The Writing-Producing-Directing team of Joel and Ethan Coen have had another success with True Grit. It is difficult to think of another team that has produced so many high quality movies. Many of their movies are made from various combinations of of humor, action (often involving murders), and witty dialogue. In honor of their most recent release, Chimesfreedom ranks the top ten Coen Brothers movies so far.
(1) Fargo (1996)
Fargo is the best representative movie of the Coen canon. It is a perfect balance of the three Coen factors of humor, action, and witty dialogue. At the center of the movie is perhaps the biggest heart of any of the Coen films: Frances McDormand as Marge Olmstead Gunderson, the pregnant chief of police in Brainerd, Minnesota. Fargo’s final scene of the couple in bed discussing stamps is one of the most touching scenes filmed by the Coens.
Famous Quote: “You Betcha!”
(2) O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which is loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey, is one of the Coen films that is heavier on the humor and witty dialogue than on the action and violence. But the pitch-perfect soundtrack boosts this movie into the number two spot, along with George Clooney’s funniest role.
Famous Quote: “We thought you was a toad.”
(3) Raising Arizona (1987)
One could easily argue for any of these top three movies to be in the number one spot. All of the Coen movies have memorable great dialogue, but Raising Arizona probably tops them all. The long opening sequence that sets the story before the title appears is one of the funniest and best openings of any movie.
Famous Quote: “Give me that baby, you warthog from hell!”
(4) No Country for Old Men (2007)
No Country for Old Men won the Best Picture Academy Award for the Coens, and contains excellent scenery and acting. It has some similarities to Fargo in that the Coens perfectly capture the Texas landscape here as they did with the Minnesota winter landscape in Fargo. Also, Tommy Lee Jones as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell evokes the heart-in-the-middle-of-chaos as Marge Gunderson did in Fargo. But we are ranking this one in fourth place for not featuring as much of the humor as Fargo, but it is still a great movie illustrating the randomness and unfairness of life, a theme the Coens would revisit two years later in A Serious Man.
Famous Quote: “What’s the most you ever lost on a coin toss?”
(5) Miller’s Crossing (1990)
Miller’s Crossing is a beautiful movie about the battle between two Prohibition-era crime bosses with underling Gabrielle Byrne as Tom Reagan providing the heart and soul throughout a complicated double-double-cross. Although today the film is well-regarded, it was a box office dud when released. And what is the meaning of the hats? Is the hat some sort of MacGuffin? Worth repeated viewings.
Famous Quote: “What is this, the high hat?”
(6) The Big Lebowski (1998)
Many might place The Big Lebowski higher on the list, and if you are talking about the movie with the most rabid fan base, then it would have to be this one. While it is full of clever dialogue and a great performance by Jeff Bridges, the above movies have more elements making them greater movies. The Big Lebowski, though, is still wonderful.
Famous Quote: “The Dude abides.”
(7) True Grit (2010)
Chimesfreedom recently wrote about True Grit, comparing it to the original version of the movie. The Coen’s version is excellent, but the movie here is ranked lower than it might otherwise be because we already had the John Wayne original.
Famous Quote: “I thought you gonna say the sun was in your eyes. That is to say, your Eye.”
(8) A Serious Man (2009)
A Serious Man grows on one upon repeated viewings. While the action element is nonexistent, there is great humor and dialogue in this movie, which raises important themes in its retelling of the Biblical story of Job with Larry Gopnik in 1967 Minnesota.
Famous Quote: “When the truth is found. To be lies. And all the hope. Within you dies. Then what?” (Rabbi Marshak quoting Jefferson Airplane)
(9) Blood Simple (1984)
Many people love this neo-noir, perhaps because it was the Coens directorial debut, so we are including it in the top ten. Blood Simple features many of the elements that would appear in better form in later movies, but it was an excellent start.
Famous Quote: “If you point a gun at someone, you’d better make sure you shoot him, and if you shoot him you’d better make sure he’s dead, because if he isn’t then he’s gonna get up and try to kill you.”
(10) The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
The Coen Brothers’ attempt at a classic screwball comedy with The Hudsucker Proxy bombed at the box office. It may have failed partly due to the fact that the movie was not what many expected. But it is an excellent homage to classic movies, and Tim Robbins as the unlikely rising business star is pretty funny.
Famous Quote: “You know, for kids.”
Hon. Mention: Barton Fink (1991), The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), Burn After Reading (2008).
Better Left Unmentioned: Intolerable Cruelty (2003), and The Ladykillers (2004).
Which Coen Brothers movie is your favorite? Leave a comment.
(Some Related Chimesfreedom Posts)
Bonus Coen Brothers Ranking from the Washington Post: Is here.