Editor’s Note: I had planned to finish up the Essentials feature for November today, with Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar Wai’s film, 2046. However, upon re-watching the film in preparation of this column, it did not live up to the first viewing. I do not think that 2046 is one of Wong’s “essential” films, so I decided not to write a retrospective on it. It is easily the weakest (and most sprawling) of an informal trilogy from the director that began with Days of Being Wild and In the Mood for Love, which I have already written about in detail. Regardless, I hope you have enjoyed reading about one of my favourite filmmakers and check out those two films, as well as their masterwork Chungking Express.
Every month on The Balcony, I have explored one filmmaker through four of their best films in a featured called The Essentials. For each month, I alternate between an American director and a foreign filmmaker. In October, I focused on four of Sidney Lumet’s most essential films, and I just wrapped up a month on the films of Hong Kong’s cinematic treasure, Wong Kar-Wai.
In December, I will be focusing on not one, but two filmmakers. Together, Joel and Ethan Coen directed 16 films together; however, until 2004’s The Ladykillers, Joel received sole directing credit and Ethan was listed as producer. Their 16th picture, Inside Llewyn Davis, is set for a nationwide release in December and any serious Oscar prognosticator should expect at least a few nominations for it (early word suggests that it is an essential film indeed).
It is quite remarkable that the brothers Coen write, produce and direct a film as a team since each of their stories presents such a precise, singular vision. Joel and Ethan, two Jewish boys from Minnesota, grew up cinephiles and love to reinterpret classic genres that they love, from the western to the gangster picture, film noir to the musical comedy. Their films are full of indelible images, colourful dialogue, offbeat humour and, more often than not, the same collection of actors, such as John Turturro, Frances McDormand, John Goodman and George Clooney.
Joel and Ethan Coen often centre their films on folk heroes, from Jeff Bridges’ The Dude in The Big Lebowski to Frances McDormand’s gumption-filled cop, Marge Gunderson, in Fargo. They are two of the quintessential voices in American cinema and their works spread a wide terrain, from Hollywood to North Dakota to Mississippi to the Old West, often featuring memorable characters and deeply imbued national themes.
This December, I will be writing on four of Joel and Ethan Coen’s best films. I have seen them all, except for The Ladykillers and their forthcoming Inside Llewyn Davis, although choosing to explore just four seems unfair for such a terrific filmography.
- December 6, 2013: Miller’s Crossing (1990)
- December 13, 2013: Barton Fink (1991)
- December 20, 2013: Film to be determined (either O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) or No Country for Old Men (2007))
- December 27, 2013: A Serious Man (2009)
I apologize to any fans of The Big Lebowski for not covering that 1998 film. Although I do enjoy it, if you are a die-hard fan of that work, you can probably explain its triumphs better than I ever could.