June 29, 2009

On the Horizon: A Serious Man

This is the first "On the Horizon" movie I haven't actually seen, but it's worthy of a preview if for no other reason than the fact that so far all anyone's heard has been crickets. As a Minnesota resident and amateur biographer of Joel and Ethan Coen, I therefore consider it my duty to get some buzz going, despite the negligible fact that a trailer, poster, and stills haven't been released (other than these on-location shots that I drummed up from www.coenbrothers.net).

The lack of excitement around A Serious Man, at least among the blogs and newswires I follow with any regularity, is baffling. Since Oscar night a few months back there's been about a million posts on "Movies to Watch" in 2009, and almost none of them mention A Serious Man. Even outside of
the current marketing assaults for all of these summer blockbusters, it seems like most of the excitement for the end of the year is reserved for Cannes attention getters (The White Ribbon, Bright Star, Antichrist) or heavy hitters like Nine, 9, District 9, Inglourious Basterds, Taking Woodstock, Sherlock Holmes, The Lovely Bones, Invictus, The Hurt Locker, The Road, Shutter Island, Amelia, and so on.

I'm not saying A Serious Man should necessarily be considered Best Picture-worthy at this point, or even that it's going to be good. It could be categorically awful. I have no idea, but either way I'm shocked at the lack of curious anticipation for what amounts to an autobiographical film written and directed by arguably the best filmmaking team in Hollywood and filmed in their childhood home of St. Louis Park, MN (and costumed by Mary Zophres and designed by Jess Gonchor and, oh yeah, also shot by Roger Deakins and scored by Carter Burwell).

What am I missing? Are the Coens - just two years removed from a near Oscar sweep - not as highly respected as I thought? Did Burn After Reading ruin their reputation or something?

Maybe it's the lack of a big name star. The Coens dug deep into the local Jewish community here for supporting parts and extras, but even their leads - Richard Kind and Michael Stuhlbarg - are mostly recognizable by face alone. Or maybe it's the fact that nobody has seen even a rough cut of A Serious Man, and it's hard to get excited for a movie if you haven't seen a trailer (you know, similar to the lack of comments about a movie that's not even in pre-production yet).

Nah, neither of those reasons really explain it, especially when you consider the similarities with the other end-of-year movies I listed. Puzzling...

Closer to home, perhaps the reason nobody wants to talk about this movie is because the last time the brothers filmed in their home state the result arrived with a warning label. For many people the memories of Fargo still stings, and it stands to reason that the Coens will be applying their always-sharp analytical scalpel to the cultural quirks of Minnesota once again in A Serious Man, albeit Jewish-Minnesotan culture in 1967.

Whatever the reason for the blaring silence, only a fool could argue that A Serious Man will arrive so quietly in just 120 days.
Opening weekend (Oct. 2) here in Uptown and St. Louis Park will be an absolute zoo, and away from home I'd comfortably bet on at least Best Original Screenplay consideration, if not also a shot at a Best Picture nom in a newly-expanded field.

But I haven't seen it and maybe I'm way off. Maybe it's an impossible movie to market and nobody is excited or cares about it because they think it sounds really boring, even if it hits closer to home - both literally and figuratively - than any film the Coens have made to this point. Maybe all those people who complained about No Country for Old Men winning Best Picture were right when they said that "nobody saw it", and thus the Coens, celebrating their 25th year making movies, actually
have to prove their writing and directing talent again before anybody can get excited.

It just doesn't seem possible, but...could it be true?


  1. Maybe you should broaden your reading.


  2. Thanks for stopping by, SittingPat. It counts for nothing now, but I actually starting the draft of this post in April, before the BP nomination field was expanded.

    In any case, Rope of Silicon has ASM as the 16th out of 20 listed; I'd hardly consider a tacked-on mention of it in one article as a counterpoint here. Even Awards Daily and In Contention don't give it a nod in their predicted group of 10.

    But I didn't really mean to make this about the Oscars in the first place. My real shock is that the Coen Brothers are making a movie that couldn't possibly be any more in their wheelhouse, but yet it seems like almost nobody is excited about that fact.

  3. My guess, Daniel, would be that the marketing machine behind the movie has failed to kick into gear yet. Sadly, Hollywood runs on marketing, and so do the bloggers. If there are no production stills to look at, no big names to latch on to, and, most importantly, the Coens themselves aren't talking about it, then no one knows about it.

    Remember how "Million Dollar Baby" and "Gran Torino" snuck into the national discussion like dark horses? No marketing lead up to Oscar season and then BAM! word of mouth started spreading like wildfire.

    Perhaps that is what will happen with this film.

  4. Yes, Eastwood is a master at last-minute campaigns, but Eastwood doesn't really have the same rabid fan base as the Coens. I mean, you of all people, having hosted a full month of Coens movies (which, by the way, led to the article you asked me write which led to a lot of other good stuff), know that there are plenty of people, including bloggers, who get excited about upcoming movies even if nothing is available and the filmmakers are silent (take The Lovely Bones, for example). Plus, it's not like this is still filming or in post-production. It's in the can and on the way, not for a Christmas/Oscar release but just on the other side of summer - October 2. It will be here before we know it. So let's make some noise, people!

    What I think is more likely is the lack of a high-wattage star. The Coens are always silent and in the shadows, but typically there is a big name, if not a few, attached to their movies that gets the buzz going early on. Without that here, all anyone can get excited about is the Coens applying their brilliant writing to a movie about their hometown, filmed in their hometown. How can that not be enough?

    And another thing - Deakins still needs to win an Oscar, and this is his only shot in 2009!

  5. Here's my thing: I'm numb with excitement for this movie as I am every Coen movie, but I simply don't want to know about it or talk about it or think about it until the lights go down, the curtains open and the movie unfolds.

    I'm sure I'll run the trailer and the one sheet when the time comes, but I'm playing it cool until showtime.

  6. Welcome, fellow Coen blackout person (we both try to avoid as much buzz as possible before seeing their new movies), but even you didn't cover as production info on this one as I would have expected. Granted, there wasn't much news to report of note.

    I guess I'm just too early on this for now with no trailer and no poster, but I'd figure more people would be like you and me on this one, considering the raw ingredients (Coens, own screenplay, hometown, period piece, dark comedy, Deakins) are so ripe for amazingness.

  7. Honestly, I didn't even know Deakins was shooting it, that's how clueless I've kept myself. I mean, it's a pretty logical assumption, but still.

    I posted very little on Burn After Reading or No Country for Old Men which are the two films they've come out with during the LiC years. I think I finally cracked and watched the Burn trailer, but No Country I successfully avoided everything..especially some of the major spoilers that were given away when the film played at Cannes.

    So far I've mentioned Serious Man five times. Some initial casting and the release date and a few other things. It didn't turn up in my 2009 forecast because it didn't have an official 2009 date yet.

  8. Alright, you've convinced me that a.) you're as excited as I am, and b.) you've actually had ASM on your radar more than the average bear. I do remember you kept a tight rein on yourself for BAR, but for whatever reason I felt like I saw you cover more about it in advance - maybe it really was just the poster and trailer, the former of which I'll obviously avoid like the plague once it's released for ASM.

    My concern at this point is simply getting a ticket to see it here as early as possible - either early (which I suspect will be almost impossible unless I can call in some major favors from press folks) or on opening weekend (which will be possible, but will not be preferable - the howling cackles in the packed theaters will drown out half of the dialogue).

  9. Knowing nothing about it (and perhaps because of the title) I'm expecting something less cackle-y and more The Man Who Wasn't There-y...a movie I actually quite liked even though fans are hard to come by.

    Whatever it is...I'm jazzed.

  10. Hmm, good point about TMWWT (which I need to see again), though it's worth mentioning Minnesotans are pretty cackle-y about things that you would otherwise never think are funny. The darker and drier the comedy, the more hilarious they think it is, from my observations.

  11. Martin S. - Brooklyn, NYOctober 17, 2009 at 1:21 AM

    I am happy to say that I have seen the movie twice now in theaters (it's showing in New York and some other places already) and think that it's the best movie I have seen in some time, and is certainly deserving of some Oscar nominations for sure.. It is very funny (but also very dark), beautifully shot, and superbly cast. The only negative thing I could say is that the audience for this film is relatively narrow given the very Jewish/Yiddish themes running through the film.

  12. Welcome, Martin - thanks for commenting. I also hope ASM gets Oscar consideration. You're probably right that the religious themes won't connect with a lot of people - a lot of "goys", as it were. Then again, I bet the voting members of AMPAS are proportionately a lot more Jewish than the American population, and that could prove to be a big advantage come Oscar time.


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