If I were to remove my critic’s hat when you asked me to name my favorite director, I’d likely go with the Coen Brothers. Not that they don’t make critically acclaimed movies (for even the slightest perusal at their award nominations and wins will paint you a bright picture in that regard) but that without having to think too hard about a director’s artistry and allowing myself to simply bask in the sheer enjoyment of their films, the Coens tend to come out on top.
It wasn’t always so. I can’t remember when I first saw their second movie, Raising Arizona, but I do remember purchasing it some years later on VHS. I must have remembered liking it for in those days I was pretty picky about my movie purchases (but then again it was on sale for $8 and I go with cheap over picky most of the time). I do recall watching it again via that tape and being…well, "disappointed" isn’t the right word, but not exactly enthralled with it either. I believe I rented Barton Fink not long after that having heard a great deal of buzz about it. I liked that one okay, but was mostly confused by it and overwhelmed by a story that clearly meant something, but was well over my ability to understand just exactly what that something was exactly.
Then came Fargo. I didn’t even realize it was by the same people when I caught it in the theater. But I loved it immediately. I saw it three times in the theaters, dragging different friends along with me each time. It was a beautiful film. Perfectly shot. Hilariously funny, and strange. Thrilling too. I bought the VHS when it first came out and watched it a dozen times over. Then went watched all their other films. Now I was proud at owning Raising Arizona and on rewatching it discovered how wonderfully funny it really is. I gave Barton Fink another go too, still not sure I understood it all, but was willing to let it sit awhile and dwell. Then there was the moody noir feel of Blood Simple and the Dashiell Hammett inspired mobster film Miller’s Crossing. I loved that one so much that I wound up becoming a huge Hammett fan too.
After that I saw every Coen Brothers film as soon as they hit the theaters, and discussed them with friends and the alt.coen-bros message board with complete strangers. Not every film is a masterpiece and they’ve made a few duds, but overall they had one of the most consistently interesting careers of any director around.
Sadly my days of seeing their films (or any film really) when they first hit the theatre is over. With a toddler growing bigger every day and the budget shrinking just the same, it is a rare treat when I make it to the movie theater at all. That’s not so bad, really, since theaters increasingly show the same ridiculously-big-budget blockbusters and shy away from smaller, more independent films. As I get older, the crowds of people with their loud, chewing mouths and bright glowing phones get more and more obnoxious. Really, I have no problem waiting for films to come to home video where I can watch on my nice home theatre and pause it any time I like.
So here we are, back to the Coen Brothers newest film, Inside Llewyn Davis. It's a musical of sorts, kind of like O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? they say, and a fictionalized version of a Bob Dylan-type character never quite making it in the 1960s New York folk scene. The reviews have been consistently good, and the brothers have shown they have an ear for great folk music. And period pieces. And quirky dramas filled with dark humor. I was on board with this one before I knew anything about it, and the more I do know, the more excited I get.
You’ll likely never see me not pick a Coen Brothers' movie as my Pick of the Week, but make it about the '60s folk scene with music by T Bone Burnett and you’ve got yourself…well you’ve still got my Pick of the Week, but this one comes with more enthusiasm.
Also out this week that looks interesting:
The Book Thief: Based on a popular book, this one stars Emily Watson and Geoffey Rush and their adopted daughter in Nazi Germany.
Out of the Furnace: The plot of this one doesn’t actually interest me. It's about a guy who leads a dead-end life, but after a ruthless crime ring takes his friend, he goes all Liam Neeson in Taken on them. Or something. Sounds pretty standard action plot to me, but with Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Forest Whitaker, and Willem Dafoe starring in it and the guy who directed Crazy Heart at the helm, I’m ready to give it a try.
Skin Like Sun: Don’t tell my mother I’m talking about this. It's an art film in which two Belgians make love. That seems to be the entire plot. But instead of pornography where we get nothing but close-ups and money shots this one plays out slowly, in real-time with a real-life couple developing the sweetness and sexiness of real love making. Sounds interesting to me.