It’s hard to overstate the impact Joel and Ethan Coen have had on American film. Beginning with 1984’s Blood Simple, the two brothers from Minneapolis were a major influence on the indie revolution of the 1990s. 1987’s Raising Arizona made a star out of Nicolas Cage and proved that smart, surrealist comedy could attract an audience. Today, the TV series inspired by their Cannes- and Academy Award-winning 1996 film Fargo, keeps their legacy alive by being one of the consistently best things on the little screen.
With new film releases scarce because of the pandemic, Malco Theatres is celebrating the Coen brothers with a mini-film festival, which runs from November 20-26. The six titles represent a cross-section of the Coens' work, from legendary comedy to existential drama. And the price is right, at $2 per ticket.
The twin crown jewels of the Coens’ filmography came out back to back in 1996 and 1998. Fargo is a crime thriller like no other. Frances McDormand, who happens to be Joel’s wife, won her first Oscar for her portrayal of Marge Gundersen, police chief of Brainard, Minnesota, who uncovers a plot by used car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) to fake the kidnapping of his wife Jean (Kristin Rudrud) that goes terribly wrong. Here’s McDormand delivering one of the greatest soliloquies in all of film history as she takes kidnapper Gaear (Peter Stormare) to face justice.
Two years later, the Coens took a wild left turn and made one of the most beloved comedies of all time. The Big Lebowski forever associated Jeff Bridges with The Dude, an unreconstructed hippie turned amateur detective. Intended as a parody of Southern California noir classics like The Big Sleep, The Big Lebowski’s greatest strength is as a series of indelible character sketches. Just check out this legendary bowling alley scene with Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, and John Turturro.
2003’s Intolerable Cruelty is a rarity. It did not start out as a Coen script, but the brothers took over the production and rewrote it. It’s not one of their classics, but if anyone else had made it, it would have been the highlight of their career. It features remarkable comedic performances from George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Cedric the Entertainer, and Billy Bob Thornton.
2007’s No Country for Old Men was the Coens' adaptation of a late-period Cormac McCarthy novel which won Best Picture, Best Director(s), and Best Screenplay Oscars, as well as Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Javier Bardem as the killer Anton Chigurh.
2008’s Burn After Reading saw the Coens returning to Big Lebowski-style comedy, this time set in Washington DC. It features a powerhouse cast, including McDormand, John Malkovich, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, and Brad Pitt. Here’s McDormand and Pitt trying to blackmail soon-to-be-former CIA agent Malkovich.
The next year, the Coens returned to their Midwestern Jewish roots with A Serious Man, which they describe as a Yiddish folk tale that never was.
You can review Malco’s COVID policies here and buy tickets for the Coen Brothers Film Festival here, on their website.