My 10 Favourite Coen Characters

10. Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), Burn After Reading: We don’t often get to see Brad Pitt being funny, but as Burn After Reading’s dumb blond, he’s hysterical. He’s charming, his enthusiasm is infection, and he’s dumb as rocks. But that little dance of his isn’t a meme for nothing.

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9. Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney), O Brother, Where Art Thou: Clooney feels loose and slick in this movie, with slightly wild eyes and patter to match. This one is crowded with memorable characters, and so many have juicy moments, but Ulysses is the beating heart with a zest for oral hygiene, and you have to love a man for that.

8. Buster Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson), The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: The film’s opening chapter draws us in with horseback song and fancy gun slinging. The two combined are a sight to behold, so well-choreographed you can only whistle along in admiration. But when sudden violence hits and the tone shifts astronomically, it’s a signal to us all that this film is going to take us for a ride.

7. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), Inside Llewyn Davis: Llewyn is a gentle creature, writhing with pride, jealousy, determination, dejectedness, and so much more, always evident in the crinkles around Isaac’s eyes. It’s a heartbreaking movie in many ways, and less an ensemble than many Coen films, but Isaac, a relative unknown at the time, carried it, and sang like honey, so you’d want to curl up at his feet and purr yourself into sweet oblivion.

6. Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), Hail, Caesar!: Hobie Doyle was Ehrenreich’s breakout role, playing a successful western movie star just starting to transition to more dramatic roles. His wide-eyed cowpoke ways are refreshing and unexpected in Hollywood, and Hobie feels guileless and forthright. He’s a genius with a lasso but it’s his signature flubbed line that every single person found themselves repeating as they left the theatre – “would that it were.”

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5. Walter Sobchak (John Goodman), The Big Lebowski: I challenged myself to pick only one John Goodman role, or else he easily could have taken over half this list. But Walter will always be near and dear to my heart. He’s a self-righteous, judgmental, controlling moron with a passion for rules without ever overthinking them. What’s not to love?

4. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), Fargo: Undeniably an asshole, Macy makes us feel sympathy for Jerry, and even more amazingly, he keeps him funny, despite the fact that he just keeps digging and digging until he’s so far deep in the hole he can’t even tell he’s in a hole anymore. Jerry is riddled with anxiety, desperate to be more than he is, and just can’t seem to understand that you can’t be only a little bit bad. Once you crack the door, violence comes barreling in, and Jerry is laughably unprepared.

3. Edwina McDonnough (Holly Hunter), Raising Arizona: I just love how Hunter can swing between wild emotions in this – nurturing to violently defensive, ecstatic to complete meltdown. It’s emotionally exhausting to watch so I can only imagine how intense it was to play such a character, but that’s what makes Edwina so iconic. Raising Arizona is such a fun and funny film, but Hunter has the skill to keep Edwina’s need and her love pure and honest and painfully apparent.

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2. Jeffrey Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), The Big Lebowski: Lebowski is a philosopher at heart. So many wild and zany characters bounce off him in this film, memorably so, and in other hands, Lebowski may have been overwhelmed. But along comes Jeff Bridges, and he’s perfectly laid back, unflappable really, but still engaged in the world around him, still curious and questioning. It was so note-perfect a performance that it was instantly iconic, eminently quotable, and beloved to this day. What could possibly top it?

1.Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), Fargo: Thank you holy cheeses for giving us this backwards-talking, nine-month-pregnant, slow moving, fast thinking, admirable as shit character. The world needs Marge Gunderson, and we’ve been doubly blessed having Frances McDormand to play her. Is anyone else even worthy? Marge sees people on their blackest day, the world at its worst, but she does her part to make it just a little better, and then she comes home to dinner with her husband, cozy and domestic as all get out.

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30 thoughts on “My 10 Favourite Coen Characters

  1. J.

    Mr Lebowski will always be my number one, but when the shock of seeing him passed, I can understand why he wasn’t at the top of the pile – Marge is a joy. In fact, those two and Walter would share top spot (making room for the inclusion of H.I., Tom Wait’s prospector, and Alice and Mr Knapp, who I liked a whole lot).

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    1. Jay Post author

      Not close! That’s like the one movie that I just can’t do. I mean, I’ve seen it, but I couldn’t enjoy it. Have never had the guts to try again. Was an off year for me, because I also agonized over my dislike of There Will Be Blood.

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  2. indiefan20

    I haven’t watched “Hail, Caesar,” “Inside Llewelyn Davis,” or “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” but I love most of the movies and characters. I seem to be the only one on the planet who doesn’t like “Raising Arizona,” but on the other hand I think “Burn After Reading” is criminally underrated. Great, comprehensive list! 🙂

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  3. Brittani

    Great list! I didn’t care for Burn After Reading, but I loved Brad Pitt’s character. He was fantastic and I’ll never forget his face before, well..you know.

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  4. Tom

    I love the way you describe Marge Gunderson. She really was a tremendous character and tremendously in tune with that spectacular vernacular of the Upper Midwest.

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  5. selizabryangmailcom

    Yeah, people’s tastes are wide and vast, making for an interesting world.
    That being said….how is True Grit not on there? Probably because it’s a remake.

    While Bridges and Damon were really good, the actress in that was amazing. I love the language in the movie, too: “If you would like to kiss him, it would be all right.”
    “No, his soul has flown.”
    “You do not varnish your opinions.”

    And wonderful images like the strange figure riding toward them out of the snow, and when he gets closer, it’s an old man wearing an entire bear skin, including the head on top of his, and he talks in a deep, slow voice about being in the “veterinary arts” and also medicine, “on those humans that will sit still for it.”

    I

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  6. joel watches movies

    ahh fuck, great list. just reading about mcdormand’s marge gunderson made me start tearing up. she really is such an amazing character, and reading this list in one sitting made me realize fully what a great knack the coens have for writing dynamic, multi-note characters. Besides Marge, Llewyn Davis is one that really stands out for me. Half sympathetic, down-on-his-luck artist, half asshole, and 100% handsome and swoon-worthy.

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