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Eric Slay

THE COEN BROTHERS COUNTDOWN | List complete! How did your fave do?????

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Well, it's finally time for us to have an entire thread where we gush about how good and amazing John Goodman/Frances McDormand/John Turturro/George Clooney is! The party will start later this evening, though I don't have a time just yet (unsure if I'm seeing a movie tonight or not). But as always, I can give you some statistics that will give you guys a clue about what to expect.

 

-27 people submitted a list, which was actually more than Scorsese's countdown last year. Did not expect that, though I guess the lower barrier for entry helped. I also submitted my own list into the countdown, because I was actually able to see a majority of the films here and felt comfortable in making a list.

 

-Four people had every movie on their list. Shout-outs to @Tower @BestPicturePlutoNash @Lucas and @Fancyarcher for going above and beyond the call of duty.

 

-12 movies got a cumulative 100 points or higher

 

-11 different movies got at least one #1 ranking. Scorsese had 10 different movies. So again, very diverse lists.

 

-Every movie got into at least one top 10 list, which...okay, 19 movies, makes it kind of easy. But for the top 5, only one film failed to get in a top 5. Which again, shows how diverse these lists were. And I guess if you know anything about Coen brothers discourse, you can probably take a good guess about what movie failed to get a top 5 vote.

 

-"This movie I hate ranked higher than a movie I like? I lost all my respect for this list!" Yes, believe it or not, the general consensus of the forums will not automatically fit your tastes and sensibilities. All I ask is to please try to be respectful and courteous during the duration of this countdown, both to myself and to fellow BOT members. You don't have to agree with this, but you can act like a gentleman.

 

-If you are going to complain about something, and you didn't submit a list, just know that it's on you. Much like with government elections, you can't complain about something if you didn't vote in the first place.

 

Now with that out of the way, the list will begin in just a few hours from now.

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#19

The Ladykillers

30 points, 10 lists

"Madam, we must have waffles! We must all have waffles forthwith!"

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Box Office: $39.8M DOM, $76.7M WW

Rotten Tomatoes: 54%

Metacritic: 56

Awards: The Jury Prize for Irma P. Hall at the Cannes Film Festival

 

Roger Ebert's Review: Now let me say that although the movie never jells, its oddness keeps it from being boring. Tom Hanks provides such an eccentric performance that it's fun just to watch him behaving -- to listen to speeches that coil through endless florid ornamentation. That the purpose of a criminal in such a situation would be to become invisible -- as Guinness, despite his bad teeth, tried to do in the 1955 film -- escapes the Coens.

 

Its Legacy: Boosted awareness of the 1955 British original. The first remake made by the Coens. First time Ethan got a directing credit and Joel a producing credit. Had a bomb-ass gospel soundtrack. Gave Marlon Wayans a paycheck.

 

Commentary: Yeah, it’s really not a surprise to see this film way at the bottom. While it likely has its fans, even the most diehard Coen fans will admit this film is at least near the bottom tier. Criticism has been made against the film’s schizophrenic tone and over-the-top characters, with over-the-top accents in tow. And it’s certainly considered inferior to the 1955 Alec Guinness classic.

 

Still, even lesser Coen outclasses most directors on a good day. And it’s hard not to appreciate a film that boasts a wonderful cast full of strong character actors and a silly premise that is reminiscent of the more oddball Coen scripts. And for some, the hectic, silly nature of the movie is enough to get invested and engaged. Add on an amazing soundtrack of gospel tunes, and there's something there if you're in the right mood or mindset. But I think most will argue that there is nowhere else this countdown can go but up. So...let's just go up.

 

 

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#18

The Man Who Wasn’t There

44 points, 9 lists

"He told them to look not at the facts, but at the meaning of the facts. Then he said the facts had no meaning."

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#2 placements: 1

Top 5 placements: 1

Box Office: $7.5M DOM, $18.9M WW

Rotten Tomatoes: 81%

Metacritic: 73

Awards: Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival, 1 Academy Award nomination, three Golden Globe Award nominations, 1 BAFTA Award, Top Ten and Best Actor from the National Board of Review

 

Roger Ebert’s Review: The Coen Brothers' ''The Man Who Wasn't There'' is shot in black-and-white so elegantly, it reminds us of a 1940s station wagon -- chrome, wood, leather and steel all burnished to a contented glow. Its star performance by Billy Bob Thornton is a study in sad-eyed, mournful chain-smoking, the portrait of a man so trapped by life he wants to scream.

 

Its Legacy: The first black and white movie of the Coens. Propped up the name of James M. Cain into the limelight. Garnered Roger Deakins all the love and respect. The worst box office performer for the Coens since The Hudsucker Proxy. Gave Richard Jenkins a paycheck.

 

Commentary: I will be very honest here and say, alongside the movie that will come up right after this, that I never even heard of this movie until I did this countdown. Not saying this is a slight against the movie, but this, alongside its low box office, does kind of say a big reason why this is only second-to-last and why it didn't get tons of support. A pity too, because it’s a very unique piece for these two filmmakers.

 

A tribute to the classic noir films of old, the film takes inspiration from the work of James M. Cain, and creates a thrilling story with a lush world of black and white photography by the icon Roger Deakins...even though it was shot in color first, but whatever. This incredible style is only further punctured by a wonderful performance by Billy Bob Thornton and a hilarious screenplay. Sadly, even with its popularity at Cannes, the black and white photography was probably its downfall financially. But hey, the fun of these lists is highlighting the films that don’t get the same love as the directors’ bigger films. And I can only hope this countdown will make people check this movie out.

 

 

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#17

Intolerable Cruelty

44 points, 10 lists

"You want tact, call a tactician. You want an ass nailed, you come see Gus Petch."

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#1 placements: 1

#3 placements: 1

Top 5 placements: 2

Box Office: $35.3M DOM, $120.8M WW

Rotten Tomatoes: 75%

Metacritic: 71

Awards: N/A

 

Roger Ebert’s Review: Plots like this have fueled lovely screwball comedies, and "Intolerable Cruelty" is in the genre, but somehow not of it. The Coens sometimes have a way of standing to one side of their work: It's the puppet and they're the ventriloquists. The puppet is sincere, but the puppetmaster is wagging his eyebrows at the audience and asking, can you believe this stuff?

 

Its Legacy: The first writer-for-hire job for the brothers. Reminds us about the kickassery of Simon and Garfunkel. Premiered at the Venice Film Festival. Gave Cedric the Entertainer a paycheck. 

 

Commentary: So this is the other film that I never heard of until I did this countdown. And this one is pretty interesting too, because this was based off a very early Coens script, albeit a writer-for-hire one. A script that was initially given to numerous other directors like Ron Howard and Jonathan Demme before Joel and Ethan signed on to work on a script they wrote. Whether that was a good choice is up to you.

 

Reactions are somewhat of a “love or hate it” deal. And it really only got above Man Who Wasn’t There because this had more votes, including a #3 vote from the lovely and beautiful @krla and a #1 vote from the lovely and beautiful @MrPink. But...yeah, there are people who love this film for a reason. Attempting to capture the classic screwball romcoms of old, Intolerable Cruelty is anchored by two funny and charismatic actors and a style that is old-fashioned, yet endearing. And while it doesn’t reach the heights of His Girl Friday, there’s enough to keep the film trucking along, even if it’s barely remembered as a lower-tier Coens effort. But it’s somebody’s favorite, quite literally, and I guess that’s all that matters.

 

 

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#16

The Tragedy of MacBeth

59 points, 12 lists

"By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes..."

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Top 5 placements: 2

Box Office: $524,771

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

Metacritic: 87

Awards: 3 Academy Award nominations, AFI's Top 10 Films of the Year, 1 BAFTA nomination, 2 Critics Choice Award nominations, 1 Golden Globe nomination, 1 NAACP Image Award nomination, 3 National Board of Review wins, 1 SAG Award nomination

 

Its Legacy: Joel Coen's first movie without his brother. One of the premier attractions for Apple TV+. Will probably be shown in high schools for years to come. Gave Corey Hawkins a paycheck.

 

Commentary: Movies based on Shakespeare are always present. Macbeth is no exception to this. You got all the silent film versions, you got the Orson Welles movie, the Polanski one, the Fassbender one. There's even one made that starred Sam Worthington of all people. And if you want to be that guy, you also have the one made by Akira Kurosawa and the Disney version with the talking lions.

 

Joel Coen's The Tragedy of Macbeth is perhaps one of the most fascinating interpretations of the classic work. The minimalist sets and emphasis on fog and shadows takes this popular story into a whole new world of unique visual language. Not only does this minimalism emphasize the story’s theater roots, but also creates a foreboding dread, symbolizing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s twistedness and despair into madness.

 

And even outside of the unique visuals, full of shadows and contrasts, this is a movie that boasts two fantastic lead performances from both Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, a wonderful supporting cast, and an engaging take on the greatest writer ever. While Macbeth isn’t my personal favorite Shakespeare story, this film managed to really make something that has stiff characters and retreaded plots and makes something really fun and enthralling. Guess that shows how good Joel Coen (his brother was nowhere in sight) is as a director. Taking something this old and breathing new life, making it feel as if we are listening to this story for the first time. I like that.

 

 

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#15

Blood Simple

86 points, 16 lists

"Well, if the pay's right, I'll do it."

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Top 5 placements: 1

Box Office: $2.7M

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

Metacritic: 83

Awards: Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, 2 Independent Spirit Awards

 

Roger Ebert's Review: "The genius of "Blood Simple" is that everything that happens seems necessary. The movie's a blood-soaked nightmare in which greed and lust trap the characters in escalating horror. The plot twists in upon itself. Characters are found in situations of diabolical complexity. And yet it doesn't feel like the film is just piling it on. Step by inexorable step, logically, one damned thing leads to another."

 

Its Legacy: The one that started it all. The first feature film for Carter Burwell and Frances McDormand. Placed #10 on Roger Ebert's Best of 1985. Part of the Criterion Collection. Gave M. Emmett Walsh a paycheck.

 

Commentary: It’s the one that started it all. Joel and Ethan’s big debut is pretty fascinating when you think about it. Last year, I did a Martin Scorsese countdown. And his first film, Who’s That Knocking at my Door, was well-regarded, but generally considered sloppy and messy and inferior to future works that explored its themes and ideas a lot better. Blood Simple isn’t really that.

 

While still one of the lower-ranked films, pretty much all the Coen trademarks are here and done perfectly. Great editing, great music, an engaging plot full of twists and turns, a fair amount of dark humor and eccentric characters, and a strong visual style to tie it all together. It would still take a while before Fargo became their big, huge, major breakout, but this neo-noir has everything you could want in a Coen film. Action, violence, comedy, and Frances McDormand. And it’s done incredibly well. Some will argue better than some of the guys’ later revered work. And it shows really how some directors can just nail it right out of the park. Even the best can’t make those claims.

 

 

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#14

Miller’s Crossing

90 points, 15 lists

"Nobody knows anybody. Not that well."

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#3 placements: 3

Top 5 placements: 4

Box Office: $5.1M 

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

Metacritic: 76

Awards: Critics Award at Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, Grand Prix nomination at the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics.

 

Its Legacy: Ranked in Time and Total Film's Top 100 list. Ranked the 24th best crime movie by The Guardian. Gave Jon Polito a paycheck.

 

Commentary: Like Blood Simple, we have a sharp, well-told noir story with great dialogue, humor, and set pieces. And through it all are some incredible performances. There’s Gabriel Byrne as the shady protagonist who causes two rival gangs to go after one another, John Turturro as the man supposedly whacked, and the two lead gangsters portrayed by Albert Finney and the late great Jon Polito. His performance as Johnny Caspar is my personal favorite work of his and it still hurts that he’s no longer with us.

 

But within this classic gangster tale is a film with a memorable script and unexpected directions that get you invested and afraid of what’s soon to come. You can’t get much better than that if I’m being honest. It was ultimately overshadowed by other gangster pics from 1990 like Goodfellas and Godather 3, understandably so. But that only makes the fans of the movie seem like the cool kids for knowing something seemingly so obscure. And that's all that matters, really.

 

 

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#13

The Hudsucker Proxy

97 points, 15 lists

"You know, for kids."

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#1 placements: 1

#3 placements: 1

Top 5 placements: 2

Box Office: $2.8M DOM, $11.3M WW

Rotten Tomatoes: 60%

Metacritic: 53

Awards: Palme D'Or nomination

 

Roger Ebert's Review: "Two little creatures are perched on my shoulders, one whispering into each ear. One carries a pitchfork. The other has gossamer wings...The debate goes on. Just before they vaporized into thin air, the angel advised me to give "The Hudsucker Proxy" four stars, and the Devil, whispering that the Coens are talented but need to be prodded to go beyond their technical mastery, wickedly advised me to cut them off with zero. Having weighed all their advice, I have taken a middle position."

 

Its Legacy: Arguably the Coens' biggest bomb. An epic collab with Sam Raimi. The most expensive Coen brothers film at that time. Gave John Mahoney a paycheck.

 

Commentary: Here was a film that was given a very unfair hand. Its studio WB was afraid the film would be a massive box office bomb, which is sadly true since the studio dumped it, and even critics were unimpressed with this Coen-Raimi collaboration. Even with its Cannes presence, critics at the time felt it was too style over substance. But time can change things, and things are a lot kinder to Hudsucker Proxy. While not the most beloved Coens release, it does have a strong cult following of people in love with its nostalgia and innovation. I'm one of them.

 

This 30s screwball throwback is one of a kind for a filmography full of one of a kind projects. The plot doesn’t sound riveting on paper, but we have ourselves a film full of great, memorable characters, bizarre humor that is drop-dead hilarious, gorgeous art deco sets, and a lot of engaging commentary about business and capitalism. It’s both a hilarious throwback and a unique beast of a film all at once.

 

Critic and Slant Magazine writer Jamelle Bouie put it best as “Citizen Kane filtered through the Animaniacs with a strong Tim Burton circa Batman vibe.” I think that alone says why this movie is a good one. Better than I ever could at least. Only other downside is that this movie is not for kids. Don't show your kids this until they're a little older.

 

 

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#12

A Serious Man

100 points, 16 lists

"I don't want Santana Abraxis! I've just been in a terrible auto accident!"

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#1 placements: 1

#2 placements: 1

#3 placements: 1

Top 5 placements: 4

Box Office: $9.2M DOM, $31.4M WW

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

Metacritic: 82

Awards: 2 Independent Spirit Awards and 1 nomination, 1 National Board of Review win, 2 Academy Award nominations, 1 BAFTA nomination, 1 Golden Globe Award nomination, 2 Gotham Award nominations, 1 WGA Award nomination

 

Roger Ebert's Review: "'This is the kind of picture you get to make after you've won an Oscar,' writes Todd McCarthy in Variety. I cannot improve on that. After the seriously great 'No Country for Old Men,' the Coen brothers have made the not greatly serious 'A Serious Man,' which bears every mark of a labor of love."

 

Its Legacy: Another Oscar darling for the Coens. Introduced the Book of Job to secular readers. Gave the Coens a chance to tackle their Judaism. Nominated as one of the Top 10 films by the American Film Institute, Cahiers du Cinema, and National Board of Review. One of Michael Stuhlbarg's finest performances. Gave Richard Kind a paycheck.

 

Commentary: The world is complicated, confusing, and weird. This is why we all try to find some sort of certainty. Something that grounds us, keeps us sane, and ensures that we will all be fine in the end. This is what Larry Gopnik, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, deals with. As his life falls apart personally and professionally, he is trying to find answers that can set him on the right track. And they don’t come easy.

 

This is the film that allows Joel and Ethan to tap into their religious side, growing up as Jews. And while I couldn’t find anything that proves it, I’m sure that Gopnik’s quest for understanding in a world that is chaotic and scary hits close to home. And even if you aren’t religious, there’s still a compelling story with a lot of twists and turns, a headscratcher ending with deeply entrenched symbolism, and a strong cast including the likes of Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, and even Simon Helberg in one brief scene.

 

 

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#11

Hail, Caesar!

104 points, 21 lists

"It's complicated."

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Top 5 placements: 2

Box Office: $30.5M DOM, $63.9M WW

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%

Metacritic: 72

Awards: 1 Academy Award nomination, 1 BAFTA nomination, 1 Critics' Choice Award nomination

 

Its Legacy: A major labor of love traced back to 2004. Features every iconic name you can think of. An interesting education lesson for the decline of Hollywood's Golden Age. Joined National Board of Review's Top 10 Films of 2016. Channing Tatum danced in a sailor outfit. Gave Dolph Lundgren a paycheck.

 

Commentary: Praised by the critics and panned by audiences, Hail, Caesar! still just barely missed the top 10, even though it isn’t considered an all-timer and wasn't even all that big a hit. Maybe it’s recency bias, maybe it’s gaining more appreciation, maybe it’s Channing Tatum’s cute sailor outfit. But it's got a big audience that's fond of it here on BOT.

 

Whatever the case, this is a unique piece that’s hard to really describe. It’s part mystery, part hangout, part “ain’t the movies great?”, part episodic quest through eccentric figures and characters. And that’s what makes this so fun. Like any great Coen release, there's a little bit of everything souped up in this picture. Plus, the Hollywood studio backdrop allows tons of great actors to strut their stuff in funny set pieces that are still memorable. The "Would it 'twere so simple" scene is probably why Alden Ehrenreich got the Han Solo gig. Which...okay, that maybe isn’t a wonderful thing in hindsight, at least for Alden's career. But still a good movie!

 

 

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Just wanted to apologize for not getting the next batch of movies up earlier. I was so distracted from the Avatar reactions and recent DC news, as well as personal things, that I neglected putting this out until now. But it's here and I hope you guys are still having fun with this countdown.

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#10

Barton Fink

105 points, 16 lists

"I'll show you the life of the mind!"

MV5BMTgxMDMxMTctNDY0Zi00ZmNlLWFlYmQtODA2

 

 

#1 placements: 2

#2 placements: 1

Top 5 placements: 6

Box Office: $6.1M

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

Metacritic: 69

Awards: Palme D'Or, Best Director, and Best Actor at Cannes Film Festival, 3 Academy Award nominations, 1 Golden Globe Award nomination

 

Its Legacy: Rare film to sweep at Cannes. Third Place for Cahiers du Cinema's Best of 1991. Has been rumored to get a sequel. One of the most studied and analyzed Coen pieces. 11th best film of the 1990s by The AV Club. Features John Goodman saying "Heil Hitler", which is the funniest thing ever. Gave Tony Shalhoub a paycheck.

 

Commentary: This is my personal favorite Coens movie. Everything about this one film is just incredible. Still amazed at how well this works. A wonderful cast, a great script, and a fascinating look into the creative process, writer’s block and the evils of the capitalist Hollywood system. How much it hurts to be a writer, to find no inspiration at your worst times, and dealing with people who just don’t understand you. And better yet, a world that doesn’t care for high culture and will take people’s hard work and appropriate it into something basic and digestible for the masses in order to make profits. Art vs. commerce was something that hit hard in 1991 and it certainly hits hard today.

 

Plus you got John Goodman in his best performance. It will never bother me that John Goodman has never been nominated for an Academy Award for even one movie, let alone this one. But I guess my love and appreciation is the best award of all.

 

 

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#9

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

106 points, 19 lists

"First time?"

MV5BYjRkYTI3M2EtZWQ4Ny00OTA2LWFmMTMtY2E4

 

#3 placements: 1

Top 5 placements: 3 

Box Office: N/A

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

Metacritic: 79

Awards: Golden Osella Award at Venice Film Festival, 3 Academy Award nominations, 1 BAFTA nomination, 1 SAG Award nomination

 

Its Legacy: The Coens' first anthology movie (that they directed entirely) and their first made-for-streaming movie. The first Coens film shot digitally. Named one of the best films of the year by the National Board of Review. Created that amazing "First time?" GIF. Gave Tim Blake Nelson a paycheck.

 

Commentary: There was a glorious, wonderful time in the late 2010s where it seemed like Netflix would be our savior. That they would be the guys who would happily greenlight the future classics in an era where the corporate studio bigwigs refuse to greenlight anything that wasn’t based off an IP.

 

Well, we don’t live in that era anymore, because capitalism sucks. But we did get this inventive anthology film out of it, with a fun Western backdrop, a great cast that boasts the legendary Tim Blake Nelson as the titular character, and plenty of wit and charm in each vignette. This is currently the last film that both Joel and Ethan worked on together. It’s unknown if they are coming back together on a new title, but I think they still went off on a high note before they diverted to their own unique and exciting paths.

 

 

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#8

Burn After Reading

135 points, 22 lists

"I have a drinking problem? Fuck you, Peck, you're a Mormon. Compared to you we ALL have a drinking problem!"

MV5BYzYwMjZhOGEtMGZlZS00Mjg1LTlkMDktYzJi

 

#1 placements: 1

#3 placements: 1

Top 5 placements: 5

Box Office: $60.3M DOM, $163.7M WW

Rotten Tomatoes: 78%

Metacritic: 63

Awards: 3 BAFTA nominations, 1 Critics' Choice Award nomination, 2 Golden Globe Award nominations, 1 WGA Award nomination

 

Its Legacy: One of the highest-grossing films made by the Coens. The first Coens film not to have Roger Deakins as DP since Miller's Crossing. The first original screenplay written by Joel and Ethan since The Man Who Wasn't There. Opened the 2008 Venice Film Festival. Considered one of the best films of the year by the National Board of Review. Gave J. K. Simmons a paycheck.

 

Commentary: This is up there as one of the most densely-packed stories from the two brothers. Starting from a basic “what if CIA documents were given to some gym employees”, we get to enjoy a piece that is hilarious, shocking, full of twists, and ends on some of the greatest final lines ever. The brothers called this a “Tony Scott/Jason Bourne movie without the explosions” and it’s easy to see the influences from those sources here, while also still having the dark comedy and absurd violence we love from the duo.

 

There’s also of course the usual Coen collaborators in Clooney and McDormand, but it’s also all anchored by an expert and hilarious performance from Brad Pitt. Which...okay, I guess I shouldn’t praise him too much these days, since he’s now outed himself as a terrible person, but I will say this role shows how he is at his best in comedic, Looney Tunes-style escapades.

 

 

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30 minutes ago, Eric Dielman said:

How much it hurts to be a writer, to find no inspiration at your worst times, and dealing with people who just don’t understand you. And better yet, a world that doesn’t care for high culture and will take people’s hard work and appropriate it into something basic and digestible for the masses in order to make profits. Art vs. commerce was something that hit hard in 1991 and it certainly hits hard today.

 

Curious you focus on that given that the movie is a lot more ambivalent and ironic I feel. The Hollywood people may be unscrupulous capitalists but at least e.g. Shalhoub's character is honest about it where Barton is arrogant and delusional, never caring to listen to the "common man" he's supposedly the voice of - he doesn't back up his High Culture cred with any actual substance (that we get to see, IIRC), so how much is it worth in his case really? He's not a totally unsympathetic character but he definitely gets taken down a peg, and he has it coming.

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