The MoFo Top 100 Neo-noir Countdown

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My bottom three films won't be making it. As my 1-pointer I had The Man from London, Bela Tarr's arthouse adaptation of Georges Simenon's classic book. It's by no means a perfect movie, but what it does so effectively is take you into this shadowy, hazy world in which a low-income railroad switchman witnesses a crime and finds himself in possession of a suitcase of money. The long, lingering takes and the terrific black and white cinematography just ooze with atmosphere and tension. Obviously, someone else had it on their list, since it wasn't a one-pointer.

Against All Odds was my #24. I kinda just threw this one on. As a remake of Out of the Past it pales in comparison to the original, but nonetheless it has its own merits.

Cop Land was my #23. While Robert De Niro, Harvey Kietel, and the rest of the cast are, to be expected, excellent, it's Sylvester Stallone who really surprises in this one with an unexpectedly nuanced and sensitive performance as the sheriff of the town in which several dirty NYC cops reside.
I may go back to hating you. It was more fun.

Yeah! one from my ballot...I had it at #10

Blood Simple...The ending is both bloody and violent. But not gratuitous. It doesn’t linger over its violence as Tarantino would...

I told you I would Wylde.

I wrote this piece about Blood Simple sometime back:

Blood Simple (1984)
The Coen Brother's rock! They employ such unique artistry in their scene compositions and such lush lighting with their subdued shadows, that just watching Blood Simple is like a wonderful day spent at an art museum. I just sat back and soaked up their visionary film making whilst enjoying their equally inspired soundtrack. Blood Simple is one of those prime examples where the soundtrack is genius in and of itself.

Out of Fargo, Lebowski, No Country, and Blood Simple, I'm not sure which is my favorite Coen, but it's only the latter that I had on my ballot for this.

1. Killer Joe (#66)
3. Gone Baby Gone (#64)
4. The Player (#47)
6. The Usual Suspects (#20)
7. Body Heat (#22)
9. Mona Lisa (#78)
10. High and Low (#19)
11. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (#62)
12. Body Double (#69)
14. Blow Out (#17)
15. The Driver (#79)
16. Blood Simple (#9)
17. Night Moves (#40)
19. Drive (#14)
21. Manhunter (#77)
22. Sin City (#26)
23. Blue Velvet (#13)
24. Bound (#59)

Blood Simple made the tail end of my ballot at #25. I prefer a few Coen films over it, but it's still really good. Even their second tier is quite strong.

6. Miller's Crossing
7. The Big Lebowski
8. Pulp Fiction
10. Le Circle Rouge
13. No Country for Old Men
16. Mulholland Drive
17. The Silence of the Lambs
18. Blow Out
22. Point Blank
23. Alphaville
25. Blood Simple


1. The French Connection (#58)
2. You Were Never Really Here (#50)
3. Get Carter (#49)
4. In the Heat of the Night (#98)
5. Blast of Silence (#48)
6. Won't make it
7. Definitely won't
8. Yes?
9. Thief (#29)
10. Nope
11. Maybe?
12. Blood Simple (#9)
13. Badlands (#103)
14. No. Excellent movie, but no
15. It certainly qualifies but ...
16. Harper (#101)
17. Dark City (#24)
18. One False Move (#73)
19. No Country for Old Men (#12)
20. Nope, no giallo
21. Another good one but no
22. It'd be nice but ...
23. Drive (#14)
24. Point Blank (#72)
25. Collateral (#33)


RT – 94%, IMDb – 7.5

Roger Ebert said:

"Is the movie fun? Well, that depends on you. It is violent, unrelenting, absurd and fiendishly clever. There is a cliché I never use: 'Not for the squeamish'. But let me put it this way. Blood Simple may make you squeam." (read full review here)
David A. Punch, from Medium, said:

"The fundamental reason that Blood Simple remains a seminal neo-noir is because it was born out of the same circumstances that forged the beginnings of film noir itself." (read full review here)
@Jack1 said:

"The writing here feels completely assured for a debut, and indeed the Coen brothers instantly broke into their stride - some directors take time to find their feet and create something worthwhile; here I think they instantly created something marvellous - I may be in a minority with this but I think it's among their best films." (read full review here)
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Blood Simple received a couple of nominations and awards. These are some of the most notable:
  • Five (5) Film Independent Spirit Award nominations, including a win for Best Director (Joel Coen)
  • Two (2) Fantasporto Award nominations, including the Audience Jury Award (Joel)
  • One (1) Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination for Best Motion Picture
  • One (1) National Board of Review Award for Top Ten Films
  • One (1) Sundance Film Festival Grand Juyr Prize (Joel)

Earlier today I posted a link that talked about the circumstances behind the development of Mulholland Drive, but the story of how Blood Simple was conceived and developed might not be far behind. Here is a link where some of the people involved share some stories about that:

How we made Blood Simple

One of the things I find more interesting is how, despite not having a lot of experience, they managed to assemble this "fake" trailer for Blood Simple which they presented to investors to entice them into putting money on the film.

The trailer features Bruce Campbell, who they had met while Joel worked as an assistant editor on The Evil Dead. The Coens have since maintained a very close relationship with Campbell and The Evil Dead director Sam Raimi.

(1984, Coen)

"Trust you not to go simple on me and do something stupid. I mean, really stupid. Now, why should I trust you?"

In 1982, brothers Joel and Ethan Coen had an idea. Barely out of college and with almost no experience in filmmaking, they directed a teaser trailer for their idea: a man on his knees, another dragging a shovel menacingly towards him, a bullet-riddled wall. Simple. Then they went door to door, business to business, showing the film to whoever they could. As simple as an Avon salesman. I'm sure many must have thought "why should I trust you?" before giving them money. But eventually, they got $1.5 million, and that was the start of one of the most prolific film careers in Hollywood. And it all started with a simple idea and a simple approach to bring it home.

Blood Simple follows Ray (John Getz), a bartender at a local bar who is having an affair with Abby (Frances McDormand), the wife of his boss, Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya). When he suspects, he hires a private detective (M. Emmett Walsh) to follow the love birds and then kill them. The story is as simple as it's classic; a story of love, betrayal, and murder. But obviously, things don't go as planned, and the simple story ends up becoming a complicated mess of deceit, confusion, and revenge.

The film is damn good. The fact that it was made by two brothers with hardly any experience doing this, on a shoe-string budget is just motherf-uckin' impressive. The film is full of what has made the Coen so popular now. Unique twists, clever dialogue, subtle - and not so subtle - references to other films, dark and deadpan humor; and it all works perfectly here. Seriously, looking at the direction, you wouldn't think this was made by a rookie director. The Coens are raw, but still have a unique eye to move the camera and a meticulous way to set a scene that more "seasoned" directors would dream for.

Plus, in the midst of it all, the film has a perfect cast that knows exactly how to carry this film. Getz and McDormand are not flashy, but the characters aren't supposed to be, and they deliver. However, it is Walsh the one who steals the film as Visser, the scheming private detective that tries to have his cake and eat it too. Every scene with him is a delight. The title of the film comes from a Dashiel Hammett novel in which a lead character is afraid that the escalating violence around him has affected him psychologically, which is what Visser warns his employer about. A simple act of violence will eventually lead to more violence, making it harder to go back.

The Coens had their simple start in 1984. 30+ years, seventeen films and four Academy Awards later, it is undeniable how their career has "escalated". They stand as one of my favorite directors, and I trust them to fully mess with my head any time they want.


Blood Simple was #92 on the MoFo Top 100 of the 1980s.
"Film is a disease. When it infects your bloodstream it takes over as the number one hormone. It bosses the enzymes, directs the pineal gland, plays Iago to your psyche. As with heroin, the antidote to Film is more Film." - Frank Capra

Pretty sure Blood Simple was my number 1.

As it should be.

Coens best film. And better than anything most people could ever do.

Making the top 10 feels right to me.

I can't remember if I typed about it much on MoFo back in the day, but I was at the world premiere screening of the restored version of Blood Simple in Austin, Texas, October 3rd, 1998. It was part of the Austin Heart of Film Festival, which I went to several years in that era.

In addition to being one of the first to see the flick, I also got to meet and talk to Joel & Ethan in the bar of the Driskill Hotel, and I had a brief interaction with M. Emmet Walsh at the very end of the screening. There was a panel before and after the movie with Joel, Ethan, Emmet, and John Getz. Fran McDormand was not able to be there because she was in a play in New York at the time. At the end of the screening after everybody had filed out of the Paramount, I was still standing at the back of the house. Mr. Walsh had gotten separated from the others - went to the bathroom or something - and saw me standing there. I was wearing a sports coat, as is my wont, and when I do I often times get mistaken for staff, or at least somebody who knows what in the heck is going on. Emmet assumed I worked either for the Festival or the theatre. He asked me, "Where is this restaurant where were all going?" I admitted I don't work there so didn't know, but I walked with him out of the theater until we found somebody who legitimately did know what was up. While we were walking I said, "I am a big fan." To which he said thank you. Then I added, "I really loved The Music of Chance." He smiled and said, "No one ever remembers that one." That was about all we got before I handed him to actual staff.

Didn't get to say much to Joel & Ethan directly. I was part of a group of about nine or ten of us attendees. I did get to insert my encyclopedic movie knowledge a couple times, when somebody would be struggling to come up with the name of a movie or a director.

That was one of the appealing things about the Austin Heart of Film Festival, back in the day (have no idea what it may have evolved or devolved into over the decades since I attended), but the VIP guests agreed to hang around and just chat with the attendees, very informally. The best conversation I had was with Paul Schrader and Polly Platt, just me and three others, talking about Taxi Driver. Surreal. Got to interact with lots of folks. Buck Henry was another favorite. Shane Black was awesome. Good times.

As for the "restored" Blood Simple it is one of the few times directors have recut their films years later and it came out a couple minutes shorter. The big thing they did was clean up and remaster the sound and of course got the Four Tops tune "It's the Same Old Song" reinserted. They didn't have the rights for the TV and video versions back in the day, so if you missed the initial theatrical run in 1984 and saw it first on TV or VHS before 1998 you heard "I'm a Believer", both as the song that bartender Meurice chooses on the jukebox and then for the end credits. It wasn't even the Monkees version, but Neil Diamond's (he wrote the song).

ANYway...Blood Simple was not on my ballot.

While we were walking I said, "I am a big fan." To which he said thank you. Then I added, "I really loved The Music of Chance." He smiled and said, "No one ever remembers that one." That was about all we got before I handed him to actual staff.
Hmm, don't think I had ever heard of that one, but after reading the synopsis, I'm intrigued now.

Hmm, don't think I had ever heard of that one, but after reading the synopsis, I'm intrigued now.
That was a sincere comment - I do love The Music of Chance - but also partly strategic. I have interacted with many actors and filmmakers over the years and have found the best chance to actually engage them in conversation is to bring up a project of theirs that they don't get asked about multiple times a day, every day. If I had told M. Emmet I have seen Blade Runner a hundred times or ask him, "You using the whole fist, Doc?", he likely has an automatic response. But I asked him about The Music of Chance and he lit up.

A perfect example is from that same Austin festival a couple years later. After a screening of Shadow of the Vampire I found myself walking back towards the hotel stride for stride with Cary Elwes. If I was the twentieth idiot that day to say, "As you wish" to him, he politely smiles and that is it. Instead, I said, "I really loved Cradle Will Rock". Again, he lit up. I asked what it was like to play John Houseman, had he ever gotten to meet him, and that started a nice conversation about Orson Welles and Tim Robbins that would not have happened by asking about The Princess Bride.

It also helps tremendously if you are actually a fan of the person. I have never gone up to talk to a celebrity just because they are a celebrity.

Free advice. Your mileage may vary.

I forgot the opening line.
9. Blood Simple - This is a really good film that didn't quite make my ballot. I've seen it a couple of times - it's a very heavy, adult, dark-toned movie. A million, trillion miles from The Coen's Raising Arizona (which I think is what they made next), and hazy kind of spoilers here - a really dark, sad ending (thing could have ended worse, but still.) A really brutal neo-noir film with a huge and dangerous idiot for a villain and a couple who would just like to get away from him. Of course, the idiot happens to be Frances McDormand's character's husband. Jealousy should never lead to murder - that's a mite too extreme an action for any emotion you might be feeling. It took me ages to get around to seeing this, but as the Coens became more than famous - legendary - I had to seek it out and watch it. I can see why they immediately attracted attention, and five out of their next six films are now classics. Anyway, I don't mind seeing it this high up at all, despite not voting for it.

Seen : 67/92
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Opening Monologue of 'Blood Simple'

Can you get your inner Loren Visser going?