It has become almost ritualistic: Any birthday, anniversary, or new release marginally related to the Coen Brothers tends to result in the addition of a new ranked list of Ethan and Joel’s vast filmography to the equally vast Coen-ranking listography. Their upcoming film Hail, Caesar! — out Friday — has rekindled this tendency for publications to rank all 16 (or, now, 17) of the brothers’ ironic, cynical, and mercilessly violent films.
The amusing thing is that, despite the commonness of these rankings, most tend to acknowledge their extreme subjectivity and even futility, and the difficulty of sorting Coen Brothers films into “Bests” and “Worsts.” Regardless, of course, they just keep happening. Because Coen Brothers fans are so vocal, each wildly varied list thereafter tends to result in incredulity and protestation. As film critic Scott Tobias noted on Twitter, “nothing upsets Film Twitter more than ranked lists of Coen Brothers movies. It’s going to be a week of meltdowns.”
Indeed, GQ, the publication that sparked this week’s round of meltdowns, published a “rebuttal” to its own piece yesterday aimed at placating angry readers, with other writers weighing in with more laudatory statements about some of the lower-rated films. Because ranking the films of the Coen Brothers has become a (controversial!) art form unto itself and because, taken together, these lists may start to seem a nihilistic clusterfuck of contradictions peddled by various straight white men who say stuff about film online, Flavorwire’s decided to put together a convenient ranked list of these ranked lists. We hope you use this as your ultimate guide to having others dictate which Coen Brothers movies are the best.
Who are these readers they polled, who preferred Burn After Reading and True Grit to Inside Llewyn Davis — perhaps the Bros’ most soulful film — which didn’t even make its way onto this list? Though normally, for fairness’ sake, a popular vote would get a high ranking on this ranking of rankings, it’s hard to rank something that failed to even rank some of the Coens’ better films (also, where’s A Serious Man?) at all. Perhaps technically this poll-oriented ranking has more weight than the favorites of one critic, but maybe it’s better to see a well-explained list that’s totally subjective than some depressing rundown of what people’s actual favorites are. It seems that with popular vote-based Coen rankings, ignorance is bliss.
13. This tweet from Salt Lake City Weekly editor/critic Scott Renshaw:
While the ranked jokes on Twitter are amusing, this one doesn’t subvert the rankings so much as it merely perpetuates the film- deification of the Bros. Though the Coen Bros are inarguably stupendous directors, they get enough ego fluffing from the collective chorus of Film Bros as it is. When it comes to weighing in on rankings on Twitter with joke rankings, this one risks falling into sycophancy.
First things first. This article’s headline is a misnomer: this is a ranking of all the Coen films that’d been released at the time (2010). Since clarity is key in a ranking, it’s necessary — albeit difficult — to dock points for such problems. But that’s tangential to the clear issue at hand: the terse denunciations of some of the Coens’ better films here — concluding her 14th-place ranking of No Country with “Sorry, not worth it” — simply makes this list, sorry, not that worth it.
The Atlantic writer Christopher Orr structures his ranking intriguingly, grouping the films in tiers rather than ranking them individually (though within the tiers, some favorites are suggested). I appreciate the vague flexibility herein — as well as a fresh take on the ranking art form. However, the pitfall of this system is that the author gives himself less room to substantiate his less obvious choices. Innovation or a formal excuse for slacking? Hard to tell with this ranking.
This ranking of ten of the Coens’ movies had the fortune of being released in 2011 — obviously, the more films they put out, the greater the challenge of ranking them. The gushing tone here might compromise the list a bit, but I do appreciate this list’s ability to trim the filmography down to ten good ones, in a way that feels less offensively abridged than that shiver-worthy Rolling Stone readers’ poll.
GQ‘s Devin Gordon begins his ranking — the very ranking that stirred tweeted frustration among other film critics — with a valuable acknowledgment of the triviality of the ranking, giving it the subheading: “A list both indisputable and meaningless.” It’s best to take it as such; otherwise one could be troubled by the implication that “the Coen Brothers’ two best movies are their first two movies.” Indeed, taking this ranking as gospel would mean accepting a career-long downward trajectory for the Coens. Again, this is all subjective, but this is a subjective opinion that’s hard to stomach — and doesn’t really need to be stomached. The personal anecdote for the write-up of The Big Lebowski, however, adds a dry, anecdotal, even Coen-esque (especially insomuch as it involves a real-life Coen) touch to the ranking.
David Haglund takes the interesting approach of averaging out other rankings while simultaneously exonerating himself from the task of specific ranking. Like Christopher Orr, he breaks the movies down into groups, but his are even more specific, and his somewhat obvious choices are perhaps only obvious because they just seem, well, as right as any of these lists can be. His “Holy Trinity” is an expected Fargo/Lebowski/No Country — and there’s no reason to complain about this straightforward, expected list of favorites when so many of these seem like zany (if amusing) hot takes.
Whether you agree or disagree with the Paste’s ranking, I always prefer a list that allows for more drawn-out analyses of the films it’s ranking — as well as a meta-analysis of the act of ranking itself. This one allows different writers to each contribute a specific film to the list, and thus offers up a democratic and diversified reading experience. For form alone — and for being generally reasonable — I rank this ranking quite highly.
Very bold ranking The Ladykillers as better than O Brother — but perhaps even more bold ranking A Serious Man as the #1 Coen Brothers film. And I like it. Because it’s relegated to the bottom third of so many of these lists — and because nothing else here is preposterous, and because the writer acknowledges how personal his choices are — Jordan Hoffman’s Film.com ranking might just be my own hot-take high-ranking of rankings.
5. This tweet:
This ranking is placed here because, while funny, it pales in comparison to:
4. This tweet from Uproxx film/TV Editorial Director and critic Keith Phipps:
Though the intro to his ranking may leave something to be desired, Jacob Hall’s ranking for ScreenRant is measured and thorough, and, like Hoffman’s, makes the surprising but welcome choice of putting A Serious Man at #1. (The rest are somewhat more expected, with No Country and Fargo following in its footsteps). It also manages to capture what is so excellent about Fargo — noting “a rare affection for everyone here (particularly Marge) that adds a quiet layer of pathos on top of every gruesome/hilarious hilarious event” — as Hall seems particularly aware of whenever the Coens break a trend or a tonal quality they’re known for.
Greg Cwik’s Indiewire ranking, released on the somewhat arbitrary date of Joel’s birth, comes with some valid defenses of some of its less expected choices — namely, The Ladykillers as the fourth worst (as opposed to its usual place as the #1 worst) and Inside Llewyn Davis over Fargo and The Big Lebowski. I find much to agree with in this ranking, but even for the many who don’t, it’s undeniable that one of the beauties of Coen Brothers rankings is how prone they are to not making ranked sense, thereby challenging your own internal Coen rankings. This ranking is long, messy, and detailed enough to do so.
1. This tweet from film critic and Criticwire editor Sam Adams:
To which the above-featured Scott Renshaw replied:
This ranking is beautifully multilayered, simple yet complex, a ranking that’s rankling in its difficulty to decode (likely because it’s all a joke, and not even meant to be decoded). Leaving it up to readers to project their own meanings onto it — while perhaps never having a core meaning of its own — this empty vessel of a ranking cuts to the very core of the form.