30 years of Coens
September 29, 2014 6:34 AM   Subscribe

"In honor of the 30th anniversary of the Coen brothers' debut, Blood Simple, I’m re-watching their 16 feature films and attempting to jot down observations on one per day, in order of their release. For a fuller explanation of what I’m doing and why, see my first entry, on Blood Simple. (Here, too, are my entries on Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers, No Country For Old Men, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man, True Grit and Inside Llewyn Davis." -- Christopher Orr, writing in The Atlantic.
posted by ricochet biscuit (84 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
 
He ranks Lebowski #6? (???????)

I wish I hadn't clicked that one first because now the rest of the thoughts are ruined.
posted by michaelh at 6:42 AM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, the puts The Ladykillers at #16 out of 16, so I cannot fault that.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:44 AM on September 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


I like his take on Barton Fink, as it puts into words my reaction to the film which I could never quite express. It's easily my least favorite CoenBros film (though, admittedly, I haven't seen The Ladykillers).
posted by Thorzdad at 6:50 AM on September 29, 2014




Ladykillers at #16 out of 16

That is indeed the correct spot, as much as I like the portrait on the wall.
posted by michaelh at 6:54 AM on September 29, 2014


I watched Ladykillers when my mom rented it from the video store. My mom who lately has been primarily watching movies that start with the words "Madea's" or "The Hangover". I was pleasantly surprised by her taste and enjoyed the movie. I did not know it was a Coen brother's film. Expectations are everything.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:58 AM on September 29, 2014


If I was told I'd only be able to watch one Coen Brothers film for the rest of my life, it would easily, hands down, be Miller's Crossing. It's such a gorgeous, nearly flawless film. And, agreeing with the writer, easily the best score in one of their movies, possibly one of the best scores in decades.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:59 AM on September 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


The Ladykillers exists as both a brilliantly hilarious film and a sub-par Coen Bros film.

Miller's Crossing is brilliant through and through.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:03 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


NCFOM is in a class of its own.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:04 AM on September 29, 2014


Although on further read through, that the writer put No Country at #1 is also acceptable, though I'd still say Miller's, No Country, then Fargo. And then I realize how many I haven't seen, and wonder why I wasted time watching Burn After Reading instead of a better Coen bros. film.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:05 AM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'd watch a retelling of No Country set in Prohibition times with Albert Finney being chased by Mink and Eddie Dane.
posted by michaelh at 7:10 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


"possibly one of the best scores in decades."

1984: (now long-time) Coen brothers collaborator Skip Lievsay approaches Carter Burwell and asks him to write the score for Blood Simple. Burwell agrees, although he's never written a film score before. "With no experience and no demo tape, I went to the editing room and met Joel and Ethan Coen, who showed me a reel of Blood Simple."

1990: Burwell writes the score for Miller's Crossing.

The man was clearly destined to do what he does, is my point.

EXTRA CREDIT: put on headphones and go listen to Sheriff Ed Tom Bell's story at the end of No Country for Old Men and then keep listening through the dark and the credits to the Burwell track 'Blood Trail' which is the only real music from that movie. The way Bell's voice and story fade into the sound similar to a ticking clock, and how Burwell builds from that into a song that somehow exemplifies the entire film that came before it ... it's a real thing of beauty that I find most people have missed completely.
posted by komara at 7:16 AM on September 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


It's nice to see Miller's Crossing get the respect and treatment it is due. I fear it's been overshadowed because it lacks the kooky elements that people seem to like Coen Brothers films for. But it's a beautifully done film, and fun to watch outside the usual Coen shtick.

I fear I'll never get everyone's love for Big Lebowski. It's basically Up in Smoke dressed up in film club clothing. John Goodman can't even redeem it.
posted by Nelson at 7:17 AM on September 29, 2014


Hudsucker Proxy: 15 out of 16

These preposterous inventions would be better suited to the pages of Amazing Tales Magazine. If the editors of The Atlantic see fit to publish the work of a disordered mind, perhaps they will see fit to publish this. But I doubt it, I most seriously doubt it; I doubt also you could find a home at Amazing Tales, a periodical which I have enjoyed for many years. Sincerely, et cetera.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:21 AM on September 29, 2014 [23 favorites]


For some reason I've seen every Coen Brothers' movie except for Miller's Crossing and Barton Fink. I really need to fix that. I tried to watch Fink once but I was alone and it was a dark winter night and I got too creeped out to finish it.

I like Lebowski but it's minor Coen for me. I'd put it around the same level as Burn After Reading.
posted by octothorpe at 7:21 AM on September 29, 2014


Where is the ordered list?
posted by Brian B. at 7:30 AM on September 29, 2014


From the No Country for Old Men review:
17. Llewelyn talking to himself at the Eagle Hotel: “There just ain’t no way.” He finds the transponder just as a door creaks open downstairs. What follows is one of the most remarkable exercises in sustained tension in recent film history: the unanswered phone, the footsteps in the hall, the ping of the receiver, the squeak of a lightbulb being unscrewed …
In an article by Dennis Lim in the NYT about the sound design of this film, he writes:
There is at least one sequence in “No Country for Old Men” that could be termed Hitchcockian in its virtuosic deployment of sound. Holed up in a hotel room, Mr. Brolin’s character awaits the arrival of his pursuer, Chigurh. He hears a distant noise (meant to be the scrape of a chair, Mr. Berkey said). He calls the lobby. The rings are audible through the handset and, faintly, from downstairs. No one answers. Footsteps pad down the hall. The beeps of Chigurh’s tracking device increase in frequency. Then there is a series of soft squeaks — only when the sliver of light under the door vanishes is it clear that a light bulb has been carefully unscrewed.

“That was an experiment in what we called the edge of perception,” Mr. Lievsay said. “Ethan especially kept asking us to turn it lower and lower.”

Ethan Coen said, “Josh’s character is straining to hear, and you want to be in his point of view, likewise straining to hear.” The effect can be lost, he conceded, “if it’s a louder crowd and the room is lousy.”

Joel Coen interjected, “If it’s a loud crowd at that point, the film isn’t working anyway.”
posted by komara at 7:38 AM on September 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


Here's his ranking in order:

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

He had Barton Fink at number nine initially, but then slotted A Serious Man above it.
posted by rory at 7:43 AM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


NO WAIT I HAVE OPINIONS.

Barton Fink is so weird. It's like a murderous adaptation of Prater Violet but like most Coen movies I like, I feel like it was designed with my specific aesthetic needs in mind.

I still can't remember anything that happens in No Country For Old Men despite having seen it twice. It just does nothing for me.

Then again I could probably quote the entirely of Hudsucker Proxy right now so I could be biased.

Millers, Crossing is really a beautiful movie and so carefully paced. It feels like the best adaption of a Chandler story that never existed. Also, hey a gangster story that gets kicked off cause of a gay romance gone south! Neat.

I always forget Fargo is a period piece cause its class and culture indicators are so specific and exact and spot on

True agrit has a darker theme going on the second time around, extrapolating out what "gritness" and indeed, a rigid and terrible Presbyterianism will eventually do to people.

I keep expecting The Man Who Wasn't There to be an unexpected gem but it really feels like an empty, but pretty, genre exercise while Burn After Reading, which zi expected to be light spy fare, is like the bleakest, darkest mainstream American comedy in ages.

It's amazing how much mileage they get out of "so this idiot does something.." story wise.
posted by The Whelk at 7:47 AM on September 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


John Goodman can't even redeem it.

NO! YA HEAR ME? YOU GO 'TA HELL! YOU GO TO HELL AND YOU DIE!
posted by kjs3 at 7:53 AM on September 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Never seen anyone with the guts to say that Barton Fink is bad, so kudos to him for that.
posted by Windopaene at 7:56 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'll show him the life of the mind.
posted by COBRA! at 7:58 AM on September 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Millers, Crossing is really a beautiful movie and so carefully paced. It feels like the best adaption of a Chandler story that never existed

Read Hammett's The Glass Key?
posted by Wolof at 8:01 AM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


To take two that haven't yet been mentioned, I really enjoyed A Serious Man, which is existential horror dressed up as comedy, and moderately enjoyed Intolerable Cruelty, which did well to be the frothy screwball comedy it advertises itself as.
posted by psoas at 8:01 AM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


John Goodman can't even redeem it.

Something tells me Nelson needs to find out what happens when you meet a stranger in the Alps.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:09 AM on September 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


I was very disappointed he ranked Hudsucker Proxy so low as it had been a long time favourite of mine. It also stands unique as the one Cohen brothers film that nears kid- friendly territory, which I hope to take advantage of very soon to get my daughter hooked on them early.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 8:10 AM on September 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


Lebowski is one of those movies/things that when I saw it thought it was kind of wonky but within that were all these great things. I think the love for it today is largely arbitrary.

No country on the other hand I saw and thought instantly "this is brilliant." Curiously, i think about both films an equal amount.

Miller's Crossing is totally underrated and if you can't get behind the verbal pyrotechnics you're a bad person who should only get gruel. How did they get the hat to keep flying?

"You know, for the kids."
posted by From Bklyn at 8:13 AM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


I really need to see the Coen's older work, chiefly Miller's Crossing. This list makes me sad that the Coens never adapted Michael Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union. I think they could have made that into a fantastic film, but I guess they moved on.
posted by gladly at 8:14 AM on September 29, 2014


I don't really get the hushed tones around No Country--sure it's very technically accomplished, and long, but I don't find it particularly moving or insightful. Similarly, I guess, people talk about the sort of poetry of violence in Mccarthy's writing, and I'm kinda like, eh, so what...

Is there a piece of criticism out there that makes a really strong case for No Country on non-formalist grounds?
posted by batfish at 8:21 AM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


(I have been meaning to post this for a while. Thanks, ricochet biscuit [awesome name, BTW] for covering for my sloth1)

One of the things I love about the Coens is that their movies stay with me for so long, compared to so many films that melt like cotton candy as soon as they pass from my eyes to my brain. I was explaining the "You know, for kids!" line from Hudsucker Proxy to someone this summer, and I was struck to realize how vivid my memory of the movie is despite not seeing it in a decade or more.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:23 AM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Seeing that list of Coen Brothers' films makes me realize I've probably seen more of their films than by any other directors. That's a bit strange to me. I really like their work, but I don't know if I'd put them on my personal top five. This is a bit like when I realized that I owned more Belle & Sebastian albums than that of any other band. Both are artists I started following them in my teens who I never got bored of.


5. Burn After Reading
6. The Big Lebowski


what is this I don't even

posted by Kattullus at 8:26 AM on September 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Glad to see Raising Arizona ranked #4 - I've always been under the (apparently wrong) impression it was under appreciated. There are better Cohen movies than Raising Arizona. There are funnier Cohen movies than Raising Arizona. [spoilers] But no other movie scene can make me truly laugh out loud just thinking about it then the scene when H.I. scrapes his knuckles against the popcorn textured ceiling and screams. Or when the paint bomb goes off in the car and John Goodman frantically tries to scrape the windshield clean. Or, oh gawd, H.I. dancing in place going, "Hurry up, I'm in dutch when the wife."

I love their other movies, but no other movie makes me belly laugh the same way each time as I did when I first saw it as Raising Arizona does.
posted by barchan at 8:32 AM on September 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


and I was struck to realize how vivid my memory of the movie is despite not seeing it in a decade or more.

I've mentioned this but the Coens have this unique sensibility where you enjoy the movie enough the first time but they grow larger in your memory. Like they endear themselves after the fact.
posted by The Whelk at 8:35 AM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


I mean, nerds ruin everything, but Lebowski's "genre character in the wrong genre" and low-key dream logic is so perfectly suited for the detective genre it's inside that it's okay if things just kind of happen. The entire movie is basically hanging out.
posted by The Whelk at 8:39 AM on September 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


This list makes me sad that the Coens never adapted Michael Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union.

I am also very sad about this -- they are my favorite filmmakers, and that is my favorite book, and it seems like it was written as a Coen screenplay. And it was so close to happening!
posted by theredpen at 8:44 AM on September 29, 2014


30 years? 16 films? Somehow, Orr forgot about

Man on the Go (1982)
Saginaw Fisherman (1986)
Bitter Root (1989)
Nefarious (1992)
Shark! (1993)
Jiminy Xmas (1995)
The Boy Can't Help It (1997)
A Likely Story (1999)
To the White Sea (2002)
Grasshopper Nijinsky (2005)
The Beaufort Tontine (2006)
Saint Peter's Snow (2011)
62 Skidoo (2012)

I mean, how do you overlook Grasshopper Nijinsky?
posted by Iridic at 8:59 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think my biggest issue here is his persistent habit of ranking Coen films I saw and enjoyed (Barton Fink, O Brother, True Grit, Man Who Wasn't There) below other Coen films that I didn't see because they just didn't look very appealing to me (Burn After Reading - 5! Really? - A Serious Man, Intolerable Cruelty). I'm leaving Inside Llewyn Davis out of this argument entirely because even he didn't know what the hell to do with it. But I suppose that's not the best approach to take - maybe I was just wrong about the ones I passed on.

With the exception of Ladykillers obviously. That looked awful, and apparently it was. At least I'm not that far off course.
posted by Naberius at 9:03 AM on September 29, 2014


I don't think that it's the best Coen Brothers movie, but I think that Burn After Reading is one of my favourites--it is so hard to do manic farce, and the performances (esp Pitt) are just so well constructed.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:04 AM on September 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


Funny, I saw a guy wearing a Barton Fink t-shirt this morning on my way to work. Just the two words, Barton Fink.
posted by Mister_A at 9:10 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ah crap, I did not know that the Yiddish Policeman's Ball project is not going to happen.

It's the "Logan's Run" remake debacle all over again
posted by thelonius at 9:16 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


This list makes me sad that the Coens never adapted Michael Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union. I think they could have made that into a fantastic film, but I guess they moved on.
posted by gladly


God, yeah, I was excited for that. When those rumors were in the air, the Coens were in the Twin Cities shooting A Serious Man and my wife, working at the MN Film and TV Board, had periodic contact with their production company. I kept telling her that she or someone from MNFTV needed to lobby the Coens' location people about shooting Yiddish Policemen's in Duluth, which I think would look perfect. Said lobbying never happened, which is probably best.

But really: Duluth would make a perfect Sitka.
posted by COBRA! at 9:19 AM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


There's this really unsubtle nastiness in the heart of Burn After Reading that I think turns a lot of people off but completely fits the acid farce tone.
posted by The Whelk at 9:26 AM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Although I obviously disagree with the writer in the OP I'm glad to see, in this thread, that I'm not the only one who doesn't get the love for No Country. I went in to that movie really expecting to love it, and it just left me cold. I've only seen seven Coen brothers movies, by my count, and I'd rank that one last of the seven, easily.

(Personal ranking of those seven, BTW: 1) Fargo 2) The Big Lebowski 3) Raising Arizona 4) The Man Who Wasn't There 5) O Brother, Where Art Thou? 6) True Grit 7) No Country for Old Men)
posted by breakin' the law at 9:30 AM on September 29, 2014


9. A Serious Man
10. Barton Fink


I would put these at #1 and #2, respectively. The ranking is bad and he should feel bad, etc.
posted by naju at 9:38 AM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I've mentioned this but the Coens have this unique sensibility where you enjoy the movie enough the first time but they grow larger in your memory. Like they endear themselves after the fact.

In one of the commentaries—I think for The Big Lebowski—the author comments that many of their films get better on subsequent viewings. This has also been my experience with some of their films. I was lukewarm on The Big Lebowski the first time I saw it, and didn't really get O Brother, Where Art Thou? But then, somehow, I would find myself remembering and loving certain bits ("Damn, we're in a tight spot!"), and it was like the movie would work on me over time, and then I'd see it again and love it.

Maybe I'm just a slow learner when it comes to the Coen Brothers. Though I loved Fargo from the beginning, and also The Hudsucker Proxy, which I loved from the first and have never stopped loving. I have chosen to forgive this author for not loving it as much as I do.

Now I want to see all the ones I've missed. Even the bad ones.
posted by not that girl at 9:38 AM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Well, Miller's Crossing remains my hands-down favorite. I can practically replay the entire movie scene-by-scene in my head. And I still feel that Fargo is their masterpiece. I will say that I had fully expected Inside Llewyn Davis to give me competition at the top of my personal list, and it failed to do so -- I guess I'd say it's in their better third, but beyond that it's difficult to really say.

As of last year, the only film of theirs I have yet to see is The Ladykillers, mainly out of respect for the original, but also because generally I feel their adaptations are in their lowest third in terms of quality, with the exception of NCFOM.

Lebowski, I long ago decided, is in a category by itself. The film abides.
posted by dhartung at 9:56 AM on September 29, 2014


MetaFilter patron saint Roger Ebert completely missed the boat on Raising Arizona. His verdict: 1.5 stars.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:06 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I kind of enjoyed Inside Llewyn Davis, but I have no idea what the point of it was.
posted by empath at 10:10 AM on September 29, 2014


I'm not the only one who doesn't get the love for No Country

would the movie feel that different if you edited out all of the scenes with the sherriff? TL Jones has a memorable face but isn't a memorable actor.

the first act is a really good action/suspense movie but the problem is that it's not supposed to be an action/suspense movie. the second act (after the death of the protagonist) doesn't work ( except for the scenes with Bardem) because T L Jones can carry it and (IMHO) the underlying material from McCarthy is kind of weak.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:12 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


So where do I find a copy of this alternate-universe Burn After Reading that people are raving about? The one I remember was unpleasant, unfunny, and ultimately uninteresting. Comedy requires more than stupid people doing nasty things to one another.
posted by Nerd of the North at 10:13 AM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


also

There's this really unsubtle nastiness in the heart of Burn After Reading that I think turns a lot of people off but completely fits the acid farce tone.

Burn After Reading is basically Blood Simple shot as a screwball sex comedy without changing the underlying feeling of horror.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:14 AM on September 29, 2014 [5 favorites]



I kind of enjoyed Inside Llewyn Davis, but I have no idea what the point of it was.

inside Llewyn Davis is about creative death and the insane notion of 'authentic' in a consumer scoeity

posted by The Whelk at 10:15 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've seen ten of their movies, and Miller's Crossing is my number one. When I saw it for the first time, I had to keep my seat and see it again right away. It's beautiful and perfect, the actors, the music, the perfect dialogue!

Barton Fink is too self-consciously bizarre, but it has many great pieces, and the wonderful Simpsons gag posted above by zerowensboring still makes me laugh.

I love Fargo so much. Beautiful and complex. And I had to put Burn After Reading (which I've never seen) and No Country for Old Men (seen once, years ago) on my Netflix queue.
posted by feste at 10:17 AM on September 29, 2014


Comedy requires more than stupid people doing nasty things to one another.

it's not a comedy.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:20 AM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


I am a huge fan of Intolerable Cruelty, to the point where for couple of years most of my test orders for our ecommerce system come from Heinz, the Baron Klaus von Testy.

Just rewatched The Big Lebowski this weekend after reading The Dudes Abide, a memoir of making the film from their assistant at the time. "Careful, man, there's a beverage here!" is still one of the best lines in a movie full of best lines.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:27 AM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I may disagree with some of the ranking on this, but it does justify the fact that Ladykillers is the only Coen brothers film I haven't seen.

I can go back to sleep now.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:42 AM on September 29, 2014


inside Llewyn Davis is about creative death and the insane notion of 'authentic' in a consumer scoeity

It largely appealed to me as an exploration of the conflict in an artist between doing what he loves and doing what will sell, but it seems like there's a lot of stuff going on in the movie that's not about that, and I'll be damned if I can figure out how to connect it.
posted by empath at 10:42 AM on September 29, 2014


I like the Ladykillers. I don't think it's a great movie, and maybe the Coens' worst -- I'd actually slot it with Intolerable Cruelty and Hudsucker Proxy in a three-way-fight on that front -- but it's still in many ways a good movie, and I still think Tom Hanks gave a lot more to it than he had to, and pulls a lot more out of it than he should have.
posted by Shepherd at 10:46 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I like Miller's Crossing, but I liked it more when I was a student. Anymore it seems to me a little too much like an "exercise," a little precious, kind of trivial in a "but it's supposed to be trivial, since nobody knows anybody" kind of way. It's just the sort of thing I would've expected a feller who did his undergraduate dissertation on Wittgenstein to've written. This is just to say that I don't think Miller's Crossing should be rated more highly than Fargo.
posted by flechsig at 10:51 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Batfish:

It's a review on McCarthy's The Road, but the themes are similar, and so I thought it might satisfy your request for a non-formalist criticism.

Here.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 10:51 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I did not particularly care for the movie, but country music renaissance man Robbie Fulks had some interesting remarks on Llewyn Davis.
posted by batfish at 10:57 AM on September 29, 2014


Thanks, Strange_Robinson. I actually liked The Road and found it very different from other McCarthy I have tried, but I'll read this and try to have another think on No Country.
posted by batfish at 11:01 AM on September 29, 2014


So now, anytime I watch [Blood Simple]—watch as Meurice makes his way to the jukebox and back, white hightops juking across the bar—the Four Tops’ song feels profoundly wrong. I cannot be alone in this. There must be a population of “I’m a Believer” Blood Simple fans out there, right? Are there enough of us to form a support group?

Brother!
posted by nanojath at 11:03 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


So, yeah, reading that analysis of LLewyn Davis, I _get_ it, but like the way you get the teacher-fed explication of "literature" you get in an eighth grade english class. It's so carefully constructed intellectually, but empty emotionally.
posted by empath at 11:05 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


So now, anytime I watch [Blood Simple]—watch as Meurice makes his way to the jukebox and back, white hightops juking across the bar—the Four Tops’ song feels profoundly wrong. I cannot be alone in this. There must be a population of “I’m a Believer” Blood Simple fans out there, right? Are there enough of us to form a support group?

Brother!


On the other hand, I saw Blood Simple in theaters about a half dozen time on its original release and was totally used to "Motown Night." The first time that Neil Diamond(?!?) came on in the home video version, I thought the Coens were playing a horrible, sick joke on us all. Thank God the Four Tops have been restored. (Especially over the end titles.)

The rolled-up newspaper hitting the screen door is one of my favorite moments in any movie, period.
posted by How the runs scored at 11:19 AM on September 29, 2014


My favorite Coen Bros. movies are the ones where they create an other-worldy universe in which the action unfolds - a universe that is at once instantly recognizable and yet untethered from reality. It's clear they are strongly influenced by the atmosphere of classic films, which I also appreciate, but I think they are most successful when they mix genres and eras. The Man Who Wasn't there was so disappointing to me because the genre and atmosphere matched too much. It felt too much like an echo of an older era, just modernized a bit. I felt the same thing the first time I saw The Hudsucker Proxy, but I've actually come to like that movie more over time (which is connected, I'm sure, to having read and seen more between viewings).

One of the things I really like about The Big Lebowski's western/mystery is that while it is set in the very recent past, I also see a strong undertone of the 20s, when California was shucking off the last vestiges of The West and building out dream-making machinery, and to a lesser extent, the 50s. Similarly, Miller's Crossing mines city eras and places from the 20s to the 50s, wrapping it up in this verdant misty forest. In contrast, Intolerable Cruelty (which ultimately was a movie whose parts were greater than the sum of it all) was screwball without the 30s or the 50s and very much this-worldly. And the bits that were otherworldly - the architectural depths of the law firm, most notably - highlighted how ordinary most of the other setting was.
posted by julen at 11:38 AM on September 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


In an article by Dennis Lim in the NYT about the sound design of this film, he writes:

There is at least one sequence in “No Country for Old Men” that could be termed Hitchcockian in its virtuosic deployment of sound. Holed up in a hotel room, Mr. Brolin’s character awaits the arrival of his pursuer, Chigurh. He hears a distant noise (meant to be the scrape of a chair, Mr. Berkey said). He calls the lobby. The rings are audible through the handset and, faintly, from downstairs. No one answers. Footsteps pad down the hall. The beeps of Chigurh’s tracking device increase in frequency. Then there is a series of soft squeaks — only when the sliver of light under the door vanishes is it clear that a light bulb has been carefully unscrewed.

“That was an experiment in what we called the edge of perception,” Mr. Lievsay said. “Ethan especially kept asking us to turn it lower and lower.”

Ethan Coen said, “Josh’s character is straining to hear, and you want to be in his point of view, likewise straining to hear.” The effect can be lost, he conceded, “if it’s a louder crowd and the room is lousy.”

Joel Coen interjected, “If it’s a loud crowd at that point, the film isn’t working anyway.”
posted by komara at 10:38 AM on September 29 [7 favorites +] [!]


I quoted this same interview in, of all things, a Shyamalan thread three years ago and reflected how powerful the sound design is in that scene. Yes, you can have audiences on the edge of their seats for four minutes of a man sitting in a room.

And just last night, inspired in part by this series in The Atlantic, I did something I have been meaning to do for maybe ten years: watched Blood Simple and Fargo back-to-back. The similarities and differences seen his way are astonishing: they are both crime stories set in bleak American landscapes, and in both cases the crimes get far out of control of everyone;this much is obvious at a glance. As well, in both films the spinning out of control is augmented by the characters miscommunicating and acting on faulty information. And as Orr points out, there are mirror image sequences: both movies have a scene of someone trying to get a body off a deserted nighttime road before the headlights that have just come into view in the distance approach. Both have a woman in peril fleeing from her attacker int the bathroom: in one the guy checks the shower while she has gone out the window and in the other he checks the window while she is hiding in the shower.

On the other hand, Blood Simple is tightly bound together and works almost as elegantly as a composed chess problem (where all the pieces irrelevant to the problem are removed from the board). Every time a trigger is pulled, it changes the trajectory of the narrative. Fargo is a bit more loose and shaggy and sprawling. And in Fargo, there is one character trying to tie all the loose threads back together: Marge. It is striking that both movies resolve with the Frances McDormand's character shooting the chief bad guy; in Fargo, it is non-fatally to stop the criminal fleeing and take him under arrest, while in Blood Simple it is (seemingly) fatally. In both cases, she has never seen or spoken to the antagonist until that scene, but her reasoning has brought here there to conclude the story.

And in Blood Simple, the low-information stuff is turned up to maximum: she never sees him and doesn't communicate with him until after he has been shot, so when she opens the bathroom door just after the events of the film, there will be a stranger lying there dead. He is one of two corpses in her apartment, so one can only imagine how her story will proceed in the aftermath. McDormand's character in Fargo has the happiest ending ever seen in a Coen Brothers movie, I think.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:42 AM on September 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


overeducated_alligator: These preposterous inventions would be better suited to the pages of Amazing Tales Magazine. If the editors of The Atlantic see fit to publish the work of a disordered mind, perhaps they will see fit to publish this. But I doubt it, I most seriously doubt it; I doubt also you could find a home at Amazing Tales, a periodical which I have enjoyed for many years. Sincerely, et cetera.

Favorited so hard.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 12:37 PM on September 29, 2014


I like Barton Fink for all the reasons Orr dislikes it. The only misstep in the movie I can immediately think of, not having seen it in years, is Goodman's "Heil Hitler," which, like "What heart?" from Miller's Crossing, feels a little too PHWOAR BAD ASS for my liking. But you could also read the former scene as an exaggerated joke about the latter, which gives me pause.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:42 PM on September 29, 2014


No Country is just a 24 carat ball tearer of a film. It even forced me into reading the book this past weekend, and I'm ashamed to admit I actually enjoyed it. That's 2 out of 3 McCarthy books I have enjoyed, but I still don't like him. Funny how things work out.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:12 PM on September 29, 2014


Miller's Crossing is my #1, too. I originally saw it because my parents and some friends of theirs went to see it in the theatre on my dad's suggestion (he loves gangster movies) and they all hated it so much they bought him a VHS copy as a gag gift for his next birthday. I threw it in one day and it fucking blew me away. He was amazed when I asked him if I could take it with me when I went away to university.

Ladykillers is bad and should feel bad, but I at least small-l like the rest of their films, which is kind of amazing.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:59 PM on September 29, 2014


I posit that a truly accurate Coen ranking must have more Jon Polito in the top half than the bottom half.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:20 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I loved Inside Llewellyen Davis for a bunch of reasons--but mostly because it just decimated the idea of authenticity and deserved talent, that scene with F Murrary Abraham and him dismissing Llewellyn, for sure.
posted by PinkMoose at 7:25 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


I basically only go to the movies to see Coen Brothers movies.

I don't think No Country deserves top billing even though it is my favorite because it's adapted from the novel. (Funny story about that movie. Forty-five minutes in, my wife leans over and whispers, "wait, did you trick me into another Corn Brothers' movie?" "Why do you ask?" "The tension. I haven't breathed since it started." "Yes. Sorry." "I should have known." "Yes, you should have.") And that's not fair.

Fargo, maybe? That starkness, blood on the snow. I don't know. Blood Simple for the way it captures all the Coen tropes in their Ur state?

I need to see the couple I've missed (Ladykillers, Cruelty, Davis) for Completionism.


Scrolling back to see what you all have said.
posted by notyou at 7:42 PM on September 29, 2014


Glad to see Raising Arizona ranked #4 - I've always been under the (apparently wrong) impression it was under appreciated. There are better Cohen movies than Raising Arizona.

Yeah. I think that's because its stained by its heavy rotation on cable. But for many Coen Brothers' fans, RA was the gateway to their brand of film making... and to indie/art film making in general. It's just assumed, like REM and Sam Adams.
posted by notyou at 7:58 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Thanks to the OP for posting this—this is a very fun discussion. I have a very hard time ranking most of the Coen Bros.' oeuvre, though, like most here, Miller's Crossing is my favorite and Ladykillers is easily the worst. In fact, Ladykillers is their only film I did not like, and I don't like most movies I see, so that's a pretty good track record!

I actually was mesmerized by The Man Who Wasn't There because it really scared me in an exisentential way. I felt so empty after watching it, similar to the way I felt after seeing Being There. (Huh, maybe it's a thing about movies whose titles end in "There.")

And I also liked Intolerable Cruelty, particularly the "Massey pre-nup" and the absolutely ancient senior partner surviving on Darth Vader-esque life-support equipment in the basement.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:15 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


"I have a very hard time ranking most of the Coen Bros.' oeuvre, though, like most here, Miller's Crossing is my favorite and Ladykillers is easily the worst."

I'm absolute right there with you. I think my list looks like this:

01.) Miller's Crossing
02.) No Country for Old Men
03.) Fargo
...
16.) Getting hit by a car
17.) The Ladykillers
posted by komara at 8:25 PM on September 29, 2014


To be fair to his rankings, he suggests that the only one of the 16 that doesn't have something to recommend it is The Ladykillers; it isn't as if he dismisses Barton Fink or Lebowski, he just doesn't like them as much as some do. Both of those were revelations to me when I saw them at the time, the latter especially because it had received lukewarm reviews and the cinema was almost empty; I felt like I was in on a secret that the rest of the world didn't know about. Its subsequent cult reputation has blown that apart, but traces of those feelings remain. Maybe I should transfer them to Fink, which seems to have gone down in people's estimation, but at the time was my route into the Coens; Raising Arizona hadn't quite clicked for me.

The difficulty is that the Coens have made so many excellent films that ranking them becomes an impossible task; raise one up and it bumps another down. I'd put No Country, Fargo, Lebowski, Fink at 1-4 and then a jumble of the rest, but have yet to see Inside Llewyn Davis, The Ladykillers or Miller's Crossing, and by the sounds of it at least one of those has the potential to do some bumping.
posted by rory at 3:45 AM on September 30, 2014


rory: I felt like I was in on a secret that the rest of the world didn't know about.

Yeah, I saw The Big Lebowski three times in theaters, loving it more each time. I just couldn't believe that it was possible to tell a story that way. I mean, it's just as tightly-constructed a clockwork as their darker films, but like skilled dancers the Coens' move effortlessly around the rhythm, seemingly doing whatever they want while still being locked into the groove. I like a lot of their other films (and love a couple) but I don't think they've ever followed through on what seemed to me to be a stunning formal breakthrough.
posted by Kattullus at 4:45 AM on September 30, 2014


This feels like a reasonable thread to say:

I believe my household still has the free promotional comb we got at a The Man Who Wasn't There preview screening. And we still use it!

Also, if you liked The Big Lebowski premise ("a hippie walks into a noir"), Thomas Pynchon's really quite accessible Inherent Vice might also suit you. The Paul Thomas Anderson adaptation comes out this year, I take it?
posted by brainwane at 7:57 AM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


The singular genre the Coens have yet to hoover into their oeuvre is that
of the comic-strip-to-silver-screen. I eagerly await the Coenification of
Hagar The Horrible or Broom-Hilda.
posted by Chitownfats at 11:44 AM on September 30, 2014


Intolerable Cruelty is perfectly enjoyable, but the same year a better movie came out which, despite not being a Coen Bros movie, is much, much more what I'd imagine if I were to think of a Coen Bros romantic screwball comedy: it's Down With Love, and it's fantastic.
posted by jason_steakums at 2:08 PM on September 30, 2014


I eagerly await the Coenification of [...] Broom-Hilda.

Somewhere, Tim Burton just sat bolt upright in bed and reached for his jet-black notepad.
posted by Shepherd at 6:18 PM on September 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


16.) Getting hit by a car
17.) The Ladykillers


LOL, yes. Trying really hard to think what my #2 Coen flick is. I really like Blood Simple. I really like Hudsucker Proxy. I really like Barton Fink. I like Fargo, but for some reason that's gone down in my estimation in recent years. I love Lebowski. Maybe Lebowski. Still, so hard to say.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:10 PM on September 30, 2014


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