best film:   Fargo Is currently the #1 ranked Coen Brothers film and they are simply one of the greatest auteurs since their debut in 1984 (also Frances McDormand’s debut).  So, there is obviously no blemish in this category for McDormand.  Moonrise Kingdom is not far off in this category and McDormand’s crazy good start to the 2020s (Nomadland, The French Dispatch) is an impressive stretch for any actor- let alone one in her sixties.


It is impossible to tell the story of The Coen Brothers or 1990s cinema without Frances McDormand and her Marge Gunderson Fargo character.


best performance:   Fargos Marge Gunderson is brilliant character and McDormand brings her to life.  It is actually a short film (98 mins) and Marge does not show up until about 30 minutes in- but it still feels likes like it is a performance with weight to it. William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi’s work in Fargo has actually been underrated for decades because McDormand is so good. She sucks up all the air in the room without going over the top drawing attention to herself—very hard to do. She does not play a crazy woman, femme fatale, beauty icon, an alcoholic, a saint or martyr. She is a relatively normal woman- loving, smart, and poised but during the course of her hour on screen McDormand carves out one of the best single performances of the 1990s. It is a major achievement for any actor.


stylistic innovations/traits:    The trio at the top with Fargo, Nomadland and Blood Simple (a strong physical performance more than verbal) puts her with three individual years where she gives one of the best performances of the year. The depth in McDormand’s filmography is clearly there- twenty-one (21) films and counting in the archives. She eats up her scenes in smaller roles (Raising Arizona is a standout). She is a talented comedienne (Wes Anderson work, most of her work with the Coen Brothers) but not overly funny in Mississippi Burning or Nomadland of course. More than that, in say Nomadland much of her work is non-verbal- and just a few years before in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri it feels like every line of hers is a speech- so there range there.


Here in Nomadland only McDormand and veteran David Strathaim are professional actors—they are the only two actors not playing versions of themselves. And both of them play their roles in a stripped down, minimal way. Think of say De Sica making the brilliant choice not to use someone like Cary Grant for Bicycle Thieves —and how Cuaron went with Yalitza Aparicio for Roma. Yet this unmistakably works here with McDormand in Nomadland– this is a triumph for her (along with director Chloe Zhao). McDormand’s weathered face and natural style are the canvas here. In one scene Fern’s sister describes her as “braver and more honest than everybody else” and who better to play that than McDormand?


directors worked with:   The Coen Brothers (8) and Wes Anderson (2).  Robert Altman, Ken Loach, John Sayles. Being married to Joel Coen does not hurt but one could argue the Coen Brothers are equally lucky to have met and paired with such a unique acting talent and clear life force such as McDormand.


her true debut in Blood Simple– a very strong non-verbal performance



top five performances:

  1. Fargo
  2. Nomadland
  3. Blood Simple
  4. Almost Famous
  5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri




archiveable films

1984- Blood Simple
1987- Raising Arizona
1988- Mississippi Burning
1990- Darkman
1990- Hidden Agenda
1990- Miller’s Crossings
1993- Short Cuts
1996- Fargo
1996- Lone Star
1996- Primal Fear
2000- Almost Famous
2000- Wonder Boys
2001- The Man Who Wasn’t There
2006- Friends with Money
2008- Burn After Reading
2012- Moonrise Kingdom
2016- Hail, Caesar!
2017- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
2020- Nomadland
2021- The French Dispatch
2021- The Tragedy of Macbeth