For the Coen brothers, though, the box office success represents another unexpected milestone in a career full of them…
And it’s true! Somehow the pair have evolved into bankable directors, rather late in their career. To wit—True Grit ($100 million so far), Serious Man ($10 million), Burn After Reading ($60 million), No Country for Old Men ($74 million), and I’m pretty sure all of them made a profit for their financiers.
I’m tempted by the thought that this says a lot about business. It’s a commonplace that businesses are not patient enough these days, and it’s probably true—certainly true of media conglomerates, which drop authors, musicians, etc., if they don’t make an immediate profit. But obviously that’s not always the case, as the Coen brothers have shown. What’s perhaps more interesting is that there have been approximately zero accusations of selling out—I haven’t seen a major pan of True Grit by anyone; at most there’s a “good-but-some-flaws” attitudes. It’s a rare crowd/critical favorite. If anything, you’d think the Coen brothers would be closer to the last pair of artists embraced by just about everything, given their notoriously difficult style/outlook. (In fact, just how many directors working these days have an interesting and articulateable outlook?)
You might think this is the point of the argument in which I say the media is missing all sorts of Coen-brothers-esque artists who would be very popular, but it’s in fact a little dispiriting in a way: if you’re arguing from Coen brothers, you’re arguing that elite directors can make great films for everyone. This doesn’t prove much, now does it?