The Coen Brothers are my favorite filmmakers. They have a new movie coming out in theaters tomorrow. It’s called Hail, Caesar! and it looks just as zany as what I would expect from a Coen comedy. In celebration of this, I decided I’d do something similar to what I did when Kevin Smith’s last film, Tusk, came out and rank their films from least favorite to favorite. This was not an easy task because it’s kind of difficult to compare some of these, but I’m going to have at it anyway.
16. The Ladykillers (2004)
Even the best filmmakers are sure to have a few missteps after 30+ years of filmmaking. The Ladykillers is, in my opinion, the largest misstep the Coen Brothers have made to date. Despite the fine casting of the great Tom Hanks in the lead role, there was something missing from this film that resulted in me seeing it once, thinking, “meh,” and writing it off forever.
I don’t remember hating this movie, but I don’t remember any of the usual spark that makes a Coen Brothers movie really stand out from all the other crap out there. It’s on Netflix and I’m almost curious to watch it all these years later to see if I feel the same way I did on first viewing.
15. Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
I didn’t think Intolerable Cruelty was that bad, but I didn’t think it was that good. Could the fact that the Coens didn’t write the screenplay entirely themselves be part of the problem? Like how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie pop, the world may never know.
George Clooney is always charming. Edward Herrmann (may he rest in peace) was also pretty great. Catherine Zeta-Jones, however, is an actress who has always irked me. I can only stand her in Chicago and that’s probably only because Renee Zellweger annoys me more. Anyway, Zeta-Jones annoys me in this movie as well.
14. The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
It’s been quite awhile since I saw this one, so a lot of the details are fuzzy for me. I know that Tim Robbins plays kind of a clueless guy and there’s a hula hoop. I know slightly more than that. Seriously. I haven’t seen this movie in approximately 10 years.
To be honest, it’s not one that I really care to watch again. I remember thinking that it reeked of quirky Coen dialogue, but I wasn’t really a huge fan of the story.
13. Burn After Reading (2008)
I remember being very excited in 2008 when Burn After Reading came out. I went to watch it during its opening week and felt, well, disappointed. I haven’t seen it since and I honestly wonder if my opinion would change now that I’m aware of what I’m getting into.
It’s fast paced, full of really idiotic characters, and features a pretty silly storyline. In these ways, Burn After Reading is like a typical Coen comedy. Beyond that, it’s full of annoying characters and situations that I actually found a bit too over the top. But then, I might have been expecting too much.
12. Miller’s Crossing (1990)
I feel like a lot of Coen fans would shun me for this appearing so low in the rankings. To be honest, mob movies are rarely my favorites and this is a list of my personal opinions so sue me if you disagree. This is my blog and I’ll say what I want. I haven’t seen this one in a long time, so I don’t really have much to say because — well — I don’t remember much. Except that I found Gabriel Byrne attractive in it. That’s really neither here nor there.
11. A Serious Man (2009)
This is the Coen film that I’ve watched for the first time most recently. I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t love it. I appreciate all the little things going on in this movie and I thought the cinematography was out of this world, but the story itself isn’t one that I particularly related to and the characters are not ones that I was able to really care about.
There were some really amusing moments (like no one knowing what a “Gett” was and the Asian kid who would not accept getting an F on his midterm), but overall it didn’t really come together for me. I don’t know. I’ve heard it has good rewatch value, so maybe I’ll like it more as time goes on.
10. True Grit (2010)
Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld are great in this movie. It’s a remake of a classic John Wayne Western. I have admittedly not seen the original and thus have no basis for comparison, but I enjoyed this film. It doesn’t rank among the Coen greats for me, but I liked it.
There are some truly Coen-y moments — especially when Bridges’ and Steinfeld’s characters are on their journey. I couldn’t understand everything Bridges says in the film, but what I caught was often pretty amusing. It’s also beautifully shot, sufficiently action-packed, and full of heart.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending. It seemed kind of rushed and then ended in a way that I thought was a bit cliche. But these are small gripes. It’s overall a really good film.
9. The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)
The number one thing I’ll say about this movie is that it is extraordinarily, beautifully shot. I remember being kind of iffy on the black and white when I first saw it, kind of wondering if it was a silly gimmick. It wasn’t. It fits the style of the film (which pays homage to old film noir movies) and makes it stylistically brilliant. Billy Bob Thornton was really good in a role that required him to be really stoic most of the time. I need to see this one again. It’s been a long time. The last time I saw it was on VHS, if that tells you anything.
8. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
This was a movie that I wasn’t sure about initially. It didn’t sound very “Coen-y” to me when I read the description. That combined with the fact that there weren’t any Coen regulars in the cast made me a little nervous. But I actually really enjoyed this film.
It was different, but there were little details (like the cat) that made it feel like a Coen Brothers film. Its main motif seemed to be a man down on his luck and unable to pull himself out of it. This is a theme that the Coens have explored multiple times and do very well. I enjoyed the overall setting of this one. It was probably the only movie on this list that I expected not to enjoy but which proved me wrong.
7. Blood Simple. (1984)
I watched this again last night to see if it held up as well as I thought. It did. Here’s the thing about Blood Simple. It was the Coens’ first feature. It’s pretty obviously a low budget movie with some less than stellar editing. Despite that, it’s a damn good thriller filled with mostly immoral characters who make a mess of their lives over one extramarital affair.
There’s one scene that really stuck with me over the years. I won’t give anything away, but I’ll just tell you that someone gets his hand slammed in a window and then the hand is stabbed through with a knife. That scene really got me. It’s bloody and really makes you squirm. The use of music and (of course) the dialogue are also top notch.
6. Barton Fink (1991)
This is one of the first Coen films I ever watched, possibly before I even knew who the Coen Brothers were. This is an excellent film for so many reasons. First, it is terrifically filmed. It is gorgeous and the attention to detail (as one can expect from this filmmaking duo) is insane. I loved all the scenes in the hotel, from the hotel hall, to the peeling wallpaper, to the photograph of the woman on the beach. And, of course, Steve Buscemi as Chet! the front desk guy. It really set an eerie, quirky scene.
Second, it’s wonderfully acted. This is one of my favorite roles by John Turturro, who is one of the most criminally underrated actors of his generation. Then there’s John Goodman, who is always wonderfully convincing. These two are so good in their respective roles, as are those in smaller roles — such as Tony Shalhoub, Steve Buscemi, and whoever played Pete the elevator man.
Third, the script is excellent. This is one of those movies that is so funny, but simultaneously kind of cryptic and surreal. You don’t know if everything that is happening is actually happening or if it’s a result of Fink’s gradual descent into madness. Regardless, it an epic film that deserves a lot more mainstream attention than it gets.
5. The Big Lebowski (1998)
I’m the dude. So that’s what you call me.
The Big Lebowski is basically the definition of “cult film.” It’s a movie that has really taken on a life of its own in the years following its release. It’s a kidnapping plot, stoner movie, and commentary on whether or not the Chinaman is the issue all in one.
We’ve got perpetually stoned Jeff Bridges, perpetually angry John Goodman, and perpetually stupid Steve Buscemi bumbling around, bowling, and trying to get a replacement for The Dude’s rug that was peed on in a case of mistaken identity. This film is the only time that Tara Reid was not useless in a movie.
It’s one of the most fun rides watching a movie can provide. I don’t trust people who don’t like this movie. Except my mom, because she likes the remaining movies on this list.
4. No Country for Old Men (2007)
I saw No Country for Old Men twice in theaters and I’ve seen it at least twice since. It’s a wonderful thriller that takes turns I didn’t expect and ends in kind of an unsettling way. It’s also probably the least comedic movie I’ve seen from the Coens. Except maybe Blood Simple. There wasn’t much comedy there.
Anyway, I liked how this movie showed that justice doesn’t really always get served. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say I was shocked by the end and who lived versus who died and whether or not people got what they deserved. Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and Woody Harrelson were all great, but the best performance of the film is easily that of Javier Bardem. He is entirely menacing in each of his scenes that he unquestionably steals.
Also, so glad the Coen Bros finally got a Best Picture Academy Award.
3. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
I’ve found that this movie is actually kind of polarizing in the community of film fans. Some people rank it among the Coen’s worst films. Others, like me, think it ranks among the greats.
The fact that this is based on The Odyssey kind of blew my mind as a young teenager who watched this movie in English class. English class! It sure made Homer more interesting.
The ragtag team of George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson make this movie what it is. Those three play off each other so well — Clooney’s clueless, pseudo-intelligent Everett, Turturro’s angry, redneck Pete, and Nelson’s dumb, gullible Delmar.
Also, the music is awesome. I’m a Dapper Dan man!
2. Raising Arizona (1987)
This is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen — if not the funniest movie I’ve ever seen. It has incredible re-watch value and honestly gets better and better with every viewing. I’ve probably seen Raising Arizona 7 to 10 times and it still makes me laugh. There are dozens of lines that are worth quoting regularly. And I do. Often.
This is easily one of Nicolas Cage’s best roles. He is perfect as dim-witted criminal H.I. The rest of the cast — including Holly Hunter, John Goodman, and Trey Wilson — is equally brilliant.
Raising Arizona probably has my favorite opening of any movie ever. The opening credits do not play until 13 minutes into the movie. Those first 13 minutes have so much comedy packed into them that the rest of the movie could have been a tutorial on how to paint houses and I still would have given it a passing score.
The plot is ludicrous, but it’s executed so well that you tend to forget how asinine it is. This is also the Coen’s first kidnapping plot… which is something that has become almost a trademark for them. See also: Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and Hail Caesar!
1. Fargo (1996)
Oh Fargo. What can be said about this great cinematic masterpiece that hasn’t been said already? Probably nothing. But I can repeat some stuff. Fargo is the perfect example of the Coen’s attention to detail and incredible skills with dialogue. Steve Buscemi once said in an interview that there is no improv in a Coen Brothers movie. I guess that’s because they don’t need it. Everything is so well written and so tight that it’s a perfect entity on its own.
Fargo is at times very dark, very funny, or a combination of both. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe. It’s not a fast paced thriller because it doesn’t need to be. Some argue that it mocks the simplicity of life in a state like Minnesota (which is where the Coens are from, btw), but I honestly feel like it was more of a celebration than anything else. There were few characters in this movie that were shown in a good light, but the ones that were hailed from that simple life. Like Frances McDormand’s character, Marge. She’s smart, moral, and does a really difficult job while being ridiculously pregnant. In the snow, no less!
McDormand won an Oscar for her performance and she deserved it. Similarly, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, and Peter Stomare put in great performances. It’s one of my favorite Buscemi roles, which is saying a lot because he’s one of my favorite actors, don’tcha know?
What are your favorite Coen movies and will you be watching Hail, Caesar?
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