Total Recall: The Best-Reviewed Coen Brothers Films

Where does the Certified Fresh A Serious Man rank?

For more than two decades now, Joel and Ethan Coen have been thrilling critics -- and, here and there, audiences -- with their distinctive blend of dark humor, colorful violence, and singular visual flair. Not all of the Coens' films have been critical darlings (alas, poor Ladykillers), but with lifetime Tomatometers above 80 percent, the brothers are easily two (or is that one?) of the most respected directors in the business. Their latest effort, A Serious Man, is another winner, currently Certified Fresh at 87 percent on the Tomatometer, and to celebrate, we've freshened up our previous look at their filmography, Total Recall style!


78%
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Fresh

10. Burn After Reading

After the resolute darkness of No Country for Old Men, the Coens made a 180-degree turn -- of sorts -- and plunged into cockeyed, misanthropic comedy for 2008's Burn After Reading. Brad Pitt sets the film's (rather convoluted) plot in motion as Chad Feldheimer, a buffoonish personal trainer who stumbles across the memoirs of a disgraced CIA agent (John Malkovich) and, mistakenly believing them to be classified material, tries to earn a payday by selling them to the highest bidder. Populated with self-centered dimbulbs, dripping with black humor, and punctuated with death, Reading failed to entertain some critics (Michael Dance of the Cinema Source described it as "unlikable characters who do stupid things"), but the majority agreed with Karina Montgomery of Cinerina, who applauded, "It's like a spy thriller, but with no spies and no thrills."


80%
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Fresh

9. The Big Lebowski

Though many of the Coens' films can be labeled cult classics, perhaps none embody the term more than The Big Lebowski. Jeff Bridges stars as pot-smoking slacker hero Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski, who seeks restitution for his rug, urinated on by a pair of gangsters who mistook him for a different Lebowski -- namely, the "big" one (played by Charles Durning). Along with his bowling buddies, The Dude embarks on a wild chase that's as funny, depraved, and plain unpredictable as Los Angeles always feels like it should be. Not all critics were willing to join The Dude's steadily growing cult -- Todd McCarthy of Variety sniffed that the movie "Adds up to considerably less than the sum of its often scintillating parts" -- but in the end, as Chuck O'Leary of FulvueDrive-in.com wrote, "It's pretty much impossible not to love The Dude."


81%
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Fresh

8. The Man Who Wasn't There

Though the brothers have flirted with the shadowy realms of film noir, The Man Who Wasn't There is the closest they've yet come to making a headlong plunge into the genre. Billy Bob Thornton stars as a classic fall guy, and playing the character as a deeply emotionally repressed square, Thornton is at his most controlled, wringing pathos out of an increasingly dire scenario. Featuring sharp, evocative black and white cinematography and an excellent supporting cast, The Man Who Wasn't There is an existential nightmare replete with odd touches; it's arguably the brothers' most emotionally pained work. "Once again," wrote Judith Egerton of Louisville's Courier-Journal, "Ethan and Joel Coen have twisted a film genre into something new."


89%
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Fresh

7. A Serious Man

After branching out into broad espionage comedy with Burn After Reading, the Coens went back to their roots for A Serious Man -- quite literally, in fact: It takes place in an ordinary Jewish home in the suburban Midwest of the late 1960s, leading many critics to proclaim Serious the brothers' most personal film to date. Still, these are the Coens we're talking about -- A Serious Man might be based loosely on their own childhoods, but the Job-like struggles faced by the movie's central character, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) are classic indignities to which any of Joel and Ethan's unfortunate protagonists could relate. In the words of Brian Orndorf, it's "a classic black comic strangling by the Coens, who leave no domestic discomfort behind. In fact, all this film contains is unease, making it a perfect itchy sweater film for those who enjoy their cinema on the suffocating side."


90%
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Fresh

6. Raising Arizona

The first Coen brothers film to display their knack for quirky comedy, Raising Arizona helped seal the filmmakers' reputation and cement their loyal following. Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter are brilliantly cast as a cop and ex-con husband/wife who resolve their infertility with kidnapping. Though not their biggest hit, it's infinitely quotable ("Edwina's insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase"), and the original score by Carter Burwell is not to be ignored. As the New Times' Luke Y. Thompson ruefully sighed, "Nic Cage may never be better."

Comments

Andrew C.

Andrew C

I have seen them all and they are all fantastic!!

Oct 19 - 04:42 PM

Brett P.

Brett Pearson

I'm kind of suprised bad santa didn't make the list but i can see where critics may not enjoy it as much.

Oct 19 - 04:45 PM

Movie Maniac!

D J

Bad Santa didn't make the list because they didn't actually direct it.

Oct 19 - 05:20 PM

Movie Maniac!

D J

Oh wait, Bedram B. beat me to it.

Oct 19 - 05:21 PM

jimmiescoffee

Eddie Money

maybe it didnt make the cut because its not a coen movie

Oct 19 - 07:08 PM

Sam C.

Sam Charlot

The Coens had nothing to do with Bad Santa. You're an idiot.

Oct 21 - 06:57 AM

Johannes L.

Johannes Labusch

Especially given the fact that it's not a Coen Brothers movie.

Oct 21 - 04:48 PM

Ray Clark Jr

Ray Clark Jr

They were both executive producers for Bad Santa buddy

Sep 12 - 01:16 PM

Ray Clark Jr

Ray Clark Jr

They were both executive producers for Bad Santa buddy

Sep 12 - 01:16 PM

Bedram B.

Bedram Bararpour

Bad Santa wasn't a Coen Brothers film. I think they produced it or something, but they didn't write it or direct it.

Oct 19 - 05:18 PM

Movie Maniac!

D J

Bad Santa didn't make the list because they didn't actually direct it.

Oct 19 - 05:20 PM

Movie Maniac!

D J

Oh wait, Bedram B. beat me to it.

Oct 19 - 05:21 PM

Movie Maniac!

D J

Oh wait, Bedram B. beat me to it.

Oct 19 - 05:21 PM

will s.

will stamp

zwigoff, foo.

Oct 19 - 05:22 PM

Cory C.

Cory Clark

Joel and Ethan worked on the script but were uncredited.

Oct 19 - 05:27 PM

David W.

John Warner

"No Country for Old Men" and "Fargo" are their greatest films, but they're all great.

Oct 19 - 06:00 PM

rottenjoy

nando valdo

Coens are great! Definitely two of the great living movie directors. However, my best of list would differ quite a bit. I would say from best to worst: No Country for Old Men, Miller's Crossing, Fargo, Burn after Reading, Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski, O' Brother Where Art Thou?, Ladykillers, and Intolerable Cruelty. Still need to see The Man Who Wasn't There and a Serious Man.

Oct 19 - 06:05 PM

Salty Gritts

Josh McCrohan

What a great filmography, The Coens are by far and away my favorite, writers/directors working today. I can't wait to see A Serious Man.

Oct 19 - 06:07 PM

King Kubrick

Travis Earl

I'll second that the cohen's are my favourite living directors. No Country might be the film of the decade, while Fargo might be the film of the 90s and both deserve to become canonical. And Lebowski is one of the greatest comedies ever. Ever. I believe it and no country still be watched decades from now.

A serious man looks to be the shiznit,

Oct 19 - 06:27 PM

RamALamADingDong

That Guy

I enjoyed Raising Arizona and Fargo for the quirky humor the movie had. I saw No Country for Old Men but I just didn't care for it at all. I also love O' Brother Where Art Thou, as it's the only Coen Brothers movie I own.

Oct 19 - 06:21 PM

Mehone T.

Mehone Tebedge

It took me a little longer than others to understand the humor that is the Coen Brothers, but I'm a fan now. I'm with you on No Country though. I sometimes feel alone on this but, it wasn't a bad movie, I'm sure it was great, I just did not care for it.

Oct 19 - 07:19 PM

tomwaitsjrHAPPYICONOCLAST

Greg Guro

I just saw Blood Simple last week, it's a very enjoyable film, but definately not my favorite.

I think my favorite is Barton Fink. So many ways to interpret it!

And I'm glad HUDSUCKER PROXY isn't here, it's too derivative. . .

. . . and I love Lebowski, odd it's so low percentage wise.

Oct 19 - 06:25 PM

King Kubrick

Travis Earl

I'll second that the cohen's are my favourite living directors. No Country might be the film of the decade, while Fargo might be the film of the 90s and both deserve to become canonical. And Lebowski is one of the greatest comedies ever. Ever. I believe it and no country still be watched decades from now.

A serious man looks to be the shiznit,

Oct 19 - 06:27 PM

Richard M.

Richard Murray

Uhhhh... Charles Durning... helluva actor, really shone as Waring Hudsucker in 'The Hudsucker Proxy' but he did *not* play the millionaire Lebowsky.

That was David Huddleston.

Oct 19 - 06:57 PM

Malcolm A.

Malcolm Aquinas

You are correct!

David Huddleston played "The Big" Lebowski; however, I think you'd have done better to recognize Charles Durning for his iconic performance in "O Brother, Where Art Thou" in keeping with the theme of this total recall.

(Since we're on the topic of Charles Durning films, I'd like to put in a plug for his brilliant turn as Charley in "Death of a Salesman" (1985). One of my all-time favorite plays superbly adapted to the (small) screen.)

Keep 'em comin' Cohen boys!

Oct 20 - 12:57 AM

billy01

Billy Milligan

Your absolutely right. And Durning was amazing as Pappy O'Daniel in O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

Kind of a big mess up for the Rotten staff.

Oct 23 - 10:01 AM

David Tanny

David Tanny

The Coen Bros. are my favorite writers in film. They create such memorable characters and situations. I really want to see A Serious Man. Hopefully the Academy nominates it for some awards. I'd like to see the Coens recieve more awards for their films.

Oct 19 - 07:02 PM

jimmiescoffee

Eddie Money

maybe it didnt make the cut because its not a coen movie

Oct 19 - 07:08 PM

AntonChigurh

Chris Scharlau

The best and most creative in hollywood right now. bravo Coen Brothers.

Oct 19 - 07:09 PM

Mehone T.

Mehone Tebedge

It took me a little longer than others to understand the humor that is the Coen Brothers, but I'm a fan now. I'm with you on No Country though. I sometimes feel alone on this but, it wasn't a bad movie, I'm sure it was great, I just did not care for it.

Oct 19 - 07:19 PM

Wall E.

Wall E

I love the Super Coen Bros.

Oct 19 - 07:35 PM

chille

doctor awesome

Fargo is my favorite. I especially love Bruce Campbell's cameo.

Oct 19 - 07:39 PM

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