Coen brothers’ films are fun-and when they are less fun they are interesting. They are like the George and Ira Gershwin of moviedom. This is not quite a fair comparison as in the case of the musicians their roles were clearly defined: George composed the music and Ira wrote the lyrics. In the case of the Coens , they write, produce, and direct their films jointly until 2004’s The Ladykillers which Joel directed and Ethan produced. They alternate top billing for writing and share editing credits under the alias Roderick Jaynes. To my knowledge no other filmmakers have put so much of the personal stamp into so many aspects of their films. Quoting their Wikipedia article, “their films span many genres and styles which they frequently subvert or parody.”
In recent years the Coens have written for other other director’s projects – Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken(2014) and Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies(2015) and some earlier unsuccessful comedies ( Gambit and Crimewave for Joel; Naked Man for Ethan). Although they started making films in 1984 with the noir-like Blood Simple they did not receive much critical recognition until 1991’s Barton Fink which took the Cannes Palme d’Or and Oscar nominations for 1997’s Fargo.
Although I’ve been waxing verbose on the Coen brother’s work in warming up to Suburbicon George Clooney‘s contribution must be no less significant. He has enjoyed a lengthy collaboration with the Coen brothers beginning with O Brother Where Art Thou?(2000) and extending through Intolerable Cruelty(2003), Burn After Reading(2008), and last year’s Hail Caesar. In the present film Clooney produces, directs, and shares writing credit with the Coen brothers and Grant Heslov. Clooney has directed and written some great projects himself; Monuments Men, Ides of March and most notably Good Night and Good Luck. He has produced Syriana, Michael Clayton, Ides of March, Argo, Monuments Men, and Suburbicon. I might get some of these statistics jumbled up… suffice to say he has been a busy guy. He won an acting Oscar for Syriana and shared a second Oscar for Best Picture for Argo with Ben Affleck and Grant Heslov.
The cast boasts Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, and Oscar Isaac. Matt Damon needs little introduction- he did a phenomenal job in last year’s The Martian in whch he spent a lot of screen time talking to the movie audience. He has been Oscar nominated for acting for his work in The Martian, Invictus, and Good Will Hunting and and shared a screenplay Oscar for Good Will Hunting with Ben Affleck. He was also among the production crew for last year’s multiple Oscar-nominated Manchester By The Sea. Julianne Moore is always compelling for me and has garnered four Oscar nominations before finally winning foe Still Alice in 2014. Oscar Isaac is a relative newcomer but his credits include last year’s The Promise, three recent Star Wars films, Ex Machina, and the title role in the Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis.
In winding up this piece I find I have made heavy use of Oscar recognition. I feel this is not always a reliable indicator of the merit of an actor’s work. I offer two examples: Russell Crowe’s award for Gladiator when he was passed over for the previous year’s The Insider and Denzel Washington’s Oscar for Training Day after he was passed over for The Hurricane(1999). The classic example is Citizen Kane which was nominated for nine Oscars but won only a single award for Mankiewicz and Welles screenplay…and yet it remains at the top of many best films of all time.