Director Picks: Top 5 Movies by the Coen Brothers

Written by Mitchell B December 01, 2012

The Coen brothers are definitely hard to pin down. Are they best at absurd, dark comedy? Or gritty, brutal, dramas? The fact that they are able to transition from one to the next seamlessly (sometimes within the same film) is what makes them two of the best directors working today. Their filmography includes a plethora of great titles, but these are the five that stand out to me. Oh, and before you start whining that “The Big Lebowski” isn’t on here, I enjoyed the movie, but it’s just not one of my favorites.

#5. Burn After Reading (2008)

 “Burn After Reading” is my favorite Coen brothers comedy. Nearly every character in this film is played to perfection. Brad Pitt is the standout, but John Malkovich, George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins and JK Simmons are all equally great. The plot is outlandish and the characters absurd, but they combine for an excellent screwball comedy/thriller that is equal parts hilarious and shocking.

#4. Blood Simple (1984) 

It’s been a while since I’ve seen “Blood Simple”, but it definitely left an impression on me. It is the first film by the Coen brothers, but you’d never know it. It’s so well-crafted, brutally violent, and surprisingly funny, that you’d think they had been working for years. Most directors would hope to make one film as good as “Blood Simple” in their lifetime. The Coen brothers did it right out of the gate, and haven’t slowed down since. If you haven’t seen “Blood Simple”, do yourself a favor and go check it out.

#3. Miller’s Crossing (1990)

“Miller’s Crossing” is often overlooked when discussing the Coen brothers, but this has got to stop! It boasts a 91% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s easy to see why. The Coens take their signature style to the period gangster flick; one which stars Gabriel Byrne as the right-hand man of a political boss who runs a Prohibition-era city. Byrne finds himself in the middle of a city at war when he goes against his boss’s judgements, and what follows is a superbly shot, well-acted, and darkly funny film that should be given more credit than it receives. Watch this movie!

#2. Fargo (1996)

  “Fargo” is the film that put the Coen brothers on the map as award-worthy directors. It’s an original crime drama that once again features brutal violence, dark humor, and wonderful performances, particularly by Frances McDormand and William H. Macy. The Coens have a knack for writing great dialogue and combining it with the perfect cast. McDormand won an Oscar for her performance in this film, but cases could be made for Macy, Steve Buscemi and even Peter Stormare. It’s a wild film that never misses a beat and is truly an American classic.

#1. No Country for Old Men (2007)

 Well, you probably saw this one coming, but you definitely can’t argue against it. “No Country for Old Men” is one of my all time favorite films. Once again the Coens bring their signature style, combining graphic violence and black humor. Anton Chigurh will go down in history as one of the greatest movie villains of all time, and for good reason. Javier Bardem plays him perfectly as a calculated, emotionless, killing machine, who is so serious that it’s comical. Even if you don’t like the ending, there’s no denying that “No Country for Old Men” is a fantastic film, and certainly one of the Coen brothers best.

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