping played by Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare are not exactly the brightest tools in the shed. The one shining bright intelligent star in this chaos is a pregnant small town cop named Marge Gunderson, or ‘Margie’ as everyone calls her. Frances McDormand took home an Oscar for this ‘Oh Gees’ style cop with a cup of coffee in her hand that is the only one who can solve a multilayered crime debacle. This is a movie also very easy to describe; ‘Brilliant’.