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Last Updated: Monday, 25 February 2008, 12:16 GMT
The secret of the Coens' success
Ethan and Joel Coen
No Country For Old Men won awards for its direction and screenplay
After years of toiling outside the mainstream, brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have finally been embraced by the Hollywood establishment.

Some might say the success of No Country For Old Men at this year's Oscars is an overdue recognition of their striking talent, imagination and film-making craft.

Their only previous accolade from the Academy came with their best screenplay award for 1996's Fargo.

Like No Country, that film was a bleak crime thriller with an unsettling vein of dark humour - generally considered to be their stock in trade.

The brothers - born three years apart in a suburb of Minneapolis - work so closely together they are often nicknamed "The Two-Headed Director".

Until recently, though, Joel - the older of the two at 53 - used to take credit for directing, while Ethan - 50 - would be billed as producer.

Blood Simple (1984)
Raising Arizona (1987)
Miller's Crossing (1990)
Barton Fink (1991)
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
Fargo (1996)
The Big Lebowski (1998)
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
The Ladykillers (2004)
No Country For Old Men (2007)
Writing credits are similarly alternated, while the editing of their films is attributed to a joint alias, one Roderick Jaynes.

Such distinctions, however, do not take into account a symbiotic relationship even they are unable to explain satisfactorily.

"One of us types into the computer, while the other holds the spine of the book open flat," says Joel, who has two children with actress wife Frances McDormand.

"That's why there needs to be two of us. Otherwise [Ethan's] got to type one-handed."

Whatever the nature of their collaboration, there can be no doubt it has spawned some of the most memorable motion pictures of the last two decades.

Their winning streak began in 1984 with Blood Simple, a thriller about a botched murder attempt and its bloody issue.

No sooner had they established themselves, however, than they subverted expectations with unhinged comedy Raising Arizona and noir pastiche Miller's Crossing.

Frances McDormand
Joel Coen married Fargo star Frances McDormand in 1984
Barton Fink, 1991's grim satire about a screenwriter all at sea in 1930s Hollywood, landed the Palme d'Or at that year's Cannes Film Festival.

Their follow-up, however - screwball farce The Hudsucker Proxy - was less well received, though the siblings quickly rallied with the aforementioned Fargo.

That ability to rebound from relative failure is a characteristic that has come to the fore on more than one occasion.

No Country For Old Men, for example, came off the back of two disappointments - romantic comedy Intolerable Cruelty and a remake of British classic The Ladykillers, which both struggled to find favour with audiences and critics.

Both are prepared to tolerate the occasional flop, though, since any loss of form is usually temporary.

Nor do their films cost enough to make any under-achieving title more than a mild setback.

"The movie people let us play in the corner of the sandbox and leave us alone," says Ethan, who has been married to editor Tricia Cooke since 1993.

With the success of No Country, though, it remains to be seen whether they will be able to continue making their films under the Hollywood radar.

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