Top 10 Coen Brother Films

Barton Fink

List compiled by Eddie on 23/08/2013

With what looks like another hit on their hands both critically and commercially with the upcoming awards contender Inside Llewyn Davis it seems like a fitting time to pick my personal top 10 favourite Coen Brother films.

Joel and Ethan Coen have ever so slowly created a divisive and original filmography that has now spanned almost 30 years. Well known for their dark sense of humour, fantastic whip smart scripts and a playfulness with character names (Pete Hogwallop, Theodore Donald Kerabatsos, Gaear Grimsrud just to name a few) The Coen’s have made themselves true visionaries of the film making world.

With a wide variety of films tackled by the Brothers it makes picking a personal best of list tricky business. I can find no space for the criminally overrated Fargo in my Top 10 where as I am sure many would have it sitting proudly at number 1. I could defend my position on this film and other list absentees until the cows come home so without further ado I proudly present you valued readers out there my Top 10 Coen Brother films.

10. Raising Arizona (1987)

The Coen Brothers second film introduced the world to their mad sense of dark humour. Featuring a crazed performance by Nicolas Cage as baby kidnapper H.I McDunnough, Arizona is sure to provide the laughs and acts as a good introduction for Coen Brother newbies.

9. The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

One of the big critical and commercial failures of the Coen’s career upon release Proxy is a true joy of a film and a hidden gem in the Coen Brother filmography. Whimsical and heartfelt Proxy is worth watching for the Hula Hoop scene alone.

8. A Serious Man (2009)

A Serious Man is a very polarising film. Some see it as a modern day retailing of the Bible story of Job where others may see it as a very dark comedy. A Serious Man is unlike anything you’ve seen before and features a career making performance from Michael Stuhlbarg.

7. True Grit (2010)

The second remake by the brothers and a much better one than there previous attempt in The Ladykillers, True Grit centres around the too wise for her boots Mattie Ross who is fantastically played by Hailee Steinfeld. This particular Coen film gathered 10 Oscar nominations and is a worthy entry into the great Western films list.

6. Barton Fink (1991)

Taking place almost entirely inside a run-down hotel Barton Fink is another film that upon initial release perhaps didn’t receive the recognition it deserved. Full of mysteries (who or what exactly is John Goodman’s Charlie Meadows?) and a rare leading turn from regular collaborator John Turturro as tortured writer Fink, this is a movie well worth checking into.

O Brother Where Art Thou?

5. The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)

You would of expected the Coen’s to follow up there critical and commercial success O Brother Where Art Thou with another crowd pleaser, they did the opposite. A film shot in black and white and centred on murder and mysteries in a small American town couldn’t be more abstract if it tried. Noteworthy for featuring both an early career turn from Scarlett Johansson and a very memorable ending.

4. Blood Simple (1984)

The beginning of the Brothers starts here with this low budget, dialogue ridden crime noir. Blood Simple has all the well-known hallmarks of the Brothers later works and stands up to this day as a testament to their originality and what can be done with brains and a low budget.

3. O Brother Where Art Thou (2000)

If you haven’t as of yet partaken on this adventure with the Soggy Bottom Boys get out there now and chase down a copy. More so than Fargo, O Brother made the Coen’s house hold names and turned leading man Clooney into a solidified movie star not just a TV heartthrob. With its great mix of humour, story and music it’s no wonder O Brother acts as arguably the Brothers most loved and easy to watch film.

2. No Country for Old Men (2007)

Adapted from master word smith Cormac McCarthy’s book of the same name No Country was a major success for the Brothers winning them a long overdue Best Director’s statue at the Academy Awards and best Picture to boot. A highly realistic and violent trip into the criminal world No Country is not for the faint of heart but for lovers of good film everywhere. Noteworthy for Javier Bardem’s creepily good turn as villain Anton Chigurh along with perhaps the worst haircut in film history.

1. The Big Lebowski (1998)

Like The Dude, The Big Lebowski till this day abides. One of Cinemas all-time funniest movies is remembered as fondly as ever thanks to the complete zaniness of the story, the fantastic script and the delivery of the actors in Jeff Bridges (as the movie he will always be remembered for) and John Goodman as crazed Vietnam vet Walter Sobchak. A classic for the ages, Lebowski only gets better on re-watch after re-watch and will perhaps remain the Coen’s greatest ever achievement.

The Big Lebowski

How does this list stack up to your favorites? Let us know in the comments below and while you’re at it check out our other Director Top 10 list’s –

53 responses to “Top 10 Coen Brother Films

  1. My list would be pretty similar, only I’d take ‘A Serious Man’ out of there, and add ‘Miller’s Crossing’. Oh,, and I’d get rid of ‘True Grit’ and put ‘Fargo’ in. “Ya gatta pewit Fahrgow in dare, for Pete’s sake!”

    • Oh I could almost justify some Miller’s Crossing but Fargo just sadly does not float my movie boat in anyway, and I have tried multiple times to enjoy it on some level but to me that is almost Coen’s at their worst 😦 Luky Ladykillers is around to take that mantle though.

      • Fargo has to be viewed in the context of their larger career. After Hudsucker Proxy, people were saying that the Coens’ days in Hollywood were numbered. Fargo was thier first mainstream success, and they first time they created a rooting interest for one of thier characters. Fargo plays it safe, which is a shame for a Coen Brothers movie, but the film is superior to 99 percent of what Hollywood puts out today.
        The Ladykillers was like the Coens doing a pastiche of themselves. And I would like to erase the memory of Intolerable Cruelty from my mind.

  2. Awesome list! The only one of your choices I don’t agree with is A Serious Man (though the ending continues to haunt me to this day). I would replace it with Miller’s Crossing (if you’ve only seen it once or twice, keep at it; I didn’t get how great it was at first).
    Also, it’s too much work to figure out whether No Country for Old Men or The Big Lebowski belongs in the top spot. As far as I’m concerned, they’re in a tie.
    And props for recognizing the genius of The Hudsucker Proxy.
    The thing that strikes me about your list is that most of the Coen’s films are on it. They have an incredible track record with very few misfires.

    • The first time I saw that Serious Man ending it was just a truely wow moment! A divisive film no doubt but it struck a cord with me.

      In regards to Miller’s Crossing perhaps it is due another watch just perhaps after more time has settled between viewings.

      I would almost agree on Big and No Country although Big to me has just lasted so many re watches that it takes the top spot.

      Looking forward to Llewyn Davis – it looks again like another quality film onto their resume with a soundtrack to boot.


  3. My top three would be “Miller’s Crossing”, “The Big Lebowski” and “Blood Simple”–while their other films have moments of power and originality, these movies are near perfect, from first frame to last.

  4. I personally have not seen any of the above films but I almost did go and see True Grit a couple of years ago. I almost did read the book (by Cormac McCarthy) of No Country For Old Men.

    To be honest, when I first saw the title of your post I was thinking of the 2 guys who made V for Vendetta and the Matrix Series, had to look up the Coen Brothers to realise.

  5. FWIW, A serious Man is in my top three as is Raising Arizona, which I, probably cause I’m such a Dad, put first. It has the most uniquesness in the most areas, the language and performances are so quirky, the score is amazing and strange, it is shot with all that wide angle stuff and complex choreography, the plot is absurd and hysterical. It is almost a genre to itself, so full of the love from every direction, so funny, so heartfelt.

    I would swap Man Who Wasn’t There, which I put down with Burn After Reading for Millers Crossing, and Fargo for Barton Fink. Those are a couple of very dark films, but with spectacular performances and superb and unified looks. Barton Fink is a bit self consciously over the top for me, and The Man Who Wasn’t There is too much of a pastiche of 50’s B-movies. In a weird way it reminds me of Pacific Rim, where a director(s) wants to revisit the films they loved as kids. Just kinda self indulgent.

    BTW, you guys have great stuff here. Keep it up.

  6. Contrary to a lot of others, it seems, I think I would put “A Serious Man” higher. That one really spoke to me. It’s great and a little too underrated, it seems. Then again, i’d also add “Fargo” and “Miller’s Crossing” to the list, as was already mentioned. But i’m biased with my love for those two.

    Great list though. I’m happy to see “Barton Fink” on there. That one always seems to appear at the bottom of these lists. Good film!

    • A single man really is a film that upon reflection grows on you with it’s quite power.

      Seems love for millers crossing runs pretty rampant.

      Cheers for your comments always interesting to hear other film fans tastes.

    • Yes, I put A serious Man near the top of my list. Not flashy or cool, but the most philosophically sophisticated of their films, in fact one of the most philosophically sophisticated films I have ever seen.

      Like Oh Brother, this was retelling of a classical story: The Book of Job, which is one of the most enigmatic and revealing stories in the bible, especially if you look at its oldest versions.

      I happened to see it the same week I saw Jane Campion’s Bright Star, and the two films had this resonant effect on me, which may be part of why I love it so much. Between them, I felt like the meaning of life had been revealed in great detail.

      I also think this film is heavily rooted in judaism, and so may play better in that context. And while I’m a devout atheist, and not Jewish, I am kind of Jew-ish, in that I love some of their ideas, like midrash and especially the idea that we are collaborating with god to perfect the universe. This is very much the theme of Job, and A Serious Man.

      Also, I think it may Serioius Man

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  11. Yup. I’m happy about this list. I can’t be considered an expert on the Coens by any means, but I have to agree that Fargo… just doesn’t work for me. I’ve watched the beginning over and over again. And I can never get past the forty-five minute mark.

    I can handle a slow movie, but it has to be interesting, at least. I can appreciate certain scenes for their craft, but yup. Wouldn’t put it in my top 10 either. (Even though I’ve only seen five Coen movies.)

    Cool list. Big Lebowski would be at my top, too, although True Grit would be a little lower. It’d still be there, though.

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