ome directors – most, really – define themselves in their visuals, and while the movies of Joel and Ethan Coen deliver plenty of eye candy, courtesy of their brilliant choices in cinematography (Roger Deakins, holler), the Coens have, well, something else on their minds. Yes, there is a look to their movies, but it isn't as easily defined as, say, Michael Bay's crane shots, or Mike Leigh's awkward improv moment. Nope, the Coens, much like fellow inductee Quentin Tarantino, are lovers of language, and in fact might be the invisible bridge between Tarantino (foul-mouthed, pop culture catch phrase generator) and Ricky Gervais (funny, loves the awkward pause, has little use for present-day pop culture). Oh, and did we forget to mention the time machine? Because the Coens like to jump around. Heck, their most recent movie, "A Serious Man," jumped from the early 1900s to the '60s in the first five minutes. Indeed, there is hardly a decade from the 20th century that the Coens haven't tried to recreate.
Making their debut with a thriller (1984's "Blood Simple") and naturally fearful of being typecast, the Coens quickly set out to establish that they will never make the same movie twice, following "Blood Simple" with a screwball comedy ("Raising Arizona"), a gangster movie ("Miller's Crossing"), and, well, whatever you want to call "Barton Fink." By this time, everyone knew what 'a Coen brothers movie' meant (even if they had no idea what their next story would be), and while they had their choice of the cream of the crop, the Coens continued to fill their movies with actors, not movie stars. If one actor happened to be both (Paul Newman, George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt), well, that was a bonus, but they clearly have a fondness for character actors. It is not a coincidence that John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, John Mahoney, Richard Jenkins, Charles Durning and Stephen Root have all appeared in multiple Coen brothers movies.
The best compliment we can pay the Coens is that in an industry obsessed with celebrity, of both the real and fake variety, Joel and Ethan Coen are content to stay out of the headlines and just make movies. They don't talk shit about their peers. They don't do the couch tour. Joel has been married for 26 years (to frequent castee Frances McDormand), and Ethan has been married for 20 years. You'd be hard pressed to find two men so high on the Hollywood food chain who still act as if they're shooting movies in their back yard with a Super 8. And by being so remarkably humble, the Coens have landed on every actor's short list of people to work with before they die. It's rare to find such talent paired with such humility, and even if they don't hit it out of the park every time (and let's be honest, they don't), it's still fun to see what they're going to do next.
It is not a coincidence that no one has attempted to make a screwball comedy since this movie came out. One of the most quotable movies in the Coens' catalog – though its funniest moments often come when no one says a word – "Raising Arizona" is pure comic genius. It makes us sad watching it now, though, wondering just how much fun the Coens would have had with a guy like Trey Wilson if he hadn't died in 1989.
Men do foolish things for money, and no movie demonstrates that as hilariously and tragically as "Fargo." Frances McDormand received a much-deserved Academy Award for her performance as the pleasant but no-nonsense police chief, while William H. Macy was robbed of his Oscar at gunpoint by Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Only the Coens would answer the universal question "What the world needs now is…" with a Depression-era music-driven road movie set to Homer's "The Odyssey." And only they could actually pull off such an endeavor.
The Coens have put some mythical baddies in their movies, and while the sight of some of them might strike fear in the hearts of men faster (Randall "Tex" Cobb in "Raising Arizona," for one), you better believe that no other movie they make as long as they live will feature a character as calmly badass as Anton Chigurh.
Talk about your perfect casting. The much-loved Jeff Bridges was the only person who could make a fuck-up like The Dude so immensely likable. One of the Coens' odder films, to be sure (and once again, Steve Buscemi dies), but no other movie in their catalog improves with repeat viewings like this one does.
Perhaps it looked to many like the Coens were taking this one off after enjoying their first Academy Award for Best Picture, but we loved the mock-suspense of "Burn After Reading." Between Brad Pitt's clueless gym employee, George Clooney's paranoid infidel (and let's not forget part-time inventor), Tilda Swinton's ice-cold pediatrician, and John Malkovich's foul-mouthed spook, the movie is a confederacy of dunces, racing against the nonexistent clock of an imaginary thriller.
You have to think that Tom Hanks woke up on New Year's Day 2004 thinking it was going to be a great year; he was working with the Coen brothers on one movie and Steven Spielberg on the other. The end results: "The Ladykillers" and "The Terminal," both easily among the most disliked movies in the filmographies of two very popular directors. Truth be told, as soon as we heard one of the characters in "The Ladykillers" had irritable bowel syndrome – and worse, that they assigned it to the great J.K. Simmons – we were ready for the check, Tom Hanks be damned.
"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)
"No Country for Old Men" (2007)
"Burn After Reading" (2008)
"A Serious Man" (2009)
"True Grit" (2010)
The Coens have little use for the one-liner. The longer a conversation goes, the better, so if some of these get a little chatty, well, it's their fault.
"Edwina's insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase."
THE HUDSUCKER PROXY
"You punch in at 8:30 every morning, except you punch in at 7:30 following a business holiday, unless it's a Monday, then you punch in at 8 o'clock. Punch in late, and they dock ya. Incoming articles get a voucher, outgoing articles provide a voucher. Move any article without a voucher, and they dock ya. Letter size a green voucher, oversize a yellow voucher, parcel size a maroon voucher. Wrong color voucher, and they dock ya. 6787049A/6. That is your employee number. It will not be repeated. Without your employee number, you cannot get your paycheck. Inter-office mail is code 37, intra-office mail 373, outside mail is 337. Code it wrong, and they dock ya. This has been your orientation. Is there anything you do not understand, is there anything you understand only partially? If you have not been fully oriented, you must file a complaint with personnel. File a faulty complaint…and they dock ya!"
"Oh, fuck it, I don't have to talk, either, man! See how you like it. (Pause) Just total fuckin' silence. Two can play at that game, smart guy. We'll just see how you like it. (Pause) Total silence."
THE BIG LEBOWSKI
The Dude: Look, just stay away from my fucking lady friend.
Da Fino: Hey, I'm not messing with your special lady.
The Dude: She's not my special lady, she's my fucking lady friend.
O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?
Ulysses Everett McGill: What'd the devil give you for your soul, Tommy?
Tommy Johnson: Well, he taught me to play this here guitar real good.
Delmar O'Donnell: Oh son, for that you sold your everlasting soul?
Tommy Johnson: Well, I wasn't usin' it.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Anton Chigurh: What's the most you ever lost on a coin toss?
Gas Station Attendant: Sir?
Anton Chigurh: The most, you ever lost, on a coin toss.
Gas Station Attendant: I don't know. I couldn't say.
Anton Chigurh: (flips a coin) Call it.
Gas Station Attendant: Call it?
Anton Chigurh: Yes.
Gas Station Attendant: For what?
Anton Chigurh: Just call it.
Gas Station Attendant: Well, we need to know what we're calling it for, here.
Anton Chigurh: You need to call it. I can't call it for you. It wouldn't be fair.
Gas Station Attendant: I didn't put nothin' up.
Anton Chigurh: Yes, you did. You've been putting it up your whole life; you just didn't know it. You know what date is on this coin?
Gas Station Attendant: No.
Anton Chigurh: 1958. It's been traveling 22 years to get here. And now it's here. And it's either heads or tails. And you have to say. Call it.
Gas Station Attendant: Look, I need to know what I stand to win.
Anton Chigurh: Everything.
Gas Station Attendant: How's that?
Anton Chigurh: You stand to win everything. Call it.
Gas Station Attendant: All right. Heads, then.
Anton Chigurh: Well done. Don't put it in your pocket, sir. Don't put it in your pocket. It's your lucky quarter.
Gas Station Attendant: Where do you want me to put it?
Anton Chigurh: Anywhere not in your pocket. Where it'll get mixed in with the others and become just a coin. Which it is.
BURN AFTER READING
"Is that how you see me? Hammering him? (Pounds table) I don't hammer!"
"I have a drinking problem? Fuck you, Peck, you're a Mormon. Compared to you, we all have a drinking problem!"
I hate when people cry in movies. It's particularly disconcerting when you're sitting at a really awful movie and you hear people all around you sobbing and blowing their noses. – Joel Coen
In the late '60s, when Ethan was 11 or 12, he got a suit and a briefcase and we went to the Minneapolis International Airport with a Super 8 camera and made a movie about shuttle diplomacy called 'Henry Kissinger, Man on the Go.' And, honestly, what we do now doesn't feel much different from what we were doing then. – Joel Coen
It's easy to offend people. People get uncomfortable, for instance, when the main character in a movie is not sympathetic in a Hollywood formula way. Our movies are loaded with things that aren't to everyone's taste. On the other hand, there's a scene in 'O Brother Where Art Thou?' where a frog gets squished that everyone seems to like. It's all right to do the frog squishing. – Ethan Coen
The movie people let us play in the corner of the sandbox and leave us alone. We're happy here. – Ethan Coen
The awards put a movie on people's radars. Festivals are good, even though the idea of putting movies in competitions -- this one is the best this, that one is the best that -- is ridiculous. – Ethan Coen
In the 1980s, the so-called indie film movement was a media creation. What I found irritating is that 'independent' became an encomium. If it was independent, it was supposed to be good, and studio films were bad. Obviously, there are bad independent films and good studio films. – Ethan Coen
|Joel & Ethan Coen||Francis Ford Coppola||Stanley Kubrick||John Landis||Quentin Tarantino|
|Tim Burton||James Cameron||Alfred Hitchcock||Martin Scorsese||Steven Spielberg|