Joel and Ethan Coen – a.k.a. the Coen Brothers – are among Hollywood’s most acclaimed writers/producers/directors, with an almost unbroken string of critical (and usually commercial) hits to their name since their 1984 debut, Blood Simple. They’re back this week with yet another star-studded spectacle, this time tackling vintage Hollywood with Hail, Caesar! In honor of their latest film arriving in theaters, revisit some of the highlights from their career so far.
10. Raising Arizona (1987)
Nicolas Cage gives one of his earliest, craziest performances (and that’s really saying something) alongside Holly Hunter in this bizarre crime caper. He’s an ex-con, she’s a cop, and together they steal a baby from a local furniture tycoon. In case you couldn’t guess, it doesn’t exactly go according to plan, but it goes wrong in consistently surprising, entertaining ways. It’s a little rough around the edges, but the Coens’ unique sense of humor is on full display.
9. True Grit (2010)
This remake of the John Wayne classic was a bit of a leftfield choice for the Coens – impressive enough for two careers made almost entirely out of surprising film choices. Coens-favorite Jeff Bridges is on fine, cantankerous form as U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn, while a young Hailee Steinfeld made her name as the girl who recruits him to capture her father’s killer. It doesn’t quite have the charm of the brothers’ best, but it’s worth it all for Bridges as a cowboy.
8. Burn After Reading (2008)
The Coens’ plots are rarely straightforward, and that’s never been more true than in Burn After Reading, they’re ludicrously convoluted, farcical spy thriller. John Malkovich is a retired spook trying to write his memoirs, while Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand are two gym workers who stumble across state secrets and try to spin out a moneymaking scheme. Throw a few affairs into the mix, and shedload of incompetence, and it all ends up about as well as you might expect.
7. Barton Fink (1991)
Hail, Caesar! won’t be the first time the Coens point their lens back at Hollywood – they tackled the topic before, in 1991’s Barton Fink. John Turturro is the New York playwright lured to 1940s California by the glittering lights of Hollywood, John Goodman his sweaty neighbor. It’s the Coens at their most surreal and literary – and it was so good it made the Cannes Film Festival change its rules to limit films to one award each after it nabbed Best Picture, Actor, and Director.
6. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Well, that .gif about sums it up. A folk singer with a cat. Introducing Oscar Isaac to the Coen-verse as a Bob Dylan-esque musician in the Greenwich Village folk scene, Inside Llewyn Davis is as funny as it is melancholic. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll probably want to pick up a copy of the soundtrack.
5. Miller’s Crossing (1990)
This early classic is another one that finds the brothers at their moodiest. A sprawling, Prohibition-era gangster epic, there are more double-crosses and betrayals than you could possibly count, and Tommy guns galore. As always, there’s plenty of black humor, but don’t expect this one to leave you with a grin on your face.
4. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
A Greek epic set in ‘30s America – it’s hard to imagine any other filmmakers turning themselves to the idea. (Very) loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey, the film stars George Clooney as one of three ex-cons on the run from the law in the deep south, hunting for the buried loot from a bank heist. Along the way they cross sirens, a cyclops, a prophet, and a KKK lynch mob, among other ridiculous escapades.
3. The Big Lebowski (1998)
No Coen Brothers’ list would be complete without The Big Lebowski, their cult classic, drug and booze-fuelled bowling film. Jeff Bridges has never been better than as ‘The Dude’, while John Goodman gives a practically career-defining turn. Nothing else the Coens ever did has ever been as remembered, as referenced, or as popular. The Dude abides.
2. Fargo (1996)
So good it somehow inspired a TV show spinoff almost 20 years after its release, Fargo is almost flawless. Steve Buscemi, Frances McDormand and William H. Macy are all absolutely hilarious in this inept crime thriller pastiching the American midwest. The good people have never been funnier – or more loved. And apparently the TV show’s even pretty good too!
1. No Country for Old Men (2007)
I’m not sure anyone would have guessed that the Coens would contribute the noughties finest horror villain, but Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh is a relentless, implacable, unstoppable killing machine, as frightening as anything you’ll find in a horror movie. Bleak, merciless, violent and captivating, No Country for Old Men eschews a lot of the Coens’ wit in favor of an unforgettably black tone. There’s nothing else quite like it.