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Who are the Coen Brothers?

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  • Written By: Phil Shepley
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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The Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan Coen, are two award-winning American filmmakers who have written, produced and directed numerous acclaimed films. Joel, who was born in 1954, is credited with writing and directing their films, and Ethan, who was born in 1957, is credited with writing and producing them. Both of the Coen brothers have shared all of these responsibilities, however, when creating their various films. These films utilize a wide range of genres and are known for their dark humor, unique plots, eccentric characters, and homages to other famous movies and directors.

The Coen brothers were raised in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. There, they used earnings from mowing lawns to buy a Super 8 camera, which they used to remake movies they watched on television. They both graduated from Simon’s Rock College of Bard in Massachusetts, and Joel went on to spend four years as an undergraduate of the film program at New York University. In 1984, Joel and Ethan Coen wrote and directed Blood Simple, their first film together, which used a unique blend of storyline, plot twist, atmosphere and dark sense of humor. The film was praised by critics and went on to win both Sundance and Independent Spirit Awards.

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The Coen brothers went on to collaborate on several projects that led up to Raising Arizona in 1987, the first film that brought them mainstream popularity. The film is a comedy about an infertile couple that kidnaps a quintuplet from a rich tycoon, and it uses lighter comedy to overshadow the underlying darker themes implied in the plot. From there, Joel and Ethan wrote, directed and produced many films that differed greatly from theme to theme. These included: the dark mobster film, Miller’s Crossing; the story of a 1940s B-movie writer, Barton Fink; and Fargo, another dark tale, this one of a desperate salesman and his plot to extort money by having his wife kidnapped.

Fargo went on to win several more awards, including two Academy Awards, and then the Coen brothers took yet another completely different turn with their next film, The Big Lebowski. This movie, a detective story with no shortage of eccentric characters, centered around a slacker named “The Dude” and did not do well either critically or commercially when it was released, but went on to become one of the most praised cult classics of all time. The Coen brothers followed it with many films that have won them even more fans, awards and critical praise. Notables among these have been O Brother, Where Art Thou? and No Country For Old Men. The latter won four Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and for Best Supporting Actor.

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