Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best Coen Brothers Movies
Moviegoers are getting their first look at the Coen Brothers' upcoming movie Hail, Caesar! since the trailer has been widely distributed to theaters across America. Unlike 2013's dark Inside Llewyn Davis, this is a goofy comedy about a 1950s Hollywood fixer that tries to track down a missing movie star. The incredible cast features George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum amongst many others. As we anticipate the film, we asked our readers to select their favorite films by the Coen Brothers. Here are the results.
Twelve years after The Big Lebowski, the Coen Brothers once again teamed with Jeff Bridges. This time he didn't play a lazy slacker, but a brave, one-eyed U.S. marshall tasked with tracking down the man who murdered the father of a young girl. John Wayne played the Bridges role in the original 1969 adaptation of True Grit and even won an Oscar for it, though the Coen Brothers decided to make their film more faithful to the 1968 Charles Portis novel. For the part of 14 year-old Mattie Ross, they cast Hailee Steinfeld, who has since joined the Taylor Swift squad and recorded the hit song "Love Myself."
‘Burn After Reading’
The Coens are experts at crafting plots so insanely complicated that audiences learn to simply give up and enjoy the wild ride. Can Big Lebowski nuts truly explain the nuanced details of Bunny's kidnapping even after viewing the film 300 times? Their 2008 screwball comedy Burn After Reading is even more convoluted. It's about a moronic personal trainer that comes across a CD full of info from a CIA analyst. They attempt to use it to get money from the Russian embassy, and soon find themselves in a crazy world of adultery and wild coincidences. It's a lot of plot for a comedy, but the amazing cast of Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John Malkovich and Richard Jenkins make it work.
John Goodman and John Turturro played bitter bowling rivals in The Big Lebowski, and in 1991 their relationship was even more strained when they played two neighbors in 1941 Hollywood who found themselves involved in a mysterious murder. Turturro plays a New York playwright struggling to complete a screenplay, while Goodman is a seemingly good-natured insurance salesman with a brutal secret. "My very favorite character is, surprise, from a Coen Brothers production — Charlie Meadows in Barton Fink, because he was very sympathetic, for a man who was a snake, that is," Goodman told Rolling Stone in 2013. "He was someone I could sink my teeth into. Homicidal maniac, but kind of a nice guy. You don't get many of those."
The Coen Brothers' 1984 debut Blood Simple is inarguably the most important work of their career. The crime thriller was not only their first movie, but also the theatrical debut of Joel's wife Frances McDormand and the first major credit for cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld. This is the movie that launched many hugely important careers that are going strong more than three decades later.
After establishing themselves with the brutal Blood Simple, the Coen Brothers decided to make their second movie a decidedly lighter affair. It's about an infertile couple (played by Holly Hunter and Nicolas Cage) that decide to kidnap the child of a wealthy furniture store owner. As always, nothing goes according to plan and a myriad of oddball characters get mixed up in the madness. It's a surprisingly fun and happy film considering its about stealing a baby, and over the years its developed a cult following.
In Raising Arizona the Coen Brothers treat crime like a big joke, but with their next movie the subject was once again deadly serious. Miller's Crossing, starring Gabriel Byrne as a crime boss during Prohibition, is a grand amalgamation of many gangster movies from earlier in the 20th century. Byrne's character gets caught in the crossfire of rival gangs and learns that keeping the peace is virtually impossible. Critics loved the film a lot more than audiences and after their next movie, The Hudsucker Proxy, tanked in 1994 it seemed like they might be on a permanent downward slope. Soon, a little movie about a pregnant Minnesota police chief changed everything.
‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’
The incredible success of Fargo meant the Coen Brothers could basically do whatever they wanted for their next few pictures, even if their slacker bowler movie left a lot of people mystified. They followed that one up with O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a wildly imaginative picture about three convicts that escape from a chain gang in 1937 Mississippi. Their adventure mirrors the plot of The Odyssey, down to encountering a one-eyed giant and a group of sexy sirens. Along the way, they sing a bunch of folk songs that lead to the hugely improbable success of the soundtrack, which briefly turned bluegrass elder Ralph Stanley into a pop star. Among the film's many fans is Mitt Romney, who raves about it in the Netflix documentary Mitt and even begs a virtual stranger to watch it.
‘No Country for Old Men’
The Coen Brothers suffered a rare creative miss with their 2004 Tom Hanks comedy The Ladykillers, but came back with a vengeance three years later with this stunning adaptation of a 2005 Cormac McCarthy book. The film stars Javier Bardem as a deranged killer in West Texas that murders his victims with a captive bolt pistol. Tommy Lee Jones expertly plays the sheriff that goes after him. The movie picked up Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Bardem.
When Fargo hit theaters it had been nine long years since the Coen Brothers had a legitimate commercial and critical hit. The tale of a pregnant Minnesota police chief trying to solve a homicide didn't seem like a likely contender to break that streak, but the quirky movie is packed with unforgettable characters and audiences all over the country latched onto it. Through word of mouth and rapturous reviews, it grossed $60 million and won the Coen Brothers a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award and a Best Actress trophy for Frances McDormand. The day after the ceremony, they went back to work on their next movie. It wouldn't earn them a return trip to the Oscars, but when's the last time you saw a bunch of drunken fans holding Fargofest?
‘The Big Lebowski’
The opening weekend for The Big Lebowski was a complete disaster. Titanic had been in theaters for three months, but it still topped the box office with $17.6 million. U.S. Marshals, the quasi-sequel to The Fugitive, was Number Two with $16.8 million. From there one it was the fourth weekend for The Wedding Singer, the Paul Newman/Susan Sarandon bomb Twilight and the Gwyneth Paltrow thriller Hush. At a distant sixth was The Big Lebowski with a mere $5.53 million, just a tiny notch above the 14th week of Good Will Hunting.
Gene Siskel spoke for many critics when he tore it to shreds. "Kingpin was a much funnier film set in the world of bowling," he said. "Jeff Bridges' character wasn't worth my time. There's no heart to him like, say, the Frances McDormand character in Fargo. The Big Lebowski, a big disappointment."
Siskel absolutely gushed over Fargo two years earlier, labeling it among his "all time favorite motion pictures." In his wildest dreams he couldn't have imagined there would be a day when The Big Lebowski would easily win a poll like this and be celebrated as one of the most beloved movies in film history.