No Country for Old Men (2007)

Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon dead bodies, $2 million and a hoard of heroin in a Texas desert, but methodical killer Anton Chigurh comes looking for it, with local sheriff Ed Tom Bell hot on his trail. The roles of prey and predator blur as the violent pursuit of money and justice collide. (Letterboxd)
Masterfully shot and acted (TLJ’s weary and witty ETB was my fav), with captivating violence and cat-and-mouse thrills, but it’s the film’s unique dramatic framing that really makes it stands out: namely, its perfect bookends (from the reluctant “OK, I’ll be a part of this world” to dreams of warmth and light in “all that dark and all that cold”) and fascinating use of distance throughout (the slow pace, the open landscapes, the lack of interaction between main characters, the removed villain).
8.5/10 (Amazing)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

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An anthology film comprised of six stories, each dealing with a different aspect of life in the Old West. (IMDb)
The discomforting and racist villainous portrayal of “Indians” should’ve been thrown away but the rest of the classic Western potpourri here provide lots of cozy charm (love those songs sprinkled throughout) and frigid chills amidst what is a uniquely curated collection of stories (some delightfully bizarre like the titular tale with its compelling narration and amazing climactic duet; others a bit more plodding and unremarkable) about death and judgment and the diehard American dream.
7/10 (Good)

True Grit (2010)

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A stubborn teenager enlists the help of a tough U.S. Marshal to track down her father’s murderer. (IMDb)
Beautiful bleak landscapes, memorable old English banter between a bevy of colourful characters, and a straight-forward engaging adventure plot (with admittedly unnecessary flash-forward bookends) are topped off with a simple piano theme and crossfade scene transitions. Throw in some gunfights, horse riding, and beans cooked over a fire and you have the perfect Western, with the fiery Mattie (loved that water-crossing scene) adding just the right amount of new spice as the atypical protagonist.
8/10 (Great)

 

Barton Fink (1991)

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A renowned New York playwright is enticed to California to write for the movies and discovers the hellish truth of Hollywood. (IMDb)
Call me a “common man,” but I found the surreal third act a bit jarring in its offloading of abstract symbolism (which was a bit too much so), as artistically affecting as it was, and despite the underlying meta narrative. Still, the great turns, quirky characters, moody atmosphere, and memorable dialogue throughout (Jack’s monologues are hilarious; Barton and Charlie have a great dynamic: “I could tell you some stories-” “Sure you could!”) make for a highly engaging Hollywood satire regardless.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

 

Miller’s Crossing (1990)

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Tom Regan, an advisor to a Prohibition-era crime boss, tries to keep the peace between warring mobs but gets caught in divided loyalties. (IMDb)
A really cool classic film noir feel saturates this cohesive slow burn of a crime drama, with its drab 40s sets and suits, niche dialogue (“What’s the rumpus?”), fiery character melodrama (see the climax of Tom’s arc: “Look in your heart!” “What heart?”), and twisting plot (see Dane’s rise to prominence). It’s maybe a touch hard to follow at points, but it’s so solidly acted (Turturro might be the highlight; see his pleading in the forest) and directed that that can be easily forgiven.
8/10 (Great)

 

Raising Arizona (1987)

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When a childless couple of an ex-con and an ex-cop decide to help themselves to one of another family’s quintuplets, their lives become more complicated than they anticipated. (IMDb)
Bursting with a brilliant and bizarre sort of energy right from its fast-forwarded how-we-met-story intro to its surprisingly touching final montage (both which star Cage’s excellent narration), with a wonderfully wacky premise serving as the foundation for some gut-busting slapstick (see the post-diaper heist chase with the dogs; the final baby bonanza) and outrageous secondary characters (see the obnoxious escapees Gale and Evelle; the redneck Glen and Dot and their destructive children).
8.5/10 (Amazing)

 

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

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A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. (IMDb)
Lovely tunes and pleasant soft cinematography are just bonus additions to what is a superbly nuanced (and acted) character study: Llewyn is talented but pretentious, caring but bitter, witty but mean. He’s hard-luck but hard to like; half the time life hits him hard, half the time he seems to bring it on himself. Fleshed out by a perfect secondary cast of various characters, the film nonchalantly but intentionally presents a neutral take on the settling down vs. pursuing your dreams dichotomy.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

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A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio’s stars in line. (IMDb)
Despite Gambon’s excellent bits of narration and Brolin’s classic-Coen-crazy central day-in-the-life plot thread, Hail, Caesar! still feels more like a series of skits than anything else-some of them bland (DeeAnna’s dilemma is forgettable), many hilarious (see Hobie on the set of Merrily We Dance; McDormand’s outrageous cameo) and entertaining (see Tatum’s song and dance number among the numerous 50s Hollywood tributes), but all of them feeling rather inconsequential by the film’s abrupt end.
6.5/10 (Alright)

 

The Big Lebowski (1998)

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“The Dude” Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire Lebowski, seeks restitution for his ruined rug and enlists his bowling buddies to help get it. (IMDb)
A fun madcap crime plot with hilarious mishaps galore (see Walter’s car smash, the Germans’ failed extortion in the parking lot) is decorated by hilarious characters and memorable dialogue, most notably the three main buds (the bowling motif is nerdy excellence, BTW): The ultra-relaxed Dude (“That’s just like, your opinion, man”), the short-tempered Walter (“This is what happens, Larry!”), and the absent-minded Donny (“That’s your name, Dude!”). The dream sequence felt unnecessary though.
8/10 (Great)

Fargo (1996)

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Jerry Lundegaard’s inept crime falls apart due to his and his henchmen’s bungling and the persistent police work of the quite pregnant Marge Gunderson. (IMDb)
The bleak snowy setting is perfect for this tightly spun tale of cold-blooded murder (see the red on white in the chilling wood-chipper scene). The three well-acted main players each add their own engaging element to the mix: The anxious Jerry a compelling character deterioration; the volatile Carl and his silent thug both odd-couple comedy and brutal violence; the down-to-earth cop Marge both slick smarts and small-town sweetness (“There’s more to life than a little money, you know”).
8.5/10 (Amazing)