Blood Simple. (1984) - dir. Joel Coen
Usually when you watch a director’s first film… it falls a little flat, but there’s something in the film that shows a certain promise. Christopher Nolan’s Following, or Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste are both great examples. And Blood Simple. falls right into that category: although it’s a decent little thriller that would’ve been forgotten if it weren’t for the Coen’s rise to prominence in filmmaking, the film also shows us signs of promise.
Blood Simple is a neo-noir film starring Frances McDormand as the target of a hit put on her by her douchebag husband. It’s really not a complicated plot… but none of the Coen’s films are that complicated at the base level. What Blood Simple. also has are great side characters, clever shot-structures and the finale is so precise it’s perfect. Again… it’s not a must-see, but it is a good film.
The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) - dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
The Coens have worked with cinematographer Roger Deakins time and time before, but something about the photography of this film makes it so unique. The storyline itself is one of the Coen’s worst, but the film itself couldn’t be any more beautiful to look at. Stylistically this remains one of my favorite films… but I get as much from the stills as I get from watching it.
A Serious Man (2009) - dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
This film somehow gets missed. It’s a brilliant adaptation of the Book of Job (with some other Old Testament stories thrown in). The acting is great (especially Richard Kind as Uncle Arthur). If you’ve read the Old Testament as a piece of fine literature, not scripture, this is the film for you. It’s wonderful. I’m sad more people don’t love it.
No Country for Old Men (2007) - dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
A work of true perfection. No Country focuses on three men who are never shown on the screen at the same time. Even though Carter Burwell is credited with scoring the film - there is no score. The Coen Brothers strip away conventional filmmaking and still come out with one of Hollywood’s greatest films. The tense action sequences are so brutally realistic that they come off like a tall tale… which they are. No Country is the tale of Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) as he reaches the end of his life and considers retirement. Nothing more.
The whole ordeal about Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbling upon a satchel containing two million dollars at a drug deal gone wrong - sure, that’s entertaining. And it does become the focal point of the narrative - but does it really happen? Or is Moss just a representative of Bell as a younger man? Bring in the mysterious Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) aka the Devil and the whole film takes a different turn. Or you could just watch it and take your own meaning. It’s the single-greatest novel-to-screen adaptation of all time. Nothing more.
#71 - Fargo (1996), directed by Joel Coen
The Coen Brothers are an unbelievably talented filmmaking duo, and for nearly thirty years they’ve been alternating between black comedies and noir-esque dramas. The beautiful thing about Fargo is its ability to be both at the same time.
Raising Arizona (1987) - dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
It seems fitting that the Coens would immediately start alternating between noir-esque drama and witty black comedies. And Raising Arizona is one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen. The plot is stupendously stupid, Nicolas Cage delivers his most believable performance (it’s a slightly better job than Adaptation.) and holy shit are those bit characters splendid. John Goodman & William Forsythe as the Snoats are perfect.
The only thing about comedies… is that they date themselves rather quickly. Even though this is a comedy that rarely misses… it was also made in the eighties where films generally took less punches.
Miller’s Crossing (1990) - dir. Joel Coen
Joel & Ethan Coen’s script for the film is the single greatest script of all time. It’s beyond air-tight. Every character, every moment, every glass of whiskey is important. There’s significance in everything. (click on the bottom picture)
The film is literally flawless… which ends up being its only flaw. The facts are given so quickly and in such rapid succession that it’s hard to fall in love with the film after one viewing. It takes time to sink in, but eventually it all will. Every character performance is superb, all of the dialogue is witty but there’s never time to breathe.
This is one of the best mob films you’ll ever see.