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Coen Brothers

Table of Contents

Introduction

Joel Daniel Coen (born November 29, 1954) and Ethan Jesse Coen (born September 21, 1957), collectively known as the Coen brothers, are American famous filmmakers. Their films are characterized by dark humor, often noir settings, and a strong satirical element.

Childhood and adolescence

The Coen brothers were born in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, to Jewish parents. Joel is the older of the two, while Ethan is the younger. Their parents were both college professors: their father, Edward Coen, taught economics at the University of Minnesota, while their mother, Rena Coen, taught art history.

The Coen brothers spent their childhood in Minneapolis, where they attended public school. From a young age, they showed an interest in art and cinema. Joel began writing screenplays while he was still in high school, while Ethan began making short films.

Early beginnings in cinema

After high school, the Coen brothers attended Princeton University, where they studied cinema. During their college years, they continued to write screenplays and make short films.

In 1984, the Coen brothers wrote the screenplay for their first feature film, Blood Simple. The film, a noir thriller, was a critical success and launched the careers of the two directors.

Early films

Following Blood Simple, the Coen brothers directed a number of other films, including Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), and No Country for Old Men (2007). These films cemented their reputation as innovative directors and received numerous awards, including multiple Academy Awards.

Career

joel-ethan-coen

The Coen brothers’ career continued to be successful in the years that followed. They directed films such as The Ladykillers (2004), A Serious Man (2009), True Grit (2010), Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018). Their films have explored a wide range of themes, including violence, politics, religion, and American society.

Awards

The Coen brothers have won numerous awards for their work, including:

  • 11 Academy Awards, including four for Best Director, three for Best Original Screenplay, and two for Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Four Palme d’Ors at the Cannes Film Festival
  • Four Golden Globes
  • Four BAFTAs

Themes of the films

The Coen brothers’ films are often characterized by a number of recurring themes, including:

  • Violence, often portrayed in an ironic or satirical way.
  • Politics, often explored through an ironic or satirical lens.
  • Religion, often portrayed in an ambiguous or ironic way.
  • American society, often portrayed in a critical or satirical way.

Cinematographic style

The Coen brothers’ films are characterized by a unique cinematic style that combines elements of different genres, including noir, western, comedy, and drama. Their films are often characterized by an innovative use of cinematography, editing, and soundtrack.

Trivia and anecdotes

  • The Coen brothers are known for their use of pseudonyms. They have signed some of their films under the names of Roderick Jaynes and Reginald Jaynes.
  • The film Fargo was inspired by a true story that the Coen brothers heard from a friend.
  • The film The Big Lebowski was shot in just 28 days.
  • The film No Country for Old Men was based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy.

Films

The Coen brothers are among the most important and innovative filmmakers working in contemporary cinema. Their films are characterized by a dark humor, a often noir setting, and a strong satirical element. Their films have explored a wide range of themes, including violence, politics, religion, and American society.

Blood Simple (1984)

Plot: Ray and Abby Long are an unhappy couple living in a small town in Texas. Ray is a violent and possessive bartender, while Abby is an unsatisfied wife. When Ray finds out that Abby is having an affair with another man, he decides to hire a hitman to kill him. However, the plan goes awry and the situation quickly descends into a bloodbath.

Reception: The film was a critical success and won the Grand Prix Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It was praised for its noir style, its fast-paced suspense, and its violence.

Raising Arizona (1987)

Plot: Hi and Ed Crane are two brothers who kidnap a baby to pay a ransom to the baby’s wealthy father. However, the plan goes awry and the two brothers find themselves on the run from the police.

Reception: The film was another critical success and won the award for Best Original Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival. It was praised for its black humor, its fast-paced action, and its performances.

Miller’s Crossing (1990)

Plot: The film is set in Chicago in the 1920s and tells the story of three men: Tom Reagan, a hitman working for a gangster; Bernie Bernbaum, a young lawyer looking to make his fortune; and Leo O’Bannon, a gangster in trouble.

Reception: The film was a critical success and won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival. It was praised for its noir style, its complex characters, and its dark atmosphere.

Barton Fink (1991)

Plot: Barton Fink is a young playwright who is hired by a Hollywood producer to write a horror film. However, Barton finds himself uncomfortable in the world of cinema and begins to lose his mind.

Reception: The film was a critical success and won the award for Best Original Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival. It was praised for its grotesque style, its satire of the film industry, and John Turturro’s performance.

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

Plot: The film is set in 1937 and tells the story of Norville Barnes, a young dreamer who moves to New York to work for the Hudsucker Corporation, a large hula hoop manufacturing company. However, Norville finds himself involved in a power struggle within the company.

Reception: The film was a commercial and critical flop. It was criticized for its overly kitschy style and its unoriginal plot.

Fargo (1996)

Plot: The film is set in Minnesota and tells the story of Jerry Lundegaard, a man in debt who hires two hitmen to kidnap his wife to ask for a ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. However, the plan goes awry and the situation quickly descends into a bloodbath.

Reception: The film was a critical and commercial success. It won two Academy Awards, for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Frances McDormand). It was praised for its noir style, its fast-paced suspense, and its satire of American society.

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Plot: The film tells the story of Jeffrey Lebowski, a lazy and unemployed man who is mistaken for a wealthy man of the same name. When the real Lebowski is kidnapped, Lebowski is tasked with paying the ransom.

Reception: The film was a commercial and critical success. It was praised for its surreal humor, its eccentric characters, and its soundtrack.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

Plot: The film is set in the 1930s and tells the story of Ulysses Everett McGill, a con man who is freed from prison by his brothers. The three brothers set out to find a hidden treasure, but they find themselves pursued by a gang of criminals.

Reception: The film was a commercial and critical success. It was praised for its humor, its music, and its visual style.

The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)

Plot: The film tells the story of Ed Crane, a barber who is accused of murder. Ed tries to prove his innocence, but he finds himself involved in a series of events that lead him to doubt himself.

Reception: The film was a critical success and won the award for Best Original Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival. It was praised for its minimalist style, its slow pace, and its portrait of a man in crisis.

Intolerable Cruelty (2003)

Plot: The film tells the story of Howard Bloom, a divorce lawyer who is hired by a wealthy woman to divorce her husband. However, Howard finds himself involved in a series of complicated situations that make it difficult for him to carry out his plan.

Reception: The film was a commercial success, but it received mixed reviews from critics. It was praised for its performances and its humor, but it was criticized for its convoluted plot.

The Ladykillers (2004)

Plot: The film tells the story of a group of criminals who hide out in a retirement home while planning a heist. However, the criminals find themselves involved in a series of events that put their plan at risk.

Reception: The film was a commercial success, but it received mixed reviews from critics. It was praised for its humor and its performances, but it was criticized for its predictability.

Paris, je t’aime (2006) – Tuileries

Plot: The film is an anthology of short films set in Paris. The short film Tuileries tells the story of a man who meets a woman in a park in Paris. The two fall in love, but their story is destined to last only one night.

Reception: The film was a critical and commercial success. It was praised for its portrayal of Paris and for its stories of love.

Chacun son cinéma – A ciascuno il suo cinema (2007) – World Cinema

Plot: The film is an anthology of short films directed by filmmakers from all over the world. The short film World Cinema tells the story of a projectionist who screens a film in an empty movie theater. The film is a tribute to cinema and its ability to transport the viewer to other worlds.

No Country for Old Men (2007)

Plot: The film is set in Texas in the 1980s and tells the story of Llewelyn Moss, a hunter who finds a bag of money belonging to a drug cartel. Moss tries to return the money, but he finds himself pursued by a band of assassins.

Reception: The film was a critical and commercial success. It won four Academy Awards, for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Josh Brolin). It was praised for its violent and realistic style, its complex characters, and its portrayal of violence in America.

Burn After Reading (2008)

Plot: The film tells the story of Osborne Cox, a former CIA agent who is fired. Cox begins to write a memoir, but his computer is stolen. Two employees of a health spa find the computer and begin to read its contents. Cox and the two employees believe that Cox is a spy and decide to sell his memoirs to the intelligence services.

Reception: The film was a commercial success, but it received mixed reviews from critics. It was praised for its black humor and its performances, but it was criticized for its convoluted plot.

A Serious Man (2009)

Plot: The film tells the story of Larry Gopnik, a physics professor who is going through a difficult time. Larry loses his job, his marriage is in crisis, and his son is involved in a series of troubles. Larry tries to find an answer to his situation, but he finds himself confused and alone.

Reception: The film was a critical success and won the award for Best Original Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival. It was praised for its philosophical themes, its performances, and its visual style.

True Grit (2010)

Plot: The film is a remake of the 1969 film of the same name. It tells the story of Mattie Ross, a young woman who hires a bounty hunter to track down the men who murdered her father.

Reception: The film was a critical and commercial success. It was praised for its performances, its direction, and its faithfulness to the original film.

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Plot: The film tells the story of Llewyn Davis, a folk singer who lives in New York in the 1960s. Davis is a talented artist, but he has difficulty finding success.

Reception: The film was a critical success and won the award for Best Cinematography at the Cannes Film Festival. It was praised for its performances,

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Plot: The film is set in Hollywood in 1951 and tells the story of Eddie Mannix, a fixer who works for a major film studio. Mannix is tasked with dealing with a series of problems, including a missing actor, a pregnant starlet, and a Communist witch hunt.

Reception: The film was a critical and commercial success. It was praised for its humor, its performances, and its depiction of Hollywood.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

Plot: The film is an anthology of six stories set in the Old West. The stories are linked by a recurring character, Buster Scruggs, a lone gunman.

Reception: The film was a critical and commercial success. It was praised for its style, its performances, and its meditation on the nature of violence.

Here are some additional thoughts on the Coen brothers’ films:

  • The Coen brothers are masters of dialogue. Their characters often speak in a witty, sardonic way that is both funny and insightful.
  • The Coen brothers are also masters of visual style. Their films are often beautifully shot and edited, with a distinctive visual flair.
  • The Coen brothers are not afraid to experiment. They are always pushing the boundaries of what is possible in cinema.

The Coen brothers are an essential part of the American film landscape. Their films are intelligent, funny, and thought-provoking, and they continue to influence and inspire filmmakers around the world. 

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