Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Oscars

It has been a week so I think it is about time the dumb filmmaker weighed in on the Oscars. The truth is I didn't see enough of the nominated films to make an informed decision, but I can say this: I loved Juno, have always been a fan of P.T.Anderson, thought Once was great, and Ian McEwan, author of Atonement, is one of my favorite novelists- Saturday from a couple of years ago is brilliant. This preamble brings me to No Country for Old Men by Joel and Ethan Coen.

In the early and middle 1980s there were a series of New York-based filmmakers that meant a lot to me- Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch, Susan Seidelman among them. Those filmmakers and others from the time helped usher in the second great post-studio era wave of American filmmakers. But for me the Coen Brothers were the sine qua non of independent American Cinema.

Blood Simple, their first feature was literally a text book example of how first-time directors could get a film made. I am not kidding, how Blood Simple got produced was used as an example in a Film as Business class I took near the end of my college career. For those who don't recall, the Coens and their DP Barry Sonnenfeld shot a trailer for the film and used it to get financing. The trailer was moody and atmospheric. It highlighted the creepy aspects of the film and showed no stars (it hadn't been cast yet). Lots of driving down the road at night and gun blasts coming through a wall. It was a brilliant (and now much imitated) plan and it worked.

Since then the Coens have won 4 Oscars (can it be 12 years since Fargo came out?). I compare the Coens to those fringe bands that gathered a small but loyal cult following and over the years hit it big. Compare the Coens career arc to those of REM (college radio got them their start) and U2 (Boy and October anyone?). Small fringe acts, competing against the big boys and mainstream hit machines, but 25 years later, look who is left standing.

I don't have any one favorite film- I love Barton Fink and O Brother... and there is a little of Dude from The Big Lebowski in me (yes, I had Creedence tapes, too.) Raising Arizona always makes me laugh. What I like about them is that they are original and familiar all at the same time. This variety of work is why I appreciated Joel Coen's comment at the Oscars thanking people for allowing them to play in their own little corner of the sandbox.

I want to thank them for 20+ years of great films.