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VBOAT'S PICK For Best Coen Brother's Movie: A Serious Man

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A Serious Man many not be  pulling away from the field for the title of the best Coen brothers movie, but it is at VBOAT.  Let’s explain why we  have A Serious Man as our pinnacle Coen creation. While we adore Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and the critically acclaimed The Big Lebowski, we don’t think it’s particularly close. First, let’s revisit their films, then get to our defense and why other movies, though great, don’t quite reach the same heights.

Year Title Distribution
1984 Blood Simple Circle Films
1987 Raising Arizona 20th Century Fox
1990 Miller's Crossing 20th Century Fox
1991 #3 Barton Fink 20th Century Fox
1994 The Hudsucker Proxy Warner Bros. Pictures / Universal Pictures
1996 #2 Fargo Gramercy Pictures
1998 #5 The Big Lebowski Gramercy Pictures
2000 O Brother, Where Art Thou? Buena Vista Pictures / Universal Pictures
2001 The Man Who Wasn't There USA Films
2003 Intolerable Cruelty Universal Pictures
2004 The Ladykillers Buena Vista Pictures
2007 #4 No Country for Old Men Miramax / Paramount Vantage
2008 Burn After Reading Focus Features
2009 #1 A Serious Man Focus Features
2010 True Grit Paramount Pictures
2013 Inside Llewyn Davis CBS Films
2016 Hail, Caesar! Universal Pictures
2018 The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Netflix

A Serious Man: The Coen Brothers' Masterpiece of Personal Legend and Introspection (especially if you're Jewish)

Disclaimer: everyone who contributed or been associated with this website up to this review is Jewish. Take that as you will.

In the extensive filmography of Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man holds a unique and intriguing position. Despite the brothers’ penchant for quirky and off-beat films, there’s something exceptionally distinct about A Serious Man. It’s a potent, introspective dive into faith, destiny, and the very essence of life—themes that are deeply resonant but often abstracted in most mainstream films. Through this narrative, the Coens not only solidify their stature as master storytellers but also exhibit their unparalleled ability to craft their own cinematic legends.

While other films in the Coen Brothers’ collection such as No Country for Old Men and Fargo have garnered significant acclaim, A Serious Man stands out due to its introspective nature and personal resonance. The backdrop—a Midwestern Jewish community in the late 1960s—mirrors the Coens’ own upbringing. However, unlike many autobiographical films, it doesn’t merely dwell on the past. Instead, it takes personal memories and employs them as a canvas to portray profound, universal truths.

The main character of the film, Larry Gopnik, is a physics professor grappling with age-old questions of faith, morality, and destiny, all while navigating a series of increasingly unfortunate events. Larry’s Job-like trials and tribulations serve as a context to delve into deeper existential inquiries. Through each interaction, whether with his unfaithful wife, a disgruntled student, or the elusive Rabbi, Larry’s bewilderment and desperation intensify, painting a hauntingly relatable image of a man wrestling with the universe’s apathy.

However, the brilliance of the movie isn’t solely in its storytelling, but in how it constructs its own legend. Most cultures possess myths, tales, or parables aimed at elucidating life’s most significant questions. The Coens, employing their distinct narrative style, shape their own legend through three Rabbis, each offering a different perspective on faith and life. The allegorical tales and counsel from these Rabbis don’t necessarily offer solutions, but instead compel both Larry and the audience to directly confront these questions. This structure—a contemporary retelling of an ancient storytelling form—is both recognizable and strikingly innovative.

Moreover, the film’s initial Yiddish folktale about a couple who may or may not have encountered a dybbuk (a malevolent spirit in Jewish folklore) establishes the context. It may appear detached from the rest of the narrative, but it’s the Coens’ way of asserting that every culture, generation, and individual possesses their own legends, and this is theirs. By selecting such an intimate tale, the Coens transform A Serious Man into a universal exploration of humanity’s timeless engagement with faith, destiny, and the quest for meaning.

A Serious Man doesn’t just mirror the brilliance of the Coen Brothers; it attests to their skill in interweaving personal stories with grand themes, thereby creating a masterpiece. It showcases their ability to craft characters who, despite their idiosyncrasies, epitomize universal struggles. By creating their own legend, the Coens give voice to the unspoken contemplations and queries that afflict all of humanity, turning A Serious Man into not just a cinematic treasure but a profound exploration of the human condition.

Notes From Our Top 5

Ok we get it. Don’t @ us. Fargo is a fantastic movie. Below we’ll give our 2nd-5th favorite Coen Brothers movie starting with, you guessed it, Fargo.

Fargo

Set in the snowy landscapes of Minnesota, Fargo is a dark comedy-crime film about a desperate car salesman who hires two criminals to kidnap his wife, setting off a spiral of events filled with deceit, murder, and quirky humor.

Why it’s not better than A Serious Man: While Fargo brilliantly marries humor and violence in its storytelling, it doesn’t delve as deeply into existential themes and personal introspection as A Serious Man does.

Barton Fink

Barton Fink narrates the story of a New York playwright who finds himself in Hollywood, struggling with writer’s block and getting entangled in a series of mysterious and eerie events.

Why it’s not better than A Serious Man: Although Barton Fink masterfully explores a writer’s creative challenges and the underbelly of Hollywood’s glamour, its narrative is more surreal and less rooted in relatable human dilemmas than A Serious Man.

No Country For Old Men

A gripping crime thriller set in Texas, No Country For Old Men revolves around a drug deal gone wrong, a relentless killer, and a sheriff’s pursuit, culminating in a narrative about fate, morality, and the inevitability of violence.

Why it’s not better than A Serious Man: No Country For Old Men is a powerhouse of tension and moral quandaries, but its focus on external conflict and action doesn’t provide the same introspective journey and exploration of faith as A Serious Man.

The Big Lebowski

The life of Jeff The Dude Lebowski takes a turn when he gets mistaken for a millionaire and embarks on a bizarre quest involving mistaken identity, a kidnapped wife, and a rug that tied the room together.

Why it’s not better than A Serious Man: While The Big Lebowski is an iconic cult classic filled with unforgettable characters and comedic moments, its lighthearted and whimsical nature contrasts with the deeper philosophical and spiritual inquiries of A Serious Man.

Filming Locations in A Serious Man (zoom out for more locations)

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