This weekend saw the release of Hail, Caesar!, Joel and Ethan Coen’s 17th feature film and in honor of its release we decided to rank all their films in order of our most favorite.
The directing duo are known for genre blending films, that besides being thoroughly engrossing, are also critically praised, earning the pair a total of 13 Academy Award nominations. Their work is so incredible that Hollywood turned one of their movies into a TV show. Basically, they can do no wrong, well they can, but they don’t do it often.
So let’s take a look at their body of work and break down the correct viewing order.
17. THE LADYKILLERS (2004)
What’s It About?: A slick tongued professor (Tom Hanks) and his crew of miscreants charm an old lady with plans of using her home as a gateway to robbing a casino.
I want to like this film more than I do and upon multiple viewings I still feel the same about it. The cast is really where I find fault with the movie, they just seem really forgettable and not cohesive . Even Tom Hanks seems a little stilted and I normally look forward to his performances. Everything just feels forced and over the top. But with that said, I still have a soft spot for it.
16. THE HUDSUCKER PROXY (1994)
What’s It About?: A young business grad (Tim Robbins) is thrusted into a head position at a company with the intent of him ruining everything to crash its stock.
Admittedly, I’ve only seen the movie twice, which is a lot less than most of the other films on this list. I like it, but I don’t love it…. yet. Its humor is a little bombastic and reminds me of something like Arsenic and Old Lace. It perfectly emulates a 1940s or 50s screwball comedy, both in substance and style, but for me, the style is successful where the substance lacks a little.
15. THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (2001)
What’s It About?: A barber (Billy Bob Thornton) tries to swindle money from his wife’s lover and things end up going badly.
This is the Coen’s first black and white picture and it’s set in the 40s, so it evokes a very classic feeling. It’s a fun and aberrant little noir, that’s easy to digest. Billy Bob seems like he was birthed into his role and helps adds clout to the film’s credentials. Roger Deakins’ work as cinematographer is near flawless in this film, and even though it lacks color, it makes up for it with a strong use of shadows and light.
14. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (2003)
What’s It About?: Miles (George Clooney) is a hot-shot lawyer who marries Marylin (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a gold digger who’s looking to take Miles for everything in a divorce.
While this is far from being the Coen’s best work, it’s still extremely enjoyable. The film had passed hands from different directors and writers before the Coens attached themselves to it, so that may explain why it’s a little inconsistent. Clooney and Jones create believable chemistry on-screen, while still managing to issue doubt in their intentions. While it’s obviously not a favorite of mine, it’s still worth watching.
13. BURN AFTER READING (2008)
What’s It About?: Two gym employees, who aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, hastily make plans of extortion when they come across a secret file belonging to a CIA agent.
This film has its moments, but I find it a little lackluster compared to other Coen comedies. Sometimes it’s extremely funny, other times it’s more direct. Like every Coen Brothers film, I find it entertaining and filled with great characters. As is common in their movies, people die suddenly, and Burn After Reading might have one of the best deaths ever.
12. HAIL, CAESAR! (2016)
What’s It About?: Set in the 1950s, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a head honcho at Capitol Pictures and is the glue that keeps the whole studio together. Between dealing with kidnappings, unplanned pregnancies, and tabloids, Mannix has to figure out whether the job is worth his sanity or not.
Hail, Caesar! is the Coen’s love letter to Hollywood. Loaded with tons of references and homages to films of the era, you’ll definitely feel like you’re not in the year 2016 while watching it. It has its grandiose moments like Scarlett Johansson’s unforgettable aquamusical number and Channing Tatum’s “No Dame” song and dance, but then other patches of down time which makes the pacing a bit problematic. Still, it has plenty going for it and a little bit of a subjective ending that will make you question Mannix’s significance… was he just a fixer for Hollywood, or something more ethereal?
11. TRUE GRIT (2010)
What’s It About?: A remake of the 1969 western, about a US Marshall who helps a young girl track down her father’s killer.
The Coen’s first attempt at a traditional western is a successful one. The film is beautifully shot and the ambitious score matches the furrowed landscapes. Jeff Bridges has some pretty big shoes to fill in this remake and I think he does a fantastic job, whether he’s better than John Wayne is debatable I suppose. But what’s not debatable is how great Hailee Steinfeld was, at the time I’d never even heard of her and she knocked it out the park.
10. A SERIOUS MAN (2009)
What’s It About?: A professor in a small Minnesota town during the 60s is plague with a series of unfortunate events.
The thing about most Coen Brothers films is that they significantly improve on a rewatch. That was the case for me with A Serious Man. At first I would have included this towards the bottom of their filmography, but after another go at it, I enjoyed the film a lot more. It’s a twisted dark comedy, teaching you that you can’t really control life, and that things fall apart for reasons out of your hands sometimes.
09. BLOOD SIMPLE (1984)
What’s It About?: A bar owner hires an investigator to kill his wife and her lover and things do not go according to plan.
This is the Coen’s first film and sort of a blueprint for their work that followed. Greed, crime, and noir are three words that commonly come up when discussing the Coens and Blood Simple encapsulates them all. It also casts a group of characters who are all kind of despicable, yet very entertaining to watch, it’s a strange dynamic which the Coens pull off regularly.
08. MILLER’S CROSSING (1990)
What’s It About?: Two rival gangs go head to head during prohibition and one man is caught in the middle trying to make peace.
A near flawless, dramatic piece of filmmaking that feels like a classic, only it was made in 1990. Tom (Gabriel Byrne) is a flawed protagonist who is endlessly chasing his hat. Is the hat an allegory with deeper meaning, or does Tom just suck at keeping it on his head? These questions are all part of the intrigue of Miller’s Crossing.
07. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (2000)
What’s It About?: Three men escape from a chain gang in pursuit of riches in the deep south during the 1930s.
Everett (George Clooney), Pete (John Turturro), and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) are a trio that work together on such a simple level, with distinct personalities that leave the door open for numerous moments a hilarity and shenanigans. Their adventures are truly epic, in the true sense of the word, not the way that college frat bro uses it. Filled with the blues, The Soggy Bottom Boys, the Klan, and crazed bank robbers… this is essential Coen Brothers.
06. BARTON FINK (1991)
What’s It About?: Barton Fink (John Turturro) is a playwright from New York who moves into a hotel in LA to try his hand at writing a movie for Hollywood.
Like the Coens, Barton is a writer who doesn’t know how to conform to Hollywood’s expectations, so obviously the writing in this film seems a little more personal and introspective at times. It’s weirdly humorous and strange, with a vibe that’s unlike any other Coen Brothers’ film. The “life of the mind” hallway scene is the stuff of legends and is worth the price of admission alone.
05. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (2013)
What’s It About?: A week in the life of Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), a struggling folk singer living in NYC’s Greenwich Village during the 1960s.
Oscar Isaac is phenomenal in this film and after a few viewings I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. Llewyn’s desperation coupled with bleak optimism makes for an underdog you can’t help but root for, and Oscar’s performance embodies that. The roadtrip sequence is the best and leads to the scene with Llewyn performing for Bud Grossman, which might be one of my favorite moments from any Coen Brothers’ film.
04. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007)
What’s It About?: Josh Brolin plays a hunter who stumbles upon a large sum of money after a drug deal gone awry and of course people come looking for it.
No Country for Old Men introduces one of the greatest antagonists of all time, Anton Chigurh, played by the great Javier Bardem. Anton is mysterious, creepy, brutal, and will definitely be someone you won’t forget anytime soon. For a movie that I really wouldn’t categorize as a horror, it’s pretty terrifying. It’s visceral and unforgiving with an odd tension that lingers through its entire run time. The film also has a unique approach to storytelling that will throw a few curve balls at you. Also, for anyone who doubts Tommy Lee Jones’ acting abilities, just watch his final monologue and you will be reassured.
03.RAISING ARIZONA (1987)
What’s It About?: H.I. (Nicolas Cage) and Ed (Holly Hunter) are unable to have children of their own, so they hatch a scheme to steal a baby from a local couple who just gave birth to quintuplets.
Raising Arizona was the first film I ever saw by the Coen’s and it was a big favorite of mine as a youth, so yes, nostalgia is at play here. It has everything that makes a great Coen Brothers film: quirky characters, an unflinching storyline, and restrained humor that doesn’t beat you over the head. The film also features some of my favorite cinematography of any Coen Brothers film, with disastrous zooms and hyperactive points of view, you’ll feel like you’re on some crazy amphetamine. Marry that with one of the greatest banjo ladened scores in the history of cinema and you have yourself a real winner.
02. FARGO (1996)
What’s It About?: A small town cop investigates a murder that leads to a sinister plan hacked by a half-witted car salesman.
The Coen’s films often center around man’s greed and the pitfalls associated with it. No other film best captures the spirit of that theme like Fargo (with No Country being a VERY close second). Watching Jerry Lundegaard’s (William H. Macy) life go completely down the shitter is way more exciting than it should be and will reaffirm your life decisions… unless you’ve made some bad ones, in that case you’re on your own.
01. THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998)
What’s It About?: Follow The Dude as he tries to get his rug back. All The Dude ever wanted was his rug back. It really tied his room together.
Over the countless times I’ve rewatched this film, I’ve come to one conclusion… it’s perfect in every way. You may not agree with that statement, but it’s my article, not yours. The comedic tone is unlike any other film I can think of. It’s like the Coens mashed up a stoner comedy with a crime noir and made something all its own. Every character is so memorable and iconic: Jeff Bridges as The Dude, John Goodman as Walter, Julianne Moore as Maude, and Steve Buscemi as Donny…. shut the fuck up Donny.