The Coen Brothers

Two of Hollywood's most respected and celebrated filmmakers, Joel and Ethan Coen have established a trademark method of storytelling built upon a palpable contempt for humanity.

So, yeah, probably.

Just The Facts

  1. They have made 15 (as of this writing) films in a nearly 30-year career, acting as writers, directors, and editors.
  2. Frequently work with a core group of actors, including George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, and John Goodman.
  3. Add elements of black humor to a variety of genres, including Western, Comedy, and the Crime Drama.
  4. A great deal of overlap with respect to genre is present. However, the Coens have not (as of this writing) plunged into true depravity and made fecal fetish porn.

The Early Years

Joel and Ethan Coen hail from a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Perhaps because of this upbrining, the brothers (Joel being three years older than Ethan, both of them born in the mid-1950's) were perpetually bored and always wondered what civilization must be like. Joel needed something to do, so he performed odd jobs around the neighborhood when he was a kid. It was pretty requisite stuff for Minnesota, lawn work in the warmer months and moose gigging in the colder seasons.

This is more common than you would think.

Eventually, Joel saved up enough scratch to buy himself a Super 8 camera, and from then on the sky was the limit. He and Ethan would make movies with friends based on the serial television programs they watched. In one particular incident, the brothers went down to Minneapolis International Airport (because why not?), Ethan dressed up as an adorable little businessman and they filmed a little ditty called Henry Kissinger, Man on the Go.

Joel would go on to NYU as a film major, and Ethan would study philosophy at Princeton. Joel got himself an editing gig for a then-unknown director on a small movie about tree-rape. The director, Sam Raimi, decided to put Bruce Campbell in the movie and titled it "The Evil Dead." Based on this and other experiences in the business, Joel and Ethan decided to quit fucking around and make their own film.

Blood Simple

Released in 1984 the debut Coen brothers feature, Blood Simple, would be their first foray into the film noir genre. A tale of lust, vengeance, and sweaty old guys in rural Texas, it was taut, engaging, and much better than one would expect from first-time directors. Joel (experiencing one of the few benefits of being the older sibling) was credited as director, and would continue to be until 2004, although the films are collaborative efforts. The film also demonstrated that the brothers were not afraid to get their hands dirty.

Break me off a piece of that.

Trademarks (or Madness, either one works)

Joel and Ethan plan their movies out to the smallest detail, from the screenwriting process right up until post-production. They prefer to storyboard the entire film in an effort to get an idea of the budget required and because coloring is an activity you can enjoy at any age.

They prefer to work with familiar faces both behind and in front of the camera. They've worked with cinematographers Barry Sonnenfeld and Roger Deakins, all of their films have been scored by Carter Burwell, and they have worked with Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, John Turturro, George Clooney, and Frances McDormand (Joel's spouse) on multiple films.

Technically, the brothers have developed an eye for making movies (because after 30 years, even the most brain-damaged smack fiend can get good at something). Thematic qualities are manifested primarily in visuals, with specific location and costume design meticulously prepared. The Coens prefer to use wide-angle camera lenses and unique angles in their shots. The Coens edit their own films, but in an effort to fuck with people they credit "Roderick Jaynes" as editor.

The brothers each have a very similar idea of the movie they want to make, so much so that they've been referred to as the "two-headed director."

A clear definition of "coulda" and the clear antithesis of "shoulda."

A Few of Their Fine Films (Some Spoilers)

Raising Arizona
The brothers' second feature starred Nicholas Cage as a con with fabulous hair and Holly Hunter as his ex-cop wife. The infertile couple decide to dabble in a little kidnapping and child endangerment, and a good time is had by all. Also, Mr. Bear Suit himself blows up Sasquatch.

Miller's Crossing
Irish gangsters shoot pretty much everyone, wrassle with police, and look awesome doing it. Quite possibly the only movie where Marcia Gay Harden could be considered bangable.

Barton Fink
A deconstruction of the Hollywood studio system featuring John Turturro as a fish-out-of-water screenwriter. This one hinted at the surreal and absurdist themes that the brothers would later revisit. Featuers John Goodman at his most shit-crazy. Won 'best picture' at some French film fest.

A prime example of the concept of the header image, a great deal of the characters in this crime caper are straight up dumbasses. The Wisconsin accents did absolutely nothing to help this. Netted the brothers an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

The Big Lebowski
Chances are you're familiar with this movie: a.) if you like weed, b.) if you have friends who do, c.) if you or said friends have shouted "Shut the fuck up, Donnie" when in the absence of someone named Donnie, d.) if you or these friends of yours have commented on how a particular piece of furniture really tied the room together, e.) if you have a friend who wishes to be known as "The Dude." Featuring John Goodman at his most badass, this is one of the most popular Coen features, with good reason.

Also, fuck that friend of yours. There is only one Dude.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Initially the score to this film was more popular with audiences. George Clooney's bitchin' moustache single-handedly resurrected the largely-hungover genre of bluegrass. Became something of a cult classic. Prohibition-era convicts go on a treasure hunt based on Homer's Odyssey (complete with a cyclops, forest whores, and the Klan). Witty, quotable, entertaining, and genuinely funny.

Intolerable Cruelty; The Ladykillers thanks. Moving on!

No Country for Old Men
Ah, this is better. This crime drama, an adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel (the one that didn't make you want to slit your wrists in utter agony) got the brothers a shitload of Oscar noms, including wins for Best Director and Best Picture.

Burn After Reading
A surprisingly accurate portrayal of Washington, D.C. denizens and government schills, EVERYONE in this movie (with the exception of J. Jonah Jameson) is a complete fucki
ng moron.

Seriously, this is the most dignified shot of him in the movie that doesn't involve the inclusion of a new hole in his face.

True Grit
Forget for a moment that this is one of the most gorgeous movies of 2010. Forget all the grime and dirt of the Old West, the realistic atmosphere that this movie conveys. Forget that Jeff Bridges completely melts into the character of Rooster Cogburn in such a way as to pretty much blow the doors off of John Fucking Wayne's portrayal. Forget that this is the first starring role of Hailee Steinfeld and that she is spectacular. Don't mind the fact that, yes, it is every bit the experience you wanted it to be and look at Matt Damon's goddamn mustache.

Fucking look at it.

His character's name is LaBeouf, but it's pronounced "la-beef" because this is fucking America. If all of the aforementioned aren't incentive enough for you to at least check out the trailer, nothing more can be done for you.