Montreal Film Journal

THE DIRECTORS SERIES (1)


1984
Blood Simple. 87
[ More "straightforward" than most of the Coen's subsequent films, there's still a sardonic streak to their debut. Then there's the virtuoso cinematography by Barry Sonnenfeld, juicy dialogue and solid performances by Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, John Getz and M. Emmet Walsh. "Blood Simple." is a shrewd, powerful noir thriller. Great use of The Four Tops' It's the same old song, too. ]



1987
Raising Arizona 65
[ review ]

1990
Miller's Crossing 43
[ Thick plot, thick dialogue, thick characters... There's hardly any room left to breathe! Oh, the Coens mix in some deadpan humor, stylish shoot-outs and colorful supporting players (Polito, Turturro and Buscemi are great), but overall the film feels to me like a well designed toy that's not actually all that fun. You want to enjoy it, but it's like it won't let you. ]

1991
Barton Fink 86
[ While concocting the Byzantine plot of "Miller's Crossing", Joel and Ethan Coen hit a bad case of writer's block, out of which came out "Barton Fink". John Turturro stars in the title role of a New York playwright who dreams of "a new living theater OF and ABOUT and FOR the common man", but ends up selling out to go work in Hollywood. Writer's block engulfs him as his hotel room becomes his own personal hell, with John Goodman's brutish salesman as the damned-next-door. Alternately a hilarious satire of the 1940s movie biz and a surreal character study, "Barton Fink" is one of the Coen's most expertly crafted and engaging films. ]

1994
The Hudsucker Proxy 87
[ That's right. New York, 1958. A seemingly imbecile mailroom clerk is promoted to president of Hudsucker Industries by the board directors, who what the company stock to crash so they can buy it back and take over, but the plot thickens when their proxy's crazy idea of a circle-shaped toy ("You know... For the kids!") turns out to be a huge success! This is generally regarded as the Coen's worst film, which makes no sense to me. How can you dislike such a delightful throwback to the cynical yet high-spirited screwball comedies of the ‘40s and ‘50s? Tim Robbins is irresistible as the innocent puppet-president, Paul Newman is a hoot as a scheming fat cat, Jennifer Jason Leigh does her best Katherine Hepburn and Bruce Campbell, Jon Polito, John Mahoney, Steve Buscemi, Peter Gallagher and even Anna Nicole Smith all make amusing appearances. Then there's the endlessly witty screenplay by the Coens and Sam Raimi and the superb work by cinematographer Roger Deakins and composer Carter Burwell, going for a retro feel but with a twist of Tim Burtonesque gothic. I love this movie! ]



1996
Fargo 95
[ review ]



1998
The Big Lebowski 93
[ review ]



2000
O Brother Where Art Thou 39
[ review ]



2001
The Man Who Wasn't There 71
[ review ]



2003
Intolerable Cruelty 61
[ review ]



2004
The Ladykillers 68
[ review ]



2006
Tuileries 65
[ The Coen's contribution to "Paris, je t'aime" is further proof of their virtuoso visual sense and their perfect comic timing, with an hilarious silent performance from Steve Buscemi. ]



2007
No Country for Old Men 77
[ review ]

World Cinema 64
[ I'm not sure what to think of the Coen's contribution to "Chacun son cinéma"... I mean, I definitely liked it, but I'm not sure why. You got Josh Brolin, still with the shitkicker hat and mustache from "No Country for Old Men", going into this arthouse theater and having a chat with the clerk, and it's amusing and alll... But at the end, you feel this bittersweet vibe that I can't quite explain. Oh well. ]



2008
Burn After Reading 87
[ review ]


2009
A Serious Man 86
[ Here's yet further proof that the Coen brothers, like very few other filmmakers, can make just about anything interesting by their mere auteural touch. Which is not to say that every movie they make is great, but that even when they make what I feel is a lesser picture, even when I downright don't like it, there's still no denying the power of their voice and their style. Take this here "A Serious Man": in other hands, this rather dull milieu (a Jewish community in the Midwestern suburbs circa 1967), these rather dull characters (a mild-mannered professor of physics, his socially inept brother, his unhappy soon-to-be-ex wife, his obnoxious teenage children, various rabbis, etc.) and this rather dull story (which can pretty much be summed up as: "God works in mysterious ways" or "shit happens") could have been, well, dull. But the Coen's sly sense of humor, the way they (and cinematographer Roger Deakins) have of framing things, their astute use of sound and music (Carter Burwell's haunting score and Jefferson Airplane songs, notably) and the way they direct actors (Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick, Amy Landecker and others) to always be just a tad offbeat all add up to making everything in the film seem somewhat surreal. If this were a mere exercise in style, "A Serious Man" might have still felt like a wank, but what's fascinating in this film is that one of its central themes just happens to be how through a slightly skewed persective, what usually seems ordinary and routine can suddenly fill one with wonder and awe. Well played, sirs. ]


NEXT: TRUE GRIT (2010)