Yesterday was National Sibling Day, and what better way to celebrate on a film blog like this than to honor Joel and Ethan Coen? I haven’t seen all of the Coens’ movies – or even most of them – and, so, I’ve chosen to rank the ones I have seen. That being said, here are my favorite Coen Brothers flicks.
- True Grit (2010)
I think True Grit deserves its ninety-six percent critical consensus rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and I can remember rooting for then fourteen-year-old Hailee Steinfeld at the Academy Awards that year. It’s a well-made picture, both aesthetically and narratively. However, Westerns don’t happen to be my go-to genre; I can get behind George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves (1990), but, on average, they aren’t overly memorable for me, and that’s why True Grit appears so low on this list.
- Raising Arizona (1987)
I love this movie, oh so very much, one of the most sidesplitting comedies I’ve ever seen. “Son, you’ve got a panty on your head,” has got to be the single greatest line of dialogue ever, written or spoken. Nevertheless, I can’t argue with some of the critics who are distracted by the film’s over-the-top cartoonishness (as is to be expected of any Nicolas Cage film), and, so, as entertaining as it is, it can’t be taken as seriously as the brothers’ technical achievements.
- “Tuileries” (Paris, je t’aime, 2006)
“Tuileries” is a six-minute clip out of the anthology film, Paris, je t’aime, so it’s a difficult title to reconcile with the rest of the Coen filmography. Still, it’s remarkable that they are able to create such a scream with what little time they have, and in so uneven a collection, too (that’s what you get when you have different directors in charge of different parts of a film – conflicting artistry). Not only that, but the short is unmistakably “Coen,” between the quirky editing, the thematic playfulness with folkloric culture, and the starring role for Steve Buscemi.
- The Big Lebowski (1998)
The Big Lebowski is brilliant, and it deserves nothing less than the cult following it’s cultivated over the years. Regardless, its status as a “cult classic” has brought about its own undoing, since, as with any comedy, it’s never as funny as its hype, and it’s hard to watch it without associating it with all those annoying people you know who are obsessed with it. I’m not saying that happened here – The Big Lebowski is actually better than what your friends make it out to be – but, it’s an undeniable Achilles heel that keeps it from ranking higher on this compilation.
- Fargo (1996)
Fargo is tied for second here. It’s a black comedy for the ages, and it freaking earned its two Oscars (one for the directors’ screenplay, one for Joel’s wife, the actress Frances McDormand). The fact that it’s preserved in the Library of Congress, and the fact that Marge Gunderson has placed on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years… 100 Heroes & Villains,” just… warms my heart (ironically enough).
- The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)
I placed this above Fargo if for no other reason than that it deserves more recognition than it gets. The Man Who Wasn’t There failed so much as to break even at the box office. It’s a genius spoof of film noir, and, with this and Sling Blade (1996) under his belt, Billy Bob Thornton showcases some supremely underrated acting talents (just, for the love of God, don’t ever refer to him as an “actor” to his face).
- No Country for Old Men (2007)
So much more than the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece, this has got to be one of the greatest films of all time. Like “Tuileries,” it demands a great deal of skill in order to craft “something” out of “nothing,” to generate nail-biting tension in the audience without any music on the soundtrack to back it up, but No Country for Old Men masters it transcendently. Again, thoroughly deserved Oscars went out to the superb Javier Bardem as Anton “Death Incarnate” Chigurh, and, of course, the film itself.
The Coens have become so synonymous with “Americana” that they are now the standard of Americana. They are delightfully unique, and they are a couple of the greatest filmmakers who have ever lived. Maybe it’s because they collaborate, or, maybe, it’s because they haven’t run out of ideas yet, but, either way, they’ve remained relevant for three decades, and here’s to hoping they’ll stay that way for many more.