Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Every Year is the Year of the Coen Brothers & The Michael Stuhlbarg Effect

It must be tough to be a filmmaker in this era, especially if you are trying to see where you stand in comparison to the best filmmakers of your generation.  The Coen Brothers, especially in recent years, seem to be living on their own planet of existence.  They have always had their stable of backers who allow them to make their films, their own way, on a 12 month cycle, where every single year a new piece of excellence has been released into the world, critically noticed and make a small profit leaving just another document of their film-making prowess.

How many careers can they revive or sustain?  See Jeff Bridges (what do you remember before The Big Lebowski, the Fabulous Baker Brothers), Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, John Turturro, as well as the recent renaissance of Josh Brolin in No Country For Old Men plus an assortment of off the screen collaborators such as cinematographer Roger Deakins, musician Carter Burwell and many more.  Their comfortable with their people bringing a few new ones in per film to learn their magical way. Wikipedia has a laundry list of frequent Coen Brothers collaborators.

Most recently, they brought Michael Stuhlbarg into the the super-Jewishy, upscale nebbishy version of David Paymer/middle-aged Joaquin Phoenix look-a-like into the world into the mainstream with A Serious Man.  Stuhlbarg has now popped up in a prime role, opposite the starring role for Steve Buscemi in the new HBO phenomenon of Boardwalk Empire.  (Maybe they should rename the show Coen Empire?)  While you can't hide Buscemi's recognizable face, it took me two episodes to recognize Stuhlbarg as gangster Arnold Rothstein. I think it was the missing glasses and the tenacity of his new role. It is the exact opposite of his portrayal of Larry Gopnik in A Serious Man, a movie about a man being walked over by just about everyone as his life spirals downward into the abyss.  A forgotten Oscar nominee for Best Picture last year but a brilliant film nonetheless.

One might say that the Coen Brothers at their worst when trying to emulate the classics in their mind, rather than putting it through their own grinder and producing something original.  Many skip over their reinterpretation of The Ladykillers when listing off their favorites.  Trailers have started to trickle out for their new film in the last few weeks, a remake of the classic western True Grit, but the first full glimpse of their vision has appeared on Yahoo! Movies.

What is everyone else in the world film-making to do?  How can they measure up to their production schedules and standard of excellence? No stinkers.  Intolerable Cruelty was one film I point at when trying to find a small flaw in their history but even then it's still quite funny.  It is the one film that they made they didn't write.  They didn't have full control and they were trying to create a money maker of a romantic comedy to pay for some of their other visions to be paid for.  Maybe it's all because of there are two of them.  Is that unfair?  Power Tool said it best on their hit track from the Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure soundtrack, "Two Heads Are Better Than One."

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