In a 30-year career that has produced 16 feature films, movies that have ranged from small, revered indie thrillers to mainstream cult comedies and virtually everything in between, Joel and Ethan Coen have cemented a reputation as two of the finest American directors in movie history. They’ve worked into the type of groove that is a pleasure to behold: when filmmakers are at the top of their game in terms of quality, and are capitalizing with a string of consistent output, like we saw a decade or so ago by the likes of Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese.
Their latest, Inside Llewyn Davis, which is playing in select cities and expanding, combines a number of familiar Coen touches: autobiographical elements, the presence of Coen staple John Goodman, an emphasis on music and signature humor. Critics are showering it with praise, and it is my own personal favorite movie of all time, despite the fact that (at the time of this writing) I have not yet seen it.
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I arrived late at my Coen brothers fandom, and I think it’s because they’re a bit of an acquired taste, being fully aware of the douchiness of that term. What I mean is that their work is so strange at times that it takes some time to get acclimatized to their distinctive cinematic tone, but once you do, it’s that very distinctiveness that makes their films such joyous experiences.
In honor of their latest triumph, here’s a look back at 10 of their best works, ranked according to their objective quality, or maybe just by how much I like them. I tried to keep the write-ups brief for the sake of the whole brevity thing.
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