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Coen Brothers Films

Movies | By A.J. for The Top 13 on November 17, 2009

It has been 25 years since Joel and Ethan Coen debuted as a writing, directing, and editing juggernaut with the ultra-low budget Blood Simple. So with the recent release of their newest film, A Serious Man, The Top 13 reflects back on their hilariously dark filmography. Sure, they have 14 features under their belt, but we are perfectly content leaving off The Ladykillers, perhaps the only misstep in their entire filmography. Believe it or not, they were finally awarded their first Best Picture and Best Directing Oscars just under two years ago (for No Country for Old Men), and two more brilliant Coen brothers' comedies have already hit the theaters since then.

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Miller's Crossing


Miller's Crossing


Choosing between these masterpieces is like choosing which of your children you like best. But in the end, the top spot goes to Miller's Crossing. Only their third movie, this flick proved the brothers could do anything with a small budget, and that prohibition-era pieces don’t have to cost $100 million (like Public Enemies). Though it is primarily a drama, lines like "don't give me the high hat!" are as quotable as any comedy. Deserving of inclusion on every top movie list, the film finally got recognition as one of Time's "100 Best Movies of All-Time."

No Country for Old Men


No Country for Old Men


Very few have produced more original scripts than these guys. But sometimes even the best choose to adapt someone else's work, as the Coen brothers did to Cormac McCarthy's fantastic novel here. After The Ladykillers, we were hoping the Coen brothers would return with something breathtaking, and they exceeded most everyone's expectations. The fact that this film beat There Will Be Blood for the Best Picture Oscar just about says enough. Okay, Friendo?





Not giving this classic the top spot, or even the second, on this list was heartwrenching. Fargo was the newest film on the American Film Institute's 1998 "100 Years...100 Movies" list. The film received seven Oscar nominations, winning two. For the script, Joel and Ethan received their first Oscar, and the other went to Joel's wife Frances McDormand for that spot-on Minnesota accent.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?


O Brother, Where Art Thou?


Believe it or not, O Brother was loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey. Very loosely. Then a Coen neophyte, George Clooney has arguably never been funnier on the big screen; the same could be said for Coen veteran John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson. Despite the fantastic cast and story, innovations in color correction and the Grammy winning soundtrack are what made this movie famous. Who would have thought "Man of Constant Sorrow" would see a new millennium comeback?

Raising Arizona


Raising Arizona


Nicolas Cage's filmography is littered with missteps, but Raising Arizona certainly isn't one of them. Not only is the movie hilarious, but Cage somehow manages to act appropriately in it. He delivers his career comedic performance without resorting to his trademark unnecessary yelling. That was left to co-stars John Goodman (The Top 13’s favorite Coen brothers collaborator) and William Forsythe.

The Big Lebowski


The Big Lebowski


Are you a Lebowski or are you a Dude? Or are you a Walter or a Donny or a Maude or a Jesus or a Bunny or a Brandt or a Treehorn or just some techno-pop nihilist? Chances are, you're one of them, considering they account for most of the basic philosophies, moralities, or what have you. This is regarded by many as the best Coen comedy. Say, anyone up for a Caucasian?

A Serious Man


A Serious Man


With their newest, darkest, most autobiographical, and most spiritual film yet, the Coens managed to incorporate everything we love about them into one film. Though it is not their most entertaining film (in fact, it's actually rather depressing), it is by far one of their smartest. Loosely a retelling of the biblical story of Job in modern America, A Serious Man is also notable for its lack of any A-list Hollywood actors.

Barton Fink


Barton Fink


Barton Fink was actually written on the side while Joel and Ethan had writer's block during the making of Miller's Crossing. It was their first collaboration with legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, who went on to shoot all of their films except Burn After Reading. Almost 20 years later, the brothers are now consdering a sequel set after Barton has sold out fellow artists to the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Blood Simple


Blood Simple


Made for little over $1 million, this is the film that launched Joel & Ethan's careers, set Joel up with Frances McDormand, launched her career, and even launched the career of cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, who went on to direct Men in Black. That's a lot for a debut film to do. It was ranked 98th on the AFI's "100 Years...100 Thrills," and a remake called The First Gun by Zhang Yimou is set to release in China next month.

The Man Who Wasn't There


The Man Who Wasn't There


This film could be one of the greatest film noirs in decades. The director of photography, Roger Deakins, showed what he could do when given the chance to work with black and white film, receiving his fifth Oscar nomination for his efforts. Since then, he has picked up three more nominations, but still has not won, and he is currently signed on to work on what might become the Coen brothers' next film, Hail Caesar.

Burn After Reading


Burn After Reading


The only better directorial match for Brad Pitt than Quentin Tarantino (with whom he made Inglourious Basterds this year) was the Coen brothers. Pitt’s role as a dim-witted gym employee easily contends with John Goodman's Walter in The Big Lebowski for the funniest Coen character yet. But Pitt's character is hardly the only idiot in this film. Indeed, Burn After Reading also features fantastic idiotic turns from such heavyweights as George Clooney and John Malkovich.

Intolerable Cruelty


Intolerable Cruelty


At first, Joel and Ethan weren't going to make this movie. They wrote the script for Universal for someone else to direct, reportedly because they felt it was too commercial for them. They were probably right, but when the involvement of Clooney changed their minds, what resulted was one of their strangest films yet. Not that that's a bad thing. While the blockbuster cast made this film seem mainstream, it maintained all the oddities that are hallmarks of the brothers’ work.

The Hudsucker Proxy


The Hudsucker Proxy


Don't let The Hudsucker Proxy's placement at the bottom of The Top 13 give you the wrong idea. Co-written by cult horror film and Spiderman director Sam Raimi, this film is still a gem, as well as a basic cable staple. It features a villainous Paul Newman, a dopey Tim Robbins, and the (fictional) story of the Hula Hoop's invention. You know, for kids.

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Comments Leave a comment

jason ★★

Good list, except that Raising Arizona and Lebowski are far superior to O Brother. The Jesus = best original random Coen character.

8:21 AM   Nov 17, 2009


BL at 6?? Behind O Brother, which was terrible?? boo

8:36 AM   Nov 17, 2009


there are still some Cohen movies that i have yet to see, but my top three would probably be No Country, Fargo, and Big Lebowski.

8:52 AM   Nov 17, 2009


For me Fargo and Lebowski would be 1 & 2 (in that order), with higher placements of Blood Simple & Man Who Wasn't There. Hated Burn After Reading, so that would be last.

8:54 AM   Nov 17, 2009

KungFuJay ★★

Yeah, Raising Arizona, Lebowski and Blood Simple are so far superior to O Brother it's not even funny. Raising Arizona would be my #1 I think.

9:13 AM   Nov 17, 2009


I echo the sentiment that O Brother is a bit too high, but I love this list.

9:14 AM   Nov 17, 2009

KungFuJay ★★

Yeah, other than my knock on O Brother, I love #s 1-10 (tho I haven't seen Serious Man yet) an inordinate amount so it's really semantics.

9:18 AM   Nov 17, 2009

PulpAffliction ★★

Huge kudos for including Intollerable Cruelty; it's vastly underrated.

And, A Serious Man is absolutely spectacular. I feel like, given a year or two, it could have easily placed at #4.

You should open this one up for Reader Submissions.

9:26 AM   Nov 17, 2009

ajay ★★

No kidding, A Serious Man has moved up to #4 for me.

Meanwhile, True Grit hits the list at #9.

11:24 PM   Jan 08, 2011

PulpAffliction ★★

(and by "including" I mean "not putting in last place.")

9:27 AM   Nov 17, 2009

jason ★★

Definitely agree re: Intolerable Cruelty. Hilarious movie. I even liked Ladykillers, though not nearly as much.

9:29 AM   Nov 17, 2009


No No No! Hudsucker Proxy LAST?! Insanity! Barton Fink needs to be higher as well.

12:21 PM   Nov 17, 2009


Miller's Crossing is one of those rare movies that just fails to make any kind of lasting connection with me. I liked the acting and the writing, but I don't think it's their best film. No Country and Fargo would be 1 and 2 on my list, and I'd rate Blood Simple higher than Barton Fink or O Brother.

1:53 PM   Nov 17, 2009


I agree that Miller's Crossing should not be #1. I feel the same way as zircona1. I've watched it a few times and each time I think it's good, but not great. It lacks the impact of some of the other movies on this list.

2:04 PM   Nov 17, 2009

tloveisready ★★

1, 2, and 3 are spot on. After that, I'd rank the rest totally differently.

3:07 PM   Nov 17, 2009


I disagree with everyone who has asserted that "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" should be placed lower on the list.

8:21 AM   Nov 18, 2009


Same. I love O Brother.
Weirdly though, I didn't like No Country that much in the scope of everything they've done. Meh, personal taste.

9:56 AM   Nov 19, 2009


No Country for Old Men should easily be #1 over Miller's, not even a compotition. Raising Arizona a definate classic, and O Brother where Art Thou was one of the dumbest movie's ever made.

3:59 PM   Mar 06, 2012

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