People In Film | The Coen Brothers

Coen Brothers | Worthy of an Adjective

The Coen brothers (aka Joel and Ethan Coen) have come a long way since their debut feature, a low-budget neo-noir gem called Blood Simple, took home the Grand Jury Prize at the 1985 Sundance Film Festival. Thirteen films, four Oscars and many nominations later, the filmmaking duo have so reshaped American film genres and comedy that one can easily describe a madcap unpredictable storyline as “Coenesque.”

Coen Brothers | Growing up Midwestern

While the Coen brother’s recent film A Serious Man is not autobiographical, it does reflect many aspects of the brothers’ personal experience. The two grew up in St. Louis Park, MN, a heavily Jewish suburb of Minneapolis. And both their parents were professors—their dad taught Economics at the University of Minnesota and their mom was an art historian at St. Cloud State University.  Early on, the brothers bought a Super-8 camera to shoot such forgotten classics as Henry Kissinger: Man on the Go, Lumberjacks of the North and The Banana Film.

Coen Brothers | The Thinking Man's Filmmakers

While Joel and Ethan Coen have been making films together since 1985, their partnership was not always a forgone conclusion. While Joel pursued film studies at NYU, Ethan took a more cerebral path, studying philosophy at Princeton, where he wrote his senior thesis on Ludwig Wittgenstein. And while the two would never stoop to intellectual pretensions, their films often provoke in-depth discussion. For example, religion columnist Cathleen Falsani takes on their theology in “Everybody Hurts: The Universal Appeal of the Coen Brothers.”

Coen Brothers | The More They Change...

After Blood Simple, the Coens moved to Arizona to shoot a modern screwball comedy, Raising Arizona, and after that Miller’s Crossing, a taut gangster thriller set in the Depression, followed by Barton Fink, a Kafkaesque comedy about working in Hollywood, and so on. What becomes clear when you map out the brothers’ filmography is that they are (quite intentionally) all over the place—different locations, different periods, different genres. You can follow the zig-zagging career in our piece “The Coen Brothers: From Blood to Burn, and Back Again.”

Coen Brothers | Keep Your Friends Close...

The Coen brothers certainly have never made the same movie twice, but they quite often use the same actors. Their merry troupe of players includes George Clooney (3 movies), John Goodman  (5 movies), Joel’s wife, Frances McDormand (5 movies), Richard Jenkins (2 movies), M. Emmet Walsh (2 movies), to name just a few. But the all time winner so far is Steve Buscemi, who has popped in six films. Such loyalty makes sense since four actors in their films have been Oscar nominated and two (Frances McDormand and Javier Bardem) have won. We will show you “How to Cast a Coen Brothers Film.”

Coen Brothers | Writers First

For the Coen brothers, every film starts as screenplay. Since their first film, the two have been celebrated for their ear for dialogue and the ability to twist a phrase into doing whatever they ask. The two have been nominated five times for a WGA award, and have won twice (Fargo, No Country for Old Men). And while they weren’t nominated for The Big Lebowski, the Dude’s dialog (along with every other character’s) is freely quoted back and forth between fans. We look at their writing acumen in two articles: “Three Scenes from A Serious Man” and an excerpt from The Making of The Big Lebowski—“Sleeping and Severed Toes: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen on the Art of Screenwriting.”

Coen Brothers | At Focus

In 2007, James Schamus, the CEO of Focus Features announced, “Joel and Ethan are the gold standard in American filmmaking. To have the chance to make not one but two films with them …makes all of us at Focus proud."  With Burn After Reading and A Serious Man now on DVD, people at Focus are both proud and grateful for how these films turned out. 

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