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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?

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by TOH!
November 19, 2013 1:38 PM
30 Comments
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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 

30 Comments

  • Marco JGK | March 17, 2014 12:48 PMReply

    1.The Big Lebowski
    2.Fargo
    3.No Country for Old Men
    4.Miller's Crossing
    5.A Serious Man

  • Frank R. | January 8, 2014 9:40 AMReply

    1. The Big Lebowski
    2. A Serious Man
    3. Barton Fink
    4. Inside Llewyn Davis
    5. No Country for Old Men

  • Adult Supervision | December 25, 2013 8:35 PMReply

    Llewyn Davis? What a bore and disappointment.

  • Anne Thompson | December 23, 2013 4:10 PMReply

    They wrote Gambit, true, but didn't direct.

  • Paul Lisy | December 23, 2013 3:43 PMReply

    Worst - "Gambit", quite the miss from these American masters, and not even listed? I have seen all their films (save "Llewyn", to which I am looking forward) and hold the Coens in the highest regard. Hard to say what their "best" film is, but "Oh, Brother", "Fargo", "No Country", "The Big Lebowski" would all be up there.

  • Al | December 23, 2013 2:16 AMReply

    1. No Country for Old Men
    2. Fargo
    3. True Grit
    4. The Big Lebowski
    5. Raising Arizona

    I haven't seen Inside Llewyn Davis yet, but I'm sure I'll love it.

  • Armak | November 23, 2013 3:11 AMReply

    Fascinating to see A SERIOUS MAN replace FARGO as the modern pseudo-intellectual's "Aren't I edgy?" pick. It's like the Coens replace their most overrated movie every ten years, except I can't blame them for their over-analytical audience.

  • Jake | November 19, 2013 4:57 PMReply

    I'm one of the four people on earth who thinks No Country is one of their weakest movies. Not Intolerable Cruelty and Hudsucker Proxy territory, but pretty low. Fargo, Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, O Brother, A Serious man, and The Big Lebowski I think are their best.

  • Jake | November 19, 2013 4:59 PM

    oh and Indiewire, there's an error. It marks the Big Lebowski as coming out in 2008.

  • phil | November 19, 2013 4:23 PMReply

    You're a moron. Lebowski is number one. Bar none.

  • Big Bomb | November 19, 2013 2:22 PMReply

    You can't put Raising Arizona at the top, because it's too funny. Forget all the humanity, sadness, etc. -- it's just too funny. We all know if something's that funny, it's not allowed to go at the top of any "serious" critics list. You pick the serious film that shows you are serious about film. Unfortunately, the serious film has serious flaws that time will reveal just like the emperor actually not wearing any clothes

  • Rick | November 19, 2013 2:05 PMReply

    1. O Brother Where Art Thou
    2. The Big Lebowski
    3. No Country for Old Men
    4. Fargo
    5. Blood Simple
    6. Miller's Crossing
    7. True Grit
    8. Barton Fink
    9. The Man Who Wasn't There
    10. Burn After Reading
    11. Raising Arizona
    12. The Hudsucker Proxy
    13. The Ladykillers
    14. A Serious Man
    15. Intolerable Cruelty

  • Rick | November 19, 2013 2:06 PM

    I wish I could edit this because I would drop True Grit between Arizona and Hudsucker. Not even sure what I was thinking.

  • Film Fan | October 8, 2013 9:53 AMReply

    1) No Country for Old Men
    2) Fargo
    3) Burn After Reading
    4) True Grit
    5) Raising Arizona
    6) Blood Simple.
    7) O Brother, Where Art Thou?
    8) Barton Fink
    9) A Serious Man
    10) The Big Lebowski

  • Jeff Wilder | September 30, 2013 12:36 PMReply

    The Big Lebowski should be higher and O Brother should be a little lower. Otherwise on point.

  • Aaron | September 30, 2013 10:03 AMReply

    1. FARGO---the rewatch value, the boldness, the comedy! America. And William H. Macy.
    2. NO COUNTRY---tis true. I've been living off of 2007's bounty for years.
    3. THE BIG LEBOWSKI---come on, it's a cult classic. Classic soundtrack, lines, and characters.
    4. A SERIOUS MAN---Larry, I'll never forget you.
    5. BARTON FINK---"Look upon me! I'll show you the life of the mind!"
    6. THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE---or THIS TITLE WORKS FOR ALMOST EVERY COEN MOVIE.
    7. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS---haven't seen it yet, but I'll bet it's something else.
    8. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?---the soundtrack that made bluegrass cool.
    9. BURN AFTER READING---or THE WOMAN WHO WASN'T THERE
    10. RAISING ARIZONA---"Turn to the right!"
    11. BLOOD SIMPLE---or the practice shoot for No Country For Old Men.

    12, 13, Haven't properly seen (Miller's, Hudsucker)

    14. TRUE GRIT---or how the Coens made a movie that wasn't nearly as careful and complex as their other work.

    15. THE LADYKILLERS---at least it....uh...at least I didn't die while watching it?
    16. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY---intolerable movie.

  • Br | September 29, 2013 7:47 PMReply

    Bradley Valentine, you remind me of one of the drunken homeless people you meet in a city. Mumbling on about something that only makes sense to yourself.

  • Bradley Valentine | September 29, 2013 4:53 AMReply

    Why would Coens in true grit have a guy shot off his horse and have him land on a rock as a “f you!” to the audience in reminding them it is a movie? that reminds me of my buddy in high school who LOVED David Letterman and thought they’d be friends in a perfect world and who would project interpretations of jokes and body tics and say “this is what Dave is thinking.” And it usually sounded like something my buddy would say more than any other person in the world.

    I remember reading Coens talking how much they loved the book true grit, which they read to their children, and seemed to faithfully adapt. So.....I’m thinking the head to rock fall is in the book and probably not an insult to their audience. this guy who wrote that in this article....kinda weird, man. there are more logical interpretations before leaping to that one.

  • KMS | September 28, 2013 7:19 PMReply

    Some really dumb comments being posted by even dumber people.

    As for their list, the one glaring issue is O Brother being so high on the list. Lebowski should certainly be higher, but Ladykillers is definitely the worst. And yes, I've seen them all.

    People who dislike NCFOM have no place reading this article or commenting on it. I don't know that it would be my #1 pick, but I'm cool with it.

  • DChute | September 28, 2013 2:19 PMReply

    Don't worry, we'll do the top ten Micheal Bay movies next year.

  • pol | September 28, 2013 12:55 PMReply

    Seriously?

    Best: Raising Arizona
    Worst: True Grit

    Unknown: Llewlyn, Intolerable, Serious Man

    I don't know how you could put that dismal nightmare No Country at the top, and Big Lebowski so close to the bottom. Change what you're smoking over there.

    http://wp.me/pwAWe-VO

  • TheoDore | September 28, 2013 12:17 PMReply

    1. No Country For Old Men
    2. Fargo
    3. A Serious Man
    4. Barton Fink
    5. Miller's Crossing
    6. Raising Arizona
    7. Blood Simple.
    8. True Grit
    9. The Man Who Wasn't There
    10. The Big Lebowski
    11. O Brother Where Art Thou?
    12. Burn After Reading
    (large gap)
    13. Intolerable Cruelty
    14. The Hudsucker Proxy
    15. The Ladykillers

  • jake | September 28, 2013 11:40 AMReply

    big lebowski # 1 all the way you dumbasses

  • Josh | September 28, 2013 10:06 AMReply

    For me:
    1) No Country for Old Men (def one of my top ten of all time)
    2) The Big Lebowski
    3) Fargo
    4) True Grit (really underrated imho)
    5) O' Brother where art thou?
    Haven't seen so much of their earlier stuff yet, really can't wait until Llewellyn Davies comes out.

  • Miles Ridding | September 28, 2013 3:57 AMReply

    1. Blood Simple (Very Good)
    2. No Country For Old Men (Very Good)
    3. Fargo (Very Good)
    4. Barton Fink (Good)
    5. Miller's Crossing (Good)
    6. The Hudsucker Proxy (Good)
    7. The Ladykillers (Good)
    8. Raising Aizona (Fair)
    9. Burn After Reading (Fair)
    10 True Grit (Poor)
    11 Intolerable Cruelty (Dud)

    I have never wanted to see The Big Lebowski, A Serious Man, The Man Who Wasn't There or O Brother Where Art Thou?, but I am very keen to see Inside Llewyn Davis when released.

  • Chris | September 27, 2013 10:07 PMReply

    1. The Big Lebowski
    2. Fargo
    3. The Man Who Wasn't There
    4. No Country For Old Men
    5. O Brother
    6. Barton Fink
    7. Millers' Crossing
    8. Blood Simple
    9. True Grit
    10- Hudsucker

  • Jonnybon | September 27, 2013 8:11 PMReply

    Seen all but Inside Llewyn Davis. Here's my top 9:

    1) No Country for Old Men
    2) Fargo
    3) Burn After Reading
    4) True Grit
    5) Raising Arizona
    6) Blood Simple.
    7) O Brother, Where Art Thou?
    8) A Serious Man
    9) The Big Lebowski

  • PeterDM | September 27, 2013 8:06 PMReply

    I wouldn't have placed Barton Fink so high on the list. I found it dull and inscrutible.

    Burn After Reading, I thought, was misunderstood by most people. What they did was take every caper/spy movie cliché and reverse it. Protagonists who have no clue as to what they're doing, a document that's worth nothing, a protagonist unexpectedly killed way before the end of the movie, etc. That was the brilliance of it.

  • Albert | September 27, 2013 5:27 PMReply

    Haven't seen all of their films, but of those I have: (from best to worst):
    1) O Brother, Where Art Thou?
    2) Fargo
    3) Blood Simple
    4) The Man Who Wasn't There
    5) Burn After Reading
    6) No Country for Old Men (which I thought was highly, highly overpraised)

  • Nathan Duke | September 27, 2013 4:01 PMReply

    Haven't seen "Inside Llewyn Davis" yet, but:
    15. The Ladykillers 14. Intolerable Cruelty 13. The Hudsucker Proxy 12. Burn After Reading 11. Raising Arizona 10. The Big Lebowski 9. Miller's Crossing 8. The Man Who Wasn't There 7. O Brother Where Art Thou? 6. True Grit 5. Barton Fink 4. Blood Simple 3. A Serious Man 2. Fargo 1. No Country for Old Men

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