February 26, 2008 / 12:01 AM / 10 years ago

Coen brothers' Oscars seal Hollywood's approval

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood’s establishment embraced two of the film industry’s quintessential outsiders on Sunday as brothers Joel and Ethan Coen won Oscars for their work directing and producing the grim crime drama “No Country For Old Men.”

Ethan (L) and Joel Coen (C) accept the Oscar for best directing for "No Country For Old Men" from director Martin Scorsese during the 80th annual Academy Awards, the Oscars, in Hollywood February 24, 2008. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

The Coen brothers, who also clinched an Oscar for their adapted screenplay, become only the second pair of filmmakers to jointly win the Academy Award for best directing, following in the footsteps of Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins for the 1961 musical “West Side Story.”

The Coens shared the Oscar for best picture with their producing partner on the film, Scott Rudin.

The Coens — Joel, 53, and Ethan, 50 — were considered clear Oscar favorites after sweeping the 2007 film honors of Hollywood’s major talent guilds, including the Directors Guild of America. They got their first taste of Oscar glory 11 years ago with a win for their original screenplay for “Fargo.”

But Sunday’s Academy Award triumph represents the ultimate seal of Hollywood appreciation for the two auteurs, who have built their career and a loyal cult following as fiercely independent filmmakers.

“Ethan and I have been making stories with movie cameras since we were kids,” Joel Coen said in accepting their directing Oscar, recalling an amateur film they made in the late 1960s called “Henry Kissinger, Man on the Go,” starring his younger brother in a suit with a briefcase.

“Honestly, what we do now doesn’t feel that much different from what we were doing then,” he said.

“No Country” marks both a departure — their first film based entirely on a novel — and a return to form for the Coens 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 the western, “No Country” 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.

Ethan (L) and Joel Coen (C) accept the Oscar for best directing for "No Country For Old Men" from director Martin Scorsese during the 80th annual Academy Awards, the Oscars, in Hollywood February 24, 2008. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

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

“We’re really thrilled ... and we’re very thankful to all of you out there for letting us continue to play in our corner of the sandbox,” Joel Coen said from the stage.

“No Country,” up for eight Oscars going into the awards show, came away with as the night’s biggest winner with four statuettes. Besides best film and direction, the Coens shared a trophy for their screenplay, adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name.

Spanish-born performer Javier Bardem also was named best supporting actor for his creepy portrait of a cool-headed, relentless killer.

Josh Brolin played a war veteran on the run with a briefcase full of cash and Tommy Lee Jones starred as a world-weary but wise lawman.

“No Country,” the 12th movie co-written and directed by the Coens, bears striking similarities to their 1996 breakout feature, “Fargo,” which earned the brothers their first Oscar for best original screenplay.

“Fargo” also garnered an Academy Award for actress Frances McDormand, who is married to Joel Coen, for her role as a pregnant police chief.

Both movies are stories whose hero is cast as a matter-of-fact cop in hot pursuit of someone who finds himself in over his head with the criminal element.

The Coens’ fascination with outlaws runs through many of their films - 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).


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