Today: July 23, 2024

Great Modern Directors: The Coen Brothers

Brothers – they’re not meant to get along are they?
However, with True Grit wowing audiences and critics alike in the cinemas,
let’s take a look back through some of the best offerings we’ve been given by
these harmoniously creative siblings

Blood Simple (1984)

The brother’s
debut
is a stunning neo-noir crime thriller set in Texas which sees couple Abby
and Marty involved in a deeply dark and disturbingly tongue-in-cheek murder
mystery

that would become one of the brothers’ signature stylings. Marking the first
appearance of Joel’s wife Frances McDormand, who would go on to star in several
of the pair’s best films, it showcased the debut talents in a genre perhaps
only Rian Johnson and Brick could match.

Interesting Fact: Remade as a comedy two years ago in
China, the action moved from a washed out bar to a rather nifty noodle shop.

Barton Fink (1991)

Earning the pair their first Academy nominations, this fusion of comedy, horror and
buddy movie
became an instant cult classic while making Hollywood stand up and
take note. With shades of Hitchcock and Kubrick’s The Shining in terms of setting,
Fink sees John Turturro’s screenwriter team up with John Goodman’s hotel
manager. It attracted awards and attention fast.

Interesting Fact: Of all their films, this is the one
the brother’s have most expressed an interest in writing a 1960’s set sequel
to. They just need to wait for Turturro to grow old enough to play the part!

Fargo (1996)

However the pair’s breakout hit, critically and
commercially came a few years later in the form of this stylish
black comedy
which saw William H Macy try to have his wife kidnapped and Frances
McDormand’s pregnant cop
solve the trail of destruction left after it all gets
botched up.

Interesting Fact: Although the opening titles claim the
film is a true story it’s actually completely fictional. However the brothers
have said that some real events combined did comprise part of the film’s story.

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Based on Raymond Chandler’s novel The Big Sleep, this late nineties comedy made
Jeff Bridges an eternal “Dude” and developed a whole new mini-religion in the process. With a
cast of now returning regulars
(Buscemi, Goodman, Turturro) and a cool
soundtrack

it soon became one of the defining films of the decade and made tenpin bowling
look cool again after Kingpin’s lackluster efforts.

Interesting Fact: The film now only spawned a legion
of Dude worshippers but also a collector’s item shop in New York (“The
Little Lebowski”
) and a themed bar in Dresden, Germany.

Intolerable Cruelty (2003)

Probably the pair’s most underrated offering (and signaling a slight
creative dip with 2004’s Ladykillers remake) this screwball comedy pitched
a perfectly cast divorce lawyer George Clooney falling for eternal divorcee and
gold-digger Catherine Zeta Jones. With some nifty dialogue and a comic element
absent since 1987’s Raising Arizona, what’s not to like about a film
which features the brilliantly observed (and named) Baron Krauss von Espy?

Interesting Fact: Just think, if the Coen’s hadn’t got
there first, the project had been marked out for Jonathan Demme with Hugh Grant
and Julia Roberts in the leads. Notting Hill 2 anyone?

No Country For Old Men (2007)

An adaptation
of Cormac McCarthy’s crime thriller
, this tale of a man who stumbles upon a
chance fortune discovery and the hitman responsible for finding him (a chilling but
superb Javier Bardem) came off like a modern western – something that night
have proved useful for this year’s True Grit remake. Much in keeping with Fargo, it mused on life, death
and fate with a now trademark darkly comic edge.

Interesting Fact: Josh Brolin’s lead role was
originally offered to Heath Ledger who turned it down. Perhaps the
Tarantino-filmed audition Brolin sent in went some way to making his case.

A Serious Man (2009)

Straying again into dark comedy, this fantastic meditation on a
simple Jewish man
comes off like a modern day biblical tale of Job, Showcasing a relative
unknown to cinema in the lead, Michael Stuhlbarg, the film perfectly captured
the late sixties paranoia mixed with a coming of age tale set amidst the
backdrop of a truly dysfunctional family.

Interesting Fact: Even the brothers themselves
admitted recently that they’re not sure what the first five minutes of the film
mean – unless it’s a tale of the curse that seems to infect poor Larry’s
family.

True Grit (2011)

The pair’s most recent film sees
them dally once again with the Western genre, only this time we’re truly back in
the Wild West as Haliee Steinfeld’s Mattie Ross seeks out Jeff Bridges’ US
Marshall

to avenge her father’s death and catch his killer. Once again, showing an adept
fusion of comedy and thriller
with a keen ear for dialogue too after 2008’s underrated
and thoroughly enjoyable Burn After Reading, it might not be the brother’s
best, but it sure grips really great.

Interesting Fact: The film was recently praised at the
US Catholic Bishops Conference for its “religious references in reflecting
on the violent undertow in frontier life.”

What’s Next?

Next
year expect to see the pair’s script Suburbicon directed by George Clooney, while
the brother’s themselves have hinted that a horror film might be in the offing.
Other than that, it’s just waiting for John Turturro to grow that little bit
older
.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia, who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years, is the Publishing Editor of KOL Social Magazine. See website: thekolsocial.com

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