Think of them as cinemas golden boys, the best directing duo out there, and indie icons for the break out films at festivals and how they told stories on a limited canvas. They are the Coen Brothers, directors whose careers have spanned on into present day since the early 80’s and they don’t seem to be slowing down either. The brothers consist of Joel and Ethan Coen, Joel is married to actress Francis McDormand, and they have proven to be some of the best directors, but also writers of our generation.
For this list, I want to give a personal ranking of their best movies from 10 to 1 for how I see their legacy panning out. I will only do movies they have directed, sorry Bridge of Spies, you were well written but you were directed by Steven Spielberg.
10. Miller’s Crossing (1990): The Coens have branched into most classic film genres and when they chose to go period piece gangster film, they did as they always do, and that is make the film genre entirely their own while paying homage to the classics. It’s dialogue heavy rather than an overly large amount of violence, but the tension is still there. Even a guy like me had to watch the film a couple times to really understand what I was watching, but once that happens you should like it.
9. Hail Caesar! (2016): This may be the most controversial addition to the list for more reasons that one, but I don’t care. I was all in when I went into the theater to see this film and I was all in coming out. Another movie about movies, the Coens take on aggressive satire and slapstick humor while wrapping it in their blanket of iconic quickly spoken dialogue. Where the hate comes from for this movie is baffling to me, but that’s the beauty of movies.
8. The Big Lebowski (1998): I wasn’t sure if I even liked this movie for years after seeing it for the first time and honestly, I still feel that way to be honest, but when you constantly think about a movie after seeing it you have to take that as a sign that you just had some sort of cinematic religious experience, and how appropriate that it happened with this film. Dudists are a freaking religion! What does that say about the film?
7. True Grit (2010): Don’t listen to the overly aggressive hipster cinema junkies when they say this is not a Coen Brothers film because that’s disrespectful to the Coens. While it’s the most financially successful and straightforward narrative they have done doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. In fact, this is a testament to their capabilities in making classic, mainstream cinema if they wanted too, but it shows that they are fans of the smaller budget genre pictures and are champions for indie cinema.
6. Blood Simple (1984): The now praised small budget noir crime thriller that started it all for the Coen’s is a film that can be considered one of the many staples of the directing brothers and their truly American style of filmmaking. It’s dark, violent, and dialogue heavy as are most of their movies if not with a good amount of humour thrown in for good measure. It’s remastered visuals make for almost a different looking film, but make it equally as beautiful.
5. O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000): I’m one of those weirdos that actually enjoyed reading the Odyssey in high school and it was after we finished epic poem (even though it’s totally a book) I was introduced to O Brother Where Art Thou? and the zany world the Coens created. The soundtrack, the greased up George Clooney and company, and that groundbreaking cinematography by Roger Deakins set the precedent for films to come. It’s got all the quips of the director’s previous works while giving a unique adaptation of a known story.
4. Barton Fink (1991): This is one of the few movies that really has you unsure as to where it is going, but you definitely know it will go somewhere insane. Two of the Coen’s favorite actors have some of the most memorable performances of their careers with John Turturro and John Goodman. It’s got heavy symbolism and a plot within a plot that you can’t help but stay glued to and one of the best endings in their catalog.
3. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013): Added to the Criterion Collection recently cements this films legacy as a masterpiece in cinema. With an outstanding performance by Oscar Isaac as a the title character and his journey to become a folk musician in the beginning of the folk music movement in New York City, it’s a humorous tale about the hardships a musician faces and the obstacles that make or break us as people. It has some of the best cinematography out of all the Coen Brother films.
2. Fargo (1996): Dark comedy is such an undervalued form of humor in mainstream cinema and the Coens are no strangers to it. When they made the award winning Fargo they brought Francis McDormand to the public eye and she has been a staple for them since and it doesn’t hurt she is married to Joel Coen. It’s a humorous kidnapping story that the Coens have gone back to before. The accents alone are the best part of the film.
1. No Country For Old Men (2007): This is a film that makes “my favorite movies” lists any time the list is asked for and for good reason. A film with no score or music with a villain so iconic and magnificent that it allowed Javier Bardem to wear the ugliest haircut in a serious film only to be still be taken seriously. It returned the combo of the Coens with cinema’s greatest photographer Roger Deakins.