tectactoe
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Last Active 09-04-19 3:23 pm
Joined 09-24-05

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 Lists
09.09.19 FILM: tectac's Christopher Nolan, Ranke08.28.19 FILM: tectac's Coen Brothers, Ranked
08.19.19 FILM: tectac's Krzysztof Kieslowski, Ra08.12.19 FILM: tectac's Paul Thomas Anderson, Ra
08.06.19 FILM: tectac's David Lynch, Ranked08.01.19 FILM: tectac's Wes Anderson, Ranked
07.30.19 FILM: tectac's Stanley Kubrick, Ranked07.27.19 FILM: tectac's Quentin Tarantino, Ranke
07.25.19 FILM: tectac's Top 50 Favorite Films of 07.10.19 MUSIC: tectac's Top 100 Radiohead Track
06.30.17 FILM: tectac's Top 30 Movies of the 21s 07.18.16 MUSIC: tectac's Top 25 Brand New Songs

FILM: tectac's Coen Brothers, Ranked

Two of the most creative (and cynical / nihilistic) mind currently working today, Joel and Ethan have carved out a niche but expansive filmography that ranges anywhere from gonzo comedy to meditative character study to idiosyncratic genre riffing. They don't always hit home runs, but I can honestly say I've never once been bored watching a film by the Coens.
18David Bowie
Outside


>> HAIL, CAESAR! (2016)

Simply tries to do too much with too little. Not the first time the brothers have crafted a film that lacks a clear focus, but easily their weakest attempt at such aimless wafting. Too many strands jettison away from the gravitational pull of the film, lost in orbit, never to be seen or heard from again. You can argue that the centripetal force is Eddie Mannix and his tribulations as a Hollywood “fixer,” but the narrative makes too many digressions and veers off into innumerable tangents that either effervesce into nothing or crash headfirst into the ground without any satisfying closure. It basically feels like sketch comedy that’s very, *very* loosely tied together by one man. Occasionally funny in a Coen type-of-way (e.g. “Would that it were so simple”) but the comedic bits aren’t strong enough to sustain this glorified compilation of hodge-podge vignettes. Also why do the musical numbers last so goddamn long?
17Led Zeppelin
Houses of the Holy


>> THE LADYKILLERS (2004)

Joel and Ethan on speed; another film with plenty of outward tendrils and meandering paths that flutter by with such quickness and apathy that none of them are able to fully take hold. Plays out like a live-action Looney Tunes episode, each person an exaggerated caricature stretched well beyond the boundaries of realism. The cast is surprisingly good, considering what they’ve given to work with, especially Tom Hanks’s variant of dopey-Colonel Sanders (who, surprisingly out of all these bobbleheads, most closely resembles an actual human being). Weakest aspect is the script which leans too heavily on overemphasized stereotypes, inane conversations, and excessive repetition. Puts all of its eggs in separate baskets and sends them awry, leaving you with a recipe for cheesecake but no eggs with which to make it. Hanks and his unwitting Southern charm (and ten dollar vocab) will have you smitten; little else will.
16Captain, We're Sinking
The Future Is Cancelled


>> O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (2000)

Always a bit shocked when I see this one ranked so highly among the Coen brothers canon. I enjoy the Soggy Bottom Boys and George Clooney’s repetitious one-liners as much as anyone (“Damn, we’re in a tight spot!”), but I can’t help feeling like the mindful adherence to a more modernized version of Homer’s “The Odyssey” constantly pigeonholes the creative prowess of the Coens. Not that they haven’t adapted something into greatness before (see: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN or TRUE GRIT), but things are too congested here, playing like a haphazard collection of literary snippets and intertwining cross-references reenacted by a 1930s chain gang. If it makes any difference, I was significantly warmer to this on my initial viewing, many years ago. If there’s a single film in the Coens’ filmography that suffers from revisits, it’s this one.
15Misthyrming
Algleymi


>> INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (2003)

Interesting conflict: The story is absolute rubbish, nothing but a sequential unfolding of hoary clichés and foreseeable events. Even the concept is uninspired (i.e., money hungry gold digger makes a living from deceiving rich men, marrying them, then splitting with half of their net worth until eventually she ends up falling in love with one ‘em). Sounds like an awful mid-90s Lifetime special. And it would play like one, too, if it weren't for the superb cast. Everyone from Clooney to Zeta-Jones to Thornton to Cedric the Entertainer is on top of the ball, here, able to contort lots of laughter from a repugnant narrative. Has a lot to do with the dialogue, too, which is also quite good considering the hackneyed source material. I’d hate to see what this adaptation might look like at the hands of a less competent director, or with a less enthusiastic cast. Stupid fun; it gets by on charisma alone.
14Slowdive
Souvlaki


>> THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018)

Neat storybook structure, but like any collective scrapbook of small tales, it suffers from an inherent problem: “Not all vignettes are created equal,” and the lesser snippets are bound to wilt away in the shadows of the superior ones. Case in point: I finished this film and, while I thoroughly enjoyed it, kept wishing we’d have just gotten a full-length version of “The Gal Who Got Rattled,” which is far and away the best segment here. Like, near-masterpiece good, and I can only imagine what it could achieve with an additional hour. Sure, I love how breathtakingly picturesque “All Gold Canyon” is, or the rough gallows humor of “Near Algondones,” even the straight-laced crossbreed of nihilism and capitalism in “Meal Ticket.” But nothing is in the same stratosphere as “The Gal,” and while it could be said that death is a common theme among the various strands, I’m left underwhelmed at the Big Picture.
13Glocca Morra
Just Married


>> THE HUDSUCKER PROXY (1994)

If nothing else, it gave us Jennifer Jason-Leigh's career-best role as she channels her inner Hildy Johnson in one of the most quick-witted, fast-talking, female performances I can recall. She steals the show and almost completely equalizes Tim Robbins' far less invigorating rendition of the business executive equivalent of a cat perched atop a tree—no idea how it got there. Opening forty minutes are pure greatness: Top-tier Coen brothers dialogue and black humor flying forward in rapid progression. Second act comes to a bit of a halt, not long after the first iteration of the hula hoop surfaces; the satire weakens, the pacing sputters, and the success rate of the jokes drops significantly. It’s almost like the film yanks your chain for the better part of an hour then suddenly begs you to start taking it seriously. Final sequence (involving a clock operation) is kind of *gag*, too. Overall, still a worthy and often overlooked Coen brothers effort.
12Portishead
Dummy


>> FARGO (1996)

Maybe the least satisfying Coen brothers film, partially because they care less about the ostensible story than they do the idiosyncratic and accentuated behavior and quirks of speech of Scandinavians and Minnesotans alike. At the same time, however, it feels silly to complain about Joel and Ethan’s lack of narrative density; cursory digression is practically a director trademark for them at this point, and anyhow, what they *have* achieved here is a wonderful recreation of a black-and-white world that exudes both realism fantasy while playing a tricky balancing act between its tone, blending chipper comedy with bloodletting gruesomeness. The blend isn’t always to my tastes, and it’s certainly never forgiving, but its boldness is admirable, and this might be one of my favorite Coen aesthetics ever. I just wish they’d have done a *little* more with it, don’t y’know?
11Mastodon
Crack the Skye


>> A SERIOUS MAN (2009)

Massively underrated in my estimation, and infinitely more thought provoking than it appears on the surface. Works as a “Jewish black comedy,” or even as a contemporary riff on The Book of Job, but it also sketches out so many underhanded parallels and through-lines that I always remain impressed with how unwieldy everything sounds on paper and how cohesive it ended up on screen. It’s got everything from Schrodinger’s famous thought experiment (and, further, the ‘Uncertainty Principle’ as applied to life itself) to a deep prodding of the purpose of religion to the examination of various coping mechanisms. My favorite aspect might be the proclamation that fortunate randomness can (and often does) contribute to a falsely garnered faith. In short: The only ‘certain’ thing is uncertainly, and the way Joel and Ethan wrap that around a comedic, Jewish narrative feels remarkably personal.
10The Menzingers
On the Impossible Past


>> BURN AFTER READING (2008)

Another unfairly debased picture from the brothers. I love the purposely capsized and strongly tangential narrative as a means to structurally mirror the misconception of each character viz., a compilation of misunderstandings lending to an oblivious oversight of the bigger picture. Furthermore, the detail that the Top Dogs (i.e., the CIA in this case) don't even understand the "bigger picture" -- or perhaps understand it even less -- despite actually knowing all of the facts makes for a wonderfully promising fillip with which the Coen brothers' typical black/nihilist comedic digs can burgeon. My only real complaints are Francis McDormand, whose overwrought exuberance I remain staggeringly unenthused by, and...well, something that’s a giant spoiler. But Brad Pitt is fan-fucking-tastic here, so let’s just say I wish he were in the film a bit more. (Clooney and Malkovich are pretty great, too, but Pitt is quite literally phenomenal.)
9The Appleseed Cast
Low Level Owl, Volume I


>> RAISING ARIZONA (1987)

Despite a tonality difference that spans oceans from their first/previous feature, the Coens’ gift for raucous dialogue and indefinitely interesting characters give them a common ground (while simultaneously displaying an impressively wide range with a simple one-two punch). This is as “screwball” as comedies get; Joel and Ethan stick to that wonky-yet-delightful caricature-notion for the entire runtime, hereby avoiding those potentially frustrating mood-clashes in movies that beg for both loose-lipped zaniness and rigid posture, never fully committing to one or the other and evidently coming up a little short in both camps (see: THE HUDSUCKER PROXY). Closely toes the line between “clever” and “SNL skit” on a few occasions (most notably via the throughput involving Goodman and Forsythe); the grotesquerie is far less funny than the more subtly unexpected bits. But this is a lovely, bombast comedy that ends on a heartwarming grace note.
8Godspeed You! Black Emperor
F♯ A♯ ∞ [Vinyl]


>> BLOOD SIMPLE (1984)

Extremely impressive debut, and it’s rather exciting watching this *now*, to see the initial blossoms of composition, shooting, storytelling, and editing that would eventually become indicative of Joel and Ethan's style. (The finger pressing a tape recorder that cuts to another finger dabbing blood from the backseat of a car is one of cinema’s Greatest Edits.) Lots of wonderfully details that other, less confident filmmakers might not bother with in their virgin effort e.g. the recurring, nauseous spin of an old ceiling fan or the grating of a metal shovel being dragged slowly along concrete. The most masterful element, though, is how the screenplay lets us, the viewers, know at least one thing that each character is oblivious to, giving a perfect god’s-eye view of misunderstandings and misconceptions and how they spark actions that converge toward oblivion. Gritty and messy, but that only works to amplify the tone.
7Modest Mouse
The Moon & Antarctica


>> THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998)

In retrospect, it always seems like the Best Comedy Ever; more so, anyway, than when I’m actively watching it. I think that’s because I tend to only linger on the best bits and subconsciously suppress the less impressive stuff, like self-aware Sam Elliott bookends, or Moore’s unnecessary emulsion of the artsy-liberal archetype, or the obnoxious nihilist-punk caricatures, etc. Nitpicks, I guess, because the sheer greatness of “The Dude” and his embodiment as an immortal staple of pop culture comedy cannot be ignored or overlooked (or barely even combatted). He is indeed one of the greatest comedic characters of all time, and his meandering ambivalence in the neo-noir construction around him exemplifies, somewhat extremely, how most of us might react in a similarly out-of-depth situation. A fresh, contemporary take on a conventional and long-forgotten genre. The NORTH BY NORTHWEST pencil-shading spoof remains the biggest delight for me.
6Have a Nice Life
Deathconsciousness


>> TRUE GRIT (2010)

Typically a hard sell on remakes (especially when the original isn’t that bad to begin with), but the colorful dialogue here - wrought with mounds of Coenisms as sieved through a mesh of Old Western vocabulary (and a perfectly bumbling Jeff Bridges) and time-appropriate context - is simply too delicious to dismiss. The film could’ve been “about” anything and I doubt I’d have much cared. The casual, elegant wit is executed wonderfully; well-constructed, but effortless in how organic it reads. Steinfeld is fantastic, too: Not sure what age is the cutoff for a true “child performance,” but this is up there with the best, alongside maybe Natalie Portman in LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL. Great milieu; Deakins’s photography is stunning (as always) and, along with the lavish costume and set design, will have Western fans drooling incessantly. Not sure the few bids for pathos sting as poignantly as they’re meant to, but this is easily the superior version of TRUE GRIT.
5The National
Alligator


>> BARTON FINK (1991)

Joel and Ethan at their most deliciously surreal. Like a new age reworking of ERASERHEAD; while thematically quite different (a portrayal of young parenthood vs. psychological writer’s block), they share a similarly nightmarish evocation of the uncanny meshing with the ordinary. I take great pleasure in pondering all of the mavericks and peculiarities: Why is there an underground door behind the hotel counter? Why are shoes outside every room’s door, yet no other people aside from our main protags are ever seen in the film? Why does the goddamn wallpaper keep oozing and seeping? This is precisely the kind of descent into abstract insanity that oils my gears, and Goodman’s fiery finale is easily one of my single favorite segments in the Coens’ oeuvre. Is he the devil? Is he an imaginary personification of Barton’s stressed headspace? And what’s this Audrey chick on about? Wonderfully provocative, wise to never reveal its hand.
4King Crimson
Larks' Tongues in Aspic


>> THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (2001)

Ah, yes. Deakins is truly a magnificent bastard: Has a modern-day (i.e., post-Hollywood Era) back-and-white film ever looked so fucking unctuous? Repeating what I said about TRUE GRIT, this could’ve been about literally anything and I’d have likely praised it regardless, if for no other reason than I’m suspended in hypnosis by its superficial beauty and elegance each time I revisit it. It certainly helps, though, that the story is equally exquisite, and possibly the most internally revealing and intimate piece the brothers have written, its heart-adorned sleeve slyly encased in the shadow of another riff on nostalgic conventions. I see Ed Craine as a stand-in for Joel and Ethan, a hard-boiled, seemingly devil-may-care embodiment that, after decades of accruing a reputation as cold-blooded and icily disaffect, ever-so-slowly begins to peel away its outer shell, unveiling a soft-buttered soul that merely wants the misunderstandings to stop.
3The Format
Dog Problems


>> NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007)

Once my favorite Coen picture, and while that’s no longer the case, it’s still the film I’d show someone who was unfamiliar with Joel and Ethan and wanted to see what they were capable of. A formal tour de force, truthfully, and the kind of movie that’s able to get by on shape alone - a clambake of nail-biting tension (that motel confrontation, my god), languorous humor (“Looking for a man who has recently drunk milk?”), and reserved quietude (the beautifully expansive opening sequence), plotted elegantly in the middle of a narrative cyclone. The thematicism simply doesn’t excite me like it used to, the motifs of nihilism and existential skepticism feeling maddeningly stolid when all’s said and done. But I’ve wrestled with the idea that this stoic lack of intimacy is not only intentional, but entirely ‘the point.’ The times they are a-changin’, even if only in our minds. Are *things* really that different, or is it merely us who’ve changed?
2Bon Iver
For Emma, Forever Ago


>> INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (2013)

The Coens at their most lyrical and measured, and my god is it gorgeous. Takes the existential meandering of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and whittles it down to a more personal level, striking a vicious nerve of poetic tragedy. It romanticizes the idea of having big hopes, dreams, aspirations, then figuratively shoves our face in the snow by showing us that sometimes our vision of the future doesn’t align with what the universe has in store for us. Paints Llewyn as a moderately shitty human being, but also makes him capable of exhuming pity, positing his jagged edge as a side-effect of overwhelming world-weariness (I mean, really, it tore my heart out when he nearly detoured to meet his unknown daughter). “The Death of Queen Jane” would make my list of Greatest Scenes of the Decade, and succinctly epitomizes the overarching theme: Sometimes you can pour your whole heart into something and still be met with cosmic indifference. Au revoir indeed.
1Swans
Soundtracks for the Blind


>> MILLER’S CROSSING (1990)

A thoroughbred masterpiece. A film that’s constructed like a Swiss watch - remove or misplace one scene and the entire thing seizes up - from the refurbished gears of familiar gangster-picture conventions and percepts (with an undeniably “modern,” Coen-esque spin). An ostensibly convoluted and mangled - yet surprisingly coherent, thanks to the crystalline structure - tale of deception and questionable loyalty dipped in kitschy nicknames, intravenous relationships, and luscious 20s lingo that simultaneously works as both a satirical jab at gangster flicks *and* as a legitimate gangster flick itself. But the beauty of the film is that despite the complexity, the plot doesn’t fucking matter. It’s nothing but an exercise in elaboration to demonstrate the excruciating lengths to which Tom will go to save Leo’s ass. That is to say: Sometimes when you go through hell for someone else, their failure to recognize or acknowledge it is often what hurts the most.
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