Muriel Award, Countdown to Best Picture: #4
A Serious Man [199 points/17 votes]
“Schrödinger’s (Cheshire) cat sits, grinning, atop the Coen Brothers’ oeuvre, simultaneously dead and alive, like… well, like a cat. Like a cat in a box. Maybe it’s the box Barton Fink carries to the beach. What’s in it? You know, but you don’t know. And the Coens aren’t going to open it for you because that would be too obvious and, really, where would that get you? No, in order to appreciate the Coens’ way of seeing you must be willing and able to hold two — at least two — contradictory realities in your head at the same time. Like an inevitable coin flip that’s both heads and tails until it’s called. Like a man chasing his hat. Like a failing grade that is also an unsatisfactory grade. Like mere sir my sir. Like… the parking lot. Or maybe not so much like the parking lot. Accept mystery.
Any good movie creates its own world. The Coens go beyond that. A Serious Man embodies an entire worldview — a way of perceiving and appreciating (if not necessarily understanding) a moral and existential universe in Coen-esque terms (and Kafka-esque, too). It’s a suburban Minneapolis Jewish world in the late 1960s, but it is a fully realized universe with ancient traditions and new freedoms, where to do nothing is to take action and there’s nothing more certain than the uncertain. Every shot is in its place — every pause, every gesture, every inflection, every frame is what it needs to be. Great movies don’t have to be perfect movies (someone once said), but like No Country for Old Men and Miller’s Crossing, A Serious Man is both.” - Jim Emerson