17. Raising Arizona
directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Joel & Ethan Coen had already established themselves as formidable neo-noir plot wranglers and ace visual stylists with dour debut Blood Simple, but it was Raising Arizona that finally announced the brothers as comic visionaries. The tall tale of a mismatched, infertile couple—beta-male petty crook Nicholas Cage and uptight corrections officer Holly Hunter—and their attempts to feloniously circumvent normal adoption procedure may seem like incident enough for one movie. But add escaped-convict interlopers, satanic motorcyclists, and the expressionistic cinematography of Barry Sonnenfeld, and the result is a live-action cartoon elevated to High Art by the Coens’ total mastery of tone. The brothers would grow more cynical over time, but Raising Arizona presents an imperfect world full of earnest, optimistic, and manic individuals compelled to bad behavior by love. Who can’t identify with that?