Posts Tagged ‘the Coen brothers’

An Ill-Informed, Underqualified Oscar Preview

Although NPI officially endorses the new Oscar voting policy for the Best Picture award, one of the major downsides of expanding the category to 10 is that it makes it twice as hard to keep up. I have seen five of the films nominated for the Academy’s grand prize tonight; you’d think that would be enough, but it leaves me without anything to say about 50% of the nominees. I mean, who has time to see 10 movies a year? I have TV to watch…

Anyway, if the Academy thinks that not having seen most of the films up for awards tonight is going to stop me from offering predictions and analysis, they were wrong. Dead wrong. Like last year (when I was 5/8), we’re sticking with the eight major awards: Continue reading

Oscarpalooza: A Serious Look at A Serious Man

In honor of Oscar weekend, NPI will be rerunning its reviews of the Best Picture nominees. Here, John S champions A Serious Man:

“[The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle] proves that we can’t ever know what’s going on….But even if you can’t figure anything out, you’re still responsible for this on the midterm.”

So Larry Gopnik, the physics professor at the heart of A Serious Man, tells his class about midway through the new film from the Coen brothers, basically summing up the entire movie.

Most of the Coen brothers’ films follow an Everyman caught up in morally questionable dealings, butA Serious Man deals with moral uncertainty more directly than films such as Fargo or even No Country For Old Men. Part of this comes from the fact that Gopnik (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) may be the Coen brothers’ most innocent protagonist—unlike Jerry Lundegaard, Llewelyn Moss, or even the Dude, Gopnick doesn’t do anything (as he repeatedly insists throughout the movie) to bring on an onslaught of crises. Life merely seems to happen to him, and he spends most of the film trying to figure out why. Continue reading

Ranking Bob Dylan Songs, #97: Man of Constant Sorrow

I want to like this song more than I actually do. Of all the songs Dylan recorded on this album, “Man of Constant Sorrow” is one of the most notable and most recognizable. Listeners of today are most likely to recognize the Soggy Bottom Boys rendition from the Coen Brothers’ 2000 film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but there are dozens of other famous versions recorded since it was (allegedly) written by Dick Burnett in about 1913. It’s easy to understand why this song has been performed so many times—there is a playful poetry and malleability to its lyrics. Even the phrase “man of constant sorrow” is particularly lyrical, falling naturally into trochaic feet. And the story told by the song—about a man of humble origins venturing out into the cruel, cold world—is the kind of archetypal material that folk musicians flock to. Continue reading

Aught Lang Syne: What John S Is Looking Forward To….

In this final installment Aught Lang Syne’s conclusion, John S presents what he is looking forward to in the coming decade. In case you missed it, Josh posted what he is anticipating here, and Tim posted his here. We at NPI hope you’ve enjoyed our retrospective on the Aughts.

In the Teens, I’m looking forward to….

…A Suitable Name for a Decade: Were we happy with “the Aughts”? Of course not. But we stuck with it for the sake of consistency. And even if it won’t be accurate for 30% of the decade, at least all the 2019 decade retrospectives will refer it as “the Teens.”

…The Future of Television: I’ve already touched on this, but television is currently at a crossroads. If anything, things have become more dire for the old model. Network television is apparently on its way out, and free television may be a casualty. This, of course, may have disastrous consequences: With free TV gone, shows’ budgets may be severely restricted. As a result, shows will not be able to have big casts, shoot extensively on location, or attract the best talent. In other words, the Golden Age of TV will be over.

It’s probably inevitable that television will undergo some growing pains, but I think that ultimately the industry will get stronger. The evolution away from the old network model will actually be conducive to more innovative programming. Broad hits like CSI and American Idol may suffer, but shows like Mad Men—which is already on pay-cable and maintains a large cast, original sets, and great actors—ought to be able to survive. In fact, the cable model, which is what people say we are drifting towards now, already produces most of the best television. No matter what, though, it will be fascinating to watch a medium that is hitting its creative stride at the precise moment that it faces logistical upheaval.   Continue reading

Aught Lang Syne: The Top Ten Movies of the Decade

Despite my general negativity about movies of the Aughts, there were still plenty of great films released this decade (although I think a Top Ten list of 90s movies would probably omit films that could be #1 on this list). I’ve already provided a list of the ten funniest films of the decade, and there were other great comedies that didn’t make the list. Today, though, we turn our attention to the dramatic category. As Josh has already declared, though, genre concerns can be distracting, so I will not be bound my technical genre classifications. Consider this a list of films I like for “dramatic” reasons: 

Continue reading

Aught Lang Syne: A Bad Decade for Movies

Commercially speaking, the Aughts were an excellent decade for film. Even in poor economic conditions, box office records continued—and still continue as we speak—to be broken. Box Office Mojo’s list of highest grossing films is littered with movies from the Aughts. Much of this is due to inflation, of course, but even on an inflation-adjusted list of all films to pass $100 million in gross, 273 of 665 films—or 41%—come from this decade alone.

For those who make their living off of movies, then, there was plenty to be happy about in the Aughts. But for the audience, for those who like to watch daring and innovative films, the decade was surprisingly disappointing.

Of course, painting in such broad strokes is always a tricky game, particularly for something as ingrained and multi-faceted as film. Unlike television, cinema has been established as a medium for serious art since before I was even born, so the Aughts couldn’t really see a general creative leap of that sort. Unlike music, in which production costs are lower and output generally faster, film cannot experience the kind of rapid flourishing and integration of entire genres. Continue reading

Aught Lang Syne: The Decade in Literature, Part I

In addition to our Aught-themed Sunday Book Review, which we began last week, NPI is presenting a more general look at fiction of the decade in which we look quickly and some of the most significant works of literature published during this decade. This is Part I of a two-part series.

2666 — Roberto Bolaño

 The epic of the Aughts (so long as we’re not counting The Wire), 2666 affords Bolaño the posthumous chance to opine on death in all its forms: from the corporeal to the metaphysical. His characters are deep even when they are fleeting, and his style (in Natasha Wimmer’s translation) ranges from florid to hard-boiled. In contemplating his own legacy, Bolaño pretty much ensured it. 

–Tim

 

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay — Michael Chabon

I’ve already expanded on my high opinion of Michael Chabon’s novel about the Golden Age of Comic Books; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay presents a compelling portrait of what it’s like to create fantasies in an era of global turmoil—a particularly resonant story of the Aughts, even if Chabon’s novel came out in 2000. While he deals with themes like evil and fantasy, however, Chabon is adept at depicting a rich setting of New York City in the 1930s.

– John S

Continue reading

A Serious Look at A Serious Man

“[The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle] proves that we can’t ever know what’s going on….But even if you can’t figure anything out, you’re still responsible for this on the midterm.”

So Larry Gopnik, the physics professor at the heart of A Serious Man, tells his class about midway through the new film from the Coen brothers, basically summing up the entire movie.

Most of the Coen brothers’ films follow an Everyman caught up in morally questionable dealings, but A Serious Man deals with moral uncertainty more directly than films such as Fargo or even No Country For Old Men. Part of this comes from the fact that Gopnik (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) may be the Coen brothers’ most innocent protagonist—unlike Jerry Lundegaard, Llewelyn Moss, or even the Dude, Gopnick doesn’t do anything (as he repeatedly insists throughout the movie) to bring on an onslaught of crises. Life merely seems to happen to him, and he spends most of the film trying to figure out why.

If this seems reminiscent of the Book of Job, that’s because it is. A Serious Man is a loose retelling of the Biblical story set in suburban Minneapolis during the late ‘60s. Stuhlbarg spends much of his time playing Gopnik keeled over, with his head between his knees as he looks for counsel from generally unhelpful sources. Gopnik tries to get advice from the elderly Rabbi Marshak, who is more like an absent Godot than a God: He doesn’t do pastoral work anymore, he just congratulates the Bar Mitzvah boys. Instead, Gopnik has to settle for the junior rabbi, Rabbi Scott, who looks fresh out of rabbinical school, and Rabbi Nachtner, who tells him “the story of the goy’s teeth.”

The story of the goy’s teeth—about a dentist who finds a cryptic Biblical message on the back of a Gentile’s teeth—is meant to be advisory, but ends up coming across as completely impenetrable. This, of course, is the point. A Serious Man presents life in general as totally indecipherable. And yet, Gopnik, like his students, is going to be responsible for this. Continue reading

The Most You Ever Lost on a Coin Toss: The Sense in Senseless Violence

harvey

“The only morality in a cruel world is chance. Unbiased. Unprejudiced. Fair.”

—Harvey Dent, The Dark Knight

 

 

 

Anton

Carla Jean: The coin don’t have no say. It’s just you.

Anton Chigurh: Well, I got here the same way the coin did.

No Country For Old Men

 

 

 

 

There has been a rash of coin-flipping killers in the movies recently—well, only two, but they are from two of the most important and memorable movies of the last decade.

Both titles are in IMDb’s ranking of the top 50 titles of this decade, with The Dark Knight in the top spot—granted the list is severely flawed (Up is No. 2 and Gran Torino is actually on the list), but it is a clear indication that these films had resonance.

The cultural importance of DK and NC is heightened even more when we consider the vacuum in culturally important movies over the last five years. On IMDb, which tends to be incredibly present-biased, most of this decade’s top films come from its first half. Even among the more recent ones, three are Pixar and six are foreign (not that these facts make the films bad or insignificant, just not the types of pictures that resonate with the culture at large), and I don’t think Star Trek or The Hangover will last long on the list. Continue reading

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