After the double whammy of gruesome neo-noir Blood Simple and zany slapstick comedy Raising Arizona put them on the map, the Coen brothers forged a legendary career walking the fine line between those two tones. Their crime caper Fargo has both eccentric cops and a woodchipper corpse disposal. Their stoner noir The Big Lebowski has both a rug-peer and a severed toe.
The Coens are one of the most distinctively quirky and idiosyncratic filmmaking voices in Hollywood. Many of their movies, from Miller’s Crossing to No Country for Old Menare rewatchable gems that have stood the test of time.
10 True Grit (2010)
The Coens’ revisionist reimagining of True Grit is much more faithful to the source material than the original. The 1969 adaptation focused on Rooster Cogburn so it could be a John Wayne starring vehicle. The Coens’ remake is told from the perspective of 14-year-old Mattie Ross, not the hard-drinking US Marshal she recruits to help find her father’s killer.
The movie is anchored by an Oscar-nominated performance by Hailee Steinfeld as a put-upon kid who’s both courageous and vulnerable. She’s backed up by a grizzled, nuanced turn by the Dude himself, Jeff Bridges, as Cogburn.
9 Blood Simple (1984)
The Coens’ independently produced debut feature, Blood Simpleis a grisly low-budget neo-noir with a healthy dose of the brothers’ now-renowned dark humor.
Blood Simple is a tautly crafted suspense thriller with simplistic, finely tuned, character-driven storytelling. This streamlined, fast-paced 96-minute gem got the Coens’ career off to a stellar start, and can be enjoyed countless times by fans.
8 Miller’s Crossing (1990)
With plenty of shocking violence and brutality and just as much deadpan humor, Miller’s Crossing is one of the quirkiest gangster movies ever made. It does not fall into any of the genre’s clichés; it’s a unique vision of a well-worn narrative framework.
Gabriel Byrne stars as a mob enforcer caught in the crossfire of a Prohibition-era gang war. The Coens’ script has a devilishly complicated plot, but their direction takes a refreshingly light and breezy approach.
7 Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Complexly plotted movies tend to be less rewatchable, because the excessive exposition and perfunctory story beats grow tiresome on repeat viewings. Inside Llewyn Davis avoids this problem by having no plot to speak of. It’s more of a character study, charting a week in the life of a Bob Dylan-esque folk singer as he bounces between different gigs and living situations in 1961.
The script for Inside Llewyn Davis is a series of vignettes, each as kooky and compelling and thought-provoking as the last. Oscar Isaac gives one of his most engaging performances as Llewyn: funny, cerebral, and human. The movie has captivating character work, and it does not hurt that the music is great, too.
6 Barton Fink (1991)
One of the Coens’ strangest movies, Barton Finkstars John Turturro as a prestigious playwright who struggles to lower his artistic standards to churn out a wrestling movie for a Hollywood studio.
Barton Fink defies genre classification, veering between satirizing the film industry and sending a bloodthirsty slasher to Hell. The movie’s meaning is open to interpretation. It needs to be viewed a few times just to make head or tail of it.
5 A Serious Man (2009)
The Coens’ darkly comic 2009 gem A Serious Man is a Biblical parable that plays like a version of the Book of Job set in Minnesota in 1967. The great Michael Stuhlbarg stars as a mild-mannered man whose life starts falling apart around him: his wife leaves him, his son owes drug money to. a classmate, his homeless brother shows up to crash on his couch, and his doctor has some alarming news for him.
Naturally, Larry Gopnik feels like he is being tested by God. A Serious Man is a deliciously dark comedy that builds to one of the most jaw-dropping, unexpected final shots of the Coens’ filmography.
4 No Country For Old Men (2007)
The Coens received some of the best reviews of their career (and a boatload of Academy Award nominations) for their intense cat-and-mouse thriller. No Country for Old Men. The tension is sometimes unbearable, but it’s easy to revisit this bleak neo-western full of gorgeous landscape photography, riveting shootouts, and revisionist themes.
The plot is set up nice and quickly – Llewelyn Moss takes a bag of money from a drug deal gone wrong, so the cartel sends their best guy after him – and before too long, the chase is on. Cold-hearted bounty hunter Anton Chigurh, played by an Oscar-winning Javier Bardem, is one of the most chilling, mesmerizing villains in film history.
3 Raising Arizona (1987)
The tone of the Coens’ second movie could not be further removed from their first. Raising Arizona is a delightfully zany comedy masterpiece with a hysterical high-concept premise: a couple who can not have kids decide to kidnap one of a local tycoon’s newborn quintuplets to raise as their own.
Raising Arizona carries a strangely wholesome message about love and parenthood. Throughout the tight 94-minute runtime, the Coens never miss an opportunity for a laugh. Even the way the camera moves is hilarious. Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, and John Goodman all knock their roles out of the park.
2 Fargo (1996)
Fargo‘s shocking violence, pitch-black sense of humor, and crisp, snowy cinematography make it endlessly enjoyable – and the lean runtime goes a long way. The movie is a poignant study of the inevitable consequences of a life of crime. William H. Macy gives an unforgettable turn as an ordinary suburbanite who gets in over his head in a criminal plot.
Played by a Best Actress-winning Frances McDormand, Marge Gunderson is one of the greatest cop characters ever created. Bolstered by McDormand’s dryly hilarious line deliveries, Marge is defined more by her pregnancy and her adorable relationship with her husband than her job, but she’s still smart as a whip with her detective skills. Unlike most movie cops, Marge brings in the bad guy without using excessive force.
1 The Big Lebowski (1998)
The Coens’ stoner noir The Big Lebowski is one of the most iconic comedies ever made. This cult classic never gets old. There are countless laugh-out-loud moments to revisit again and again, from the Dude riding a floating rug over LA in a dream sequence to Walter smashing up a sports car in real life. Jeff Bridges’ turn as the Dude was iconic enough to launch a religion, while Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, John Turturro, and especially John Goodman all provide strong support.
The script’s meandering Chandleresque plot is ultimately meaningless; it’s just there to facilitate a steady stream of wacky gags and eccentric characters. There’s no unnecessary exposition, which makes for a breezy rewatch.
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