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Joel David Coen (born November 29, 1954) and Ethan Jesse Coen (born September 21, 1957), known together professionally as the Coen brothers, are American filmmakers. For more than twenty years, the pair have written and directed numerous successful films, ranging from screwball comedies (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Raising Arizona, The Hudsucker Proxy) to hardboiled thrillers (Miller's Crossing, Blood Simple, The Man Who Wasn't There, No Country for Old Men), to movies where genres blur together (Barton Fink, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, Burn After Reading, and A Serious Man). The brothers write, direct and produce their films jointly, although until recently Joel received sole credit for directing and Ethan for producing. They often alternate top billing for their screenplays while sharing film credits for editor under the alias Roderick Jaynes. They are known in the film business as "the two-headed director", as they share a similar vision of their films. It is said that actors can approach either brother with a question and get the same answer.

Personal life

Joel Coen and Ethan Coen grew up in St. Louis Park, Minnesotamarker, a suburb of Minneapolismarker. Their parents, Edward and Rena Coen, were professors, their father an economist at the University of Minnesotamarker and their mother an art historian at St. Cloud State Universitymarker.

When they were children, Joel saved money from mowing lawns to buy a Vivitar Super 8 camera. Together, the brothers remade movies they saw on television with a neighborhood kid, Mark Zimering ("Zeimers"), as the star. Their first attempt was a romp titled, Henry Kissinger, Man on the Go. Cornel Wilde's The Naked Prey (1966) became their Zeimers in Zambia, which also featured Ethan as a native with a spear.

The brothers graduated from Saint Louis Park High School in 1973 and 1976. They both also graduated from Simon's Rock College of Bard in Great Barrington, Massachusettsmarker. Joel then spent four years in the undergraduate film program at New York Universitymarker where he made a 30-minute thesis film called Soundings. The film depicted a woman engaged in sex with her deaf boyfriend while verbally fantasizing about having sex with her boyfriend's best friend, who is listening in the next room. Ethan went on to Princeton Universitymarker and earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy in 1979. His senior thesis was a 41-page essay, "Two Views of Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy".

In the late 1970s, both brothers lived in the Weinstein dormitory at 5-11 University Place, an NYUmarker dorm noted for housing such creatives as Ralph Bakshi, Rick Rubin, and film makers Chris Columbus and Dan Goldman.

Joel has been married to actress Frances McDormand since 1984. They adopted a son from Paraguaymarker, named Pedro McDormand Coen (Frances and all her siblings were adopted themselves). McDormand has acted in six of the Coen Brothers' films, including a minor appearance in Miller's Crossing, a supporting role in Raising Arizona, lead roles in Blood Simple and The Man Who Wasn't There, her Academy Award winning role in Fargo, and her latest starring role in Burn After Reading.

Ethan is married to film editor Tricia Cooke.

Both couples live in New York Citymarker.


The 1980s

After graduating from NYU Joel worked as a production assistant on a variety of industrial films and music videos. He developed a talent for film editing and met Sam Raimi who was looking for an assistant editor on his first feature film The Evil Dead (1981).

In 1984, the brothers wrote and directed Blood Simple, their first film together. Set in Texas, the film tells the tale of a shifty, sleazy bar owner who hires a private detective to kill his wife and her lover. Within this film are considerable elements that point toward their future direction: their own subverted homages to genre movies (in this case noir and horror) and clever plot twists layered over a simplistic story; their darkly inventive and twisted sense of humor; and their mastery of atmosphere. The film starred Frances McDormand who would go on to feature in many of the Coen brothers' films (and marry Joel Coen). Upon release the film received much praise and won awards for Joel's direction at both the Sundance and Independent Spirit awards. M. Emmet Walsh also won Best Male Actorat the 1986 Independent Spirit awards for his portrayal of Slimy Detective Visser.

The next Coen brothers project to hit the big screen was 1985's Crimewave directed by Sam Raimi. The film was written by the brothers and Sam Raimi with whom Joel had worked on The Evil Dead.

The next film written and directed by the brothers was the 1987 hit, Raising Arizona. The film is the story of the unlikely married couple ex-convict H.I. (played by Nicolas Cage) and ex-cop Ed (played by Holly Hunter) who long for a baby but are unable to conceive. Fortune smiles on them when a local furniture tycoon, played by Trey Wilson, appears on television with his five newly born quintuplets that he jokes 'are more than we can handle'. Seeing this as a sign and an opportunity to redress the natural balance, H.I. and Ed steal one of the quintuplets and start to bring up the child as their own. Featured an all-star cast including Frances McDormand, John Goodman, William Forsythe, Sam McMurray, and Randall 'Tex' Cobb. Raising Arizona was much more accessible to the mass market with wacky slapstick comedy easing the action along amongst a somewhat darker humor.

The 1990s

Miller's Crossing was released in 1990, a straight-ahead homage to the gangster movie genre and in many ways a remake of The Glass Key, one of the Ladd and Lake films of the 1940s. Starring Albert Finney, Gabriel Byrne and future Coen brothers' staple John Turturro, the film is set during the prohibition era of the 1930s and tells the tale of feuding mobs and gangster capers. The film was praised for its dialogue and characterization. Typical of the brothers' oeuvre are the touches of dark humor and plot twists that were already becoming recurring features of their work.

The Coen brothers' reputation was seemingly enhanced with every subsequent release, but it took a massive leap forward with their next movie, 1991s Barton Fink. Barton Fink is set in 1941 and is the story of a New York playwright (the eponymous Barton Fink played by John Turturro) who moves to Los Angeles to write a B-movie. He settles down in his hotel apartment to commence the writing but all too soon gets writer's block and allows himself to receive some inspiration from the amiable man in the room next door (played by John Goodman), together with some industry associates. Inspiration comes from the strangest places, and the hotel is definitely unusual and a magnet for the bizarre. Barton Fink was a critical success, garnering Oscar nominations plus winning three major awards at 1991 Cannes Film Festival, including the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm). Barton Fink was the first of the brothers' films to use Director of Photography Roger Deakins, a key figure in the brothers' circle over the following 15 years.

In 1994, with their stock at an all-time high, the brothers were able to attempt their first big-budget feature film The Hudsucker Proxy (co-written with Sam Raimi). The story revolves around a man who is made the head of a massive corporation with the expectation that he will ruin the company (so that the board can buy it for next to nothing); instead, he ends up inventing the hula hoop and becomes both a success and a "personality" overnight. The critics were, for once, lukewarm about the Coens' work, while Roger Deakins was universally praised for his skill as Director of Photography. The film was generally criticized for being "a pastiche too far". Most critics viewed the film as having nothing new to say due to its constant references and homages to classic movies of the 1930s and 40s. Many were disappointed by the Coens' first attempt at the big league. Perhaps more significantly, the film proved to be a massive commercial failure, making back only $3 million of its $25 million budget.

Following the commercial failure of The Hudsucker Proxy, the brothers returned to more familiar ground in 1996 with the noir thriller Fargo. Set in the Coen brothers' home state of Minnesota, the movie tells the tale of Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), a man with a money problem, who works in his father-in-law's car showroom. Jerry is anxious to get hold of some money to move up in the world and hatches a plan to have his wife kidnapped so that his wealthy father-in-law will pay the ransom that he can split with the kidnappers. Inevitably, his best laid plans go wrong when the bungling kidnappers deviate from the agreed non-violent plan and local cop Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) starts to investigate the whole affair. A critical and commercial success, with particular praise for its dialogue and McDormand's performance, the film received several awards including a BAFTA award and Cannes award for direction and two Oscars, one for Best Original Screenplay and a Best Actress Oscar for McDormand.

The Coens' next film would build upon this success and in 1998 The Big Lebowski was released. With its story about "The Dude", an LAmarker slacker (played by Jeff Bridges), used as an unwitting pawn in a fake kidnapping plot with his bowling buddies (Steve Buscemi and John Goodman), the Coens had hit on a film that would provide a mainstream accessibility that they had not enjoyed since Raising Arizona. Despite a lukewarm reception from the critics at the time, the film is now regarded as a cult classic.

The 2000s

Buoyed by the success of both Fargo and The Big Lebowski, the Coen brothers' next film O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) was another critical success. The title was borrowed from the 1941 Preston Sturges film Sullivan's Travels, whose lead character, movie director John Sullivan, had planned to make a film with that title. Based loosely on Homer's Odyssey (complete with a cyclops, sirens, et al.) the story is set in Mississippimarker in the 1930s and follows a trio of escaped convicts who have absconded from a chain gang and who journey home in an attempt to recover the loot from a bank heist that the leader has buried. But they have no idea what the journey is that they are undertaking. The film also highlighted the comic abilities of George Clooney who starred as the oddball lead character of Ulysses Everett McGill (assisted by his sidekicks, played by Tim Blake Nelson and John Turturro). The film's bluegrass and old time soundtrack, offbeat humor and, yet again, stunning cinematography, made it a critical and commercial hit. The soundtrack CD became even more successful than the film, spawning a concert, a concert DVD of its own (Down from the Mountain) that coincided with a resurgence in interest in American folk music.

The Coen brothers produced another noirish thriller in 2001, The Man Who Wasn't There. Set in late 1940s California, the film tells the tale of a laconic chain smoking barber (played by Billy Bob Thornton), who in an effort to get some money together to invest in a dry cleaning business, decides to blackmail his wife's boss, who is also her lover. The film's twists and turns and dark humor were typical of Coen films, but here the slow build of the thriller, its dead-end roads look meant that the film was more for the purists rather than for casual audiences.

Intolerable Cruelty was released in 2003 and starred George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones. The film was a throwback to the romantic comedies of the 1940s with a story based around Miles Massey, a hot shot divorce lawyer, and a beautiful divorcee whom Massey had managed to stop getting any money from her divorce. She sets out on a course to get even with him while he becomes smitten with her. Intolerable Cruelty divided the critics, some applauding the romantic screwball comedy elements of the movie, others enquiring as to why the Coens would wish to supply us with their take on this genre.

In 2004, the Coen brothers made The Ladykillers, a remake of the Ealing Studiosmarker classic. The story revolves around a professor (played by Tom Hanks) who puts together a team to rob a casino. They rent a room in an elderly woman's house to execute the heist. When the woman discovers the plot, however, the gang decides to murder her to ensure her silence. This is easier said than done. The Coens received some of the most lukewarm reviews of their career with this movie; much criticism surmised that while the Coens have managed to make films in which a genre can be homaged or pastiched successfully, a relatively faithful reworking of an individual classic did not give them enough creative leeway to place a complete trademark touch on their work.

No Country for Old Men, released in November 2007, was based on the 2005 novel by the author Cormac McCarthy. The film tells the tale of a man named Llewelyn (Josh Brolin) living on the Texas/Mexico border who stumbles upon two million dollars in drug money that he decides to pocket. He then has to go on the run to avoid those looking to recover the money, including a sinister killer (Javier Bardem) who confounds both Llewelyn and the local sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones). This plot line is a return to the dark, noir themes and also marks a notable departure, including a lack of regular Coen actors (with the exception of Stephen Root). The film has received nearly universal critical praise, garnering a 94% "Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes. The film won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, all of which were received by the Coens, as well as Best Supporting Actor received by Bardem. (The Coens, as "Roderick Jaynes", were also nominated for Best Editor, but lost.) It was the first time since 1961 (Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise for West Side Story) that two directors had received the honor of Best Director at the same time.

In January 2008, Ethan Coen's play Almost An Evening premiered Off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theater Companymarker Stage 2 and opened to mostly enthusiastic reviews. The initial run closed on February 10, 2008 but was moved to a new theatre for a commercial Off-Broadway run. The commercial run began in March, 2008, and ran until June 1, 2008 at the Bleecker Street Theatre in New York City, produced by The Atlantic Theater Company and Art Meets Commerce. In May 2009, the Atlantic Theater Company produced Coen's "Offices", as part of their mainstage season at the Linda Gross Theater.

Burn After Reading, a dark comedy starring Brad Pitt and George Clooney was released September 12, 2008. In its box office debut, it hit number one in North America.

In 2009, they directed a television commercial for the Reality Coalition entitled " Air Freshener".

A Serious Man was released on October 2, 2009. It has been described as a "gentle" but "dark" period (circa 1967) comedy with a low budget. The film is based loosely on their own childhoods in a Jewish academic family in the largely Jewish suburb of St Louis Parkmarker, Minnesotamarker. Other filming took place in late summer 2008 in some neighborhoods of Bloomington, Minnesotamarker, at Normandale Community College, and at St. Olaf Collegemarker.

The Coen Brothers' next film will be a remake of the western film True Grit. based on the novel by Charles Portis. The film will be distributed by Paramount. Jeff Bridges, who starred in the Coens' The Big Lebowski, is in discussions with Paramount to star.

Upcoming, planned films and uncompleted projects

The Coens hope to film James Dickey's novel To the White Sea.

A project which has been mooted for several years is Hail Caesar, the third of the so called Numskull trilogy, a comedy starring George Clooney as a matinee idol making a biblical epic. However in an interview for the Los Angeles Times in February 2008, the Coens said that it did not exist as a script but only as an idea.

It has been announced that the Coen brothers will write and direct an adaptation of Michael Chabon's novel, The Yiddish Policemen's Union. They will produce the film with Scott Rudin for Columbia Pictures.

In a 1998 interview with Alex Simon for Venice magazine, the Coens discussed a project called The Contemplations which would be an anthology of short films based on stories in a leatherbound book from a 'dusty old library'.

As well as their own projects, they have involvement in two other productions. One is Suburbicon, a comedy starring and directed by George Clooney. It will be written and produced by the Coens. In addition they have provided the screenplay for a remake of the 1966 film Gambit, due to star Colin Firth and Ben Kingsley. Both films are slated for a 2009 release.

Joel stated that "a Cold War comedy called 62 Skidoo is one I'd like to do someday".

The Coen brothers have stated that they are interested in making a sequel to Barton Fink called Old Fink, which would take place in the 1960s, around the same time period as A Serious Man. The brothers have stated that they have had talks with John Turturro in reprising his role as Fink, but they were waiting "until he was actually old enough to play the part".

Production company

Coen brothers founded their own film production company, located in New York City. Its name is Mike Zoss Productions. The company has been credited on films from O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

Stylistic devices

The Coens prefer not to put the opening credits at the very beginning of the film. The Coens are also amongst the few contemporary filmmakers who have shown a great affection for the screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s, and have incorporated their influences with varying degrees of subtlety, ranging from entire movies in the screwball mode like The Hudsucker Proxy and Intolerable Cruelty to occasional fast-talking wacky characters like Steve Buscemi's cameo in Miller's Crossing. Their style of characterisation creates a world in which even characters with small speaking parts seem to have exaggerated traits or characteristics. This can be attributed to the settings of many of the films (for example the characters in The Big Lebowski do not seem out of place in the many niche communities of LA).


Aside from their movie influences, many of the Coen Brothers films are written with the flavorings of specific works of crime fiction; they feel like stories that could have been written by their respective authors. Their first film Blood Simple, for example, with its themes of grisly violence and degenerate characters who are constantly betraying each other, feels much like that of a Jim Thompson novel—After Dark, My Sweet immediately comes to mind. It's even set in Texas, a place that pops up as the scenery in many of Thompson's gothic, hard-boiled yarns. Their 1990 film, Miller's Crossing, has all the earmarks of a Dashiell Hammet novel, specifically Red Harvest. While The Big Lebowski is an obvious modern-day farce of Raymond Chandler's debut crime novel published in 1939, The Big Sleep--wherein you can find 1930's counterparts for almost every character in the Coens' 1990's parody. The Man Who Wasn't There, another original screenplay, contains all of the set-ups found in a James M. Cain novel—most notably, Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice. These classic novels contribute greatly to their character studies, areas of interest (Los Angeles, Texas, the Midwest), and vernacular, beyond the world of film.


Oscar winners for Best Original Screenplay (Fargo) and Best Adapted Screenplay (No Country For Old Men), the Coen brothers are known for the dialogue in their films. Sometimes laconic (The Man Who Wasn't There; Fargo; No Country for Old Men), sometimes unusually loquacious (The Big Lebowski, The Hudsucker Proxy), their scripts typically feature a combination of dry wit, exaggerated language, and glaring irony. Another effect they employ is having a character repeat lines multiple times (The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou, Ladykillers, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man). In addition to Fargo and No Country For Old Men, one other script has been nominated for an Oscar (O Brother Where Art Thou for Adapted Screenplay).

Depictions of America

The various aspects that make the character of a city, state or region of America are an integral component in several Coen brothers films. Raising Arizona strongly features the distinctive Arizonamarker landscape, and some of the movie's characters are highly exaggerated stereotypes of some people's notions of Arizonans. Similarly, in Fargo the landscape and exaggerated accents of North Dakotamarker and Minnesotamarker are an essential component of the film. The Big Lebowski is the Coens' Los Angelesmarker film, with the Dude and other characters emblematic of the city's eclectic population. O Brother, Where Art Thou? is distinctly Southern as well as The Ladykillers, as it was filmed in rural Mississippimarker, most of the characters speak with pronounced Southern accents, and the soundtrack is made up of bluegrass songs. Barton Fink is in some respects a satire on another famous area of Los Angeles, Hollywoodmarker, as The Hudsucker Proxy does for New York. No Country for Old Men is also a depiction of the remote desert landscape of life and characters on the West Texas/Mexico border in Terrell Countymarker mostly with the focus on the town of Sandersonmarker and the city of Del Riomarker circa 1980. Burn After Reading depicts the culture in and around DC involving government employees.

In addition, the Coens often set their movies in times of American crises: Miller's Crossing during prohibition, Barton Fink in the time around the attack on Pearl Harbormarker, The Big Lebowski during the 1991 Gulf War, and O Brother Where Art Thou? during the Great Depression. World War II also is mentioned as an important plot point in The Man Who Wasn't There, and Hi blames his recidivism on Reagan's presidency in Raising Arizona - an obvious joke not intended to be taken seriously. The Hudsucker Proxy is set at the turn of 1958/59, the period that included Sputnik and the consequent escalation of the Cold War.

Use of animals

The Coens often use animals that seem to have an understanding of what is happening: for example, the bloodhound who looks surprised in the cabin scene of O, Brother, Where Art Thou?, the scruffy terrier accompanying the tyke in the Rug Daniels scene of Miller's Crossing, the Pomeranian show dog (with papers) who becomes agitated with Walter during Smokey's foul in The Big Lebowski, the ever-watching and suspicious Pickles in The Ladykillers, and the lame pit bull who is seen through binoculars by Moss in No Country for Old Men.


Money is involved in most of Coens' films. In Fargo, money (or more correctly, the lack thereof) starts the events of the film, and is the motivation for many of the characters. The Big Lebowski centers itself around the search for a large amount of money after it goes missing. No Country for Old Men portrays the events surrounding a suitcase full of money. One of the main character's motivations is the need for money to pay for cosmetic surgery in Burn After Reading. Most recently, the confusion and moral conflict surrounding a suspected bribe drive portions of the plot in A Serious Man.


The majority of the Coens' films are quite violent. In The Hudsucker Proxy, the plot is unleashed by the suicide of Waring Hudsucker, and in The Ladykillers several characters die in an attempt to dispose of an old woman. In some of their more graphic films, e.g., Fargo, most of the main characters die or are assaulted, all of which is portrayed onscreen; in one particularly graphic scene in Fargo, a character's body is fed into a wood chipper. In their quirky 2008 film, Burn After Reading, there is some comic violence in the film but some more grim violence includes Brad Pitt's character getting shot in the face and another is hacked to death with a hatchet.

The majority of the violence in their films falls under the category of dark humor. A notable departure is in No Country for Old Men, in which most of the violence is portrayed with stark, grim overtones and minimal dark comedic effect in order to effectively and faithfully depict Cormac McCarthy's bleakly told original story.

Retro settings and nostalgia

Most of the Coens' movies have either been set in the past or taken on conventions of nostalgic genres (particularly the screwball comedies and film noir of the 1930s and 40s). They often take great care to recreate a time period, even when it is relatively recent (as with The Big Lebowski, set only eight years before its release, but with care paid to dated fashion and references to current events of the day). The Coens frequently make use of classic American music styles like folk, country, and roots gospel as well. While the Coens tend to experiment with recapturing different time periods and settings, these have, as of present, not gone earlier than the Great Depression or later than the present day, and have never been set outside of the United States, except for a brief departure to Mexico in No Country for Old Men, the short film contained in "Paris, je t'aime" and a brief Yiddish play taking place in Europe in A Serious Man.


Visually, the Coens favor moving camera shots, especially tracking shots and crane shots. Their films are also distinguished by cinematic visual flourishes that mark turning points. Scenes that emphasize perspective or the interplay of shadow and light adorn many of the films: the rack of bowling shoes in the "Gutterballs" scene from The Big Lebowski, the boardroom table and the Hudsucker building in The Hudsucker Proxy, the night scene with "Wheezy Joe" in Intolerable Cruelty and the midnight chase scene in Fargo are a few examples.

The "Raimi cam" rush or speed-ramp

Occasionally in their tracking shots they "rush" the camera forward, as in the scene in Raising Arizona where Nathan Jr. is discovered missing by his mother; the Coen brothers dubbed the rush forward the "Raimi cam" in tribute to their longtime friend and director Sam Raimi, who used rushes extensively in Evil Dead (which Joel Coen helped edit). The Hudsucker Proxy features two rushes when Norville shows Mussburger's secretary the Blue Letter: first on the mouth of the lady screaming on the ladder, and then on Norville reacting to the scream. This method was also used in their segment of the collective film Paris, je t'aime.


The Coen brothers' earlier films (with the exception of Miller's Crossing) made extensive use of wide-angle lenses, which are the preferred lenses of their first cinematographer, Barry Sonnenfeld. When Sonnenfeld left to pursue a directing career he was replaced by Roger Deakins, who has been trying to wean the Coens off these lenses since. Although wide angle lenses allow great field of vision, they cause considerable distortion in the apparent size of objects based on how far they are from the camera. Deakins has been working toward longer lenses, which appear to shorten the distance between objects but have narrower field of vision.

Camera angles

The Coen brothers use camera angles that sometimes hide rather than reveal information. Examples include in Fargo when Jean Lundegaard hides in the shower, in Miller's Crossing when Tom goes into his room after Leo leaves (Verna is on the bed behind him), and in Blood Simple when Abby is sitting up in bed with Ray and the Volkswagen pulls up outside her window.

Disguised cuts

They also frequently "hide" their cuts in close-ups on an object, in the style of Alfred Hitchcock's Rope: one obvious occurrence in Fargo is when Carl bangs on the television to get it to work, and when the picture comes in it is a cut to Marge's television as seen from her bed; a similar cut in Miller's Crossing happens when the close up of the window at Bernie's house pans away to show a man dead on the floor at another; in The Hudsucker Proxy when Amy Archer is cheering "Go Eagles!" after Norville hires her, the film cuts to her showing the same cheer to her coworker at the newspaper; and in Blood Simple when the "close-up" of the ceiling fan over Marty's head at the bar turns out to be from Abby's point of view on the couch at Ray's house. A similar technique is used to integrate the background music into the action. Some examples of this can be seen in The Big Lebowski where the song "Tumbling Tumbleweeds", which accompanies the introductory monologue, is then continued in muzak form in the supermarket scene where the monologue ends. In the same film, the background music playing as the main character confronts the private detective following him (played by Jon Polito), is playing on the detective's car radio. The same technique is featured in the wild chase scene in Raising Arizona, where a yodelling soundtrack is featured as the main character flees multiple pursuers; the yodelling swaps to a muzak version of itself as the character takes refuge in a supermarket. It happens again when HI is dreaming, the music turns into the lullaby that ED is singing to the baby when he wakes up.


The Coen brothers storyboard their films completely before filming (many directors storyboard only complex shots, such as action sequences). They state that it helps them to get the budget they want, because they can demonstrate how most of the money will be used.

The Coen brothers have also stated that they use storyboards as references but are open to collaboration from the actors as well. Several actors who have worked with the Coens have remarked that they were very open to suggestions from actors.

Color correction

The brothers wanted the scenery in O Brother, Where Art Thou? to reflect the dust-bowl atmosphere of the Depression and, since the actual landscape for many of the scenes was much more verdant than the desired look, it became the first film to be fully color-corrected from start to finish using digital techniques.

Directing distinctions

In the past, Joel and Ethan Coen have had to split the producer and director credits due to guildmarker rules that disallowed co-sharing of the director credit to prevent rights and ownership issues. The only exception to this rule is if the co-directors are an "established duo". Now that they are able to share the director credit (as an established duo), the Coen brothers have become only the third duo to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director. The first two pairs to achieve this were Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins (who won for West Side Story in 1961) and Warren Beatty and Buck Henry (who were nominated for Heaven Can Wait in 1978).

With four Academy Award nominations for No Country for Old Men (Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Film Editing (Roderick Jaynes)), the Coen Brothers have tied the record for the most nominations by a single nominee (counting an "established duo" as one nominee) for the same film. Orson Welles set the record in 1941 with Citizen Kane being nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Screenplay (with Herman J. Mankiewicz). Warren Beatty tied Welles' record when Beatty was nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Screenplay for Reds in 1981. Alan Menken also then achieved the same feat when he was nominated for Best Score and triple-nominated for Best Song for Beauty and the Beast in 1991.


The Coens used cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld through Miller's Crossing until Sonnenfeld left to pursue his own directing career, which includes such films as The Addams Family, Get Shorty, and Men in Black. Roger A. Deakins has been the Coen brothers' cinematographer for all their films since except Burn After Reading, on which they employed Emmanuel Lubezki.

Sam Raimi also helped write The Hudsucker Proxy, which the Coen brothers directed; and the Coen brothers helped write Crimewave, which Raimi directed. Raimi took tips about filming A Simple Plan from the Coen brothers, who had recently finished Fargo (both films are set in blindingly white snow, which reflects a lot of light and can make metering for a correct exposure tricky). Raimi has cameos in Miller's Crossing and The Hudsucker Proxy. They met when Joel Coen was hired as one of the editors of The Evil Dead (mentioned on the movies' commentary).

William Preston Robertson is an old friend of the Coens who helped them with re-shoots on Blood Simple and provided the voice of the radio evangelist. He is listed in the credits as the "Rev. William Preston Robertson". He has provided vocal talents on most of the Coens' films up to and including The Big Lebowski. He is also credited in Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II and he wrote The Making of The Big Lebowski with Tricia Cooke.

The Coen brothers have a number of actors whom they frequently cast, including George Clooney, John Turturro, Michael Badalucco, Holly Hunter, Steve Buscemi, Frances McDormand, John Goodman, Jon Polito, Stephen Root, and Richard Jenkins each of whom has appeared in at least three Coen productions.

All of their films have been scored by Carter Burwell, although T-Bone Burnett produced much of the traditional music in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Ladykillers and was also in charge of archive music for The Big Lebowski. Skip Lievsay handles the post-production sound work for all of their films.


Academy Awards

Both Ethan and Joel have been nominated for eight Academy Awards, twice under their alias Roderick Jaynes, and have won two Oscars for screenwriting (original screenplay for Fargo and adapted screenplay for No Country for Old Men). They received their first awards for Best Achievement in Directing and Best Picture for No Country for Old Men.

1991: Barton Fink

1996: Fargo

2000: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

2001: The Man Who Wasn't There

2007: No Country for Old Men


Year Film Director credit Number of

Academy Award nominations
Number of

Academy Awards
Number of

Golden Globe nominations
Number of

Golden Globe awards
1984 Blood Simple Joel
1987 Raising Arizona Joel
1990 Miller's Crossing Joel
1991 Barton Fink Joel 3 1
1994 The Hudsucker Proxy Joel
1996 Fargo Joel 7 2 4
1998 The Big Lebowski Joel
2000 O Brother, Where Art Thou? Joel 2 2 1
2001 The Man Who Wasn't There Joel 1 3
2003 Intolerable Cruelty Joel
2004 The Ladykillers Joel & Ethan
2007 No Country for Old Men Joel & Ethan 8 4 4 2
2008 Burn After Reading Joel & Ethan 2
2009 A Serious Man Joel & Ethan
Total 21 6 16 3

Other works


  • Cheshire, Ellen & Ashbrook, John. 2000. Joel and Ethan Coen. "The Pocket Essential" 3rd Revised edition published in 2005 includes all films and some subsidiary works (Crimewave, Down from the Mountain, Bad Santa) up to The Ladykillers. ISBN 978-1904048398.


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