Josh Brolin points gun

There’s an argument to be made that Joel and Ethan Coen are not only the most consistently interesting filmmakers of the past several decades, but have transcended any generational comparisons to rank among the greatest filmmakers of all time. Across 18 films, the Coens have created countless memorable characters, reinvigorated old genres, experimented with musical selections, and invented dialogue that is still quoted by film buffs.

The Coens began their career with the low budget neo-noir thriller "Blood Simple," which debuted in 1984. While some directorial debuts by famous filmmakers are mere showcases for their future successes, "Blood Simple" immediately announced the Coens as inventive, practical craftsmen. What’s even more remarkable is that their next string of projects had little in common with the low-budget mystery; "Raising Arizona," "Miller’s Crossing," "Barton Fink," "Fargo," and "The Big Lebowski" are all wildly different in tone.

It’s tough to pinpoint a pinnacle in the Coens’ career, but "No Country for Old Men" is certainly their masterpiece. The 2007 adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s neo-noir western thriller earned the brothers the Academy Award wins they had long deserved, including best picture, best director, and best adapted screenplay. The film follows the aftermath of a drug deal gone bad. Texas rancher Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) uncovers a bag of stolen cash from a crime scene, but unbeknownst to him the lethal assassin Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) has waged a one-man war across the desert to recover it.

If you loved "No Country for Old Men," watch these great movies next.

The Man Who Wasn’t There

Billy Bob Thorton smokes cigarette

The Coens’ have such a unique filmmaking style that they’re even able to reinvent the classic works of other great filmmakers. Henry Hathaway’s 1968 western "True Grit" is among the signature great American western films and featured John Wayne in one of his definitive screen roles, yet the Coens’ 2010 remake starring Jeff Bridges was an even stronger version of the same story. The Coens also reworked the classic 1955 British comedy "The Ladykillers," with Tom Hanks stepping in for the role Sir Alec Guinness had made iconic; it’s generally not seen as a high point in their careers, but showed their willingness to put a new spin on beloved source material.

However, working within the style of the "Master of Suspense" himself, Alfred Hitchcock, was an ambitious task even for the Coens. Hitchcock homages are rarely successful, and some such as Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of "Psycho" are still mocked to this day. Thankfully, the Coens delivered a terrific new take on Hitchocock’s noir themes with their 2001 neo-noir film "The Man Who Wasn’t There." While not directly based on any of Hitchcock’s classics, the Coens’ emulated his stories of men caught in over their head with a black-and-white Old Hollywood tribute.

The film follows reclusive barber Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thorton), who begins blackmailing his wife Doris’s (Frances McDormand) hapless employer Big Dave Brewster (James Gandolfini). Like "No Country For Old Men," it’s a masterclass in perpetual anxiety.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Jesse James walks in distance

"No Country for Old Men" isn’t only a thrilling neo-noir, but a commentary on the western genre itself. Set amidst the isolated ranches of West Texas in the 1980s, the film explores how cyclical violence has transformed the promises of the American frontier into a modern nightmare. It looks at the reality behind the mythologized American West, as the elder Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is forced to reckon with how he can no longer recognize the duty he once held. As the title itself suggests, his generation is at odds with a new era of mayhem.

The same year the Coens’ spotlighted these societal shifts, writer0director Andrew Dominik deconstructed one of the most famous Western figures of all-time with his revisionist epic "The Assassination of Jesse James." The nearly three-hour western masterpiece explores the final days of the infamous outlaw Jesse James (Brad Pitt) from the eyes of his biggest fan, Robert Ford (Casey Affleck). Ford adores James and wants nothing more than to join his elite team in their famous train robberies, but once employed he finds himself dissatisfied. Ford’s jealousy brews ahead of their gripping final encounter.

Like "No Country for Old Men," "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" features the incredible visual flare of cinematographer Roger Deakins. Deakins crafts a haunting look at the stark western landscapes, with moments of sudden violence disrupting the still images.

The Counselor

Michael Fassbender drinks with Javier Bardem

One of the reasons "No Country for Old Men" is so singular within the Coens’ filmography is the unique inspiration of author Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy is a brilliant writer who crafts grim, isolating tales about the perils of human existence, and his bleak novels have inspired many great film adaptations. John Hillcoat’s "The Road," Billy Bob Thorton’s "All Them Pretty Horses," and Tommy Lee Jones’ "The Sunset Limited" took inspiration from some of McCarthy’s most famous works. In 2013, Ridley Scott took on an interesting challenge with "The Counselor," for which McCarthy wrote his first spec script, and the unusual crime saga continues to divide fans of both the author and Scott.

Like "No Country for Old Men," "The Counselor" is an ensemble epic that depicts the aftermath of a violent crime as it affects a group of morally grey characters. A shady lawyer known only as "The Counselor" (Michael Fassbender) uses his involvement in an illicit drug syndicate near the Mexican border to buy expensive luxury items for his girlfriend Laura (Penelope Cruz), planning to soon wed her. The Counselor purchases rare artifacts from an exotic dealer named Reiner (Javier Bardem), whose girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz) enjoys pushing Laura to her extremes. However, the Counselor’s seemingly promising future is threatened when he meets with his business contact Westray (Brad Pitt), who informs him that one of the deals went bad, and that they’ve all become targets. The plot is complex, but McCarthy’s commentary on greed unites the intersecting storylines.

Sweet Virginia

Jon Bernthal brooding

"No Country for Old Men" is unique in how it reimagines both classic noir stories and iconic western imagery in a more modern context. While the film is set in the ’80s, its storyline of deceit and betrayal are similar to western classics, allowing the Coens to reflect on the genre itself. Modern westerns seek to revitalize the inherently exciting tales of gunslingers, bounty hunters, and ne’er do wells from a more realistic perspective; "Sweet Virginia" is an underrated entry into the subgenre.

"Sweet Virginia" is set amidst the backdrop of the 2016 presidential election and follows a series of violent exchanges that transform a small Virginian town. Three local residents holding their weekly poker tournament are questioned by the mysterious drifter Elwood (Christopher Abbott), who enters the bar and tries to provoke them into conflict; the unsettled young man ends up killing them all. It’s an act of aggression that the community has never seen before, but exposes a conspiracy involving one of the victim’s wives, Lila McCabe (Imogen Poots). Lila seeks the protection of the reclusive former bull rider Sam Rossi (Jon Bernthal), who has isolated himself after a personal tragedy.

Like "No Country for Old Men," "Sweet Virginia" reflects on the cruelty of the west and depicts characters who have lost all hope. Abbott’s depiction of a crazed killer recalls Bardem’s performance, as he dispatches with his victims in a nearly robotic fashion. In addition, Bernthal delivers a more sensitive take on the reluctant western hero.

The Maltese Falcon

Humphrey Bogart is suspicious

"No Country for Old Men" is a great mystery. Although the actions of Anton Chigurh and his connection to Llewelyn aren’t immediately clear, the Coens steadily reveal clues about the busted drug deal and what each of the characters’ goals are. Llewelyn hides many of the details from his wife, Carla (Kelly McDonald), trying to protect her by keeping her in the dark. A guilt-ridden Llewelyn even returns to the scene of the crime to return the stolen cash, only to find all the participants massacred by Chigurh. Other key moments of conflict aren’t shown on screen, and are instead left to the viewer’s imagination. Ed is left to piece together the clues after showing up too late.

When talking about the great mystery films, it would be impossible not to mention John Huston’s 1941 classic "The Maltese Falcon." Huston’s adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s classic hard-boiled detective novel was essential in the development of noir films, and like "No Country for Old Men" it’s an adaptation that surpasses its source material. Humphrey Bogart’s sharp-witted private eye Sam Spade is an iconic screen hero who has grown cynical after dealing with criminals and outlaws. Like Ed in "No Country for Old Men," he questions the role he plays in bringing justice to a dark world, and wonders if his nobility is futile. Similar to the Coens, Huston maintains the same level of heightened suspense through the film’s tragic closing moments.

Rashomon

Samurai and thief duel

"No Country for Old Men" is a complex film with a sensitive depiction of each of the three main characters’ different worldviews. Ed, Anton, and Llewelyn each have a different perspective on the central crime, and the viewer is left to piece together the puzzle by analyzing the information that each character is exposed to. Ed simply wants to protect civilians from future crimes, and doesn’t have any personal stake in recovering the bounty. Llewelyn isn’t inherently greedy, but knows the stolen profits could provide a better life for him and Carla. Anton is impossible to read; he shows almost no emotions, other than occasionally reveling at his own demented actions.

The legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosowa mastered the ensemble crime epic with 1950’s "Rashomon." The mystery surrounding a murdered samurai warrior is seemingly cut-and-dry, but Kurosowa exposes a more complex understanding of the case by unraveling it from four different characters’ points of view. The deceitful bandit Tajōmaru (Toshiro Mifune) boasts that he was able to trick the powerful warrior, courting him into a noble duel for his wife’s honor. However, the samurai’s wife (Machiko Kyō) claims that both men acted poorly and grew to despise her. The samurai himself (Masayuki Mori) saw himself as compassionate to his wife, who was raped by Tajōmaru. However, the woodcutter Kikori (Takashi Shimura), who has no personal involvement in the duel, explains that each of the characters have lied during their accounts, and gives the definitive version of the story.

Mean Streets

Robert De Niro points gun

"No Country for Old Men" is absolutely remorseless. The Coens don’t attempt to sanitize anything in their violent crime epic, and the film is devoid of sentimental moments that would disrupt the story’s realism. They also are unafraid to push storytelling boundaries, as "No Country for Old Men" does not follow a traditional three-act structure. Martin Scorsese has taken similar risks throughout his career, and although his early work in the 1960s hinted at the legendary brutality he would become known for, 1973’s "Mean Streets" was the film that solidified Scorsese’s reputation in Hollywood.

Like "No Country for Old Men," "Mean Streets" follows complex criminals who question their mortality. Scorsese often deals with themes of Catholic guilt and male anxiety, and both are at the forefront of "Mean Streets." The film follows Charlie (Harvey Keitel), an anxious young Italian-American man in New York City who must constantly watch over his violent friend Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro). Charlie seeks redemption in the eyes of the Church for his misdeeds, but also cares deeply for Johnny Boy and doesn’t want to see him harmed. Keitel captures his tormented spirit in heartbreaking fashion, and it’s fascinating to see an early performance from De Niro considering his later collaborations with Scorsese.

Badlands

Martin Sheen Sissy Spacek lean against car

Neo-noir westerns like "No Country for Old Men" can make us reconsider our relationship to outlaw culture by depicting, in detail, what these crimes actually look like. Classic western stories often idolize and even celebrate the actions of violent outlaws, paying little regard to the victims. Setting these stories in the Old West gives the viewer emotional distance, but if they’re framed in a more recognizable context, the ramifications of violence are evident. "No Country for Old Men" certainly does this with its stripped-down depiction of Anton Chigurh’s bloody quest.

Terrence Malick took a similarly sensitive approach to violent material with his 1973 directorial debut "Badlands." The film questions the exploits of a Bonnie and Clyde-esque duo that was loosely inspired by the real series of murders committed by teenagers Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in the late 1950s. The film follows Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen), a wandering outlaw who fashions himself as the next James Dean. Kit falls in love with Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek) and helps her escape from her overbearing father (Warren Oates). The love-stricken pair goes on a murder spree throughout West Texas, and become media icons. Surprisingly, other young people view them as celebrities and applaud their actions. Malick questions why young people are drawn to violence, and how systemic family issues affect the troubled generation.

The Sugarland Express

Goldie Hawn in car

Steven Spielberg certainly isn’t a director that sparks immediate comparisons to the Coen brothers. Compared to the Coens’ wacky characters, strange dialogue, and disorienting visuals, Spielberg tells straight-forward stories with a much more formal style. Both are brilliant in their own right, and Spielberg became one of the greatest filmmakers of all time by telling earnest stories about heroism. However, its somewhat surprising that Spielberg’s first theatrical feature film after the television film "Duel" bears a closer resemblance to "No Country for Old Men" than it does to "Jaws," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Saving Private Ryan," or "Schindler’s List." The dark, anarchic thriller is a grim and satirical crime saga told with Spielberg’s signature attention to detail.

Spielberg is often associated with the New Hollywood generation that emerged following 1967’s "Bonnie and Clyde," and "The Sugarland Express" tells a similar story about runaway outlaws bound by affection. The film follows Lou Jean Poplin (Goldie Hawn), a struggling mother who visits her husband Clovis Michael Poplin (William Atherton) when he’s about to be released from prison. Clovis still has four months left on his sentence, but Lou helps him escape nonetheless in order to protect their child. They lead a chase across multiple Texas towns, and the number of cops pursuing them increases after each stop.

Like "No Country for Old Men," Spielberg explores the lives of local, everyday Texans with sensitivity. Each of the cities the Poplins visit is distinct, and depicts the reality of living in an isolated community.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Hawke and Hoffman mourn

Guilt is an important theme in "No Country for Old Men." Llewelyn feels the pressure of stealing from the scene of a violent crime, and fears the effect that his actions will have on his wife. Ed also feels remorse as he witnesses the aftermath of the murders, as he feels that he’s failed in his duty as a public servant. These empathetic characters make the story more emotionally gripping, and the action feels more exciting as a result.

The same year that the Coens reached the high point of their filmography, another one of the greatest filmmakers of all time ended his career with a deeply disturbing tale about a heist gone wrong. Sidney Lumet’s "Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead" follows brothers Hank (Ethan Hawke) and Andy Hanson (Philip Seymour Hoffman), both of whom face financial struggles and are searching for a quick solution. Andy frequently spars with their parents, Charles (Albert Finney) and Nanette (Rosemary Harris), who own a luxury jewelry store. He proposes a scheme to Andy in which they rob the store, as they are familiar with its layout. The heist itself goes wrong when Nanette ends up working behind the counter on the day of the planned heist. She’s killed during the robbery, and the brothers are forced to live with their involvement. Like "No Country for Old Men," "Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead" is also told from multiple characters’ points of view.

Point Blank

Lee Marvin by river

Stylized action is a key element of "No Country for Old Men." Chigurh’s methods of execution are incredibly disturbing, and his meticulous tracking skills are distinct from the seemingly effortless murders he commits in rapid succession. One of the most memorable sequences in "No Country for Old Men" is when Chigurh questions a local shop owner about his life, suggesting that the man’s life depends on successfully guessing the outcome of a coin toss.

Action cinema reached an early peak with John Boorman’s 1967 classic "Point Blank." The film follows an enigmatic stranger named Walker (Lee Marvin) who is left for dead by his friend Mal Reese (John Vernon). Walker wakes up to find his life savings stolen and his wife Lynne (Sharon Acker) brutalized. Now on a path of vengeance, Walker tracks down all the men involved in the crime. Although he’s a sympathetic character, Walker’s tactics are oddly similar to Chigurh’s

Red Rock West

Nicolas Cage drives car

The "heist gone wrong" storyline of "No Country for Old Men" echoes a popular theme in western neo-noirs, particularly those set on the outskirts of society. John Dahl’s 1993 film "Red Rock West" is an excellent mystery thriller, but unfortunately the independent film underperformed financially after a successful festival run. "Red Rock West" doesn’t reinvent the genre, but it’s incredibly well directed and features one of Nicolas Cage’s best early performances.

Cage stars as the former Marine Michael Williams, who becomes a mysterious drifter after being discharged from the service. Upon arriving in Red Rock, Wyoming, he is mistaken for a killer similar to Chigurh by the bartender Wayne (J. T. Walsh). Wayne recently hired an assassin to murder his wife Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle) and offers Michael the reward, but he instead tries to save the innocent woman’s life. Tensions escalate when the actual assassin, Lyle (Dennis Hopper), aims to kill Michael before he reveals his identity.