The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, January 20-26

Frances McDormand in the Coen Brothers’ FARGO (1996). Courtesy Film Forum via Photofest. Playing January 22– 28.

Fargo (1996)
Directed by Joel Coen
Among post-Scorsese American filmmakers, the Coen Brothers are unrivalled in terms of quality and originality. Fargo deservedly remains their signature movie, its cultural reverberations extended and deepened by the eponymous anthology television program, which has emerged as one of the most sly and inventive ever. Though always oblique and mordant, they are never obscurantist. Punctuating the telling of this purportedly true crime story are the comically outré violence done and suffered by Steve Buscemi’s obdurate lowlife and the knowing excavation of grotesque foibles from presumptively decent characters like William H. Macy’s car salesman. But what is most indelible about Fargo is the post-Cold War Midwestern moral sturdiness and resilience it projects, epitomized by Frances McDormand’s unforgettable Chief Marge Gunderson, who is resolutely uncomplicated yet thoroughly comprehending. The Coens compelled an original screenplay Oscar—effectively flattening mainstream Hollywood’s institutional distaste for a voice perceived as too arch, snide, and offhandedly nasty—and Fargo became a touchstone of twenty-first century cinema. Jonathan Stevenson (January 22-28 at Film Forum, showtimes daily; a complete Coen retrospective follows)

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