For our generation, the Coen brothers have become a symbol of stylistic and quirky cinema.
The huge amount of work they have put in various genres, styles, and experiments in filmmaking have made them stand out through a period of 30 years in the constantly changing world of movies.
The Coens are the archetypal geniuses who never settle for anything but have their eyes always set on the next project, which is aimed at tackling the previous one. This urge for constant transformation of one’s own work in symptomatic of a great and unsettling creative mind that is never satisfied with the achievement of its artistic brainstorm.
From movies that can be seen as mainstream yet compelling like “No Country for Old Men,” to an inside look into the mind of an oddball screenwriter in “Barton Fink,” the Coens have always been under the loop of the film world as constant inspirations and imaginations.
It seems that with such a resume, it’s really hard for someone to replicate them or come close to the originality that they have in their magical auteur film style. However, the way they tell the stories, humor, and storytelling is often inspired by other great movies that have a similar sense for the absurd condition of the human characteristics.
This list contains some older and newer titles that have come close to imitating some of the Coens’ tropes; each in their own right are a great movie, but all contain some of that good old Coen-esque touch. Here is a list of 10 of these that I think everyone who is a Coen fan can enjoy.
1. A Simple Plan
Nothing echoes “Fargo” like the neo-noir crime thriller “A Simple Plan.” Minnesota is once again the center of this rollercoaster story and the epicenter of the battle between the human hearts that are struggling to gain something from $4 million in cash found at the site of a plane crash. Immediately through this predicament, we become hooked on the narrative that unfolds in front of us.
Sometimes with less deadpan comedy and more gruesome depictions on what humans are capable of when faced with this kind of situation, “A Simple Plan” dissects the characters more into their small-town mentality.
While “Fargo” tries to remain on a “higher” plain, and the Coens achieve this with humor and non-sequiturs, “A Simple Plan” dives into it directly and is keen on exploiting the weakest emotions of the protagonists involved; it all ends in distrust, tragedy, and murder. Once again, the maxim “ordinary people are capable of monstrous deeds” remains alive in “A Simple Plan.”
2. The Ladykillers (1955 version)
We all remember Tom Hanks citing Edgar Allan Poe repeatedly in the 2004 version of “The Ladykillers,” but this movie is an earlier version of the British black comedy “The Ladykillers” directed by Alexander Mackendrick, another movie that has very clear connections to the creative musings of the Coens.
The film follows the same story, but in a different setting. Under the ridiculous leadership of Alec Guinness, a crime syndicate of peculiar characters settles as a classical music rehearsal team in the house of an old widow where they plan their next bank robbery.
British humor mixed with classical directing really gives a timeless vibe to this classic. While it seems over time the film title got associated more with the Coen version due to Tom Hanks’ starring role and uncanny performance as a lead there, true cinephiles remember the original inspiration for the plot.
3. Sullivan’s Travels
One thing that Hollywood likes to do is write about itself. That is true for the Coens’ “Barton Fink,” or a much earlier depiction of a character stuck in Tinseltown, Preston Sturges’ “Sullivan’s Travels.”
A clear allusion to “Gulliver’s Travels,” the protagonist, a Hollywood movie director very much like Gulliver is set out to explore strange lands, but in this case, not of Giants or Dwarfs, but of the reality in which everyday people live. Sullivan sets out to get in touch with the most misfortunate and downtrodden, an adventure filled more serious undertones of self-discovery and a search for meaning and identity.
An idyllic Hollywood tale told from the inside out of a direct link with the industry. The social, societal, existential themes that the movie indirectly references are something that art has always had a chance to dive into. The change of one’s own self as well as one’s God-given drive to stand out for fellow man really takes an imperative in the film’s driving force.
4. The Big Sleep
There has perhaps never been a more convoluted film noir story than the Raymond Chandler adaptation of the same name – “The Big Sleep.” Made in the Golden Age of both noir and Hollywood, it’s a film that has everything to stand out in the annals of history. It’s a film filled with tropes and clichés, but the beauty of it is in how it breaks them.
A highlight of the movie is the film couple Bogie and Bacall that even from the poster defines the love story that is underlying beneath all the confusion and complexity. Bogie delivers a solid and confident performance that, through him, the whole film gets its atmosphere and tone.
We really get a sense that he is a driving personality against all of the film’s forces that seek to subdue the honest detective’s work as he unravels a bigger and bigger criminal investigation than he had originally thought.
5. The Fortune Cookie
There are many great Billy Wilder movies, some even better than “The Fortune Cookie,” but the fast-paced, character driven comedy of situations is a real treat in the black comedy genre, where nothing is that explicit but yet remains haunting for some of the issues that it brings forth in a film-esque fashion.
Very early, the human love for money starts involving anyone and everyone in the family of Harry Hinkle, whose fast talking brother-in-law lawyer accordingly nicknamed “Whiplash Willie” convincingly exaggerates an injury he got while working as a cameraman at a football field.
Everyone is immediately hooked on the story of the fake invalid who, while being duped into everything by his brother-in-law, is duping everyone into this comedic, sad turn of events that has a lasting impact on both his family and the people involved in the shenanigans. A rollercoaster of fake emotions and relationships really puts everyone on the spot as they try to grow more from the convoluted scenario Whiplash Willie got them into.