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The Good, The Bad and the Badass: The Coen Bros.

Dec. 9, 2013by: Chris Bumbray
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After looking at the career of actor Christian Bale last week, in anticipation of OUT OF THE FURNACE, this week we go back behind the camera to look at the careers of arguably the most famous family duo in Hollywood history.

The Coen Brothers

The Coen Brothers, Joel & Ethan, are among the most enduring names in contemporary film. From their humble beginnings with BLOOD SIMPLE in 1984, through the breakout success of RAISING ARIZONA to the arthouse triumphs of MILLERS CROSSING, BARTON FINK, and to the surprising commercial success of FARGO and OH BROTHER WHERE ART THOU, the Coens are nothing if not consistent. Even their flops, such as THE HUDSUCKER PROXY and THE BIG LEBOWSKI, have a way of redeeming themselves years later to become cult hits. In the case of LEBOWSKI, its become a virtual phenomenon, generating more in ancillary revenue then most blockbusters due to its consistent popularity on DVD/Blu-ray and in retrospective theatrical showings (I actually attended one earlier this month).

In anticipation of their latest film, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, which our own Eric Walkuski raved about here I figured it was high time this directorial duo featured in The Good, The Bad, and the Badass. While most of their contemporaries eventually became part of the big-studio machine, the Coens have avoided this. Even their movies that are bankrolled by big studios maintain that distinctive Coen flavor, and for every commercial film like TRUE GRIT, you can count on something like A SERIOUS MAN, giving their body of work a nice variety. Truly, these two men are modern masters.

Their Best Film

To me, the best Coen Brothers movie is still FARGO. The whole Minnesota-nice meets film noir vibe of the film is something only Joel & Ethan Coen could have pulled off (although others will try- with the upcoming FX series) and it's probably the film of theirs I return to the most. Frances McDormand, who married Joel Coen after starring in their first film, BLOOD SIMPLE, has the role of a lifetime as the very pregnant chief of police Marge Gunderson, who has to get to the bottom of a kidnapping/murder scheme that involves a dead body, a scumbag car salesman (William H. Macy in his breakout part), two in-over-their-heads kidnappers (Steve Buscemi & Peter Stormare), a wood chipper, and more. It's a brilliant, and often hilarious film.

Their Most Overrated Film

The only Coen Brothers movies I ever had a hard time loving were their back-to-back studio comedies, the retro INTOLERABLE CRUELTY and their ill-conceived remake of THE LADYKILLERS. While the latter at least had a funny, off-kilter Tom Hanks performance, INTOLERABLE CRUELTY is just flat-out bad, saved only by funny cameos from Geoffrey Rush and Billy Bob Thorton. I get that they were trying to make an old-fashioned screwball comedy, but it doesn't work at all. Maybe it's the fact that they applied this retro vibe to a contemporary setting, which they avoided in other retro films like OH BROTHER WHERE ART THOU, and THE HUDSUCKER PROXY. Not ever George Clooney can save this one, although it was a modest commercial hit and the critics seemed to like it (at the time).

Their Most Underrated Film

For underrated, I have to go with their fist film, BLOOD SIMPLE. While it was a big festival/word-of-mouth hit when it hit theatres in 1984, in the wake of their more ambitious films it's often overlooked. I notice that most younger Coen Brothers fans--who probably grew up on LEBOWSKI and OH BROTHER- often haven't seen this one, but if you like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (and who doesn't) you should give this one a shot. An atmospheric, Texas-set noir, this one boasts one of the all-time great murder scenes, along with a nail-biting climax, an early part for star Frances McDormand, and a brilliant turn by Coen favorite M. Emmet Walsh.

Their Most Memorable Scene

To me, the greatest Coen Brothers set-piece occurs in MILLERS CROSSING, when mob boss Leo O'Bannon (the great Albert Finney) gets to prove he's still an artist with a Thompson when a rival gang tries to take him out, while he relaxed with a cigar listening to Danny Boy. Big mistake.


Their Top-Five Films

5. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
4. RAISING ARIZONA
3. BLOOD SIMPLE
2. MILLERS CROSSING
1. FARGO

Up Next

The Coens have been linked to a few projects, but nothing's concrete so far. They did- however- write the upcoming, fact-based, Angelina Jolie film (she directs but doesn't star) UNBROKEN, which is due in theatres next fall.

Source: JoBlo.com

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2:04AM on 12/09/2013
The Coen Brothers are two of the best directors working today and are two of my favorites of all time. Trying to pick a favorite film of theirs is so difficult because their filmography is so diverse...which is a GREAT thing.

Personally my favorite films by them are The Big Lebowski and Burn After Reading. Just two great, hysterical oddball films with great direction, with the latter of the two being vastly underrated. But again, I think when looking and picking a favorite film of theirs
The Coen Brothers are two of the best directors working today and are two of my favorites of all time. Trying to pick a favorite film of theirs is so difficult because their filmography is so diverse...which is a GREAT thing.

Personally my favorite films by them are The Big Lebowski and Burn After Reading. Just two great, hysterical oddball films with great direction, with the latter of the two being vastly underrated. But again, I think when looking and picking a favorite film of theirs really depends on what type of mood you're in. If you want funny, The Big Lebowski or Burn After Reading or if you want something serious, then No Country For Old Men or True Grit.
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3:09AM on 12/09/2013
These guys have got the magic touch. I know it's the unpopular opinion, but I love Intolerable Cruelty. The main reason it doesn't work for some (or most) is because the Coen Brothers didn't write the script themselves, but their approach to a romantic comedy and the gusto George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones put into their performances made this really enjoyable and as far from a formulaic rom com as one could get.

I'd like to suggest Ang Lee for a future The Good the Bad and the Badass.
These guys have got the magic touch. I know it's the unpopular opinion, but I love Intolerable Cruelty. The main reason it doesn't work for some (or most) is because the Coen Brothers didn't write the script themselves, but their approach to a romantic comedy and the gusto George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones put into their performances made this really enjoyable and as far from a formulaic rom com as one could get.

I'd like to suggest Ang Lee for a future The Good the Bad and the Badass.
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9:08AM on 12/09/2013
They did rewrite the script, and knowing the Coens sense of humor and dialogue, it appears they contributed a lot. I totally disagree with the article. It is not flat-out bad; I actually really enjoy it. The Ladykillers, on the other hand, does not work for me.
They did rewrite the script, and knowing the Coens sense of humor and dialogue, it appears they contributed a lot. I totally disagree with the article. It is not flat-out bad; I actually really enjoy it. The Ladykillers, on the other hand, does not work for me.
4:46AM on 12/09/2013

Love the Coens

just want to throw in that the "Most Overrated" film in this series of articles is a little confusing, you tend to choose a flick that you didn't enjoy but isn't highly regarded anyway, why not just change it to "Worst Movie" or have more interesting choices in the catagory that would fall into 'Overrated'. Love this series, just my two cents.
just want to throw in that the "Most Overrated" film in this series of articles is a little confusing, you tend to choose a flick that you didn't enjoy but isn't highly regarded anyway, why not just change it to "Worst Movie" or have more interesting choices in the catagory that would fall into 'Overrated'. Love this series, just my two cents.
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10:10AM on 12/09/2013

A couple things

1. No Country or A Serious Man is their best film without a singular doubt.
2. It's "Danny Boy", not "Tommy Boy". Although it would be amusing to watch that scene with Chris Farley and David Space being obnoxious in the background.
1. No Country or A Serious Man is their best film without a singular doubt.
2. It's "Danny Boy", not "Tommy Boy". Although it would be amusing to watch that scene with Chris Farley and David Space being obnoxious in the background.
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11:41AM on 12/09/2013
While not everything they touch turns to gold, these guys have to be just about my favorite filmmakers. Their ability to navigate between zany, oddball comedy, noir nihilism, and everything in between is unrivaled. While I agree 100% about Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers, few filmmakers have the ability to consistently surprise me with their body of work, and often leave me wanting more.
While not everything they touch turns to gold, these guys have to be just about my favorite filmmakers. Their ability to navigate between zany, oddball comedy, noir nihilism, and everything in between is unrivaled. While I agree 100% about Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers, few filmmakers have the ability to consistently surprise me with their body of work, and often leave me wanting more.
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8:59PM on 12/09/2013
The fact that these guys have stuck together all these years in a business that can be so creatively devisive is a wonderful thing. I'm sure they are both brilliant on their own, but I don't want Joel without Ethan nor Ethan without Joel. I love O Brother WAT and No Country FOM, but A Serious Man is such a subtle masterpiece I have to give it a bit of an edge. Honestly, if I had to list the top five film endings of all time, A Serious Man would be on it. Looking forward to Inside Llewyn Davis.
The fact that these guys have stuck together all these years in a business that can be so creatively devisive is a wonderful thing. I'm sure they are both brilliant on their own, but I don't want Joel without Ethan nor Ethan without Joel. I love O Brother WAT and No Country FOM, but A Serious Man is such a subtle masterpiece I have to give it a bit of an edge. Honestly, if I had to list the top five film endings of all time, A Serious Man would be on it. Looking forward to Inside Llewyn Davis. Filmmakers I like, a cast I like and music I like. Can't wait.
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