What to Watch on Netflix This Weekend: The Coen Brothers' Oeuvre by Alex Snider

It's The Big Lebowski's fifteenth anniversary. What were you doing fifteen years ago, aside from practicing enunciating "thorough" like Julianne Moore and learning the words to Hotel California? I was in grade ten and playing badminton and bringing my brother and sister along on dates. Heady times, y'all, heady times. So much has changed in the last fifteen years, the innocent blush of the nineties has faded and we're all left jaded and cynical and being gouged for rent on a warming planet. 

Luckily one thing has remained unchanged and that's the Coen brothers. Some of their films may be better than others but in each of their fifteen movies is that the deadpan absurdity that is life consistently defines their work. 

As we all march closer to annihilation whether nuclear or environmental or zombie, let's take a break and re-watch some classic Coen.

There are six Coen brothers movies on Netflix: Raising Arizona (1987), Miller's Crossing (1990), Barton Fink (1991), Fargo (1996), A Serious Man (2009) and True Grit (2010). Arguably these six are among their best and if you've never seen one or any of them, I'd love to come over and watch your face while you watch them. I could give you a hundred reasons why each one is hilarious and dark and brilliant but unfortunately (for me and you) because I don't have the time that post will have to wait. Instead here are some general reasons to watch all the Netflix Coens: 

1. Because this is the best hotel room art of all time:
 From Barton Fink
Although I once had this enigmatic masterpiece in a Cuban hotel room which I'd say is a close second:

2. Effortlessly feminist characters: The roles for women are rich and three-dimensional. From Marg to Mattie, from Audrey to Verna to Ed, while each is a completely different character, each woman is formidable, complex and strong. None are solely defined by men or their looks. Instead they are smart and good at their jobs. They all know what they want and how to get it. They are more often than not the unsung heroes of Coen brothers' films.

3. The genres: capers gone awry (Raising Arizona, Fargo); murder and revenge plots (Barton Fink, True Grit, Fargo); existential angst (Barton Fink, A Serious Man); mobster (Miller's Crossing); noir (Barton Fink, Miller's Crossing). 

4. The talent: John Turturro, John Goodman, Jeff Bridges, William H. Macy, Marcia Gay Harden, Holly Hunter, Steve Buscemi, Judy Davis, Richard Kind, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfield, Michael Stuhlbarg, Albert Finney and Nicholas Cage. 

5. Frances McDormand. She is just the cat's meow, guys. I love her. I will love her forever. I mean, come on:

6. Their movies are beautifully shot. The sets are immaculate, the details meticulous. The colours and angles all highlight the story-telling and play to the actor's strengths. Coen movies particularly gif-able:

Barton Fink

Miller's Crossing

True Grit

A Serious Man
 And especially:
Raising Arizona
7. The recurring elements and themes: double crosses, terrifying villains, local flavour, mortality, black humour, greed, religion, inept and corrupt authority figures (not talking about my girl Marg), philosophy, class, kidnappings, fate and distinctive hair. Also: Steve Buscemi (3 out of 6), John Turturro (2 out of 6) and John Goodman (2 out of 6) and the great "where do I recognize him from" character actor Jon Polito (2 out of 6).

8. The thinly veiled Faulkner-character W. P. Mayhew in Barton Fink. Great writer but, seriously, what a prick.

9. The writing makes me dizzy with happiness. The dialogue is sharper, crisper, wittier than just about anything else out there. Example from A Serious Man

Judith Gopnik: We shouldn't put the kids in the middle of this, Larry.
Larry Gopnik: The kids aren't...
Judith Gopnik: I'm saying "we." I'm not pointing fingers.
Sy Ableman: No one is playing the "blame game," Larry.
Larry Gopnik: I didn't say anyone was!
Judith Gopnik: Well let's not play He said, She said, either.
Larry Gopnik: I wasn't! I-...
Sy Ableman: Aw right, well let's just step back, and defuse the situation, I find, sometimes, if I count to ten.
Sy Ableman: One... two... three... faw... Or silently.
[Long pause]
Judith Gopnik: Really, to keep things on an even keel, especially now, leading up to Danny's bar mitzvah...
Sy Ableman: A child's bar mitzvah, Larry!
Judith Gopnik: Sy and I think it's best if you move out of the house.
Larry Gopnik: Move out?
Sy Ableman: It makes eminent sense.
Judith Gopnik: Things can't continue as they...
Larry Gopnik: Move out! Where would I go?
Sy Ableman: Well, for instance, the Jolly Roger is quite livable. Not expensive, and the rooms are eminently habitable.
Judith Gopnik: This would allow you to visit the kids.
Sy Ableman: There's convenience in its fava. There's a pool...
Larry Gopnik: Wouldn't it make more sense for you to move in with Sy?
Judith Gopnik: [Shocked pause] Larry!
Sy Ableman: Larry, you're jesting!
Judith Gopnik: Larry, there is much to accomplish before that can happen.
Sy Ableman: Larry, Larry, Larry. I think, really, the Jolly Roger is the appropriate coss of action. It has a pool. 

Holy smokes, that is good writing – makes my mouth dry and my heart race.

10. The whole Coen universe. Every last detail, listed here and beyond, that makes a Coen movie distinctive from the gruesome yet non-gratuitious violent deaths to the regional dialects. Ethan and Joel Coen write and direct great movies that aren't like any others.
Alex Snider abides. Her website is What Fresh Hell is This and her Twitter handle is @what_freshhell.


Alex Kevin said...

I am watching all of the old movies I have missed on Netflic since I got spectrum charter internet and Netflix at my home I am sat on my sofa and not moving anywhere just enjoying all day, thanks for the review this one is also added to my watch list.

Ramma Foundation Repair said...

In 1997, the Coen Brothers released the movie "The Big Lebowski" and introduced us to The Dude. The Dude is a laid back slacker who lives in Los Angeles and was once mistaken for the actual Lebowski, a millionaire philanthropist. The Dude's life is turned upside down when he's mistaken for the Lebowski and must deliver a briefcase full of money to the Lebowski's daughter. The Dude's story is told through coursework help service flashbacks that take place fifteen years ago, and we follow him as he tries to avoid a group of nihilists that are trying to kill him. The Big Lebowski is now celebrating its fifteenth anniversary, so what were you doing fifteen years ago?

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