Coen brothers films exist in their own vivid universes: the Midwestern tundra. A remote Texas desert. A Bible-thumping Mississippi small town. Greenwich Village in 1961. These worlds have their own rules, their own power structures and—most of all—their own manners of speaking. Again and again, Joel and Ethan somehow convince established actors to contort their dialogue into bizarre and unseemly accents. If you've seen Fargo even once, you'll never forget how those Minnesotans sound.
In their latest, Hail, Caesar!, the universe is Old Hollywood, and one of the funniest bits involves a cowboy actor's repeated attempts to pronounce a single line of dialogue.
So we decided to take a trip through the annals of great accents in Coen films. Try guessing the top pick—or as Anton Chigurh would say: "Call it."
25. Chet (Steve Buscemi) in Barton Fink
Pretty much the entirety of this 1940s L.A. "accent" is that Buscemi pronounces "Los Angeles" with a hard g. For some reason, this is extremely funny.
Sample line: "Welcome to Los Angeles, Mr. Fink!"
24. Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) in Burn After Reading
Brad Pitt is only barely doing an accent in his role as ditzy gym employee Chad, but we’ve included him because Pitt truly turns idiocy into its own phraseology.
Sample line: “Talking here about department heads and their names and shit. And then there’s these other files that are just, like, numbers. Arrayed. Numbers and dates…and numbers…and numbers…and dates. And numbers and… I think that’s the shit, man. The raw intelligence.”
23. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) in Inside Llewyn Davis
The career of the Internet's boyfriend, Oscar Isaac, was launched when he played perpetually screwed folksinger Llewyn Davis, a role that required him to adopt the speaking tics of a very frustrated New Yorker. Though subtle, it’s a markedly different accent from his normal speaking voice.
Sample line: “There’s gotta be some royalty. Fucking Christ’s sake, it’s cold out! I don’t even have a wint-ah coat.”
22. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) in No Country for Old Men
Josh Brolin comfortably adopts a Texas accent for the Coens’ 2007 masterpiece, even if his best scenes (like the motel showdown) contain almost no dialogue at all.
Sample line: “I'm fixin' to do something dumber than hell, but I'm going anyways.”
21. Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) in The Big Lebowski
To be honest, the only real way to describe Jeff Bridges’ California slacker timbre in The Big Lebowski is to say that it's very dude-like.
Sample line: “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, uhh, you’re opinion, man.”
20. DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) in Hail, Caesar!
Thanks to her fast-talking, no-bullshit Bronx accent, Scarlett Johansson transforms into the screen siren DeeAnna Moran—fishtail and all.
Sample line: “You must have very strong foreahms.”
19. Ray (John Getz) in Blood Simple
The Coens’ very first movie was also, in some ways, their most Southern. Getz is good as a handsome but dense Texan who knows he’s helped commit murder but doesn’t quite understand why or how.
Sample line: “Well, I'm only an employee, I ain't married to him.”
18. Pete Hogwallop (John Turturro) in O Brother, Where Art Thou?
We’re not saying John Turturro isn’t a great actor. All we’re suggesting is that he was a little too convincing as a wiry redneck to give the impression that it was an especially challenging role for him.
Sample line: "The hell you say?! Wash is kin!"
17. The old rabbi (Alan Mandell) in A Serious Man
He sounds like he’s transmitting from a ham radio taped inside the Old Testament.
Sample line: There’s really only one line, and we don’t want to spoil it.
16. The Nihilists (Flea et al.) in The Big Lebowski
This isn’t simply a German accent. Peter Stormare, Flea and Torsten Voges do a magnificent job capturing the subtle linguistic nuances of Germans who believe in nothing.
Sample line: “I fuck you! I fuck you! I fuck you!”
15. Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) in Hail, Caesar!
Alden Ehrenreich charms as the cowpoke turned actor Hobie Doyle, whose deep-fried Southern drawl lends itself to one of the funniest exchanges in Hail, Caesar!, full stop.
Sample line: [flubbing his line over and over] “Would that it were so simple.”
14. Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed) in A Serious Man
If not the Coens’ best movie, A Serious Man is almost certainly their best trailer—in large part thanks to Fred Melamed’s low-voiced, faux-soothing “We’re gonna be fine” mantra. Less an accent and more a manner of speaking befitting an older male yoga teacher.
Sample line: “We’re gonna be fiiine.”
13. Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) in True Grit
Calling a voice “gravelly” is a well-worn cliché, but in the case of Jeff Bridges in True Grit, he might actually be gargling tiny rocks between spitting invectives.
Sample line: “Missed my shaaawwwt!? I can hit a gnat’s eye at 90 yahhrdz.”
12. Delmar O’Donnell (Tim Blake Nelson) in O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The sweetest and doofiest of the trio of oddballs leading O Brother, Nelson’s Delmar speaks with the kind of chewy, Depression-era drawl that hasn't fully pronounced -ing endings since before the Civil War.
Sample line: “I’m gonna visit those foreclosin’ sons of a guns at the Indianola Savings and Loan, slap that money on the barrelhead and buy back the family farm. You ain’t no kinda man if you ain’t got the land.”
11. Giovanni "Johnny Caspar" Gasparo (Jon Polito) in Miller’s Crossing
In this mob flick, Jon Polito plays a ruthless Italian gangster who speaks in a raspy, old-timey accent that’s half Vito Corleone and half Donald Duck.
Sample line: “You’s fancy-pants, all o’ yas!”
10. Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall) in The Ladykillers
Say what you want about The Ladykillers, but Irma P. Hall is excellent as the God-fearing Mississippi matron whose response to a band of criminals in her house is to smack them upside the head and scold them about the dangers of “hippity-hop.”
Sample line: “This is a Christian house, boy. No hippity-hop language in here.”
9. "Professor" Goldthwaite Higginson Dorr (Tom Hanks) in The Ladykillers
One of the perks of this much-maligned Coens remake is seeing Tom Hanks play a small-time criminal mastermind pretending to be a Southern academic. The character’s Faulkner-esque drawl, cartoonish verbosity and nervous laugh stretch into the bizarre.
Sample line: "Madam, or rather, mesdames, you must accept our apologies for not being able to perform, for, as you see, we are shorthanded. Gawain is still at work, and we could no more play with one part tacit than a horse could canter shy one leg. Perhaps I could offer, as a poor but ready substitute, a brief poetic recital. Though I do not pretend to any great oratorical skills, I would be happy to present, with your ladies' permission, verse from the unquiet mind of Mr. Edgar Allan Poe.”
8. Edwina McDunnough (Holly Hunter) in Raising Arizona
Hunter is from Georgia, so here (when she’s not sobbing) she leans hard on the most trailery parts of her Appalachian motherland’s dialect.
Sample line: “You go right back up there and get me a toddler. I need a baby, Hi. They got more’n they can handle.”
7. Ben Geisler (Tony Shalhoub) in Barton Fink
The Coens love sleaze more than anything, and nothing’s as sleazy as Old Hollywood. Though it’s a small role, the future Monk star makes an impact with his fast-talking Hollywood bigwig: He emphasizes certain words with a throat full of phlegm (“Never!”) and drags out his insults (“fat-ass sonofabitch!”).
Sample line: “Y’understand that, Fink? He likes you! He’s taken a’ interest!”
6. Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) in No Country for Old Men
In a No Country–era interview with Collider, Javier Bardem revealed that the soft, sinister Spanish lilt his villainous character speaks in was more a product of him and the Coens trying “to neutralize the accent as much as we could.” Works for us.
Sample line: “What business is it of yours where I'm from, friendo?”
5. Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) in Blood Simple
Speaking of sleaze, Visser is the very definition of it as a double-crossing private eye. He opens the movie narrating in that Deep South drawl and closes the movie with his maniacal laugh.
Sample line: “The world is full o' complainers. An' the fact is, nothin' comes with a guarantee. Now I don't care if you're the pope of Rome, president of the United States or man of the year; somethin' can all go wrong.”
4. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) in Fargo
A great aspect of Fargo is how Jerry Lundegaard's increasing desperation contrasts with his unbearably earnest Midwestern-nice mannerisms.
Sample line: “You're darn tootin'!”
3. Jesus Quintana (John Turturro) in The Big Lebowski
He a Hollywood bowler with an impenetrable, profanity-laced Cuban-American accent who insists on referring to himself in the third person.
Sample line: “You ready to be fucked, man? I see you rolled your way into the semis. Dios mio, man. Liam and me, we're gonna fuck you up.”
2. H.I. McDunnough (Nicolas Cage) in Raising Arizona
Want to hear a pre-superstar Nicolas Cage attempt a backwoodsy Southwestern drawl for 90 minutes of screwball madness? Great. Watch Raising Arizona.
Sample line: "If it's all the same to you, honey, I think I'll skip this little get-together, slip out with the boys and knock back a couple o’ Coca-Colas.”
1. Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) in Fargo
Frances McDormand’s turn as local police chief Marge Gunderson in Fargo is a masterwork in the vowel-flattening and singsongy intonation anchoring the ever-polite Midwestern accent. You betcha it snagged her the best actress Academy Award in 1997!
Sample line: “There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don'tcha know that? And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day.”