The Big Lebowski (1998)
And while you’re ruing the moment you started this article, I might as well admit I’m not really an orthodox devotee of Lebowski — frankly, I could do with about fifty-percent less screaming from John Goodman’s excitable Walter Sobchak — but there’s no arguing with the pop-culture canonization of Jeff Bridges’ beloved stoner/bowler protagonist, or the fact that legions of cinephiles flat-out love this episodic, anarchic mish-mash of Raymond Chandler detective fiction, Busby Berkeley production numbers, stoner giggling, German nihilism, Tara Reid (!), and a rug that (kind of) ties the whole thing together.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Another love-it-or-hate-it proposition, this singin’, dancin’ Depression-era take on Homer’s Odyssey annoyed some and delighted others while spawning an octo-platinum smash-hit soundtrack album (and sparking an American roots-music craze) thanks to catchy tracks from the likes of Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley, and of course, The Soggy Bottom Boys (fronted by an endearingly charismatic George Clooney in full goof mode, as a pomade-crazed chain-gang refugee determined to get home to his wife and kids). I’m still amazed this feel-good musical hasn’t made it to the Broadway stage — after all, if Mel Brooks turned “Springtime for Hitler” into a big production number, just imagine what some clever producer could do with O Brother’s Klan rally showstopper “O Death!”
Raising Arizona (1987)
Blood Simple introduced the Coen bros, but Raising Arizona established them as the whip-smart anarchist perfectionists the cineverse would come to know and love. Note the rule-smashing, “try anything” set pieces: like the overstuffed pre-credit sequence — detailing the history of a baby-crazed peace officer (Holly Hunter) and her recidivist soulmate (Nicolas Cage). And don’t forget the Looney Tunes diaper-robbery caper after the couple steals one of a set of quintuplets from a family that’s “got more than they can handle.” If the film ultimately runs out of steam and isn’t really about anything but the joy of filmmaking — well, it isn’t for lack of trying.