Wednesday, August 31, 2011

'Barton Fink' and My Top 5 Coen Bros. Films

I was inspired to create this list after watching Barton Fink the other night. As one of the few Coen films that had eluded me at that point (also including The Hudsucker Proxy, Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers), I purchased it blindly a few weeks back. I don't really have much to say about it, other than that it was really weird (even for a Coen Bros. film) and that it went to some places in the second half that didn't make a whole lot of sense. Still, putting it on without knowing a thing about the film (other than that it won the Palme d'Or, so high expectations) there were plenty of surprises. For some reason I was reminded of Naked Lunch, which actually came out a few years after Barton Fink. They both centre on the process of writing and on writers who experience writers block, and who seem to decay under the stress of their role, the sweltering heat of their location and from interactions with the strange individuals they cross.

John Turturro plays Barton Fink, a Broadway playwright who has made it big and is approached by a ruthless Hollywood Studio to write a wrestling picture. Given a strict deadline, he struggles to come up with an angle, enlisting the help of his friendly, 'common man' neighbour at the Hotel Earle, Charlie Meadows (John Goodman), and the brainy assistant of a famous writer he seeks out for inspiration, Audrey (Judy Davis). The world is surreal, with the walls of Fink's apartment seeming to close in on him further as the film progresses. The film takes a giant twist at the half way. For better or worse, I haven't decided yet. This is some of Roger Deakins' best photography, while the performances, and especially from Turturro and a scene-stealing Michael Lerner as the boss of Capitol Pictures, are superb. The writing from the Coens is as sharp and comic as ever. It's truly bizarre, but memorable for some really great moments. 4/5

But, does it find itself amongst my Top 5 Coen Bros. films? (Below)

The justification behind these selections comes predominantly through the context of the time I first watched these films, how I experienced them initially and how I have grown to appreciate them further on subsequent viewings. I feel confident tagging each of these films as 'classics'.

5. A Serious Man

4. The Big Lebowski

3. Miller's Crossing

2. No Country for Old Men

1. Fargo

What do you think of Barton Fink? What films do you consider to be the Coens' best? 


  1. Barton Fink is one of the five movies I picked up at the library this week. (You can borrow five at a time for one week, all for free). I'll let you know what I thought of you once I've watched it - provided it isn't too scratched to watch. Unfortunately those things happen sometimes.

  2. If pressed, I would say No Country For Old Men is the "best". But my favorite Coen movie is The Hudsucker Proxy, which few people seem to like to as much as me. If you like the screwball flicks of the 40s and 50s, Andy, you might dig it.

    And I agree about Barton Fink. It's just...weird.

  3. My personal favorite Coen Bros. is Miller's Crossing, although I think Blood Simple is very underrated. It's been a while since I saw Barton Fink, but I don't remember liking it too much; Goodman was funny, but I don't have a lot of patience for movies about movies.

  4. Wow... of the films by the Coen Brothers I haven't seen are The Hudsucker Proxy and The Ladykillers. Here's how I rank everything I've seen by the Coen Brothers so far...

    1. Barton Fink
    2. The Big Lebowski
    3. No Country for Old Men
    4. Fargo
    5. Raising Arizona
    6. Miller's Crossing
    7. Blood Simple
    8. To Each His Own Cinema-World Cinema
    9. A Serious Man
    10. Paris Je T'aime-Tuileres
    11. True Grit
    12. O Brother Where Art Thou?
    13. The Man Who Wasn't There
    14. Burn After Reading
    15. Intolerable Cruelty

    That is all.

  5. I really liked Barton Fink when I saw it, but the ending was a bit WTF. :) It's based on the experiences of playwright Clifford Odets when he was wooed out to Hollywood. It's pretty fitting, since Odets has a very recognizable heightened style of dialogue that presages the Coens' equally recognizable writing style.

    I switch around my Coen favorites rather frequently, but right now I think it goes No Country for Old Men, O Brother Where Art Thou, Fargo, True Grit, and then, maybe Barton Fink. But maybe The Big Lebowski. Or maybe A Serious Man. The top three are set. The others shift by my mood. (The only ones I haven't seen are The Hudsucker Proxy and The Ladykillers, so we have those in common!)

  6. @ Jessica - That is amazing! It costs us about $10 dollars to borrow 5 DVDs haha. Look forward to hearing your thoughts. Mine are pretty muddled at the moment.

    @ Nick - Interesting pick. It is one that I have never ever seen in a store, but I'll keep a look out. Yeah, Fargo was their best film for so long, and I actually think that was surpassed by No Country, but I still have so much respect and love for Fargo, hence my #1.

    @ Sirbriang2 - I love Miller's Crossing. The dialogue in that film is some of the best in the Coens' resume - "You vouch for this psychic business?" is a line I would love to use naturally some day. Blood Simple I liked, but have only watched once. I should give it another go, too!

    @ Steven - Wow, Barton Fink at #1. That's awesome. I don't know if I will grow to love it enough to push it into my Top 5, but I'll certainly revisit it in the future. My #6 and # 7 and #8 would probably be Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Blood Simple and True Grit.

    @ Jandy - Very interesting. It also seems to be influenced by some struggles the brothers had writing Miller's Crossing, so there is a personal element mixed in with the experiences of Odets. Yeah, I always had O Brother in there, and I love it a lot, but it got pushed out by A Serious Man recently. I enjoyed True Grit, but it was in the second tier of 2010 films for it didn't make my Top 10. Didn't have the lasting impression that other Best Picture films - The Social Network, Inception, Black Swan, 127 Hours and Winter's Bone had. But still, a great film!

    Thanks for the comments, everyone!

  7. In my mind, the Coens have made four masterpieces:

    No Country for Old Men
    Blood Simple
    Miller’s Crossing

    Tag The Big Lebowski onto the end of that list, and you’ve got my top five Coen flicks. Barton Fink (along with The Man Who Wasn’t There) would be very close behind. I don’t always like their movies, but I’ll be the first in the theater everytime.

  8. I need to watch Blood Simple again, but I completely agree with the other four you mention. I absolutely loved A Serious Man the last time I watched it (enough to throw it into my Top 100) so I decided to knock out O Brother. Yeah, I guess I didn't see any of their films in the cinema before 'No Country', but I have gradually caught up on their work, and seen everything since!

  9. No Country for Old Men is easily my favorite. I need to watch Fargo again as well as Miller's Crossing.

  10. Miller's Crossing is really my largest hole in Coen brother knowledge.

    Nice list.

  11. I loved Barton Fink, and thought the ending was terrific. Nice list! Here's my top 5:

    1. The Big Lebowski
    2. Fargo
    3. A Serious Man
    4. No Country For Old Men
    5. The Man Who Wasn't There

  12. I wasn't impressed by Barton Fink, and have a strange kind of love/hate relationship with the Coen brothers work in general. I wasn't a fan of No Country either...

    However I do love many of their films, my top five would look something like this:
    Raising Arizona
    The Big Lebowski
    O Brother Where Art Thou?
    Millers Crossing

    Great review Andy

  13. @ Castor - You should definitely watch Fargo again. I've seen it close to ten times, now. Steve Buscemi's character is a personal favourite.

    @ Sam - I think you will really dig Miller's Crossing, dude! The dialogue is so good!

    @ Filmiac - Thanks for reading. The ending was thought-provoking, but one that I have puzzled over, and haven't really got an explanation for. I do enjoy a film that makes me think, though. I really liked The Man Who Wasn't There. It is one of their overlooked gems. I guess I like nearly all of their work, so it doesn't quite crack my Top 5, but still, I loved Billy Bob Thornton is this.

    @ Jack L - You don't like No Country? Wow! That's a surprise. I should watch Raising Arizona again, too. I watched it a long time ago - it's one of their 'weird' ones haha. Thanks Jack!

  14. I love BARTON FINK. I love the feel of it, largely thanks to Roger Deakins, and the Coenesque twists which approach almost Lynchian incomprehensibility.

    My top 5 Coen films:
    5: Miller's Crossing
    4: No Country for Old Men
    3: A Serious Man
    2: The Big Lebowski
    1: Fargo

  15. I definitely agree with tagging Fargo as #1! Also, though it's usually not taken as seriously as their other films, I love Burn After Reading. There are some I have yet to see, including No Country For Old Men, which is definitely on my list for the very near future.

  16. @ Tyler - Yeah, I was really impressed by Deakins' work. It's a strange film. At times it was hard to determine what was real, but Barton Fink as a character was really intriguing and every scene featuring Michael Lerner or Tony Shalhoub was great. Nice list! The same films as mine, but switched around a little.

    @ Steph - I enjoyed Burn After Reading, but it was a significant step down (i thought) from No Country, which you have to see! Fargo is one of my all-time favourites, and often forgotten when people consider their greatest films - though from the feedback here, most people have recognised it haha. It's just so quotable, and the entire cast is spot on!