Director Spotlight: The Coen Brothers
by Ken Evans
November 12, 2007
When I first started to really get into film, all I cared about were the actors. Every movie I rented was first based on who was in it. After watching every Bruce Willis movie, I moved on to watching every Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and so on. Sure I was aware of writers and directors, but didn't really understand how important they were. It wasn't until college that it hit me that the directors and writers mold the film into what it really is. After watching Fight Club, I knew I wanted to see everything that David Fincher had done. A whole new world of watching movies, based more on who directed it than who acted in it, opened up to me. It was around this time that I learned of the directing duo the Coen Brothers.
Joel and Ethan Coen have been writing and directing films since their first film, Blood Simple, in 1984. Even after having seen all of their films, it is impossible for me to say which they are better at, writing or directing. They excel equally in both areas which helps them tremendously in making a movie. Since they are the ones who write the stories and characters, there isn't anyone who understands how to visually tell the story better than they do. They write the story picturing in their heads every moment of the script and how they see it playing itself out on the screen.
One of their biggest strengths is being able to pull amazing performances out of the actors time and time again. I think this also relates to the fact that they not only write the stories but direct the films as well. The Coen Brothers wrote the characters they are directing. They understand the emotion and feelings of each character and can then direct the actors perfectly. Look at John Goodman for example. He was amazing in The Big Lebowski, Barton Fink, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Raising Arizona. Tom Hanks is great, but my favorite performance of his was in The Ladykillers. As much as I loved Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade, I like him even more in The Man Who Wasn't There.
George Clooney is already outstanding, but the character the Coens created and directed Clooney through in O Brother, Where Art Thou? is out of this world. When semi-great or mediocre actors step into the Coen Brother's world they become incredible. When an already outstanding actor steps into the Coen Brother's world they cease to be themselves and wholly become the character they are playing.
When it comes to story writing there are no other writers as consistently great as the Coen Brothers. This is why they are my favorite directors. Sure there are other writers and directors who might make one movie that I will like better then a Coen Brother's movie, but not consistently. Going down their list of films, there isn't one that I don't love. The stories that they come up with are all so unique that you never get sick of them. They will make one film (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) where they retell Homer's "Odyssey" set in the south during the 1930's, while two years earlier they made a film (The Big Lebowski) about a hippie deadbeat bowler living in LA who gets caught up in a fake kidnapping because his rug was peed on. Their films are refreshing, vibrant and unique with stories that are always different. Yet, their style still shines through in each film.
If you hungrily seek to see stand-apart films, rather than the seemingly same regurgitated movies that Hollywood spews out, then make it a point to see anything and everything that the Coens have ever made. Start with their first film Blood Simple and work your way up to their most recent release No Country For Old Men. You will see their progression as filmmakers and should truly appreciate how they have set themselves apart. If you enjoy great films, then I highly doubt that you won't love or at least appreciate every one of their movies.
I'm putting a list of all of their films in order by year at the bottom of this article. Use it to fill in the gaps of films that you haven't seen. Or use it to make your own list and put it in order of your preferences. Either way, since they are my favorite directors, I'm very interested in your feedback and what you think about them and their films.
Blood Simple (1984)
Raising Arizona (1987)
Miller's Crossing (1990)
Barton Fink (1991)
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
The Big Lebowski (1998)
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
The Ladykillers (2004)
Paris Je T'aime (Short Segment "Tuileries") (2006)
No Country For Old Men (2007)
Thanks for this feature. It reminded me that I have not yet seen Blood Simple. I have just put it at the top of my Netflix queue. My favorite from the Coen Bros must be Oh Brother Where Art Thou?. That's not to say it's their best film, but it is one that I can watch over and over again without ever losing my interest. I think it's a testament to their bravura filmmaking that everyone seems to have a different favorite Coen Bros film.
Matt on Nov 13, 2007
There are always certain movies that if you're surfing by them on the TV and you see that they're on, you automatically stop and watch them ... regardless if they just started or they're half over. My #1 film of this particular nature is Shawshank Redemption (which isn't a Coen Bros film) ... but right after that is: O Brother, Where Art Thou? Fargo Raising Arizona Incredible body of work by these 2 gents ... that is, all except Ladykillers. Now THAT one was crap.
Hilander on Nov 13, 2007
Ladykillers may not be their best work, but it is certainly a Coen Brother masterpiece. It wasnt much more than a comedy, but what a comedy it was. On the laugh scale it measured near the Big Lebowski. I dont want anyone ever to say that the Ladykillers was crap ever again without giving any reasoning behind it. The bullshit has gone on for too long. From now on, if you have an opinion about a movie you are going to have to back it up. The Coen Brothers are my favorite directos as well, they are really wacky and interesting people that stay independant. Hollywood needs more nerds like these running things. btw: 1) Big Lebowski 2) Millers Crossing 3) Fargo 4) O Brother Where Art Thou 5) Hudsucker Proxy
Vega Bro on Nov 13, 2007
Blood Simple is a great movie. I really hadn't heard of that movie until a few months ago when I realized that it was the Coen's first film. I went to the library and checked it out. It's a great modern crime/noir and a wonderful debut.
Zach on Nov 14, 2007
Hey Kevin, I'm willing to concede that Ladykillers might do a little better on a second viewing ... but, I'm still a little sceptical. That's time I can't get back if it starts to suck again (all in my humble opinion, of course!). But, out of all these comments, I just realized I've never watched Blood Simple. Think I'll rent that before LK again. 😉 Cheers!
Hilander on Nov 14, 2007
I absoulutley 1000% agree. Best body of work by a director / writer team to date. I cannot wait to see "No Country for Old Men". -Take care
BusyRobot on Nov 14, 2007
Sorry, new comments are no longer allowed.