Joel Coen
Birth Date:
November 29, 1954
Birth Place:
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Famous for:
Director of 'Fargo' (1996)
director, screenwriter, producer
St. Louis Park (MN) High School (graduated in 1973)
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An Oscar winning filmmaker who began his entertainment career as an assistant film editor, director and screenwriter, Joel Coen and his producer/writer brother Ethan have created a reputation as two of the most powerful figures in American and world cinema. Since making their debut with 1984’s “Blood Simple,” which won Joel an Independent Spirit Award for his direction, they have made numerous successful movies. “Raising Arizona” (1987) was a success among critics and moviegoers, while “Miller's Crossing” (1990) successfully won Joel a Best Director Award at the San Sebastián International Film Festival and a Critic Award at the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival. The brothers enjoyed critical acclaim and a box office hit with “Barton Fink” (1991), from which Joel netted his first Best Director Cannes.

It was “Fargo” (1996), however, that brought the Coens their largest victory to date. They achieved recognition for their spectacular writing, most notably an Academy Award, and for Joel’s directorial effort, he earned an Independent Spirit Award, a BAFTA Award, a Golden Satellite Award, a Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award, a Chicago Film Critics Association Award, a Florida Film Critics Circle Award, a London Critics Circle Film Award, a Los Angeles Film Critics Association, a Cannes Film Festival Award and an Oscar nomination.

Following the big breakthrough, Joel went on to direct the movies “The Big Lebowski” (1998), “O Brother, Where art Thou?” (2000, jointly earned an Oscar nomination for writing), “The Man Who Wasn't There” (2001), from which he nabbed his third Cannes Award, “Intolerable Cruelty” (2003), a project where Joel for the first time shared directorial credit with Ethan), “The Ladykillers” (2004) and more recently, “No Country for Old Men” (2007). Joel will work together with his brother in writing the scripts and directing the upcoming films, “Burn After Reading” (2008) and “Hail Caesar” (2009). They will also lend their writing talents for the George Clooney-directed “Suburbicon” and Collin Firth's vehicle, “Bambit” (both 2009).

Off camera, Joel has been married to Frances McDormand since 1984 and has an adopted son, Pedro. He and his wife have collaborated on several projects, including “Fargo,” from which McDormand won an Oscar.

McDormand's Man

Childhood and Family:

The son of professors, Joel Daniel Coen was born on November 29, 1954, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His father, Edward Coen, taught economics at the University of Minnesota, while his mother, Rena Coen, taught art history at St. Cloud State University. Joel grew up at St Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis and has an older sister, Debbie, and a younger brother, Ethan, with whom he collaborated on a number of projects. After graduating from Simon's Rock Early College (now Simon's Rock College of Bard) in Great Barrington, MN, he spent four years in the undergraduate program at New York University. As a child, Joel made money mowing lawns to purchase a Vivitar Super-8 camera. Using the camera, he and his brother remade films they watched on TV with a neighborhood friend, Mark Zimering.

Joel married actress Frances McDormand in 1984. They have an adopted son named Pedro (born in November 1994).

Barton Fink


As an undergraduate student at NYU, Joel Coen made a 30 minute film called “Soundings” for his thesis. Upon completing his film studies, Joel found work as a production assistant on a variety of industrial films and music videos. He built a talent for movie editing and met Sam Raimi who was in search of an assistant film editor for his feature film debut, “The Evil Dead” (1981), a cult horror film that was not released until 1983. Joel, who previously served as an assistant editor on the genuinely strange horror “Fear No Evil” (1981), took the job. “The Evil Dead” marked his first collaboration with Raimi. During that same period, Joel and his younger brother, Ethan, started writing screenplays.

In 1984, Joel and Ethan released their first film together, “Blood Simple.” They both wrote and edited the movie (used the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes for the latter work), while Joel directed and Ethan established himself as the producer. Starring the soon-to-be-wife Frances McDormand, who later starred in many of the Coen brothers’ projects, the film received respectable critical praise, including the Fantasporto Audience Jury Award, the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize-Dramatic Award and an Independent Spirit nomination for Best Screenplay, and subsequently established the brothers as new, original talent. Joel also won an Independent Spirit for Best Director.

The following year saw Joel co-write (with Ethan and Sam Raimi) the screenplay for 1985's “Crimewave,” directed by Raimi, before returning to the director's chair for the brothers' next major project, “Raising Arizona” (1987). A half-baked dysfunctional family comedy about a barren couple (Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter) who come to a decision to kidnap a baby, the film won the heart of both audiences and critics alike. With a growing fan base, the Coens went on to make “Miller's Crossing” (1990), a homage to the mobster film genre featuring a strong portrayal of the brothers' future staple John Turturro. Joel nabbed a Silver Seashell for Best Director at the 1990 San Sebastián International Film Festival and a Critics Award from the 1991 Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival for his work in the film.

The follow-up, “Barton Fink” (1991), brought Joel and Ethan even more attention. Set in the 1940s and chronicling the story of intellectual New York playwright Barton Fink (played by Turturro) who comes to Hollywood to write a B-movie, the comedy/drama was a commercial and critical hit and garnered Joel a Best Director Award and a Golden Palm at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival, in addition to the festival's Best Actor honor for Turturro. The brothers' popularity was furthered verified in 1994 when they signed a five-commercial deal for Budweiser Ice Draft Beer and were handed a Filmmaker Award from Gotham. Still in 1994, they also made their first big-budget motion picture with “The Hudsucker Proxy” (co-penned with Raimi).

“Fargo,” a black, violent crime comedy with an astonishingly warm heart, marked the Coens' comeback in 1996. Surrounding the tale of Jerry (played by William H. Macy), a man with a young family who hired two men to kidnap his wife so he can get his wealthy father-in-law to pay the ransom, the movie was a huge commercial success. For their outstanding writing, Joel and Ethan shared an Oscar, a Writers Guild of America, an Independent Spirit, a Chicago Film Critics Association, a Florida Film Critics Circle, a London Critics Circle Film and a Los Angeles Film Critics Association award. Joel also picked an Independent Spirit, a BAFTA, a Golden Satellite, a Cannes Film Festival and a Kansas City Film Critics Circle, and an Oscar nomination for his directorial effort. With the success of “Fargo,” the brothers put their careers back on the track.

After “Fargo,” Joel helmed and co-authored (with Ethan) “The Big Lebowski” (1998), which again showed the brothers' attraction to kidnapping. Casting an unusually impressive cast, including Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi and again John Turturro, the movie met with mixed critical response although it did win Joel a Golden Berlin Bear nomination at the Berlin Film Festival. “O Brother, Where art Thou,” an admittedly loose version of Homer's “The Odyssey,” was released in 2000 with George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson starring as escaped inmates on a dreamlike journey through 1930s Mississippi. Joel nabbed a Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award nomination for his work in the adventure film, an honor he shared with his brother Ethan.

2001 saw a change of pace with the darkly comic “The Man Who Wasn't There,” starring Billy Bob Thornton as a modest, small-town barber named Ed. The Cannes-premiered movie won a David di Donatello for Best Foreign Film and other award nominations. As for Joel, he won his third Cannes Film Festival for direction and jointly picked up with Ethan a London Critics Circle Film in the category of Screenwriter of the Year. Next, Joel directed Catherine Zeta-Jones and George Clooney in “Intolerable Cruelty” (2003) and shared executive producer credit with Ethan for the Terry Zwigoff film “Bad Santa.” With “The Ladykillers” (2004), starring Tom Hanks and Marlon Wayans, the brothers earned some of the most tepid reviews of their career. The movie also marked the first time Joel shared directorial credit with his brother.

More recently, Joel co-directed and co-penned the script of “No Country for Old Men” with Ethan. The film is based on the 2005 book by the legendary author Cormac McCarthy and stars Tommy Lee Jones as Ed Tom Bell, Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh, Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss and Woody Harrelson as Carson Wells. The movie premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 19, 2007. The brothers will take the same duties for the upcoming movies “Burn After Reading” (2008), starring Brad Pitt, Clooney and McDormand, and “Hail Caesar” (2009). They are also scheduled to write the scripts for “Suburbicon” (2009), a dark comedy film directed by George Clooney, and the remake “Gambit” (2009), starring Collin Firth as Harry Dean.


  • London Critics Circle Film: Screenwriter of the Year, “The Man Who Wasn't There,” 2002 (shared with Ethan Coen)

  • David di Donatello: Best Foreign Film (Miglior Film Straniero), “The Man Who Wasn't There,” 2002

  • Cannes Film Festival: Best Director, “The Man Who Wasn't There,” 2001

  • Camerimage: Polish Film, Special Award, 2001

  • Oscar: Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, “Fargo,” 1997 (shared with: Ethan Coen)

  • Independent Spirit: Best Director, “Fargo,” 1997

  • Independent Spirit: Best Screenplay, “Fargo,” 1997 (shared with: Ethan Coen)

  • Kansas City Film Critics Circle: Best Director, “Fargo,” 1997

  • BAFTA: David Lean Award for Direction, “Fargo,” 1997

  • Bodil: Best American Film (Bedste amerikanske film), “Fargo,” 1997

  • Chicago Film Critics Association: Best Director, “Fargo,” 1997

  • Chicago Film Critics Association: Best Screenplay, “Fargo,” 1997 (shared with: Ethan Coen)

  • Chlotrudis: Best Director, “Fargo,” 1997

  • Florida Film Critics Circle: Best Director, “Fargo,” 1997

  • Florida Film Critics Circle: Best Screenplay, “Fargo,” 1997 (shared with: Ethan Coen)

  • London Critics Circle Film: Director of the Year, “Fargo,” 1997

  • London Critics Circle Film: Screenwriter of the Year, “Fargo,” 1997 (shared with: Ethan Coen)

  • Golden Satellite: Best Director of a Motion Picture, “Fargo,” 1997

  • Writers Guild of America: Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, “Fargo,”

  • 1997 (shared with Ethan Coen)

  • Los Angeles Film Critics Association: Best Screenplay, “Fargo,” 1996 (shared with Ethan Coen)

  • Cannes Film Festival: Best Director, “Fargo,” 1996

  • National Board of Review: Best Director, “Fargo,” 1996

  • San Diego Film Critics Society: Best Director, “Fargo,” 1996

  • Gotham: Filmmaker Award, 1994 (shared with Ethan Coen)

  • Cannes Film Festival: Best Director, “Barton Fink,” 1991

  • Cannes Film Festival: Golden Palm, “Barton Fink,” 1991

  • Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival: Critics Award, “Miller's Crossing,” 1991

  • San Sebastián International Film Festival: Silver Seashell, Best Director, “Miller's Crossing,” 1990

  • Fantasporto: Audience Jury Award, “Blood Simple,” 1986

  • Independent Spirit: Best Director, “Blood Simple,” 1986

  • Sundance Film Festival: Grand Jury Prize-Dramatic, “Blood Simple,” 1985

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