This Is a Blog: Kris and Adam Discuss AFI’s Top 100: Fargo

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Kris and Adam Discuss AFI’s Top 100: Fargo

Kris Jenson, with whom I've had the best discussions of my life, is an old friend of mine from Boston. We had been talking about the American Film Institute's Top 100 when he got a job at Dig Boston, writing about just that. Instead of letting the conversation end just because he's a big, fancy writer now, I'm going to write responses to his articles. I can't keep up with his movie watching, so I'm only responding to the ones I've seen.

Man, do I love this film. It's a great example of writing, directing, and acting combining so perfectly to the point they all make the others seem better. This movie is unbelievably quotable, but not in an annoying way. None of the lines are so good they become cliche, but the delivery of the lines just burns them all in your brain. I use, "Prowler needs a jump," to describe everything from a situation where a car battery has died to a computer that needs to restart to my own desire to eat something. The characters are great and the story is hilarious and unexpected. I do not, however, think it belongs on this list. Had the movie not come out the year the AFI voted, it wouldn't be anywhere close.

To explain this, I need to explain how I feel about the Coen Brothers. While I've enjoyed many of their films, I don't share Kris's zeal for them. They are undeniably the two smartest filmmakers around, and their craft is pitch-perfect, but when Kris says things like "Every film is better than the last, and either it’s perfect or exactly the kind of movie it needs to be," I can't help but disagree.

Look at "No Country For Old Men." I've talked about this movie with Kris, and he is (unless I'm mistaken) of the opinion that he doesn't fully understand the ending, but he trusts the Coens enough to believe there's something there, he just doesn't fully grasp it. I, on the other hand, simply have not partaken of the Coen Kool-Aid. I hated the ending.  [SPOILER] Up until the moment Josh Brolin dies, I was totally invested in this movie. To stray so far from convention as to kill off the protagonist, the filmmakers must deliver on a promise greater than if they hadn't, if for no reason other than to justify doing it in the first place. From that moment on, the movie plods along, forcing the audience to demand a pay-off that simply isn't coming. Some -- including, apparently, the Academy -- saw this as a bold move from a pair of geniuses.

I'd compare the ending to "Inception," in terms of how it came across. Christopher Nolan has said he doesn't understand the controversy over whether or not the top falls at the end because to him what was important was that Cobb doesn't care if it falls. I say, if everyone's focusing on A and he intended everyone to focus on B, he didn't do it right. I'm sure if I had read the "No Country For Old Men" book, the ending might mean more to me, but it's simply not there in the movie. There is no deeper meaning to the ending itself as it is on screen. It's just a lot of intention with not nearly enough execution.

I didn't mean this to be so much about the Coen Brothers or a completely different movie, but I hope this gives enough context to understand how I feel about "Fargo." Saying it's a movie I enjoy and my favorite Coen Brothers movie definitely places it fairly high on my personal list of favorite movies, but not that high. If I were making a list of the most important directors in Hollywood history, I'd insist they'd be on there, but I really cannot point to any single one of their movies that deserves to be called one of the best films of all time. What they do in their movies pushes the medium, but as a whole I don't really love their catalog. I far prefer listening to the Brothers discuss making their films and listening to great critics discuss their work than actually watching most of their movies.

Without sounding too pretentious (too late?) I want to close with one of the best things I've ever read about "Fargo." In Roger Ebert's "The Great Movies," he gives an insight into the movie I never noticed. A lot of people, myself included, get caught on that scene where Marge goes to the city to meet Mike Yanagita, an old friend from school. Why is this scene in this movie? What does this tangent add? The answer just goes to show how smart and subtle the Coens are. Later in the film, Marge finds out everything Mikey told her was a lie. This makes Marge realize that maybe she's not as good at spotting liars as she might have thought. This is why she goes back to question Jerry, wondering if maybe everything he said was totally full of shit. In most crime movies, a twist like this comes from some lost piece of evidence that shows up late in the second act. Only the Coen Brothers could pull off something so subtle as a plot twist coming straight out of a character becoming more self-aware, and do it in such a way that most people don't fully understand it, but no one questions why it's happening.

If you've gotten this far in the rambling, let me at least do you the service of summing up "Fargo" and the Coen Brothers: genius, classic, but not the best.

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Anonymous Heiliger said...

The Hudsucker Proxy is obviously their finest work. Sure, sure, not much in the way of subtlety, but damn it, it's funny.

August 11, 2011 at 11:31 AM  

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