Joel Coen and his brother Ethan hop from film genre to film genre and make it their stylish, postmodern own. Two of the most brilliant guys making movies today, they bring independent films to mass audiences in ways that everyone seems to adore.
Blood Simple (1984) -- The only thing I can see "wrong" with this movie isn't exactly the movie's fault--the somewhat drab atmosphere permeating it (mostly the music, quality of film itself, a few of the actors), which can be blamed on the low-budget or even the date of release. That small thing aside, we have a pretty brilliant movie with a great little twisty story and wonderful ending, with now-trademark Coen Brothers stylistics throughout (especially their wonderful dolly shots).
Raising Arizona (1987) -- Probably still the funniest Coen Brothers movie, and maybe also Nicolas Cage's funniest performance, this movie is wonderful for being so over-the-top and silly, in every aspect--direction, characters, jokes, everything.
Miller's Crossing (1990) -- Maybe the best mob movie this side of The Godfather, the mafia is given the Coen Brothers superstyle and complex plot that makes multiple viewings not only essential but enjoyable. The "Danny Boy" sequence is one of the best in motion picture history.
Barton Fink (1991) -- The best parody of writer films out there (and maybe the only one).
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) -- Many don't like this movie, even Coen fans, but I do. I think it's as funny, stylish, and clever as anything else, with laugh-out-loud laughs all around and a perfect performance by Tim Robbins.
Fargo (1996) -- My favorite Coen Brothers movie. First of all, the movie is simultaneously horrific and hilarious, making it so you can watch it either way or both ways at the same time, which is an emotional and cerebral pleasure. Frances McDormand and the rest of the "Oh, ya?" Minnesotans (don't bother saying "They/We don't really talk like that!" since the Coens are from there themselves and know that: it would be as if myself, from Mississippi, made everyone talk like Rosco from The Dukes of Hazzard) steal our hearts; Steve Buschemi plays it like only he can; William H. Macey plays a perfect weasely character who you feel for with every squirm and "What's that behind your back!" escape (this was the movie that made me fall in love with Macey as an actor); everything about this movie works.
The Big Lebowski (1998) -- Not as "touching" as some of the others, but it's a fun movie with a lot of genuinely funny moments and one of them crazy Coen plots.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) -- A fun version of Homer's The Odyssey set in depression-era Mississippi (my stompin' grounds: Mississippi, not the era), most of it is really funny while also being (the word that kept passing through my mind) delightful. All of the actors (George Clooney and a bunch of Coen regulars) are great, the look is fantastic, and of course the Coen's unique style (different for each picture, but just as magic each time) is here.
The Man Who Wasn't There (2001) -- They've done noir before, but this is really noir -- even though it's comedy noir. It's got the black and white, the disillusioned guy, the shadows, the time period, the wardrobes, everything. Luckily, it's also a good movie, and it gave me a new respect for Billy Bob Thornton, who played his part perfectly. I loved his character after just a few minutes of screentime.
Intolerable Cruelty (2003) -- I don't know why they decided to make this. It's not a bad movie by regular movie standards, but by their standards it's absolutely horrible. It's a comedy and I remember sniffing out a laugh once. It's mostly just a dumb typical movie, and for the first time in a Coen brothers movie, I knew what was coming for the rest of the movie after ten minutes.
The Ladykillers (2004) -- Co-directed with Ethan Coen (for some reason--they usually just seem fine using Joel's name as director and Ethan's as producer, though both seem to do both). This movie seems to be a combination of all of their "screwball" movies: the outrageous characters of Raising Arizona, the voice affectations of The Hudsucker Proxy, the bumbling element of The Big Lebowski, and everything else (the smooth-talking Southerner, the gospel music, the mythological Mississippi setting) from O Brother, Where Art Thou? Unfortunately, all of these components adds up to a movie that's less good than any one of those. This isn't a bad movie at all (it's certainly much, much better than Intolerable Cruelty), and it's even pretty funny, but there's nothing "classic" about it, like most of the rest. Everything's fun to watch (especially Tom Hanks, a little surprisingly since I thought his character would just get old), so there you go.
Paris, Je T'aime (2006) -- Directed with Olivier Assayas, Frédéric Auburtin, Gurinder Chadha, Sylvain Chomet, Ethan Coen, Isabel Coixet, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuarón, Gérard Depardieu, Christopher Doyle, Richard LaGravenese, Vincenzo Natali, Alexander Payne, Bruno Podalydès, Walter Salles, Jr., Oliver Schmitz, Nobuhiro Suwa, Daniela Thomas, Tom Tykwer, Gus Van Sant. Eighteen five-minute shorts set in (and named after) different areas of Paris, all created by different directors. Most of directors apparently don't know how to deal with the short form and use the same pacing as a feature-length movie, not telling any real story in the process or setting us up for a story that we'll never get to see. The ones that stand out to me are the films by the Coen Brothers (which actually use some kinetic camerawork to wake us up), Christopher Doyle (another wake up), Alexander Payne (which is a mix of offensive and almost-touching), and Sylvain Chomet (with a mime). The rest are either average or make you say "Well, at least it was short." (See individual directors for a review of their short.)
Tuileries (2006) -- Directed with Ethan Coen. From Paris, Je T'aime, one of the few highlights of that movie, with Steve Buschemi's character being pretty funny while the camera is going nuts. We actually get a decent, quick, exaggerated look into how it might feel like to be this particular form of tourist.
No Country for Old Men (2007) -- Directed with Ethan Coen. The "get back" movie for the Coen Brothers after two average (or below) films. This one goes way back to the grit of Blood Simple and cranks up the desperation and hopelessness. Many tense scenes abound.
Copyright (c) Dec 2000 - May 2008 by Rusty Likes Movies