A movie critic has to have true grit to compile a list like this. From "Fargo" (best) to "The Ladykillers" (worst), Washington Post writer Ann Hornaday ranks her favorite Coen Brothers movies. Fans of "The Big Lebowski" and others will no doubt beg to differ.
Movie critics have the best job in the world. Until someone asks them to rank their favorite Coen brothers movies, in order, all 15 (counting “True Grit,” which opened recently). Numbered. For the record. Until the end of time.
Pray for me as a I walk this cinematic plank.
Here are my favorites by the Coens, ranked in descending order of how eager I would be to watch them again.
1. “Fargo” (1996): I love this movie for the wintry atmospherics, the Minnesota accents, the absorbing story line, Carter Burwell’s grave, melancholy musical score. But mostly I love “Fargo” for the gift of Marge Gunderson (played with sensitivity and implacable force by the sublime Frances McDormand), who so perfectly personified the movie’s balance between dark comedy and deep moral seriousness.
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2. “Miller’s Crossing” (1990): In this Prohibition-era noir drama, Gabriel Byrne played a young man laconically navigating a dark underworld of crime and forbidden desires. A flawless example of the Coens’ style harmonizing sweetly with the subject at hand.
3. “Raising Arizona” (1987): I have a weakness for this movie’s bent humor and an affinity for the shots it takes at kids-as-commodities culture. Plus those deathless lines: “I just love biblical names. If I had another little boy, I’d name him Jason, Caleb or Tab.” Perfection.
4. “Blood Simple” (1984): The Coens’ assured, astonishing debut film, a gritty piece of Texas noir that can still scare the jujubes out of you. A small, spare masterpiece of atmosphere, taut pacing and screen acting from McDormand and M. Emmet Walsh. Shivers.
5. “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000): A respectable nod to Preston Sturges and “The Odyssey,” this sepia-toned period piece possesses a jaunty, infectious joie de vivre — not to mention George Clooney pulling off a dapper Clark Gable mustache. Extra points for giving Ralph Stanley a richly deserved comeback on T Bone Burnett’s gorgeous old-timey soundtrack.
6. “Barton Fink” (1991): Another of the Coens’ fascinating plunges into show-business lore, in this case the story of Clifford Odets and other playwrights and journalists who came to the Los Angeles colony only to learn it’s where dreams come to die.
7. “Burn After Reading” (2008): Brad Pitt’s all-out performance as a dimwitted gym rat that helped put this cockamamie cavalcade of slapstick, sex comedy and political satire over the looney-toons top.
8. “True Grit” (2010): There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this stately, beautifully crafted western, which features a breakout performance from young Hailee Steinfeld as a character who could be Marge Gunderson’s great-great-grandmother.
9. “The Hudsucker Proxy” (1994): A mannered period comedy marred by Jennifer Jason Leigh’s nails-on-a-chalkboard Katharine Hepburn imitation. The hilariously gruff presence of Paul Newman as a no-nonsense corporate boss and Tim Robbins’ bumbling-genius naif save the day. Extra points for a dazzling production design.
10. “Intolerable Cruelty” (2003): Someone’s got to stand up for this admittedly middling screwball comedy, which sent critics and viewers skittering in all directions when it was released. It gets an A-minus for effort.
11. “The Big Lebowski” (1998): I’m in a minority here, and I love the Dude as much as anyone, but the self-conscious quirkiness of this loud, labored exercise in self-indulgence quickly palls. I’ll keep trying, I promise, but for now — I still don’t get it.
12. “A Serious Man” (2009): This retelling of the biblical story of Job featured a captivatingly nebbishy central performance by Michael Stuhlbarg and a finely tuned understanding of midcentury Jewish life in Minnesota, but the net effect of countless sharply observed details still amounted to very little.
13. “The Man Who Wasn’t There” (2001): Another noir style-for-its-own-sake exercise — pretentious, empty and lugubrious.
14. “No Country for Old Men” (2007): A technically perfect movie in which the Coens deploy every cinematic element at their disposal — writing, cinematography, editing, sound, performances — with the virtuosity of artists at the height of their powers. All to follow around a serial killer blowing people away with a cattle stun gun. Sorry, not worth it.
15. “The Ladykillers” (2004): A pointless remake emblematic of the Coens’ weaknesses for empty style.