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Birth date
29.11.1954
Birth Place
St. Louis Park, Minnesota, U.S. (both)
Zodiac Sign
Sagittarius
Gender
Male
Fields of Expertise
Film making
Languages
English
Ocupation
Film directors, producers, screenwriters, editors
Education
St. Louis Park High School
Coen brothers

Like any kind of writing, there are good days and frustrating days. But even frustrating days can be rewarding sometimes.

Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, popularly known as the Coen Brothers, are American film directors, producers, screenwriters, and editors. Their films span many genres and styles, which they frequently subvert or parody. Their most acclaimed works include Raising Arizona 1987, Miller's Crossing 1990, Fargo 1996, The Big Lebowski 1998, O Brother, Where Art Thou? 2000, No Country for Old Men 2007, Burn After Reading 2008, A Serious Man 2009, True Grit 2010, Inside Llewyn Davis 2013, and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs 2018.

The brothers write, direct and produce their films jointly, although until The Ladykillers 2004 Joel received sole credit for directing and Ethan for producing. They often alternate top billing for their screenplays while sharing editing credits under the alias Roderick Jaynes. They have been nominated for 13 Academy Awards together, and individually for one award each, winning Best Original Screenplay for Fargo and Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for No Country for Old Men. The duo also won the Palme d'Or for Barton Fink 1991.

The Coens have written a number of films they did not direct, including the biographical war drama Unbroken 2014, the historical legal thriller Bridge of Spies 2015, and lesser-known, commercially unsuccessful comedies such as Crimewave 1985, The Naked Man 1998 and Gambit 2012. Ethan is also a writer of short stories, theater and poetry.

They are known for their distinctive stylistic trademarks including genre hybridity. No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man and Inside Llewyn Davis have been ranked in the BBC's 2016 poll of the greatest motion pictures since 2000. In 1998, the American Film Institute AFI ranked Fargo among the 100 greatest American movies ever made.

Background

Early life

In regards to whether our background influences our film making ... who knows? We don't think about it ... There's no doubt that our Jewish heritage affects how we see things. —Joel Coen, on the Coens' Jewish heritage.

Joel Daniel Coen born November 29, 1954 and Ethan Jesse Coen born September 21, 1957 were born and raised in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. Their mother, Rena née Neumann; 1925–2001, was an art historian at St. Cloud State University, and their father, Edward Coen 1919-2012, was an economist at the University of Minnesota. The brothers have an older sister, Deborah, who grew up to become a psychiatrist working in Israel. Both sides of the Coen family were Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews. Their paternal grandfather, Victor Coen, was a barrister in the Inns of Court in London before retiring to Hove with their grandmother. Edward Coen was an American citizen born in the United States, but grew up in Croydon, London and studied at the London School of Economics. Afterwards he moved to the United States, where he met the Coens' mother, and served in the United States Army during World War II.

In regards to whether our background influences our film making ... who knows? We don't think about it ... There's no doubt that our Jewish heritage affects how we see things. —Joel Coen, on the Coens' Jewish heritage.

The Coens developed an early interest in cinema through television. They grew up watching Italian films ranging from the works of Federico Fellini to the Sons of Hercules films aired on a Minneapolis station, the Tarzan films and the comedies of Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope and Doris Day. In the mid-1960s, Joel saved money from mowing lawns to buy a Vivitar Super 8 camera. Together, the brothers remade movies they saw on television, with their neighborhood friend Mark Zimering "Zeimers" as the star. Cornel Wilde's 1965 film The Naked Prey became their Zeimers in Zambezi, which featured Ethan as a native with a spear. The 1943 film Lassie Come Home was reinterpreted as their Ed... A Dog, with Ethan playing the mother role in his sister's tutu. They also made original films like Henry Kissinger, Man on the Go, Lumberjacks of the North and The Banana Film.

Education

Joel and Ethan graduated from St. Louis Park High School in 1973 and 1976, respectively, and from Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

After Simon's Rock, Joel spent four years in the undergraduate film program at New York University, where he made a 30-minute thesis film called Soundings. In 1979 he briefly enrolled in the graduate film program at the University of Texas at Austin, following a woman he had married who was in the graduate linguistics program. The marriage soon ended in divorce and Joel left UT Austin after nine months.

Ethan went on to Princeton University and earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy in 1979. His senior thesis was a 41-page essay, "Two Views of Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy," which was supervised by Raymond Geuss.

Personal lives

Joel has been married to actress Frances McDormand since 1984. In 1995, they adopted a son, Pedro McDormand Coen, from Paraguay when he was six months old. McDormand has acted in several Coen Brothers films: Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, Fargo, The Man Who Wasn't There, Burn After Reading, and Hail, Caesar! For her performance in Fargo she won the Academy Award for Best Actress.

Ethan married film editor Tricia Cooke in 1990. They have two children: daughter Dusty and son Buster Jacob.

Both couples live in New York.

Career

1980s

After graduating from New York University, Joel worked as a production assistant on a variety of industrial films and music videos. He developed a talent for film editing and met Sam Raimi while assisting Edna Ruth Paul in editing Raimi's first feature film, The Evil Dead 1981.

In 1984 the brothers wrote and directed Blood Simple, their first commercial film together. Set in Texas, the film tells the tale of a shifty, sleazy bar owner who hires a private detective to kill his wife and her lover. The film contains elements that point to their future direction: distinctive homages to genre movies in this case noir and horror, plot twists layered over a simple story, dark humor, and mise-en-scène. The film starred Frances McDormand, who went on to feature in many of the Coen brothers' films and marry Joel. Upon release the film received much praise and won awards for Joel's direction at both the Sundance and Independent Spirit awards.

Their next project was Crimewave 1985, directed by Sam Raimi and written by the Coens and Raimi. Joel and Raimi also made cameo appearances in Spies Like Us 1985.

The brothers' next film was Raising Arizona 1987, the story of an unlikely married couple: ex-convict H.I. Nicolas Cage and police officer Ed Holly Hunter, who long for a baby but are unable to conceive. When a local furniture tycoon Trey Wilson appears on television with his newly born quintuplets and jokes that they "are more than we can handle", H.I. steals one of the quintuplets to bring up as their own. The film featured Frances McDormand, John Goodman, William Forsythe, Sam McMurray, and Randall "Tex" Cobb.

1990s

Miller's Crossing, released in 1990, starred Albert Finney, Gabriel Byrne, and John Turturro. The film is about feuding gangsters in the Prohibition era, inspired by Dashiell Hammett's novels Red Harvest 1929 and The Glass Key serialized in 1930.

The following year, they released Barton Fink 1991; set in 1941, in which a New York playwright, the eponymous Barton Fink played by John Turturro, moves to Los Angeles to write a B-movie. He settles down in his hotel room to commence writing but suffers writer's block until he is invaded by the man next door John Goodman. Barton Fink was a critical success, earning Oscar nominations and winning three major awards at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival, including the Palme d'Or. It was their first film with cinematographer Roger Deakins, a key collaborator for the next 25 years.

The Hudsucker Proxy co-written with Raimi was released in 1994. In it, the board of a large corporation in 1958 New York City appoints a naive schmo as president Tim Robbins for underhanded reasons. The film bombed at the box office $30 million budget, $3 million gross in the USA, even though it featured Paul Newman and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Frances McDormand appears in a brief uncredited role.

The Coens wrote and directed the crime thriller Fargo 1996, set in their home state of Minnesota. Jerry Lundegaard William H. Macy, who has serious financial problems, has his wife kidnapped so that his wealthy father-in-law will pay the ransom. His plan goes wrong when the kidnappers deviate from the plan and local cop Marge Gunderson McDormand starts to investigate. Produced on a small budget of $7 million, Fargo was a critical and commercial success, with particular praise for its dialogue and McDormand's performance. The film received several awards, including a BAFTA award and Cannes award for direction, and two Oscars: a Best Original Screenplay and a Best Actress Oscar for McDormand.

In the Coens' next film, the black comedy The Big Lebowski 1998, "The Dude" Jeff Bridges, a Los Angeles slacker, is used as an unwitting pawn in a kidnapping plot with his bowling buddies Steve Buscemi and John Goodman. Despite initially receiving mixed reviews and underperforming at the box office, it is now well received by critics, and is regarded as a classic cult film. An annual festival, Lebowski Fest, began in 2002, and many adhere to the philosophy of "Dudeism". Entertainment Weekly ranked it 8th on their Funniest Movies of the Past 25 Years list in 2008.

Gates of Eden, a collection of short stories written by Ethan Coen, was published in 1998. The same year, Ethan co-wrote the comedy The Naked Man, directed by their storyboard artist J. Todd Anderson.

2000s

The Coen brothers' next film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? 2000, was another critical and commercial success. The title was borrowed from the Preston Sturges film Sullivan's Travels 1941, whose lead character, movie director John Sullivan, had planned to make a film with that title. Based loosely on Homer's Odyssey complete with a Cyclops, sirens, et al., the story is set in Mississippi in the 1930s and follows a trio of escaped convicts who, after absconding from a chain gang, journey home to recover bank-heist loot the leader has buried—but they have no clear perception of where they are going. The film highlighted the comic abilities of George Clooney as the oddball lead character Ulysses Everett McGill, and of Tim Blake Nelson and John Turturro, his sidekicks. The film's bluegrass and old-time soundtrack, offbeat humor and digitally desaturated cinematography made it a critical and commercial hit. It was the first feature film to use all-digital color grading. The film's soundtrack CD was also successful, spawning a concert and concert/documentary DVD, Down from the Mountain.

The Coens next produced another noirish thriller, The Man Who Wasn't There 2001. Set in late 1940s California, a laconic chain-smoking barber played by Billy Bob Thornton discovers a way to blackmail his wife's lover and use the proceeds to invest in a dry cleaning business.

The Coens directed the 2003 film Intolerable Cruelty, starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones, a throwback to the romantic comedies of the 1940s. It focuses on hotshot divorce lawyer Miles Massey and a beautiful divorcée whom Massey managed to prevent from receiving any money in her divorce. She vows to get even with him while, at the same time, he becomes smitten with her. Intolerable Cruelty received generally positive reviews, although it is considered one of the duo's weaker films. Also that year, they executive produced and did an uncredited rewrite of the Christmas black comedy Bad Santa, which garnered positive reviews.

Ethan and Joel at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival

In 2004, the Coens made The Ladykillers, a remake of the Ealing Studios classic. A professor, played by Tom Hanks, assembles a team to rob a casino. They rent a room in an elderly woman's home to plan the heist. When the woman discovers the plot, the gang decides to murder her to ensure her silence. The Coens received some of the most lukewarm reviews of their careers in response to this film.

They directed two short films for two separate anthology films—Paris, je t'aime Tuileries, 2006 starring Steve Buscemi, and To Each His Own Cinema World Cinema, 2007 starring Josh Brolin. Both films received highly positive reviews.

No Country for Old Men, released in November 2007, closely follows the 2005 novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy. Vietnam veteran Llewelyn Moss Josh Brolin, living near the Texas/Mexico border, stumbles upon, and decides to take, two million dollars in drug money. He must then go on the run to avoid those trying to recover the money, including sociopathic killer Anton Chigurh Javier Bardem, who confounds both Llewelyn and local sheriff Ed Tom Bell Tommy Lee Jones. The plotline is a return to noir themes, but in some respects it was a departure for the Coens; with the exception of Stephen Root, none of the stable of regular Coen actors appears in the film. No Country received nearly universal critical praise, garnering a 94% "Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes. It won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, all of which were received by the Coens, as well as Best Supporting Actor received by Bardem. The Coens, as "Roderick Jaynes", were also nominated for Best Editing, but lost. It was the first time since 1961 when Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise won for West Side Story that two directors received the Academy Award for Best Director at the same time.

With Javier Bardem at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival

In January 2008, Ethan Coen's play Almost an Evening premiered off-broadway at the Atlantic Theater Company Stage 2, opening to mostly enthusiastic reviews. The initial run closed on February 10, 2008, but the same production was moved to a new theatre for a commercial off-Broadway run at the Bleecker Street Theater in New York City. Produced by The Atlantic Theater Company, it ran there from March 2008 through June 1, 2008. and Art Meets Commerce. In May 2009, the Atlantic Theater Company produced Coen's Offices, as part of their mainstage season at the Linda Gross Theater.

Burn After Reading, a comedy starring Brad Pitt and George Clooney, was released September 12, 2008, and portrays a collision course between a gym instructor, spies and Internet dating. Released to positive reviews, it debuted at No. 1 in North America.

In 2009, the Coens directed a television commercial titled "Air Freshener" for the Reality Coalition.

They next directed A Serious Man, released October 2, 2009, a "gentle but dark" period comedy set in 1967 with a low budget. The film is based loosely on the Coens' childhoods in an academic family in the largely Jewish suburb of Saint Louis Park, Minnesota; it also drew comparisons to the Book of Job. Filming took place late in the summer of 2008, in the neighborhoods of Roseville and Bloomington, Minnesota, at Normandale Community College, and at St. Olaf College. The film was nominated for the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.

2010s

True Grit 2010 is based on the 1968 novel of the same name by Charles Portis. Filming was done in Texas and New Mexico. Hailee Steinfeld stars as Mattie Ross along with Jeff Bridges as Marshal Rooster Cogburn. Matt Damon and Josh Brolin also appear in the movie. True Grit was nominated for ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Ethan Coen wrote the one-act comedy Talking Cure, which was produced on Broadway in 2011 as part of Relatively Speaking, an anthology of three one-act plays by Coen, Elaine May, and Woody Allen.

In 2011, the Coen brothers won the $1 million Dan David Prize for their contribution to cinema and society.

The Coens, presidents of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival jury

Inside Llewyn Davis 2013 is a treatise on the 1960s folk music scene in New York City's Greenwich Village, and very loosely based on the life of Dave Van Ronk. The film stars Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan. It won the Grand Prix at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, where it was highly praised by critics. They received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song for "Please Mr. Kennedy", which is heard in the film.

Fargo, a television series inspired by their film of the same name, premiered in April 2014 on the FX network. It is created by Noah Hawley and executive produced by the brothers.

The Coens also contributed to the screenplay for Unbroken, along with Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson. The film, directed by Angelina Jolie, and based on Laura Hillenbrand's non-fiction book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption 2010 which itself was based on the life of Louis Zamperini, was released on December 25, 2014 to average reviews.

The Coens co-wrote, with playwright Matt Charman, the screenplay for the dramatic historical thriller Bridge of Spies, about the 1960 U-2 Incident. The film was directed by Steven Spielberg, and released on October 4, 2015 to critical acclaim. They were nominated for the Best Original Screenplay at the 88th Academy Awards.

The Coens directed the film Hail, Caesar!, about a "fixer" in 1950s Hollywood trying to discover what happened to a cast member who vanishes during filming. It stars Coen regulars George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson and Tilda Swinton, as well as Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, and Alden Ehrenreich. The film was released on February 5, 2016.

In 2016, the Coens gave to their longtime friend and collaborator John Turturro the right to use his character of Jesus Quintana from The Big Lebowski in his own spin-off, The Jesus Rolls, which he would also write and direct. The Coens have no involvement in the production. In August 2016, the film began principal photography.

The Coens first wrote the script for Suburbicon in 1986. The film was eventually directed by George Clooney and began filming in October 2016. It was released by Paramount Pictures in the fall of 2017.

The Coens most recently directed The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a Western anthology starring Tim Blake Nelson, Liam Neeson, and James Franco. It began streaming on Netflix on November 16, 2018, after a brief theatrical run.

Planned and uncompleted projects

In a 1998 interview with Alex Simon for Venice magazine, the Coens discussed a project called The Contemplations, which would be an anthology of short films based on stories in a leather bound book from a "dusty old library". This project may have influenced or evolved into The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which has the same structure.

In 2001, Joel stated that "a Cold War comedy called 62 Skidoo is one I'd like to do someday".

The Coens had hoped to film James Dickey's novel To the White Sea. They were due to start production in 2002, with Jeremy Thomas producing and Brad Pitt in the lead role, but it was canceled when the Coens felt that the budget offered was not enough to successfully produce the film.

In 2008, it was announced that the Coen brothers would write and direct an adaptation of Michael Chabon's novel The Yiddish Policemen's Union 2007. They were to produce the film with Scott Rudin for Columbia Pictures. In the fall of 2012, however, Chabon told Mother Jones that "the Coen brothers wrote a draft of a script and then they seemed to move on", and that the film rights had "lapsed back to me".

In 2009, the Coens stated that they were interested in making a sequel to Barton Fink called Old Fink, which would take place in the 1960s, around the same time period as A Serious Man. The Coens also stated that they had talks with John Turturro in reprising his role as Fink, but they were waiting "until he was actually old enough to play the part".

In 2011, the Coens were working on a television project, called Harve Karbo, about a quirky Los Angeles private eye, for Imagine Television.

In December 2013, the Coens stated in an interview that they were working on a new musical comedy centered around an opera singer, though they said it is "not a musical per se". In the same interview, they revealed they were also working on a sword and sandals drama film set in ancient Rome.

In August 2015, it was announced that Warner Bros. had optioned the film rights to Ross Macdonald's novel Black Money for the Coen brothers to potentially write and direct.

In October 2016, The Hollywood Reporter reported that the Coens would work on the screenplay for Fox titled Dark Web, and based on Joshuah Bearman's two-part Wired article about Ross Ulbricht and his illicit Silk Road online marketplace. The project originated in 2013, with novelist Dennis Lehane on board for the screenplay. Chernin Entertainment would produce.

On February 10, 2017, it was announced that the Scarface remake's script was being written by the Coens. Luca Guadagnino announced plans to direct the film.

It was announced in March 2019 that Joel Coen would be directing an adaptation of Macbeth starring Denzel Washington. The film, titled The Tragedy of Macbeth, would be Joel's first directorial effort without his brother Ethan, who was taking a break from films to focus on theater.

Production company

The Coen brothers' own film production company, Mike Zoss Productions located in New York City, has been credited on their films from O Brother, Where Art Thou? onwards. It was named after Mike Zoss Drug, an independent pharmacy in St. Louis Park since 1950 that was the brothers' beloved hangout when they were growing up in the Twin Cities. The name was also used for the pharmacy in No Country for Old Men. The Mike Zoss logo consists of a crayon drawing of a horse, standing in a field of grass, with its head turned around as it looks back over its hindquarters.

Directing distinctions

Up to 2003, Joel received sole credit for directing and Ethan for producing, due to guild rules that disallowed multiple director credits to prevent dilution of the position's significance. The only exception to this rule is if the co-directors are an "established duo". From 2004 on, they were able to share the director credit and since then, the Coen brothers have become only the third duo to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director.

Only seven other directors have won three Oscars for the same film, a distinction the duo shares with Billy Wilder, James L. Brooks, Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Bong Joon-ho.

With four Academy Award nominations for No Country for Old Men for the duo Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing as Roderick Jaynes, the Coen brothers have tied the record for the most nominations by a single nominee counting an "established duo" as one nominee for the same film. Orson Welles set the record in 1941 with Citizen Kane being nominated for Best Picture though at the time, individual producers were not named as nominees, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay. Warren Beatty received the same nominations, first for Heaven Can Wait in 1978 and again in 1981 with Reds. Alan Menken also then achieved the same feat when he was nominated for Best Score and triple-nominated for Best Song for Beauty and the Beast in 1991. In 2018, Alfonso Cuarón was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography for Roma. Most recently, Chloé Zhao matched this record in 2021 when she was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing for Nomadland.

Filmography

Collaborators

Accolades

Directed Academy Award performances

Bibliography

  • .mw-parser-output cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:"\"""\"""'""'"}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-free a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-free a{background:linear-gradienttransparent,transparent,url"//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/65/Lock-green.svg"right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .id-lock-registration a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-registration a{background:linear-gradienttransparent,transparent,url"//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d6/Lock-gray-alt-2.svg"right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-subscription a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-subscription a{background:linear-gradienttransparent,transparent,url"//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/aa/Lock-red-alt-2.svg"right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background:linear-gradienttransparent,transparent,url"//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4c/Wikisource-logo.svg"right 0.1em center/12px no-repeat}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:none;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:none;color:#33aa33;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .citation .mw-selflink{font-weight:inherit}Cheshire, Ellen; Ashbrook, John 2005. Joel and Ethan Coen 3rd revised ed.. The Pocket Essential. ISBN 978-1-904048-39-8. Includes all films up to The Ladykillers and some subsidiary works [Crimewave, Down from the Mountain, Bad Santa].
  • King, Lynnea Chapman 2014. The Coen Brothers Encyclopedia. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-8108-8576-9.
  • Levine, Josh; Fagan, Cary 2000. The Coen Brothers: The Story of Two American Filmmakers. ECW Press. ISBN 9781550224245.
Best Known For: Raising Arizona (1987), Miller's Crossing (1990), Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), No Country for Old Men (2007)
Fulfilled his Potential: Yes
Children names: Joel: 1 Ethan: 2
Father’s Name: Edward Coen
Father’s Occupation: Economist at the University of Minnesota
Mother’s Name: Rena Coen
Mother’s Occupation: Art historian at St. Cloud State University
Citizen Of: United States
What Do You Think Of That Genius?
Coen brothers

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