February 21, 2008 / 12:16 PM / in 10 years

Coen brothers bend rules straight to Oscar

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - True to their reputation as Hollywood nonconformists, brothers Joel and Ethan Coen are bucking 80 years of Oscar tradition with a rare joint nomination for directing “No Country for Old Men.”

<p>Ethan and Joel Coen on the set of "No Country for Old Men". True to their reputation as Hollywood nonconformists, the Coen brothers are bucking 80 years of Oscar tradition with a rare joint nomination for directing the film. REUTERS/Miramax Films/Handout</p>

Having swept the film honors of Hollywood’s major talent guilds, including the Directors Guild of America, the Coen brothers are clear favorites to clinch the Academy Award for best direction when the Oscars are given out this Sunday.

They would become only the second pair of credited filmmakers to share a directing Oscar, following Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins for the 1961 musical “West Side Story.” Warren Beatty and Buck Henry also were nominated jointly for the 1978 fantasy “Heaven Can Wait” but did not win.

The support for “No Country” from Hollywood’s guilds, which comprise a large and influential constituency of Oscar voters, also makes the Coens front-runners to win the best picture Oscar as producers on the film along with Scott Rudin.

Oscar wins for best picture or directing would give the ultimate seal of Hollywood appreciation for Joel, 53, and Ethan, 50, two auteurs who have built a loyal cult following as film industry outsiders.

“No Country” marks both a departure -- their first film based entirely on a novel -- and a return to form for the pair with its tale of highly idiosyncratic characters caught up in events unleashed by nefarious plans gone horribly wrong.

Blending and bending elements of the thriller and western genres, “No Country for Old Men” is a tale of fear, despair and moral decay wrapped in a terse and violent chase film. One of the Coens’ darker offerings, it stands as their biggest commercial success, grossing more than $92 million worldwide.

POLISHING THEIR EGO

While thriving in their ability to make movies on their own terms, the Coens clearly relish recognition from their peers.

“Ethan and I have a bookshelf in our office we call our ego corner,” Joel Coen said at January’s Directors Guild awards.

“When he has a bad day, he gets Windex and polish and spit-shines his awards. This (DGA award) is a big one in every respect.”

“No Country” co-star Josh Brolin saluted the filmmakers as “two directors working as one who never argue.”

“The Coens are weird and iconoclastic enough to be a mystery to us all,” Brolin said.

The pair got their first taste of Oscar glory 11 years ago when they took home the Academy Award for original screenplay with their breakout crime drama, “Fargo.”

That movie also earned a best-actress statuette for Joel Coen’s wife, Frances McDormand, for her role as a pregnant small-town police chief who stumbles on to a multiple murder case. She and Joel Coen met while working on the brothers’ 1984 feature debut, “Blood Simple,” and married 10 years later.

The parallels between “Fargo” and “No Country” are striking. As Variety’s Peter DeBruge observed, both stories focus “on a no-nonsense sheriff on the heels of someone who’s in over his head with the criminal element.”

The Coens’ fascination with outlaws runs through many of their dozen movies -- from offbeat crime stories like “Blood Simple,” “Miller’s Crossing” and “Fargo,” to oddball comedies such as “Raising Arizona” (a petty thief and his prison-guard wife kidnap a baby); “The Big Lebowski” (an urban slacker, his bowling buddies and nihilist thugs collide in a ransom plot) and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (three ex-cons record a hit song on their way to hunt for buried treasure).

“No Country” is up for eight Oscars in all. Besides best film and direction, the Coens earned nods for their screenplay, adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name.

Spanish-born performer Javier Bardem is nominated as best supporting actor for his creepy portrait of a cool-headed, relentless psychopath who cuts a path of murder across Texas, deciding the fate of his victims with the flip of a coin.

Brolin plays a war veteran on the run with a briefcase full of cash found among the bodies of a drug deal gone bad and Tommy Lee Jones stars as a world-weary but wise lawman.

(Additional reporting by Mary Milliken)

Reuters/Nielsen

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