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TOH! Ranks the Films of the Coen Brothers from Best, 'No Country for Old Men,' to Worst: What's Your Pick?

Thompson on Hollywood By TOH! | Thompson on Hollywood November 19, 2013 at 1:38PM

The Coen brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis" hits theaters in limited release December 6. Below, TOH! ranks all 16 films by the Coens.
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Bridges, Buscemi, Goodman in 'The Big Lebowski'
Bridges, Buscemi, Goodman in 'The Big Lebowski'

11. "The Big Lebowski" (1998) It doesn't take a diehard Coen-head to love "The Big Lebowski." Starring Jeff Bridges as the doobie-loving Dude whose rug really tied the room together, this is the cult icon of the Coens' filmography, and the patient zero of all stoner comedies to come. A messy rejiggering of film noir and screwball comedy, and a veritable buffet of great character actors, it's endlessly quotable ("Nobody fucks with the Jesus," "You want a toe? I can get you a toe," "Obviously you are not a golfer," etc.) and insane, unpretentious fun with no regard for the rules. Looking back, this film also goes to show how funny Julianne Moore can be, here seen as a feminist artiste with baby fever. "Lebowski" has a lot of layers, man, but it works effortlessly as pure entertainment, and as Bridges' most beloved and immortal role. In my book, he'll always be the Dude, or His Dudeness, Duder or El Duderino, if you're not into the whole brevity thing. -Ryan Lattanzio

12. "Burn After Reading" (2008) "Burn After Reading" is like "No Country For Old Men" remade as a nihilistic comedy of misunderstandings about stupid people doing stupid things. Call it "minor" Coens if you like, but this clever little caper, one of their funniest, is kind of genius in its unforgivingly bleak view of the characters and their world. There may be no greater shock in all the Coen oeuvre than Brad Pitt's imbecilic, gum-chewing Chad getting his head blown off in a walk-in closet by a trigger-happy George Clooney. Or John Malkovich as a cuckolded CIA agent axing Richard Jenkins to death in his driveway. It's as formally precise, suspenseful and unpredictable as any Coen effort, but "Burn After Reading" also boasts the filmmaking pair at their most anarchic and unconventional. And as J.K. Simmons' character asks "What did we learn from all this?" in the final scene -- the answer being that we learned jack squat -- the Coens are the first to admit how pointless their film really is. -Ryan Lattanzio

13. “The Hudsucker Proxy” (1994). In the brothers’ homage to the ‘30s screwball comedy, Jennifer Jason Leigh out-patters Roz Russell in “His Girl Friday” and Tim Robbins is so cluelessly upbeat he makes Gary Cooper in “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” seem like Ben Stein at a Democratic Convention. But its excess is its virtue: Rather than coming off as smarmy, the over-the-topishness of everything in the film – from Paul Newman’s snarling, Edward Arnold-inspired Mussburger to Bill Cobbs’ acerbic-yet- Capra-esque angel in the clocktower – seems a gesture of love for a genre that really couldn’t be remade, and an acknowledgement of same. -John Anderson

14. "True Grit" (2010). There’s a single moment in this remake of the old John Wayne shoot-‘em-up that defines why the Coen brothers have always been as irritating as they are brilliant: During a conventionally choreographed but highly exciting gun battle between Jeff Bridges’ crusty Rooster Cogburn and some overmatched desperados, one of the bad guys is shot off his horse. But instead of simply falling to the ground, he falls off and splits his head on a rock that has been so precisely placed it can only be -- a movie! Any viewer who’s been swept up in what the Coens have been doing – making the traditional western better -- immediately feels like an idiot, and has been on the receiving end of yet another f*** you from the brothers, who do many things well, taking themselves seriously not being among them. For all the revisionist-western airs assumed by “True Grit,” it’s as much an American fantasy as the first one, albeit with a kick-ass performance from Bridges and a beautifully written and delivered rendition of the plucky Mattie Ross, by the gifted Hailee Steinfeld. -John Anderson

15. “Intolerable Cruelty” (2003). "Intolerable Cruelty" is a screwball comedy that's all screw, littered with innuendoes about vacuum cleaners, sidelong glances at buff gardeners, and more cries of "nail that ass" than your average VMA performance. Featuring a glossy, smarmy George Clooney as divorce attorney Miles Massey and Catherine Zeta-Jones as his gold-digging adversary, the film's absurdist streak evinces the brave eccentricity that accompanied the "The Big Lebowski," but it's too cruel for its own good. The self-consciously "zany" theatrics fail to overcome the script's cold, joyless satire of modern love, and the few jokes that land -- my favorite involves "baby field greens" and an unsmiling waitress -- seem the remnants of another, better movie. Spending most of a movie imagining what might have been? Now that's intolerable. -Matt Brennan

16. “The Ladykillers” (2004). Painful remake of the 1955 Alexander Mackendrick comedy starring Alec Guinness and a dare-we-say masterpiece was misbegotten for a multitude of reasons, among them the fact that the Ealing comedies of post-war Britain were frothy, elegant, and understated, and the Coen Brothers are anything but. Tom Hanks, reprising the Guinness role -- as the cockeyed mastermind of nitwit band of robbers who decide they have to kill their landlady after she discovers their plans -- is far less funny than he thinks he is, prosthetic teeth or no; the jokes are telegraphed from a mile away, everyone tries too hard and the whole thing lands with a thud. Perhaps the worst of the brothers outings, it has its fans, and they are wrong. -John Anderson 

This article is related to: Features, Coens, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis


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