Ranking the Coens: From “Llewyn” to “Cruelty”

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The Coen Bros.’ Inside Llewyn Davis is high on my list of 2013 favorites, even if it was too late for my Film Stage top 10. Watching it again, I got to thinking about the directors’ stunningly unique filmography. Bearing in mind that this could change on a daily basis, here is my top-to-bottom ranking of their features:

  1. Fargo (1996): Too high? I doubt it. While I have not watched Fargo in some time, I cannot imagine its style and humor have lessened over the past (gulp) two decades.
  2. The Big Lebowski (1998): Like many, I severely underrated Lebowski upon release; I liked it, but did not love it. Years of re-watching has made it one of my favorite films, period.
  3. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013): Yep, Llewyn Davis, to me, is among the brothers’ finest films.
  4. Blood Simple (1984): The first, and nearly the best. I still think of the film’s final scene, and the Temptations’ song that accompanies it, often.
  5. No Country for Old Men (2007): A brutal, efficient comeback after “the dark years.”
  6. Miller’s Crossing (1990): Visually, the Coens’ most beautiful film, and also one of their most ambitious.
  7. Barton Fink (1991): How fitting that Polanski’s jury awarded Fink the Palme d’Or at Cannes.
  8. A Serious Man (2009): I loved this oddity upon release, but have forgotten it, somewhat. I aim to watch it again soon.
  9. Raising Arizona (1987): Some don’t find it funny. But I do.
  10. The Man Who Wasn’t There   (2001): We are starting to enter difficult territory. I think I forgive some of this film’s failings because I love the black-and-white look so much.
  11. Burn After Reading (2008): Good? Certainly. I enjoyed it. Great? Despite what David Thomson says, I don’t think so.
  12. True Grit (2010): The Coens’ film is less a remake of the John Wayne film, more a fresh adaptation of the fine novel. A sturdy, if unmemorable entry.
  13. The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) : The Coens directing Paul Newman? Delightful. But a bit exhausting, and never as funny as it thinks it is.
  14. O Brother, Where Art Thou?  (2000): Similarly, never as clever as it thinks it is.
  15. The Ladykillers (2004): Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruetly are, to me, the only real duds on the list. What is interesting is that I recall seeing and enjoying both on the big screen. But we are talking Coens, and in this bunch, they just don’t fare well.
  16. Intolerable Cruelty (2003): Someone had to come in last …

Missing in Action at TIFF 2013 (So Far)

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The Toronto International Film Festival has jusssst about finished announcing its 2013 crop, and there are some killer selections. Some are playing other festivals first (including Alfonso Cuaron’s long-awaited “Gravity”), some already did (“The Past,” “Blue is the Warmest Colour”), but a number of the selections are making their international debut, including Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave.”

Still, each year there are movies that were rumored to play TIFF, and never do. Here are a few that I’m still hoping make the cut.

“The Immigrant”: James Gray’s film stars Marion Cottilard, the actress I consider to be my favorite, as well as Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner. I was a huge fan of Gray’s last film, the Phoenix-starring “Two Lovers,” and while “The Immigrant” drew a mixed response from Cannes, its story of new arrivals to America in the 1920s could not intrigue me more.

“Inside Llewyn Davis”: This is a biggie. The Coen Bros.’ folk-music odyssey also played Cannes, where it earned typically ecstatic reviews. It does not open until December, and that seems a ludicrously time to wait for the film, which stars Oscar Isaac and Carey Mulligan.

“All is Lost”: I just watched Robert Redford’s last film, “The Company You Keep,” and while it was a pretty standard affair, the TIFF 2012 entry was a reminder of how strong an actor he can be. This mostly dialogue-free tale of one man caught in a storm at sea looks mesmerizing. It is J.C. Chandor’s follow-up to his very strong debut, “Margin Call.”

“Nebraska”: I love the state of Nebraska, especially the Cornhuskers, and I’ve liked just about every Alexander Payne picture, but I haven’t been too charged up for this one yet. Still, it’s Alexander Payne, it stars the great Bruce Dern, and the black-and-white looks lovely.

“The Zero Theorem”: Christoph Waltz stars in the return of Terry Gilliam, another future-set bit of Gilliam-ana (I’m coining that). “Zero” is already booked for the Veince Film Festival.

“Oldboy”: Spike Lee’s remake recently shifted release dates from October to November, and while that is often a signal of bad things to come, it may prove wise, since October is a busy month for an action-y film. Anyone interested in cinema is dying to see this Josh Brolin-starrer. I wonder if he eats squid.

“Palo Alto”: There are a number of reasons to be intrigued by this adaptation of James Franco’s story collection. But tops, for me, is its director: Gia Coppola, the granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola. She is the daughter of Coppola’s late son Gian-Carlo, and if her aunt Sofia has proven anything, its that the female Coppola’s are a force to be reckoned with.

There are others that perhaps were not ready, and instead are playing later fests — Spike Jonze’s “Her,” Tom Hanks in “Captain Phillips” — or perhaps skipping the festival circuit entirely. I would not rule out some biggies like Scorsese’s “Wolf of Wall Street” or George Clooney’s “Monuments Men”

And note that TIFF still has its “Masters” program to unveil. Last year at this time, I was hugely disappointed that Haneke’s “Amour” was not playing the festival … and then there it was, on the “Masters” list. The full schedule arrives on Tuesday (August 20), so I would expect it then.

All of the films mentioned above would have made nice TIFF selections; I’m especially surprised not to see “The Immigrant,” “Llewyn Davis,” and “Nebraska” on the list. But with so many great films over the festival’s 11 days, who can be disappointed?

Robert Redford stars in J.C. Chandor’s “All is Lost”; photo credit: Daniel Daz