It seems there is a common thread that binds great filmmakers, their fascination of storytelling through a lens starts at a very early age. The Coen Brothers are no exception, Joel as a child chose to spend his money from lawn mowing to a Vivitar Super 8 camera. And from then on the Coen Brothers would never put their camera down and would give the world some of the greatest American films ever made.
Their first film during their adulthood is Blood Simple in 1984. A neo noir set in Texas where you can detect the elements that would distinguish them from other directors such as: dark humor,plot twists and an homage to genre films. The film was critically acclaimed and would win awards at the Sundance Film Festival as well as the Independent Spirit Awards. Their next film Raising Arizona in 1987 is considered by their fans and the industry as their breakout film and stars some of the actors that the Coens would use regularly from then on such as John Goodman, Frances McDormand. The film is a comedy but in typical Coen fashion it is never just a comedy , is filled with symbolism , unconventional characters and idiosyncratic dialogue.
During the 90s the film that got a lot of award buzz since it was nominated for Oscars and won three major awards (including the Palme d’Or) at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival was Barton Finkstarring Jon Turrturo. However the film that made them a mainstream success was the 1996 crime thriller Fargo. Fargoset in their home state of Minnesota tells the story of a man who has his wife kidnapped so he can escape his dire financial predicament by using the ransom paid by his rich father -in-law. The plan is complicated when the kidnappers decide to act on their own and a local police officer starts to investigate the crime. The film was praised for its dialogue as well as the direction and the stellar performances given by the cast. It won two Oscars one for best Original Screenplay and one for Best Actress for Frances Mcdormand.
And now we come to the -maybe- most quoted film made by the Coen Brothers, the Big Lebowski. The film was a minor success when it came out however it now enjoys a cult status in popular culture and especially the character of ”The Dude” the lovable slacker incarnated by the incomparable Jeff Bridges. What the Big Lebowski did was to take their bizarre world in another level and make it clear now to everyone that you can not pigeonhole them in any genre or cinema movement. The new millennium would start for the Coens by taking Homer’s Odyssey as a source material and making it into O,Brother Art Thou? The filmmakers were always very careful in choosing their soundtracks and this is proven once more by this one being a success on its own and spawning a dvd and concert based on the music of the film.
And when you thought that a genre could be out of their range they would prove you wrong by rending an homage in the 1940s romantic comedies with Intolerable Cruelty starring Catherine Zeta Jones and George Clooney. In 2007 they directed one of the most acclaimed films of that year, based on a Cormack Mccarthy novel, No Country For Old Men. The film introduced Javier Bardem to an international audience as a baddie with bad hair and revitalized the career of James Brolin. It was a commercial and critical success , awarded in every award ceremony known to man and will stay in history as one of the greatest films ever made. After that an off-beat satire of the secret services and people’s need for validation and recognition through idiotic quests, called Burn After Reading.
Their latest projects include True Grit, a remake of a 70s western again starring Jeff Bridges and their latest film Inside Llewyn Davis. The movie follows the eponymous singer songwriter navigating the folk scene in 60s New York. It received the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and has received numerous nominations for the award ceremonies to come.
If all you want for Christmas this year is a diverse and long career in film making, even if you don’t have an equally talented sibling, the you should abide and submit your film at the ÉCU Film Festival and who knows? Maybe your wish will come true !