The Coen Brothers are some of the most talented and prolific filmmakers working today. Their films, while wildly different, all have an undeniable mark that makes them instantly recognizable as a Coen Brothers film. Their ear for dialogue and their strange characters are often imitated but it never feels the same as the real thing.
The Coens' filmography to date includes some classics that are regarded as some of the greatest films ever made. But while each of their films is at least interesting, some of them don't quite land. The weirdness of the Coens is not for everyone. Here are some of the best Coen Brothers movies and a few that missed the mark.
10 Fave: True Grit
Remaking one of John Wayne's most famous Westerns was a bold idea for the Coen Brothers. However, thanks to a very talented cast and sticking closely to the original novel, True Grit ended up being a superior version of the story. Jeff Bridges takes over and improves the role of Rooster Cogburn, a deadly US Marshal who is hired by a young girl to hunt down her father's killer.
Alongside Bridges, Matt Damon has a great role as a cocky Texas Ranger and Hailee Steinfeld makes an incredible debut as the determined and wise Mattie Ross. The Coens seem right at home in the Western genre and created a highly entertaining entry.
9 Miss: "The Mortal Remains" From The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an excellent movie overall. It is an anthology film made up of six Western-themed short films, and for five of those movies it is a perfect showcase of the Coens' unique talents. Sadly, the final short film doesn't quite succeed like the rest.
"The Mortal Remains" follows a stage coach carrying a group of strangers of different points of view. They have innocent discussions of life and death which gradually reveal there might be something darker to this journey. While it has its moments, the story is surprisingly dull without a clear vision.
8 Fave: Raising Arizona
One of the best things about the Coen Brothers is how easily they can jump between serious work and comedies. After their dark noir debut film, Blood Simple, the pair followed it up with a wacky, hilarious comedy that felt like a live action cartoon. Raising Arizona stars Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter as a couple who can't have children of their own, so they plan to take one of the famous local quintuplets.
The movie is filled with plenty of colorful and entertaining characters, all of whom want the captured baby for themselves. The energy and humor of the film make it one of the Coens' best.
7 Miss: The Hudsucker Proxy
The Coen Brothers got their first shot at making a film with a large studio budget when they made The Hudsucker Proxy. Given how the final product turned out, it's no surprise they have rarely returned to that kind of filmmaking. The film is set in the 1930s and follows a young business student who is hired as president of a massive company all as part of a stock scam.
Despite incredible actors like Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Paul Newman in the film, it is one of their least memorable efforts. There is a lot of interesting visual filmmaking at work here but the story isn't as compelling as their more successful work.
6 Fave: Fargo
While the Coens had considerable success prior to Fargo, this was the film that made them regarded as some of Hollywood's greatest modern filmmakers. The darkly comic crime saga follows a man who has his wife captured for a ransom scam and the polite and pregnant policewoman who is on the case.
The movie is a wonderful example of the Coen's immense talents with unique dialogue, strange characters and the mix of violence with humor. It features fantastic performances from William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi and France McDormand in an Oscar-winning role.
5 Miss: The Man Who Wasn’t There
The Man Who Wasn't There is far from a bad film. In fact, there is a lot of great stuff in the film. It is shot in beautiful black and white and has a great cast. However, it feels quite plain in comparison to some of the Coens' deeper work.
The story follows a quiet, mild-mannered barber who hatches a scheme for payback when he finds out his wife is having an affair. The scheme snowballs into a deadly and chaotic series of events for the man. Despite all the interesting aspects of the film, there is just not enough there that stays with you once the credits roll.
4 Fave: No Country For Old Men
No Country for Old Men is a dark and tense thriller based on the popular book by Cormac MacCarthy. The story follows a quiet rancher who finds a bag of cash out in the wilderness and takes it. That decision makes him the target of a relentless and efficient killer named Anton Chigurh.
The Coens maintain their humor even in this dark and violent tale. They expertly stage the set pieces with an unbearable sense of suspension. The film is also responsible for creating one of the best cinematic villains with Javier Bardem's portrayal of Chigurh.
3 Miss: Intolerable Cruelty
Just on its surface, Intolerable Cruelty seems like a strange choice for the Coen Brothers. It starred two massive movie stars in George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones in what seemed like a pretty straight-forward romantic comedy. The movie itself is at least a little more interesting than that, but it is still a misfire.
Clooney plays an extremely successful divorce lawyer who seems to have met his match with a soon-to-be ex-wife of one of his clients. As the two match wits, he begins to fall for her. The film is meant to be in the style of the screwball comedies of old but the Coens' style never quite meshes with that.
2 Fave: The Big Lebowski
When The Big Lebowski was released, the general reception was that it was silly, weird and a major step down from the Coens' brilliant Fargo. Years later, after developing a massive cult following, it was rightfully regarded as a comedy masterpiece and one of the Coens' greatest films.
The film follows The Dude, a lazy stoner who is reluctantly drawn into a mystery surrounding the captured wife of a local millionaire. It's take of the classic detective films but with a hopeless and uninterested investigator at its center. One of the most rewatchable movies ever made.
1 Miss: The Ladykillers
In The Ladykillers, the Coens set out to remake a popular British crime comedy of the starring Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers. The story concerns a group of criminals hatching a plan to rob a riverboat casino while renting a room from a kindly old lady. Trouble starts when the landlady begins interfering with their heist.
The film has some funny moments but it is a surprisingly simplistic story for the Coens to tell. The humor is not as sharp as their usual films and the story seems to run out of ideas. Even the cast is disappointing with a miscast Marlon Wayans and an over-the-top Tom Hanks.