4 Best Movies to Watch by Joel Coen

Staff & contributors

This anthology of 18 short films — directed by the likes of the Coen brothers, Gurinder Chadha, Wes Craven, and Olivier Assayas — is a cinematic charcuterie board. Each director offers their own creative interpretation of one north star: love in Paris. Romantic love is heavily represented, naturally, but in diverse forms: love that’s run its course, dormant love in need of rekindling, electric chance encounters, and, apt given the location, honeymoon love. Segments like the one starring Juliette Binoche and Alfonso Cuarón’s five-minute-long continuous take opt to focus on parental love instead, with the former also exploring love through the frame of grief. 

If this all sounds a little syrupy and sentimental, fear not: there are dashes of bubble-bursting humor from the Coens, whose short stars a silent Steve Buscemi as a stereotypically Mona Lisa-obsessed American tourist who commits a grave faux pas in a metro station. Instead of sightseers, some directors offer more sober reflections on the experience of migrants in the city, which help ground the film so it doesn’t feel quite so indulgent. Still, the limited runtime of each vignette (sub-10 minutes) doesn’t let any one note linger too long, meaning the anthology feels like a series of light, short courses rather than a gorge of something sickly.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Aissa Maiga, Alexander Payne, Axel Kiener, Barbet Schroeder, Ben Gazzara, Bob Hoskins, Bruno Podalydès, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Cyril Descours, Elijah Wood, Emily Mortimer, Fanny Ardant, Florence Muller, Gaspard Ulliel, Gena Rowlands, Gérard Depardieu, Hervé Pierre, Hippolyte Girardot, Javier Cámara, Joana Preiss, Julie Bataille, Julien Béramis, Juliette Binoche, Leila Bekhti, Leonor Watling, Lionel Dray, Ludivine Sagnier, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Margo Martindale, Marianne Faithfull, Miranda Richardson, Natalie Portman, Nick Nolte, Olga Kurylenko, Paul Putner, Rufus Sewell, Sara Martins, Sergio Castellitto, Steve Buscemi, Thomas Dumerchez, Wes Craven, Willem Dafoe, Yolande Moreau

Director: Alexander Payne, Alfonso Cuarón, Bruno Podalydès, Christopher Doyle, Daniela Thomas, Ethan Coen, Frédéric Auburtin, Gérard Depardieu, Gurinder Chadha, Gus Van Sant, Isabel Coixet, Joel Coen, Nobuhiro Suwa, Oliver Schmitz, Olivier Assayas, Richard LaGravenese, Sylvain Chomet, Tom Tykwer, Vincenzo Natali, Walter Salles, Wes Craven

Rating: R

Inside Llewyn Davis tells the interesting and captivating story of a young, struggling singer navigating through the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1961. The movie conveys all sorts of emotions, thanks to Coen brothers’ stroke of genius: it is strange, funny, dramatic and satisfying at the same time. Not to mention, the ensemble cast is superb, and the music is absolutely great. It is the kind of movie that will put an unfamiliar yet wondrous feeling into you as you live through Llewyn Davis' eyes and feel his pain.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Adam Driver, Alex Karpovsky, Bonnie Rose, Bradley Mott, Carey Mulligan, Declan Bennett, Ethan Phillips, F. Murray Abraham, Garrett Hedlund, Helen Hong, Jack O'Connell, Jake Ryan, Jeanine Serralles, Jerry Grayson, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, Max Casella, Oscar Isaac, Ricardo Cordero, Robin Bartlett, Stark Sands, Sylvia Kauders

Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Rating: R

This is an inexplicably and philosophically dark comedy.

Its protagonist, Larry, is a lackluster professor at a dull university. Then his life starts to unravel: his wife decides to leave him for one of his more successful colleagues; his unemployed brother moves in to stay on his couch.

So Larry ventures on a quest for meaning and clarity within his Jewish community.

All Cohen Brothers fans will appreciate the movie's aesthetics and comedic strength. The protagonist’s struggle will resonate with anyone who has had a religious upbringing: guilt is a big theme here.

I felt like I had to rewatch it to understand it. But I also enjoyed that weird sense of not understanding everything that's going on. Much like life itself.

The film rightfully earned itself two nominations for the Oscars, including Best Picture.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Aaron Wolff, Adam Arkin, Alan Mandell, Allen Lewis Rickman, Amanda Day, Amy Landecker, Brent Braunschweig, Claudia Wilkens, Fred Melamed, Fyvush Finkel, George Wyner, Jessica McManus, Joel Thingvall, Katherine Borowitz, Landyn Banx, Michael Lerner, Michael Stuhlbarg, Peter Breitmayer, Punnavith Koy, Raye Birk, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick, Simon Helberg, Stephen Park, Steve Park, Yelena Shmulenson

Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Rating: R

Joel Coen's minimalist vision of the Scottish play emphasizes that these monstrous acts of hubris and violence are carried out not because of madness or magical prophecy, but out of the rational yet selfish decisions made by grown adults. It's a distinctly character-focused interpretation of Shakespeare that should be insightful for students and fans alike, as Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand lend more sedate performances to what have become two of the grandest characters in theater history. The Tragedy of Macbeth weaken the impact of some of Shakespeare's most famous soliloquies due to the film's more hurried runtime, but it makes for a great tribute nonetheless. Come for the stunningly lit black-and-white sets, stay for the gleefully creepy performance by Kathryn Hunter as the three witches.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, War

Actor: Alex Hassell, Bertie Carvel, Brendan Gleeson, Brian Thompson, Corey Hawkins, Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Harry Melling, Jacob McCarthy, James Udom, Jefferson Mays, Kathryn Hunter, Kayden Alexander Koshelev, Lucas Barker, Matt Helm, Max Baker, Miles Anderson, Moses Ingram, Nancy Daly, Olivia Washington, Peter Janov, Ralph Ineson, Richard Short, Robert Gilbert, Scott Subiono, Sean Patrick Thomas, Stephen Root, Susan James Berger, Wayne T. Carr

Director: Joel Coen