Wednesday, May 15, 2013

15. O Coen Brother, Where Art Thou True Grit?

It's no secret to anyone who knows me how much I love movies, and my friends often ask me to name my favourite movie of all time. I'm afraid to say, I disappoint them everytime. It's too hard to pick just one! Instead, I name my favourite filmmakers - again, hard to narrow it down to just one - but almost always at the top of my list is the ingenious duo, the Coen Brothers.

There's something about the way they tell a story that's so captivating and unbelievable in the most entertaining way, that even a Western (a genre I usually dislike) keeps me glued to the screen. Their everyday characters are exaggerated to the very edge of believability, and yet never lose the quirks that made them lovable in the first place.

So, to satisfy a few of my friends' curiosity, here's a list of my favourite Coen Bro's movies.

With seven Oscar nominations, six BAFTA nominations, and three wins across the board, Fargo is a close second to No Country for Old Men in terms of industry acclaim. And deservedly so. This is the epitome of the Coen Bro's niche genre: violent crime involving everyday American characters, set in what could easily be your home-town. How do they do it? To take a slice of American home-life and make it the most unbelievable thing you've ever seen. Brilliant.
There are so many memorable elements in Fargo. Frances McDormand's wonderfully exaggerated Minnesotan accent, is one. The image of bound and hooded Kristin Rudrud as the kidnapped wife, attempting to hop an escape while blindfolded is another. There is a reason why this film is so famous, because it's moments like those that stay with you, long after the novelty of quoting McDormand's drawl catch-phrase "Ohh yahhh" wears off.

The Big Lebowski
If I could pick just one movie to be my favourite of all time, this would be up there for sure. The Big Lebowski has everything I could ever want in a film. Love, sex, comedy, action, violence, plot twists, drug-fuelled dream sequences, a kick-arse lead character and Steve Buscemi. Trust the Coen Bro's to take a genre as done-to-death as a ransom movie and turn it into one of the most original and star-laden films of the decade. To me, this is one of the best works of film the Coens have ever made. The dark way they make fun of life and death (think The Dude pouring Donny's ashes into a wind that blows them right back into his face), makes you feel like it's okay to laugh, because one day all you'll be is a coffee tin full of ashes too.
This movie is damn near perfect and if you haven't seen it yet, you better get cracking, 'cause you can't call yourself a Coen Brothers fan until you've seen this movie.

Burn After Reading
What do you get when you put George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand and John Malkovich in a movie with the Coen Bros writing and directing? Pure cinematic gold, that's what. In true Coen Brothers' style, there are numerous sub-plots pushing the characters around in the film like pawns in a game of chess, clashing and changing the direction of the film to form one big, intricate web that ultimately becomes it's story. It's ingenious, and just a little bit wacky, and you're left thinking "what the bleep happened in that movie?", yet with a feeling of utter plot satisfaction. The CIA supervisor sums this movie up perfectly in the epilogue-styled ending: "What a cluster fuck!" But an incredibly entertaining one at that.

A Serious Man
Though not as rich in story as previous Coen Brother's films, I found this movie arrestingly intriguing. I don't know much about Jewish culture further than the stereotypes depicted in American sit-coms of accountants with large noses, and I knew how unreliable a source that was, so I was suprised while watching this movie to realise that it didn't matter. Jewish or not, Larry Gopnik is just a man at a crossroads, trying to find someone or something to tell him what to do. And the fact that Joel and Ethan Coen could make a midle-aged, Jewish professor of math relatable to a mid-twenties, Australian girl was wonderfully impressive. An incredible story of finding your own version of God while defining yourself through strength of will, or lack there of, this movie is proof above any doubt that the Coen Brothers are the masters of characterisation.

No Country for Old Men
And here we are: the one Western to so far to except itself from my dislike of the genre. I think more so than any of the Coen Brothers' movies, this film would not have been the same without the brilliant casting. Javier Bardem as the soulless Chigurh was chilling, but equally as impressive were Josh Brolin and Woody Harrelson, complementing the roles of the everyday man doing extraordinary things with their subtle acting ideosyncracies.
I loved this movie so much after it came out I went out and bought the book by Cormac McCarthy, on which the movie was based, and the only voice I could hear while reading the narration was Tommy Lee Jones'. That's saying something. No Country is one of those films that stays with you, that you pull off the shelf and pop into the DVD player on a regular basis, because it doesn't matter how many times you've seen it before, it never gets any less brilliant.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?
I love that this movie was loosely based on Homer's The Odyssey (a book I have read, even if it took me 18 months). I mean, what's better than the Coen Brothers writing and directing an adaptation of a thousand year-old Greek fable? They seem to be able to take any facet of culture, American or otherwise, and turn it into pure hilarity and entertainment, while never losing the audience with characters that are unrelatable or unrealistic.
The South seems to be a bit of  a niche for the brothers, and that's fine by me as long as I get to keep reciting lines of dialogue as fun to say as "I don't want Fopp, goddamit! I'm a Dapper Dan man!"

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