by Nancy McDonald

There are plenty of famous siblings in Hollywood who have worked together on projects. Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko. John and Joan Cusack in films like Sixteen Candles, Say Anything, and Grosse Pointe Blank. Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen in countless horrible, horrible, horrible films. But one of the most successful pair of siblings in Hollywood is actually two brothers who work behind the camera: Ethan and Joel Coen.

The brothers started collaborating together on movies in the 1980s. They have written, directed and produced some of the best films of the last 30 years. They have proven they can be funny with films like Raising Arizona, The Ladykillers, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? They can keep their audience in suspense with films like Blood Simple and No Country For Old Men. But often, you can’t label their films one way or another as most of their films blend genres amazingly well (this can be said about all of the movies I have already listed).

Because of their penchant for making top notch films that both audiences and critics love, they have had countless big names appear in their films. Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Nicolas Cage, and Tom Hanks have all appeared in Coen brothers films. Then, there are the “regulars” who have popped up in multiple films. That list includes St. Louis native John Goodman, as well as Jeff Bridges, Steve Buscemi, George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Holly Hunter, and John Turturro. This list continues to grow as the Coens continue to produce films together.

These are my top three Coen brothers films (so far):

 RAISING ARIZONA 

 There are several things in particular that I like about this film. Nicholas Cage actually does a great job as the male lead and is intentionally funny throughout the entire film (unlike some of his more recent films where his acting is so bad it’s unintentionally funny). There’re a couple of great chase scenes, including one in which Nicholas Cage’s character has stolen some diapers from a grocery store and is running away from law officials (at one point he runs through an occupied home that is reminiscent of Ferris Bueller). John Goodman gets blued. Then there’s the scary, hairy motorcyclist who chews on cigars and shoots at rabbits for fun. It’s quirky, funny, unrealistic, tense, violent – and Nicholas Cage actually acts. None of that Season of the Witch, The Wicker Man, Next crap he’s been churning out for the past decade or so.

 NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN  

 I went to see this during its opening weekend in a small movie theater in Champaign, IL. The theater was packed. There was much chatter from the audience until the lights dimmed and the film began to roll. The ending had Tommy Lee Jones’s character telling his wife about two peculiar dreams he had the night before. He ends the monologue with, “And in the dream I knew that he was goin’ on ahead and he was fixin’ to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there. And then I woke up…” The end. The lights slowly came back on and the credits began to roll, but no one got up. It was completely quiet and still until finally a man stood up two rows ahead of me and yelled, “Bullsh*t!” Some people laughed, but some people applauded his outburst. For some, they felt they had just wasted 122 minutes of their life on a movie that made no real sense. For some, like me, it was an interesting tale of several different struggles: good vs. evil, old mindsets vs. young ones, heads vs. tails. And I didn’t care that the Coen brothers left several of the film’s questions unanswered. That’s life.

 O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? 

 Yep, this made my list. It is by no means their best film nor would it even qualify for a Top Five Coen Brothers Films list. I know this, but I’m still a huge fan. I’ve read The Odyssey a couple of times so it was great to have a modern adaptation (even though the Coen brothers claim to have never read The Odyssey). George Clooney is a delight as a greasy goofball. The supporting cast includes John Turturro, John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Tim Blake Nelson and the late, great Charles Durning. The soundtrack has sold millions of copies and won several awards. In the end, it is not as satisfying as Raising Arizona or No Country For Old Men, but is still worth a go-around.

 Check out your local Slackers for pre-owned copies of these and other Coen Brothers classics!