The Sunday Dozen: The Coen Brothers

The featured image is of Joel and Ethan Coen’s most beloved characters, not the brothers themselves. That’s perfect for this week’s dozen, I don’t know much about the brothers as people. Hell, I can barely tell them apart BUT I love their movies.

I first heard of the Coen Brothers while watching Siskel & Ebert review Blood Simple. The sweater boys, as a friend called them, raved about it. I was always willing to take a flyer on a movie that Gene and Roger liked. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship with the men from Minnesota.

The Coens are known for their snappy dialogue and witty repartee even among dumbass characters. I considered posting the most memorable line from each movie but went with animated GIFs instead. It was easier: Coen Brothers GIFs are everywhere. One moved in down the block from me last week.

The movies are listed in order of preference and reflect my own taste. I grade the first ten films at 4 stars and the last two at 3 1/2 stars. The last movie listed is likely to surprise my fellow film buffs but I giggle just thinking about it. A good giggle is a terrible thing to waste.

We begin with the most obvious choice.

Fargo: What can you say about a movie that’s so good that it inspired a fine teevee anthology series? Many things actually.

Marge Gunderson is one of my favorite characters in film history. She’s tough, smart, lovable, and hilarious. I dig her Minnesota Swedish accent so much that I just lapsed into it while talking to myself. Did I just admit to that? Ja, you betcha.

There are many other memorable characters in Fargo. I don’t know if they call them schlemiels in Minnesota, but William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi play major schmucks. The former is even a putz.

Fargo took the Coen Brothers cult audience mainstream and I was fine with that. It couldn’t happen to nicer guys about whom I know precious little.

Here’s a Fargo GIF featuring Oscar winning actress and Coen spouse, Frances McDormand.

The Big Lebowski is a surreal comedy that defies description. It’s chock full of weird moments and even weirder characters. I’d say more but I don’t want to live in a world of pain.

Jeff Bridges as The Dude creates one of the most memorable characters in film history, man. He’s so cool that he leaves the house in a bathrobe and boxer shorts, man. Have you ever done that, man? Me neither, man.

I could go on and on and on but it’s time to “shut the fuck up Donny” and move on.

I posted two Dude GIfs yesterday, so here’s John Turturro licking his bowling ball.

Miller’s Crossing is one of the Coen’s more serious films. It’s a period gangster movie with a dazzling performance by Gabriel Byrne.

FYI, the city scenes were filmed in New Orleans but my town wasn’t playing itself.

Here’s the gangster GIF featuring Mr. Byrne. It burns me up that he’s not related to David of big suit fame.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? It’s a goofy, surreal romp through the depression era South. Our main characters encounter Klansmen, con men, country musicians, and use a lot of Dapper Dan pomade.

The music in this movie is to die for. T-Bone Burnett deserves a shout-out for providing one of the best soundtracks in recent memory. It’s bona fide.

Now singing in a fake beard, Mr. George Clooney:

No Country For Old Men was serious enough to win the Best Picture Oscar but skewed enough for me to dig.

The performances are epic, especially Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, and my barbershop buddy Tommy Lee Jones.

Here’s the menacing Javier Bardem being menacing.

Raising Arizona was the movie that made me fall in love with the Coen Brothers work. They made kidnapping funny. It’s a reminder of what a good actor Nic Cage was before he started taking every part offered because he needs the money.

I used to see Cage in the French Quarter when he lived on Esplanade Avenue. He was rarely friendly and frequently wasted. I even saw him thrown out of a Quarter eatery. He pulled the “do you know who I am?” thing. The reply was classic: “Yeah, a famous asshole.”

The Coens began building their stock company with this movie. It features the first appearance by John Goodman and the second by Frances McDormand.

Here’s Nic Cage shaving. Shave, Nic, shave.

Barton Fink: It’s set in Hollywood’s Golden Age. It stars John Turturro in the title role. His character is based on the legendary lefty writer Clifford Odets. Odets famously hated the film industry but wrote one of my favorite movies, Sweet Smell Of Success.

I dig the period touches and Turturro’s hair. He was perfectly cast as the bitter writer in exile.

Here’s Barton Finking out:

Blood Simple: The Coens first feature film was made on a shoestring. If you knew them back then, they put the bite on you.

Blood Simple is an excellent example of ’80’s neo-noir. It features a stellar performance by veteran character actor M. Emmett Walsh. Betcha can’t say that three times in a row without tripping over your tongue.

I love neon signs. Hence this GIF.

Burn After Reading is the Coens in full-tilt farce mode. It’s ostensibly a spy movie with John Malkovich as the spook. He writes and loses the memoirs he wrote about his CIA days. Two idiots find it and hilarity ensues. One of the idiots is played by Brad Pitt so I guess I should call his character a handsome idiot.

Here’s Pitt being simultaneously handsome and idiotic:

True Grit is a remake of the 1969 movie for which John Wayne won his Oscar. The Coens hewed more faithfully to the book and produced the superior film. What’s not to love about Jeff Bridges as Reuben Rooster Cogburn?

Cogburn’s aim is true. Rooster abides.

The Man Who Wasn’t There is a neo-noir filmed in glorious black and white. It’s set in Southern California in 1949 like a proper noir.

The standout performance comes from Billy Bob Thornton who later played a hiss provoking villain in the first season of the teevee series Fargo. It was not set in Southern California.

It doesn’t get more noir than this:

The Ladykillers: I know that I’m on the record as hating remakes. And this is a remake of a classic British comedy with Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers. I should hate this movie but I don’t.

I loved the 1955 version but the 2004 Coen movie is wet your pants funny. They let Tom Hanks fly his freak flag after years of solemn roles and Irma P. Hall steals every scene she’s in as the landlady. As a fellow non-fan of the genre, I love her ranting about “hippity-hop music.”

Here’s Hanks hamming it up as Professor GH Dorr.

That concludes the Coen Brothers Dozen.

For lagniappe, here’s a Big Lebowski Top Ten List. It may be number two on my list but it’s first in my heart.

The last word goes to The Dude, Walt, and Donny in The Big Lebowski: