Friday, December 21, 2012

Director Reterospective: The Coen Brothers Part 2

Here is the Coen Brothers Part 2:

The Hudsucker Proxy

Sigh. This one. The one ‘bad’ Coen Brothers movies. They have some mediocre ones later in their career (you know the ones I mean, or rather you will when I’m done with this experiment) but this one is the one that’s actually bad. And what’s interesting is that, while it’s bad, it still feels like a Coen Brother movie.

I think that’s what makes us all want to forget it. It still feels like a Coen brother movie, but one that doesn’t gel. I think it’s the direct comedy aspect, as the Coen brothers rarely do a movie this…lighthearted? I dunno, it’s hard to pinpoint what doesn’t work about this movie, but it doesn’t work. I tempted to blame collaborator Sam Raimi (as their only other major collaboration, Crimewave is similarly terrible, and I don’t think their styles and directing techniques don’t gel very well) but not knowing enough about the background, I can’t say that with certainty.

It’s got enough of the Coen brothers signature style in it to make it worth watching, if only to see what happens when a director’s skill turns inward against itself (there are several Tim Burton films which serve a similar purpose). Still, almost every director has the odd mediocre or bad movie, and everyone gets a mulligan. I’m more than willing to ignore this one, especially given what comes next.


This one is widely considered the Coen’s arrival movie, the one that signaled not only the beginning of regular, if not precisely massive, box office success, but crossover success between critics, Oscar voters and the general public. It’s also widely considered one of their best movies.

And I find it hard to argue with any of that. It’s easily my favorite Coen Brothers movie, and high on the list of my favorite movies of all time. It’s one of those rare movies that I actually think is without flaws, one of those movies that I honestly cannot imagine anyone not enjoying.

It also has one of the best screenplays I’ve ever seen in film, easily balancing multiple perspectives and characters, while taking care to give each character a unique voice. The characters are well rounded and imaginative, with unique ways of presenting them (the movie lets you believe for something like half an hour that Jerry is the protagonist before introducing Marge). It’s hard to think of a flaw with in this movie, something that makes it less than perfect. It’s one of the best, if not the best, film of the Coen brothers’ career and one of my favorite movies of all time.

The Big Lebowski

My review of this movie hasn’t gone anywhere, but in the intervening…fuck, three years that’s a while, since I reviewed it, I’ve developed a new fondness for it. It’s certainly a highly stylistic movie, especially in it’s plotting and characters, and it succeeds at it’s own modest and very odd goals.

I think the key to its success is the character of The Dude, who is moving slowly and going nowhere. He is a symbol of the plot itself, where the narrator loses his train of thought and where at the end, nothing has changed or gotten better for the hero. It’s almost a film noir comedy, a genre I’m surprised others haven’t tried. It’s also got an ending that is, when you strip a lot of it away, is almost unrelenting bleak. Possibly even more so than Fargo.

I said in my review of it, that in any other director’s career, it would be an impossible standard to live up to, but in the Coen brothers? Not even the top 5 (the top 5 will be announced at the end of this experiment). It’s a testament to the talent and vision of the Coen brothers that they can make a movie this brilliant and have it not be that big of a deal.

O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?

I feel this is the Coen’s most underrated film (it’s also the first Coen Brother movie I ever saw; My father loves this movie, and he showed it to me when I was 12). I love it’s visual theme, I love it’s weird semi-musical style, I love it’s dialogue, I love its story, I love its characters, I love all of it.

It also features a fantastic supporting performance from John Turturro , who hasn’t worked with the Coens for a while and should probably get back with them (seriously John, the enemy scrotum? You’re better than that) and their first collaboration with then up-and-coming George Clooney (which thus far has worked out well for all involved).

It’s also interesting, since the color correction technique pioneered by this movie has actually done a lot of damage to movies as a whole. The Coen Brothers used it to give the movie a unique and unified look and feel, but a lot of bad directors have wound up using it as a cheap way to give their movies a visual theme (you can usually tell when you see the colors blue and orange a lot). But we can’t hold that against it, it’s still a unique and excellent movie, with an incredible soundtrack and some memorable performances.

Next part of this experiment should be up next week.

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