Thursday, March 27, 2014

New Director Retrospective Series: Up First The Coen Brothers

One of the things I mentioned a few times on this blog is that for the next little while anyway, reviews of new releases would be scarcer than normal. The reason being is that my wife and I welcomed our second daughter on February 28th. While it was easy to sneak out to late shows before, until Claire starts sleeping through the night, that’s going to be harder – so unless it’s a kids movie that I can take my older daughter to, or something I HAVE to see (like Noah and The Grand Budapest Hotel – two I hope to get to in the next two weeks) I won’t see as much as normal. By the summer, it should return to something more normal – as long as Claire follows in her sister’s footsteps and starts sleeping through the night at the same time.

The upshot of this is that while I don’t have the luxury of going out to see movies, I’m stuck at home with a (mostly) sleeping baby and a wife who heads up to bed at 8 every night – meaning I have a lot to time to watch movies at home (hence, why I’ve been able to review new movies like Nymphomaniac and Veronica Mars). Mainly though, I’m spending my time going through older movies – movies that for the most part I have seen before, but not properly reviewed. I went through Wes Anderson’s films very quickly in order to get the pieces posted by the time The Grand Budapest Hotel opened – but that’s not really the way I want to do these director retrospectives. Typically, what I want to do is go through the films one at a time, in chronological order, and review them and then write a wrap up piece. As I think the Coen Brothers are the best filmmakers in the world right now and just made the best film of 2013 with Inside Llewyn Davis, I figured I’d start with them. On tap, I’m already about halfway through Jim Jarmusch’s films – and I hope to have up reviews of all of them in April before his latest, Only Lovers Left Alive opens (meaning, that for a time, I’ll probably be posting both Jarmusch and Coen reviews). Possible future editions include Stanley Kubrick, David Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson, Mike Leigh and Michael Mann. Had I come up with this idea earlier, I may well have done Darren Aronofsky before Noah or Lars von Trier before Nymphomaniac – maybe even Denis Villeneuve before Enemy – but I didn’t. Perhaps before their next films. If anyone has other suggestions, I’d be glad to hear them – with the caveat that I don’t really want to delve deeply into a director who has more than about 15 films on their resume – not at the present time anyway – as that would simply be too great a time commitment. Anyway, onto the Coens.

Before Inside Llewyn Davis came out in December – the film I ended up calling the best of 2013 – I did a piece ranking the 15 features of the Coen brothers’ career up until that point. Now, since I have seen Inside Llewyn Davis and I think it’s one of their best, that ranking obviously needs to be updated. But thinking back on where I would rank the newest film something occurred to me -  it has been a few years since I have seen some of the Brothers work. When I did my ranking, I was going mainly on memory, but there is definitely value in going back and revisiting their films – one at a time, in chronological order – to help map their progression and perhaps in doing so, I’d have a better “ranking” – if such a thing exists.

I was going to do a detailed introduction, but I think the best way to do this is to simply dive straight into the films themselves. At the end, I will do a conclusion and an updated ranking. Below is how I saw the films before venturing back through them all – I can already tell you – there are some significant changes in the rankings.

15. Raising Arizona
14. Intolerable Cruelty
13. The Ladykillers
12. The Hudsucker Proxy
11. Burn After Reading
10. True Grit
9. Blood Simple
8. Barton Fink
7. Miller’s Crossing
6. The Man Who Wasn’t There
5. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
4. The Big Lebowski
3. A Serious Man
2. No Country for Old Men
1. Fargo

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