6 Best Movies by Joel and Ethan Coen
Photo: Mondadori Portfolio (Getty Images)
The Coen brothers have, over the years, gained recognition in the world of film for their colorful plotlines, quirky filming style, and unique characters. Although today they aren’t as popular as they were back then, Joel and Ethan Coen have still left a memorable mark in movie culture. To honor their masterful filmmaking, we decided to present to you 7 of their finest works, in a chronological order as you’ll probably guess which one is our favorite. Take a look and tell us what you think.
The first movie the Coen brothers ever made was Blood Simple, from 1984. Some might argue that it doesn’t belong in the list of their greatest works, but we believe that it does, if for nothing else than for being their starting point. Blood Simple is a neo-noir story that follows Abby, a woman whose paranoid husband is so sure she’s having an affair that he’ll go to great lengths to prove it, causing absolute chaos along the way. This movie basically set the tone for all of their other films, combining conversational comedy and excessive violence in an appealing, unique way. This was the first time that the two worked with Frances McDormand and she obviously did a good job as they kept hiring her for more and more projects.
Three years later, in 1987, they made Raising Arizona, an iconic film that helped Joel and Ethan gain a small but devoted audience. Although still a crime story, Raising Arizona had a much lighter atmosphere and more vivid characters than Blood Simple. It was a departure from their usual style that, somehow, still managed to become a part of their style. The plot follows a cheerful criminal (played by Nicolas Cage) who, along with his wife, decides to kidnap a baby and raise it as their own. Of course, things get quite complicated and dark-toned humorous adventure ensues. With these first two movies, they’ve managed to establish what would become a classic Coen type of film.
After Arizona, the brothers made a film called Miller’s Crossing, which was, in a way, a classic gangster story set in the prohibition era with Gabriel Byrne in the lead role. While the film wasn’t all that remarkable, the frustrating process of making it actually proved to be inspiring for the writing duo. Unable to overcome their writer’s block, Joel and Ethan came up with an idea for another film that eventually became their masterpiece – Barton Fink. The story follows a New York writer in the 1940s who comes to Hollywood to write a script but faces some inner demons in the process. This film is probably what put John Turturo on the map and made him a frequent Coen brothers collaborator.
One of their most famous thrillers, Fargo, was released in 1996 and saw the return of Frances McDormand as a pregnant small-town policewoman who stumbles upon a case of a kidnapping gone wrong. Fargo’s main characteristic is certainly spontaneity and human behavior of its characters. Every one of them is unique in his own way and partially contributes to the larger story that is actually rather simple. Besides McDormand, the film also features William H. Macy as a dodgy car salesman, Steve Buscemi, and Peter Stormare as two semi-capable guns for hire and other colorful characters. As it is the case with nearly all of their films, Fargo also mixes brutal violence with black humor in the most charming of ways. The popularity of the film has even led to a creation of an acclaimed TV series of the same name.
The Big Lebowski
Two years later, the Coen brothers created what many consider to be their masterpiece – The Big Lebowski. As usual, this film also featured an ensemble cast and a somewhat ignorable plot, but the clever part is that even the film itself acknowledges it. The emphasis is not on the forgettable plot about kidnapping and mistaken identities, but on the extremely rich characters beautifully portrayed by some of the best actors in the business. The main character is the Dude, whose casual lifestyle and relaxed attitude towards life became iconic even outside of film. The Dude is portrayed by Jeff Bridges and it is arguably one of the most significant roles of his career. Numerous lines from this film live on as quotes even today, thanks to their timeless nature and clever writing.
No Country for Old Men
One of their most recent films, No Country for Old Men, easily gets on the list because it brings back the good old neo-noir style that only Coen Brothers can pull off. Again the plot is somewhat simple but has an incredible intensity that brought it 4 Oscars in 2008. Josh Brolin plays a hunter who stumbles upon a bloody aftermath of some drug dealers and decides to keep the drug money he found at the site. Because of that, a ruthless killer played hauntingly by Javier Bardem goes after him and kills everyone in the way. The movie brought the brothers back to the spotlight and reminded everyone just how good filmmakers they really are.
There are, of course, other, more recent films by Joel and Ethan Coen that perhaps deserve to be on our list, but these 6 movies are a great starting point. Let us know what is your favorite Coen film in the comment section below.