Saturday, April 17, 2010

1996: Fargo (Joel and Ethan Coen)

1996: Fargo (Joel and Ethan Coen)
Roger Deakins began his collaboration with the Coen brothers in 1991 on their film Barton Fink.  The two directors and the cameraman have since proven that they have one of the most vital, important, and powerful artistic relationships of anyone in film.  

All of their work together has great, visual interest, but of everything they have ever done, this remains my favorite of their aesthetic accomplishments.  I'm a sucker, as I've mentioned a couple of times now, for snow-covered imagery.  And this film is about as white as any ever made.  It's a gorgeously controlled work, in terms of its color palette, camerawork, and production design.  Everything seems considered, and everything feels unusually cohesive.  

The Coen brothers just so happen to have one other special collaboration and that's with their composer, Carter Burwell.  His work is always top shelf, but this particular score haunts me as much as any he's ever done.  

Wonderful writing per usual by the brothers.  Also two of their most memorable characters for William H Macy and Frances McDormand.  I usually don't champion "ironic noir", but other aspects of this one far outweigh any typical difficulties I might have.  

Other contenders for 1996: From this year, I still have some things to see.  These include: Peter Greenaway's Pillow Book, Edward Yang's Mahjong, and Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet.  At some point, I need to revisit Catherine Breillat's Parfait Amour! and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's La Promesse as it's been too long since I've seen either of them to know where they'd place on this list.  I really like Wong Kar-wai's Days of Being Wild, Wes Craven's Screamand Claire Denis' Nenette et Boni.  And I love Hou Hsiao-hsien's Goodbye South, Goodbye, Eric Rohmer's A Summer's Tale, Arnaud Desplechin's How I Got Into an Argument... (My Sex Life), Andre Techine's Thieves, Takeshi Kitano's Kids Return, and Abel Ferrara's The Funeral.  And my closest runner-up is Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible.

9/5/10 I watched Paul Thomas Anderson's Hard Eight.  It's an extremely confident debut, and I was particularly impressed by his work with Samuel L Jackson and Philip Baker Hall.  A little more mannered, perhaps, than my ideal kind of noir.  But I enjoyed it all the same.  

1/12/14 I watched Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne's La Promesse.  All of the tight elements that have come to describe the Belgian filmmakers' style of filmmaking are already in order here - the fluid, handheld camerawork, the natural, unforced performances, and the very lived-in wardrobe and locations.  It is a flawless film in many ways, but it is neither as emotional as some of the great Neorealist work nor as transcendent.  

7/21/15 I watched Bobby and Peter Farrelly's Kingpin.  A crass but lovable comedy.  It helps that Harrelson is unusally likable and keeps things grounded even when the brothers push things too far beyond plausibility or funny gross. 

2/22/16 I rewatched Arnaud Desplechin's How I Got Into an Argument...(My Sex Life).  Desplechin's second feature comes with a certain looseness that could belie a unique cinematic intelligence and a nearly unprecedented capturing of uninhibited femaleness.  It feels more akin to a novel in its shape and its courage to let time unfold within its own disheveled set of rules.  "Tenderness is the fear of adulthood", Desplechin quotes Kundera, and this film might be as spot-on as any in the medium's history for capturing that very strange road from freedom to responsibility.   

7/3/17 I watched Adam McKay's Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.  Not my thing but had a few funny moments when one is in the mood to completely shut it off and just be entertained a bit.


  1. A great choice here Jeffrey! I have always seen this as one of the brothers' best film, and I stand by that position today, where for me is ranks with the likes of A SERIOUS MAN and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN as their immortal trio. I say that of course at the expense of THE BIG LEBOWSKI fans.

    My Own #1 Film of 1996:

    La Promesse (Dardennes; Belgium/France)


    Prisoners of the Mountain (Bodrov; Russia)
    Hamlet (Branagh; UK)
    The Pillow Book (Greenaway; UK)
    Fargo (Coens; USA)
    Everyone Says I Love You (Allen; USA)
    Breaking the Waves (Von Trier; Denmark)
    The Crucible (Hytner; USA)
    Gabbeh (Makhmalbaf; Iran)
    Leila (Mehrjui; Iran)
    A Summer's Tale (Rohmer; France)
    Lone Star (Sayles; USA)
    Brassed Off (Herman; UK)
    Trainspotting (Boyle; UK)
    The Big Night (Tucci; USA)
    William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (Luhrman; USA)
    Secrets and Lies (Leigh; UK)
    Shine (Hicks; Australia)
    Sling Blade (Thornton; USA)
    The English Patient (Minghella; UK)

    October 31, 2009 12:58 PM

  2. Sam, I'm in total agreement with you on this one! And although I struggled a little with A SERIOUS MAN, I am a big fan of NO COUNTRY.

    I look forward to revisiting your top pick. And I still need to see the Bodrov film you mention, as well.

    Thanks, Sam. Always great to have you here!

  3. Count me in with you guys! Fargo is definitely one of my favorite films from the Coens. I love how you cite the contributions of Deakins and Burwell in your write-up Jeffrey, those guys are simply amazing and their work here is so key to the film's success. Wonderful choice! It would be my pick for this year as well.

    I also really love Soderbergh's Schizopolis, the documentary Microcosmos, von Trier's Breaking the Waves, Cronenberg's Crash, Stopkewich's Kissed and Claire Denis' Nénette et Boni

  4. Drew, thanks so much for the great words! From your list, I still need to see SCHIZOPOLIS and KISSED. And I like BREAKING THE WAVES and CRASH although both a little less than the ones I mentioned. MICROCOSMOS I struggled with a little the one I saw it. But, you've done it again. I should have included the Denis film and am adding it now.

    Thanks, Drew. Always great to have you here!

  5. I love Fargo as well and it is quite easily my #2 pick for 1996. My #1 has to remain John Sayles outstanding LONE STAR. Such a well-crafted script and visual storytelling that is as good as the greats in all of cinema. It is just a really, really well-made movie. Here is how I summed up my feelings on it my review:

    "The success of the film is a simple formula if you think about – write a great script, find great actors, and get a little creative in how you tell the story. But we all know it’s not that simple, which makes Sayles’ accomplishment all the more impressive when we see him do it with such ease."

  6. Jeffrey, - I will join the chorus and sing the praises of Fargo, arguably the Coen's best film. Some great insight in your review, I loved it.

    #1 Fargo

    Secrets and Lies
    Everyone Says I Love You
    The English Patient
    Big Night

  7. Dave, great to hear from you! I should have mentioned LONE STAR in my post, knowing that it was your #1 pick. I apologize for the omission. I like LONE STAR although a little less than the others I mentioned.

    Thanks, Dave. Always a treat to have you here!

  8. John, thanks so much for the kind words! Good to see all the FARGO love.

    I like SECRETS AND LIES, EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU, BOUND, THE ENGLISH PATIENT, and BIG NIGHT although all a little less than the ones I mentioned. SHINE is one I still need to see.

    Thanks, John. Always great having you here!

  9. Count me in as another fan of this film. The Coen brothers have had such a fantastic run of films over the course of the career with very few duds and FARGO is definitely one of their best. I love that scene towards the end with Marge and Peter Stormare's character where she asks him what it was all for... just a bit of money? Very poignant. And of course, the final scene with Marge and her husband. Life goes on...

  10. JD, good stuff! Yes, there's such fantastic writing here, I agree.

    Thanks, JD. Always a treat to have you here!