Some thoughts on watching the Coens
I keep feeling like it’s been a long time since the Coens had a run of really great films. In my head I go, oh, Inside Llewyn Davis was so refreshingly good, and it had been ages. And yet Davis was four years after A Serious Man - and with True Grit in between, which wasn’t a bad film (and I liked it even more second time round). But then again, I don’t much care for Burn After Reading or Intolerable Cruelty, and I forget that No Country for Old Men is a Coen film, even though it’s really good. This means that for me, Peak Coen ran from 1994 (Hudsucker, before I really started watching them) to 2001 (The Man Who Wasn’t There). What do I love about them? I love the fact that they're not neat and tidy films, that you can enjoy them and still have to think about them to work out what might be going on. I like that while they have a story and characters and a focus, there's still that weird unknowableness about what is going on that you get in life, and that everyone reads a Coen film slightly differently and takes something a little different away from it. I like their dialogue. I like that they like words and know the power they have - and when not to use them. I like that they somehow manage to get at the bleakness and ridiculousness of a lot of life, and yet also hang on to a little bit of hope in the possibility of good people making their little bits of the film better. I like that their female characters generally feel like real people with actual characters and lives within the story. I like that even when they fail they tend to fail interestingly. I may not love Burn After Reading, but I would rather watch it than 90% of the comedies released between then and now.
So, let’s rank some films:
This feels somewhat, if not wholly, arbitrary. There are three rough groupings: 1-6. 7-13, 14-15. And then 16 which I haven’t watched and won’t watch. Within each the first two groups, I’m effectively working with personal taste and mood. I know that Miller’s Crossing is Number One, and i know that Barton Fink is Number 13. At the moment Inside Llewyn Davis is above a Serious Man because I find it more regularly watchable and I have a crush on Oscar Isaac, especially when he sings folk. Hudsucker Proxy is below them because although I probably enjoy watching it more than A Serious Man, I don’t think it’s as good - but it’s above Fargo because I like it more. By some as-yet-un-described objective aesthetic approach I think that Fargo and No Country for Old Men might be the Coens’ two best films, but i don’t like them as much as others. Tomorrow I’ll probably want to switch Raising Arizona and O Brother Where Art Thou around. Next week I’ll feel bad for The Man Who Wasn’t There, because it really is a Coen film in a way that No Country for Old Men isn’t, even if I think No Country is a better film.
Basically, what i’m saying is that ranking Coen films is a wholly pointless exercise, most entertainingly done in the company of other nerds over beverages. Come at me.