Today! Because that rug really tied the room together –
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Directed by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen (x5)
Starring Jeff Bridges (x2), John Goodman (x6), Steve Buscemi (x3), Julianne Moore (x3), David Huddleston, Philip Seymour Hoffman (x6), John Turturro (x4), Sam Elliott (x2), Jon Polito, Peter Stormare (x2), Tara Reid (x2), Flea (x3), Jack Kehler (x2), Dom Irrera, David Thewlis, Ben Gazzara, Aimee Mann, Mark Pellegrino, Philip Moon
As mentioned earlier, the Coen brothers aren’t exactly flush with box office hits over their career. But coming on the heels of Fargo finally getting them Oscar attention, you’d have though their next film would fare a little better than, say, Species II or Simon Birch or Gus Van Sant’s Psycho remake or John Carpenter’s Vampires, but no. The Big Lebowski was virtually ignored on its initial release, landing in 96th on the 1998 box office chart, and garnering no significant year-end awards. Reviews were good by and large, even if it’s hard to go by Rotten Tomatoes today, with so much revision that is done to films predating the website. But I remember it being generally liked, but far from loved.
Who would’ve thought then that this would become the Coens enduring masterpiece all these years later. I’d say this is the only movie of theirs that totally qualifies as a cult classic, given how widely shunned it was at the time, slipping into theaters in a March, in the 12th week of Titanic‘s amazing first place run, opening below fellow newcomers Twilight (The Paul Newman/Gene Hackman film, no vampires), Hush (an almost completely forgotten Gwyneth Paltrow thriller), and The Fugitive sequel U.S. Marshals. But it has easily become their most popular film, I think I can say with some confidence. What is even next? By box office it’s True Grit, and by acclaim I’d say maybe Fargo? Their more lucrative films tended to have movie stars fronting them, but weren’t all that great, so it’s hard to use this in evaluating. No, it’s Lebowski, with little competition.
And I’m not going to pretend I was crazy in love with this movie when I first saw it either. Like a few other of their films – O Brother, Where Art Thou? comes immediately to mind – this film grew on me over time. I was an avowed Coen fan by ’98, so I saw this in theaters, and I remember liking it but not being blown away (I was going to say bowled over, but I’m not one for cheesy pun-ery). But the weirdness of this thing stuck with me, and the terrific characters, and the bizarre details, that I ended up owning it and rewatching to death. I hate the logic that something kinda lousy gets better the more times you see it – this is often applied to TV shows, “You have to get through the first two seasons and then you’ll like it!” as I think that’s super lazy construction – but if it’s something already pretty good that gets enhanced on repeated viewing, when you notice more and more of the small connections and touches throughout, well…
Hell, I think almost everything gets better the more times you see it – once the plot is already committed to memory, you can focus on the details better and discover new things, enjoying even the lousiest of products. Maybe that’s just me, though. That’s how so many random ass films from my childhood fought their way onto this list – I saw them a million times and latched onto enjoyable bits, while managing to overlook giant egregious problems. Still, those are far more difficult things to recommend than shows or films with obvious appeal. Lebowski is beloved by everyone, feel free to tell your co-workers and distant relatives, but like, I’m not going to propose anyone watch #361 Bloodsport for the first time today.
The Coens are the fourth directing Five-Timers, alongside Spielberg, Allen, and Kubrick, following their appearances with #367 A Serious Man, #117 O Brother, #128 Fargo, and #197 Inside Llewyn Davis. And the huge advancing group is led by new Six-Timers Goodman (#274 Argo, Llewyn Davis, #183 The Emperor’s New Groove, #385 Bee Movie, and O Brother) and Hoffman (#315 The Master, #217 Magnolia, #255 Red Dragon, #300 Punch Drunk Love, and #186 Talented Mr. Ripley) ! Spotlight!