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Old 12-03-2010, 01:42 PM   #1 (permalink)
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RWE's Best Of... The Coen Brothers

Mostly because I like listing things, I've decided to start a little "best of" series of threads. I will try to post one of these at least once a week for you guys to chew on and rip my opinions apart. The first edition was motivated by a website's ranking that I didn't read because I wanted to post my list in as unbiased a way possible. So in reverse order, here's

RWE's Best Of... The Coen Brothers

14. The Ladykillers - This epic waste of talent serves as not only the Coen Brothers' worst film but Tom Hanks' as well. He had to know what he was getting himself into when he chose an accent that sounded exactly like he was dressed... Col. Sanders. The guy who played Gerry Bertier in Remember the Titans was positively putrid as the ragtag gang's muscle. It was almost as if he didn't realize it was supposed to be a comedy. There was absolutely nothing subdued about this farce.

13. Burn After Reading - The only other Coen Brothers movie that I would say I didn't enjoy was this flat-liner. It really says something that one of my favorite actors (J.K. Simmons, who most people know as J. Jonah Jameson from the first Spider-man trilogy) was in both of these movies. He did his part in each of these supporting roles to rescue these films from the abyss, but was alas unable to redeem them. This movie wasted the talents of an outstanding cast on medieval sex contraptions and middle-aged loneliness. What this movie lacks in characterization and humor it makes up for in absurdity and incoherence. I don't mind random humor in a black comedy, but this one went a little too far past the line for my taste.

12. Intolerable Cruelty - It certainly says something for the talent of these sibling screenwriters that this list is already getting difficult to make. I certainly enjoyed this smart comedy romp with pretty solid performance from its two leads. I just thought it was a little too uneven to stand up to some of the more refined work in this list's top 11. On a personal note, I actually broke up with a girl based mostly on her reactions to this movie. That may sound harsh, but you should have heard how far she missed the mark with her opinion. If you don't get the Coen Brothers, you probably will never fully get me.

11. The Man Who Wasn't There - Perhaps nowhere is the Coen Brothers' overall opinion of the world more apparent than in this slow-moving thrill ride. Tony Shalhoub (Wings, Monk) was particularly fantastic in his role as the self-confident (to put it nicely) lawyer who claims that, as humans, our puny minds just get in our way. Perhaps he realized that he was sharing the screen with the superstar of low-key, limited protagonists (Billy Bob Thornton). The only reason this splendidly critical, somber noir is this low on the list is the overall strength of the top 10.

10. O Brother, Where Art Thou? - Seeing this film in a near-empty theater was like walking through an art gallery while listening to a poem being read against the melodic background of a bluegrass score. The characters were so unbelievably one-dimensional that you had almost no choice but to relate to them. Everyone knows a Penny, a Big Dan, or a Delmar from some point in there past. The setting was as goofy as it was intricate, and I found the movie's originality positively endearing despite its occasional excessiveness. It doesn't hurt that John Turturro turns in a career-defining performance that's brilliant in his profound simplicity.

9. Blood Simple - I can't believe a movie I love as much as this ironic mystery has to end up this low, but I guess the pacing and pretension just slightly pushes it behind the next eight. It's equal parts film noir, rural art, gothic thriller, black comedy, and comic book. Frances McDormand is her typically wonderful self portraying the minimalist head case Abby. She got a gun for her anniversary and decided it would be best to leave before she had to use it on her husband! It's very difficult to watch characters walk down the wrong path based solely on their incorrect assumptions time and time again, but I somehow got the feeling of sweet redemption in the resolution of their collective suffering.

8. A Serious Man - Comedies don't get much darker than this one (unless you're partial to more musical fare like Sweeney Todd). The first word that comes to mind whenever I think about this movie is misfortune. The first time I saw it I couldn't help but ask myself, "What did he do to deserve this?" The second time I watched it I understood that the answer the Coens were providing to that very question is: "Life doesn't care what he did or didn't do." This film is more than satire. When watching this professor and his brother, you almost have no choice but to examine the tragedies that have shaped your life along the way. Its intimacy smacks more of science than art. Furthermore, the stark contrast between this film and the next one on the list truly shows the skill of these writers.

7. The Hudsucker Proxy - It's so bizarre and cartoonish that a casual viewer might mistake this for a children's film. It's so artificial and uninvolving that some might see it as derivative. It's so quirky and cold that people think it's heartless. I don't see it as any of those things. Norville's story of success, failure, and redemption along with the interplay (both actual and implied) between Paul Newman and Charles Durning (Naked Gun, Everybody Loves Raymond) seems formulaic on the surface. I mean how many times have we seen this story, right? I would argue that it's never been done better, though. It's stylistically clean, inventively mechanical, and wickedly satirical while still maintaining a tangible warmth in the ever-beating heart of it's central characters. It has that old school slapstick feel of a Jerry Lewis film with the technical proficiency of a Stanley Kubrick picture. This is another angle on the Coens' ever-lasting search for the meaning of life. Maybe I think they just got closer to finding it in this one than any of the others so far on this list.

6. Raising Arizona - Alright, so this movie isn't particularly kind to the blue collar worker or to southwestern culture or to lawmen for that matter, but it's all done in fun people. Once you cut through the shoplifting, the fertility drugs, the kidnapping, and the bounty hunters, what do you really have? Just a happy couple that wants to raise a child or two, right? This is perhaps the least depth one can find in a Coen Brothers film... and that's probably the point. It's entertainment at its breakneck best that was before its time in terms of the maturity with which it approached the plight of the working class. The first time I saw it I thought it might be a little too clever for its own good, but now I have come to realize that it's just clever enough for everyone's good.

5. The Big Lebowski - What does The Dude do for recreation? "Oh, the usual. I bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback." One of my top 10 favorite comedies of all time still only manages a ranking of 5 in this impressive list. Among late 90's cult classics, this dark comedy stands stall. If you don't get the brilliance of this flick, "Donny, you're out of your element."

4. Barton Fink - So what do you do if the wrong guy recruits you to write a wrestling movie and then you suddenly get the worst case of writer's block your career has ever seen? Kill a secretary? Fight a sailor? This is a visually stunning picture with decent complexity and a splash of meaningful obscurity. John Goodman's character is so compelling with his constant patronization and self-deprecation that you feel like he could be an old friend and a total stranger all at the same time. He actually speaks one of my favorite Coen Brothers quotes of all time: "Yeah... Ladies do ask for attention. In my experience, they pretend to give it, but it's generally a smokescreen for demanding it back with interest." Truer words may never have been uttered.

3. Fargo - I have gone back and forth with this film over the years. At first viewing, I thought it was highly enjoyable. For some reason I soured on it the next couple of times I watched it. It really wasn't until I sat alone in a quiet house and drank it all in that I fully understood the majesty that is this little fictional world. Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare make up one of the most interesting crime duos ever caught on film. The contrast of colors in the snow covered plains in the wood-chipper scene are a perfect microcosm of the contrast of emotions cultivated in my mind while watching it. Who would've thought a pregnant Minnesotan cop could have been one of the most compelling movie heroines of the 90's? What superlative can you not hurl at this captivating story? I just can't believe the Coens have actually made 2 movies better than this one!

2. No Country for Old Men - Whenever anyone asks me who I think is the best villain in movie history, I respond Anton Chigurh. There is no doubt in my mind. Never has a villain chilled me to the core quite like Javier Bardem's emotionless executioner. The scariest thing about him is that he thinks he's merely an instrument of fate. Each and every time I seem him climb out of that car and limp down that residential street, a shiver goes down my spine. Woody Harrelson is also brilliant in his tiny supporting role. Overall, this is probably the Coen Brother's most polished movie. I simply cannot find a flaw in it. The only reason it isn't number one is that it doesn't have quite the panache of their best film...

1. Miller's Crossing - The genre of the depression-era gangster flick has never been more popular in our culture than it is right now. The hip hop community has largely reninvigorated America's love for films like Goodfellas, Scarface, and the Godfather. I find it a complete travesty that this modern masterpiece is never mentioned in the same breath as those movies. Perhaps the mixing of the races is too off-putting. I mean what other movies showcase Irish, Italian, and Jewish gangsters in the same storyline? Maybe it's the black humor that turns people away. Whatever it is, I'm consistently appalled by the lack of recognition this film has gotten. Never has a genre piece been more intensely beautiful, intensely gratifying, or just plain intense. It's 100% cohesive (rare for a Coen Brothers movie) and richly suggestive throughout. I can't think of 10 better screenplays I've ever seen acted out. If you haven't seen this movie, do yourself a favor and buy it as soon as possible.
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Old 12-03-2010, 02:06 PM   #2 (permalink)
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re: RWE's Best Of... The Coen Brothers

Awesome list. Awesome thread.
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Old 12-04-2010, 05:59 AM   #3 (permalink)
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re: RWE's Best Of... The Coen Brothers

Nice work. Taking a look at all of these works together, it's clear that the Coen brothers have quite a varied canon. I've seen and enjoyed a lot of these, but I'm ashamed to say I'd never even heard of Miller's Crossing.
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Old 12-04-2010, 09:44 PM   #4 (permalink)
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re: RWE's Best Of... The Coen Brothers

get on that PR, Miller's Crossing is super enjoyable
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Old 12-04-2010, 09:45 PM   #5 (permalink)
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re: RWE's Best Of... The Coen Brothers

i think ladykillers is severely underrated
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Old 12-05-2010, 12:25 AM   #6 (permalink)
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re: RWE's Best Of... The Coen Brothers

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i think ladykillers is severely underrated
TBH, I haven't viewed it yet. Although from what I have heard, quite easily their worst movie and I honestly don't want to subject myself to a bad Coen Brothers movie. It would more than likely ruin that day/week.

Great list RWE. Although, personally I would list O Brother Where Art Thou and A Serious Man a couple notches higher.
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Old 12-05-2010, 12:02 PM   #7 (permalink)
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re: RWE's Best Of... The Coen Brothers

ya i'd prob put a serious man in the top 5
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Old 12-05-2010, 12:58 PM   #8 (permalink)
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re: RWE's Best Of... The Coen Brothers

I'd probably have my top three the same as his.

I'd probably put A Serious Man in my top 5 as well, and cap it off with Blood Simple.
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Old 12-09-2010, 08:53 AM   #9 (permalink)
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re: RWE's Best Of... The Coen Brothers

I'm posting the next one today (hopefully). I have ideas for the next 3 or 4 installments, but I would love some suggestions on lists you would like to see. I would prefer to keep it to movies and not TV series if possible.
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Old 09-25-2012, 11:11 AM   #10 (permalink)
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re: RWE's Best Of... The Coen Brothers

FX Adapting Fargo With Noah Hawley, Coen Brothers

What a weird thing to do.
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Old 08-28-2013, 03:40 PM   #11 (permalink)
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re: RWE's Best Of... The Coen Brothers

I've seen Fargo, Raising Arizona, and O Brother Where Art Thou.

I enjoyed all three, but I think I enjoyed the sheer fun zaniness of Raising Arizona the most.

While Steve Buscemi was great in Fargo, the scene stealer was of course William Macy.
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Old 08-28-2013, 05:20 PM   #12 (permalink)
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The big lebowski is a classic


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Old 10-03-2013, 09:09 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Big Lebowski. Can't believe I didn't see that movie until this year. Seen it like 15 times now
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Old 02-12-2016, 12:14 PM   #14 (permalink)
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re: RWE's Best Of... The Coen Brothers

After seeing Hail, Caesar! last night, I have decided to update my list. I have also gained some appreciation for a couple of their other films on rewatching.

17. The Ladykillers
16. The Man Who Wasn't There
15. Intolerable Cruelty
14. Raising Arizona
13. True Grit
12. Burn After Reading
11. Hail, Caesar!
10. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
9. Inside Llewyn Davis
8. The Big Lebowski
7. A Serious Man
6. Blood Simple
5. The Hudsucker Proxy
4. Barton Fink
3. Fargo
2. No Country for Old Men
1. Miller's Crossing

I have definitely soured on Raising Arizona over the years, and I really loved Llewyn Davis... but man that top 8 is amazing! That's one hard top 8 to crack into. Wow.
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RWE's Random Questions: (Close Friends, Virginity, Home-Schooling, Wiretapping, Cheating, Piracy, Reality TV)
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2018 KVBL Champion New Orleans Jazz
Black - Steele - Ocarina - Oliver - Reiser - Arlo - Fenton

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