Seven Best

Seven Best: Coen Brothers Films

Well folks, this one is a doozy. In honor of the Oscars a few nights ago, and the amazing work of Roger Deakins, this month I’m going to cover the seven best Coen Brothers films. I’ve been looking forward to this one for months, because they’ve done some of my all-time favorites, so let’s take a look.

This month’s entries are:

  • Blood Simple
  • Raising Arizona
  • Miller’s Crossing
  • Barton Fink
  • The Hudsucker Proxy
  • Fargo
  • Big Lebowski
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  • The Man Who Wasn’t There
  • Intolerable Cruelty
  • The Ladykillers
  • No Country for Old Men
  • Burn After Reading
  • A Serious Man
  • True Grit
  • Inside Llewyn Davis
  • Hail, Caesar!
  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Where did your favorite fall in the list? Be sure to check back in at the end of the month for the final rankings!!

In rewatching all of these, I’m noticing some common threads. The primary one being that almost all of their movies feature the same cast of actors. Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, or Jon Polito.

7. True Grit

Make your case:

If I haven’t gone on record as to my distaste for movies made before I was born, allow me to do that here, AND add that I don’t care for John Wayne either. So for me, please remake all of his movies and put Jeff Bridges in the lead.

First off, Hailee Steinfeld is fantastic in this. One of those performances where you recognize a child actor has a bright future. A lot like Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone. And while Matt Damon and Josh Brolin are great as well, the star is Jeff Bridges and his accent. So much so that he continued to use it in RIPD and Hell or High Water.

“Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!”

6. O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Make your case:

This one was a no brainer. I loved reading The Odyssey in high school, and the parallels are fantastic. The blind fortune teller, the sirens, and John Goodman’s cyclops. I think the thing I liked the most about the book, is the same thing I like about the movie; the hero’s journey. The escape, the challenges along the way, and the eventual homecoming.

And the music might be the best of the entire list. I guess the character of Tommy Johnson wasn’t actually based on Robert Johnson, but someone sold their soul to get a soundtrack this good. Who even knew I liked old-timey sound?

And stay out of the Woolworth!!

Stephen Root moment:

The blind radio station man. “Woooooooo-wee. Boy, that was a miiiighty fine a-pickin’ and a-singin’!”

5. Raising Arizona

Make your case:

“My name is H.I. McDunnough.”

As far as themes go, this one takes itself a bit less seriously that the others, and I think that’s a strong suit. From Carter Burwell’s soundtrack, to the car chase, to the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse, the entire movie jumps from one ridiculous scene to another—and the main through line is the love between HI and Ed.

Is this a movie about a reformed convict and his wife, and how their desperate need for a child drives them to kidnap a baby, or a philosophical look into the nature of relationships and family? Either way, this is maybe the funniest of all the entries.

“I don’t know – they were jammies! They had Yodas ‘n’ shit on ’em!”

Frances McDormand moment:

“He’s an angel! He’s an angel straight from heaven!”

4. Miller’s Crossing

Make your case:

“I never met anyone who made bein’ a sonofabitch such a point of pride.”

Man, this movie is underrated. Everyone talks about Fargo and Lebowski, but I think maybe only fans of the Coens appreciate how great this one is. Trademark snappy dialogue, and GORGEOUS cinematography from Barry Sonnenfeld.

It’s a story about Prohibition gangsters, the Irish mob, backstabs, double crosses, talkin’ fast, and double dealing. You see, everyone wants Bernie dead, and Tom is the only one who knows where he is. But Tom is sleeping with Bernie’s sister, who is also the girlfriend of Tom’s boss, and who also wants to find Bernie…LOOK! Albert Finney with a Tommy Gun!!

“Look in your heart!”
“What heart.”

Frances McDormand moment:

The redheaded Mayor’s assistant, givin’ Tom the sideye.

3. The Big Lebowski

Make your case:

Sometimes there’s a man…

Obviously it’s a cult classic, but I feel like this one fills a different role for different people. It’s a stoner comedy for the stoners, and a movie for frat bros to tell their dates that they watch “artsy” movies. I think for me it’s a little bit of both.

I miss Phillip Seymour Hoffman. This is one of my favorite of his roles, second only to Lester Bangs. It’s also John Turturro’s greatest role ever.

Also, let’s talk about how Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) was sung by Kenny Rogers.

“Obviously you’re not a golfer.”

Jon Polito moment:

As Da Fino, the private detective. “Hey, I’m not messing with your special lady.”

2. No Country for Old Men

Make your case:

One of the darkest entries on the list, No Country continues the trend of the Coen making absolutely beautiful movies, thanks in this case, to Roger Deakins.

No Country for Old Men is what I would consider a “modern” western, adapted from the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name. It gives us the resurgence of Josh Brolin—his first hit since The Goonies 20 years prior—and maybe the best performance I’ve ever seen from Tommy Lee Jones. But more importantly, it gives us one of the TRULY great villains in all of cinema, Anton Chigurgh. Someone once referred to him as Jaws, because he just kills and kills, and keeps on coming.


Stephen Root moment:

The man who hires Anton in the first place. “Just how dangerous is he?” “Compared to what? The bubonic plague?”

1. Fargo

Make your case:

Do I have to make a case here? I love everything about this movie. The gorgeous, minimalist shots of snowy landscapes—thanks, Roger Deakins—the snappy Minnesota-accent-laden dialogue, the twists and turns, all the way down to the little details. Details like Marge’s lunch plates being ridiculously full because of her pregnancy hunger, Steve Buscemi yelling with his teeth clenched, all the way down to the fact that when everyone gets shot, little bits of goose down puff out from their coats.

There’s a lot to love about this movie, but I think my favorite scene has to be Marge’s awkward dinner with Mike, her friend from school. Something about the Midwestern politeness, and the awkward way we reconnect with people we haven’t seen, that just gets me every time. They really nail it.

Go Bears.

Frances McDormand moment:

The entire movie. “Aw, for Pete’s sake! He’s fleeing the interview!!”

Honorable Mention: Burn After Reading

The Honorable Mention could have gone either way. Burn After Reading and Hail, Caesar were both right on the cusp, but Burn After Reading takes the cake, mainly because, as my friend Zach mentioned, Brad Pitt gets shot in the face.