Editor’s Notes: Inside Llewyn Davis open is now open in limited release. The film opens in Toronto on December 25th.
What makes directors legendary? There are any number of characteristics applied to our most celebrated filmmakers that make them indelible to our consciousness. First and foremost, of course, is quality. But that is the obvious. Beyond the quality of their films, the best directors throughout the history of cinema have placed their stamp on their work, regardless of genre. Think about Martin Scorsese, and the energy of the editing, or the catholic themes. Robert Altman revolutionized filmmaking with his sound equipment and his tendency to have multiple characters speaking all at once. Stanley Kubrick’s lens was a storyteller in and of itself. All of these directors’ films are instantly recognizable as their own work because they have placed their personal stamp on the screen, and all of them have worked in different genres over the years. Now think about the Coen Brothers, one of the top five greatest filmmakers in American history, and think about their stamp. It is finding a story that could be told straight, and then moving the focus slightly to one side.
Now think about the Coen Brothers, one of the top five greatest filmmakers in American history, and think about their stamp. It is finding a story that could be told straight, and then moving the focus slightly to one side.
I could go through the impressive filmography of Joel and Ethan Coen, but we all know their films. And why is that? Because a Coen Brothers film has personality, panache, a signature that reminds us who is responsible. They tell stories about men and women put upon by their environment and fighting to keep their head above water. They tell stories about the outliers of society, and their attempt to make it through life or make a mark. They tell stories of crime, of comedy, of drama, and of love, but they always tell these stories with their own off-kilter pathos. Some of the funniest films I have ever seen are Coen Brothers films. Some of the best crime dramas are Coen Brothers work. They can operate under any genre trope, and somehow flip said trope on its ear while keeping everything genuine and unique.
Talk about a debut! In 1984, Joel and Ethan Coen collaborated on Blood Simple, a seedy crime thriller set in the bowels of small-town Texas. This was one of the finest, most pronounced declarations of new talent. From this, rather than try their hand at another crime drama, the brothers decided to go 180 degrees in the other direction with the wildly unhinged Raising Arizona. From there, they turned in their own Mob picture, the highly underrated Miller’s Crossing. This trifecta is one of the most impressive opening sets of films in history.
I could go on and on, bouncing from each film to the next and seeing where it ranks and why, but that would take pages and pages of monotonous reading. The Coen Brothers have, since the late 80s, become a brand of filmmakers. You know what you are going to get from their films, but at the same time you don’t know what to expect from scene to scene. The most powerful aspect of the Coens pictures surrounds their characters, quirky, off beat people who live in a world of their own creation. Regardless of the story, you will find someone in a Coen Brothers picture that doesn’t seem to belong in the real world, and it adds such brilliant texture.
I could go through the impressive filmography of Joel and Ethan Coen, but we all know their films. And why is that? Because a Coen Brothers film has personality, panache, a signature that reminds us who is responsible.
The debate of which Coen film is the best is an endless one. There are arguments for Fargo, No Country For Old Men, even Raising Arizona or their debut, Blood Simple. But nothing is as iconic and unforgettable as the cult classic to top all cult classics, The Big Lebowski. Like so many brilliant films, it took some time for everyone to recognize the brilliance of The Dude and his compatriots, and their mishaps and misadventures through early 90s Los Angeles. A commercial flop in 1998, Lebowski has since grown into so many things more than just another Coen Brothers film. There is talk of a sequel, and I couldn’t disagree more. Because no matter the outcome, a sequel to Lebowski would essentially ruin the singularity of the original.
Like any other prolific and celebrated directors, The Coen Brothers have had their misfires along the way (Intolerable Cruelty anyone?). But their hits greatly outweigh misses, and the iconic status of so many of their films make them legendary beyond the screen. Now comes Inside Llewyn Davis, their latest character study of a man put upon by his environment. If anyone can display the apathy of discouragement, it is the team of Joel and Ethan Coen. Iconic or not, one thing is certain about Inside Llewyn Davis: the brothers will put their stamp on it.