Coen Brothers' 'No Country' Nabs Eight Oscar Nods For more than 20 years, Ethan and Joel Coen have written, directed, and produced films together — many of them bloody, absurd and revolving around some kind of criminal enterprise gone awry. Their latest, No Country for Old Men, is up for eight Academy Awards — and they're the first siblings to share a nomination for best director.
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Coen Brothers' 'No Country' Nabs Eight Oscar Nods

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Coen Brothers' 'No Country' Nabs Eight Oscar Nods

Coen Brothers' 'No Country' Nabs Eight Oscar Nods

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, a philosophy professor who's traded his trombone for a flute.

But first, whether or not Joel and Ethan Coen's film "No Country for Old Men" wins one of the eight Oscars for which it's been nominated, the brothers have become the first siblings ever to share a nomination for best director.

The film's based on Cormac McCarthy's novel of a same name, featuring an assassin who administers his own brand of justice to anyone he encounters.

(Soundbite of movie, "No Country for Old Men")

Mr. JAVIER BARDEM (Actor): (As Anton Chigurh) What's the most you ever lost in a coin toss?

Mr. GENE JONES (Actor): (As gas station proprietor) Sir?

Mr. JAVIER BARDEM (Actor): (As Anton Chigurh) The most you ever lost in a coin toss.

Mr. JONES: (As gas station proprietor) I don't know. I couldn't say.

Mr. BARDEM: (As Anton Chigurh) Call it.

Mr. JONES: (As gas station proprietor) Call it. That's for a whole lot.

Mr. BARDEM: (As Anton Chigurh) Just call it.

SIMON: Since 1984 the Coen Brothers have made more than a dozen movies, including "Raising Arizona," "Fargo," and "The Big Lebowski." The brothers grew up in an academic family in suburban Minneapolis, and made their first films as adolescents with a small Super 8 camera they bought with money they made by mowing lawns.

They got friends to star in short, earnest remakes in some of their favorite old movies. When they got a chance to make their own films, critics noticed that they seemed to fill the screen with absurdities, blood and money that was up for grabs.

Mr. JOEL COEN (Writer/Director, "No Country for Old Men"): At one point we noticed we've done a number of movies that had a kidnapping at its center. I guess there are just certain kinds of plot situations which ramify in ways that are pleasing to us or interesting to us in terms of, you know, writing a story.

Mr. ETHAN COEN (Writer/Director, "No Country for Old Men"): And if she kind of gravitates towards crime stories as we do, you know, money's usually involved, just the skeletons of crime stories tend to resemble each other.

SIMON: When you talk about the appeal of crime stories, is the identification always with the victim or the perpetrator? Is there a part of us, and maybe you the filmmaker, that invites the intellectual exercise of figuring out how to get away with something?

Mr. J. COEN: I think that's part of the fun in crime stories. It's also almost a, you know, often remarked and commonly sort of held opinion, that the villains are often the more interesting characters in these kinds of stories, or at least are as interesting. We've tended in the past to make the most of our villains numbskulls, which I think is a more accurate reflection of reality to a certain extent.

SIMON: You think of the guys in "Fargo."

Mr. E. COEN: That isn't the case with "No Country for Old Men." But…

Mr. J. COEN: Part of your reaction as an audience member is you do want, often in crime stories, you do want the perpetrators to get away with it.

SIMON: By the way, that was Joel Coen speaking first, then Ethan, then Joel again. In a business famous for rivalry and backbiting - come to think of it, what business isn't - the Coen Brothers are known for their seamless working relationship. Not even that they can finish each other's sentences; actors and crew members say they often alternate sentences to tell the same story, like the one about having what amounted to an infant corral on "Raising Arizona."

Mr. E. COEN: Yeah, the movie involved quintuplets, five babies, about a year old, either side of a year old. And, you know, and working with babies when they don't feel like performing, you have to be able to move out the one that's not performing and move in a substitute. So we had a total of 15 children to play, you know…

SIMON: Fifteen children to play five babies.

Mr. E. COEN: Right.

Mr. J. COEN: Exactly. It was a baby pit really.

Mr. E. COEN: It was a carpeted pit.

Mr. J. COEN: And the parents sort of sat around the perimeter and every now and then we would…

Mr. E. COEN: Reach into the pit to bring out a, you just grab a limb and haul out a new baby.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. J. COEN: Our big problem was we were dealing with babies that were just at the sort of cusp of walking and we only wanted crawlers. When one of them would actually manage to get up on his hind legs and totter around the set, that's when we fired them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. E. COEN: Parents' reaction to them was emotionally complicated, as you can imagine.

SIMON: With their four individual Oscar nominations this year, the Coen Brothers have tied the record for most nominations in the same year, a record that Orson Wells established with "Citizen Kane." And once again Roderick James has been nominated for film editing on "No Country for Old Men."

He's kind of a mystery man who's edited all the Coen Brothers' films yet has never worked for another director. Roderick James has never been seen at the Oscars, the Polo Club Lounge, the Beverly Hills AA meeting, or any other Hollywood hangout. Is Roderick James some sort of recluse, or is he another Coen Brothers production?

Mr. J. COEN: Yeah, I don't know would you describe the relationship as close but…

SIMON: What can you tell us about him?

Mr. E. COEN: He's old. Must be in his late 80s now. He lives in Sussex in England.

SIMON: Yeah, yeah. Okay. Yeah.

Mr. E. COEN: He's a cantankerous old fart.

SIMON: And if you win the Oscar, do you intend to bring Roderick James up there to join you?

Mr. J. COEN: No. He was nominated once before for "Fargo," so we do go back with him. And the Academy asked that question because you're not allowed to accept by surrogate.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. J. COEN: You know, I can't remember how we resolved it then, since Roderick James doesn't travel and they haven't asked now. So I don't quite know what we're going to do.

SIMON: Well, congratulations to him too. I'm sorry he couldn't join us for this interview.

Mr. J. COEN: We'll pass it along.

SIMON: Ethan and Joel Coen speaking from their office in New York. Their latest film, "No Country for Old Men," has been nominated for eight Oscars, overall. The brothers, and Roderick James, have been nominated for four.

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