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15 of the Greatest Gifts in the History of Presents

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Do you have a pal who always leaves you scratching your head when it comes to gifts? Perhaps something here will sound like the perfect present for the person in your life who has everything—everything except a 69-carat diamond, an eagle made of beer can tabs, and fire.

1. For Friends Abroad: A Statue of Liberty

You’re going to need a bigger tree. The official dedication ceremony for France’s gift of the “New Colossus” was in 1886, but the idea had been in the works since 1865, when French politician Edouard Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye decided France should do something to honor the U.S. after the Civil War. The statue was built overseas and shipped to the U.S. in pieces. If you’re leaning toward some large statuary like this for your brother from another country, you should probably warn him that he’s going to need to clear some yard space.

2. For Your Shifty Neighbor: The Great Seal of the United States (Bugged)

UN Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge shows off a replica of the Great Seal of the United States to the Security Council. Soviet Foreign Minister Andrey Gromyko smiles with amusement behind Lodge. © Bettmann/CORBIS (1960)

Think your neighbor is going a little Walter White on you? Before you call the DEA, try gifting him with a bugged Great Seal of the United States. In 1945, the Young Pioneer organization of the Soviet Union presented U.S. Ambassador Averell Harriman with a Great Seal, hand-carved from wood, as a gesture of friendship. Their definition of friendship was a little dysfunctional, though, because the gift contained a bug designed by famous Russian inventor Leon Theremin. The bug was hard to detect because it was extremely thin, gave off no signal and had no power supply (this was amazing technology back in 1945, mind you). Harriman hung it in his office at the Ambassador’s House, where the "Thing," as it was later called, went undiscovered until 1952 — three ambassadors later.

3. For Your Friend Who Loves Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: Savannah, GA

The only problem with this gift is that you’ll never top yourself. Next year, you’ll have to give your demanding pal a whole state. After that she’s going to expect everything south of the Mason-Dixon line. Actually, that’s sort of what happened in the first place.

General William T. Sherman had been working his troops hard to secure ports from the Confederate Army during the Civil War. After he captured Atlanta in September 1864, Sherman and some of his men disappeared for about six weeks; the White House received no communication from them and President Lincoln feared the worst. Then, on December 22, Sherman sent Lincoln a telegraph with the message: “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.”

4. For Animal-Lovers: A White Elephant

We all know people with pets that are slightly left of center. Hedgehogs, ferrets, pot-bellied pigs. To really impress one of these friends, follow in the footsteps of King Manuel of Portugal and give the gift of a white elephant. The unusual present was given to Pope Leo X in 1514; Leo was so enamored with the pachyderm named Hanno that he commissioned Raphael to paint his portrait.

Hopefully your animal-loving friend is a more responsible pet owner than Leo was. Believing that gold was the answer to everything, Leo supposedly had Hanno’s handlers feed him laxatives laced with gold when he got a little constipated. The gold proved too rich for poor Hanno, and he died at the young age of six.

5. For the Pre-Teen Who Has Everything: Tangier and Bombay

When you’re a member of a royal family, it’s not uncommon to be gifted a rather large parcel. A parcel of land, that is. When Charles II of England agreed to marry Catherine of Braganza in 1640 (she was two years old at the time of the agreement, by the way, and Charles was 10), the dowry he received included the North African town of Tangier and what was then Bombay.

6. For Your Friend Who's Always Quoting Lebowski: A Bowling Alley

A two-lane bowling alley was installed in the White House in 1947 as a birthday gift to President Truman. No matter that he hadn’t bowled since he was 19, Truman knocked down seven pins on the first roll at the alley, which was paid for by donors from Truman’s home state of Missouri and moved to the Old Executive Office Building in 1955. Truman didn’t use the alley much himself – he was more of a poker player – but the addition was a big hit with Truman’s staff, some of whom formed a bowling league.

7. For the Friend With a Green Thumb: The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Legend has it the Hanging Gardens were brought to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar II for his wife, Amytis, who was terribly homesick for Media (Iran). To help her get over it, the Babylonian king created a mini-paradise containing all her favorite Median plants. It’s not around today because it was allegedly destroyed in an earthquake sometime around 2 B.C. Actually, it may not have actually existed at all. Despite written descriptions of the place, some scholars think it was simply a bit of flowery (literally) imagery. But don’t let that stop you from recreating it for an extra-thoughtful gift.

8. For the Friend Who Wears Too Much Jewelry: The Taylor-Burton Diamond

If you have a friend who loves gems and jewels as much as Elizabeth Taylor did, why not splurge and buy her (or him) the Taylor-Burton Diamond, a 69.42 carat pear-shaped diamond Richard Burton bought for his then-wife in 1969? It was the first diamond ever publicly sold for seven figures, but it proved to be a good investment. When Taylor auctioned off the bauble in 1978, it sold for $5 million. She used the proceeds to buy a hospital in Kasane, Botswana. “They need one badly and I certainly don’t need another ring,” Liz said.

9. For Your Favorite Frenemy: The Trojan Horse

We’ve all got one: the friend you have to get a gift for even though you don’t actually like him or her very much. Why not take a page from the Greeks and hook your frenemy up with a building-sized wooden horse containing a whole army? While your “friend” is admiring the craftsmanship, 30 to 50 men will jump out and destroy her small town. That, of course, is the legend of how Greece finally got into the city of Troy and ended the Trojan War in the 11th or 12th century B.C. Troy probably wishes that particular present had come with a gift receipt.

10. For Your Artsy Sister: Las Meninas

Your sister trolls Etsy for charming and original prints pretty much constantly. Giving her Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez will totally blow her mind. To thank his kingly patron, painter Diego Velázquez created a piece in 1656 that depicted the Infanta Margarita with her ladies-in-waiting, a dog and Velázquez himself. King Philip IV and Queen consort Mariana of Austria are shown in the mirror. The masterpiece can now be found in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. If your wallet doesn’t quite allow for the original, by the way, you could always go for a knock-off: Picasso painted 58 versions of Las Meninas in the 1950s

11. For Your Grandma, the Queen of Knick-Knacks: Faberge Eggs

Give one of of these jeweled beauties to your grams and she’ll think of you every time she dusts around it. The first Imperial Faberge egg was created for Tsar Alexander III, who wanted to give his wife an extra-special Easter egg in 1885. The bauble was such a hit that the Tsar did it every year afterward (we’re sure it will be a lovely tradition for you and your grandma, too). When Alexander III died, his son continued the tradition and commissioned the pricey trinkets for his mother and his wife.

12. For Your Pyromaniac Friend: Fire

It’s going to present a bit of a wrapping challenge, but it will all be worth it when you see your M-80-obsessed friend light up like the Fourth of July sky. But maybe don’t steal it like Prometheus did. The way the story goes, Zeus was hoarding fire for god-use only. Since Prometheus created humans out of clay, he was pretty annoyed that Zeus was being so stingy. He stole fire from the hearth of Zeus and gave it to his little clay people, then was immediately and severely punished for his good deed: Zeus had him chained to a rock, where his liver was eaten from his body by a giant eagle. The organ grew back overnight, so Prometheus suffered the same fate day after day. Just a little something to consider before you give the gift of fire.

13. For That Cousin on Your Dad's Side: An Eagle Made of Beer Can Tabs

It’s thrifty; it’s recycled; it’s a tribute to the United States of America. Your cousin will love it so much, you might even get a PBR and some pork rinds out of the deal. Gerald Ford received just such a gift from a Kentucky Cub Scout group while he was in office. The eagle, made to celebrate America’s bicentennial in 1976, was part of a Presidential Gift exhibit that traveled the presidential library circuit a few years back.

14. For Your Friend Who Lives for Trips to IKEA: A Carpet With Cleopatra Inside

It’s definitely a one-of-a-kind gift: an old, priceless carpet containing an Egyptian queen. Cleopatra needed an audience with Julius Caesar. The only way she could get one, though, was to sneak one. She had her servant roll her up in a carpet - though some historians believe it may have been bed coverings - and deliver her personally to Caesar. It worked: Cleo got her audience with Caesar, received his support in her battle for the Egyptian throne, and eventually gave him a son. You don’t have to go that far, though. The carpet will do.

15. For Your Friend Who Really Loves Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Like, Really Loves. As in, Maybe You Should Consider Calling the Police: A Book Made out of Human Skin—Possibly Your Own

To appease your possibly blood-thirsty friend, try a gift like the one highwayman James Allen gave to the man who finally brought him down. Back in the early 1830s, Allen indiscriminately robbed dozens of people, and was caught only when a man named John Fenno stood up to him and refused to hand over his possessions. When Allen tried to shoot him, the bullet bounced off of Fenno’s belt buckle and Fenno was able to catch his would-be robber. Convicted to 20 years in prison, Allen died after just a few years. Before his death, though, he wrote a full confession of all of his crimes. The day he died in 1837, enough skin was taken from his back to bind a book. It was immediately sent to a bookbinder, who dyed the skin grey and then abided by Allen's twisted request to bind the confession in his own skin. It was then given to John Fenno, as Allen had specified.

You can read it if you want, though I’m not sure you’re getting the full effect if you’re not holding a book made of human skin.

And Possibly the Worst Gift of All-Time...

A Video Featuring Women Biting the Heads Off Snakes and Soldiers Killing Puppies

Do you have a friend who liked to set fire to bugs with a magnifying glass when he was little? Does he now maintain a firm grip on a small country? This gift might be just the ticket. Back in December of 1983, Donald Rumsfeld met with Saddam Hussein as part of President Reagan’s Middle East Envoy. At the end of the meeting, Saddam slipped Rumsfeld a videotape. When Rumsfeld popped the tape in, perhaps hoping it was an advance screening of Footloose, he was stunned: the tape contained three minutes of female Syrian soldiers biting the heads off of snakes, then roasting them and eating them. In the same video, a male soldier holds down a live puppy and stabs it over and over, then tosses the lifeless body aside. The "gift" can be seen online - it’s obviously very graphic, and I won’t watch it, so click at your own risk.

This story originally appeared in 2011.

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13 Fantastic Museums You Can Visit for Free on Saturday
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On Saturday, September 23, museums and cultural institutions across the United States will open their doors to the public for free, as part of Smithsonian magazine’s annual Museum Day Live! event. Hundreds of museums are set to participate, ranging from world-famous institutions in major cities to tiny, local museums in small towns. While the full list of museums can be viewed, and tickets can be reserved, on the Smithsonian website, we’ve collected a small selection of the fantastic museums you can visit for free this Saturday.

1. NEWSEUM // WASHINGTON, D.C.

The Newseum in Washington, D.C. is an entire museum dedicated to the First Amendment. Celebrating freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition, the museum features exhibits on civil rights, the Berlin Wall, and the history of news media in America. Their latest special exhibitions take a look back at the event of September 11, 2001 and go inside the FBI's crime-fighting tactics.

2. INTREPID SEA, AIR & SPACE MUSEUM // NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK

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New York's Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum doesn’t just showcase America’s military and maritime history—it is a piece of that history. The museum itself is one of the Essex-class aircraft carriers built by the United States Navy during World War II. Visitors can explore its massive deck and interior, and view historic airplanes, a real World War II submarine, and a range of interactive exhibits. Normally, a ticket will set you back a whopping $33 (or $19 for New York City residents), but on Saturday, general admission is free with a Museum Day Live! ticket.

3. AUTRY MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN WEST // LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

Perfect for art lovers, history buffs, and cinephiles alike, the Autry Museum of the American West (named for legendary singing cowboy Gene Autry) offers up an eclectic mix of art, historical artifacts from the real American West, and Western film memorabilia and props.

4. MUSEUM OF ARTS AND SCIENCES // DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA

A massive art, science, and history museum located on a 90-acre nature preserve, the Museum of Arts and Sciences features the largest collection of Florida art anywhere in the world, as well as the largest collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia in all of Florida. Its diverse exhibits are alternately awe-inspiring, informative, and quirky, ranging from an exploration of 2000 years of sculpture art to an exhibition of 19th and 20th century advertising posters.

5. INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE HORSE AT THE KENTUCKY HORSE PARK // LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY

The International Museum of the Horse explores the history of—you guessed it!—the horse. That might sound like a narrow scope, but the museum doesn’t just display horse racing artifacts or teach you about modern horse breeds. Instead, it endeavors to tackle the 50-million-year evolution of the horse and its relationship with humans from ancient times to modern times.

6. THE PEGGY NOTEBAERT NATURE MUSEUM // CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Pete LaMotte, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The 160-year-old Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is pulling out all the stops for this year’s Museum Day Live! In addition to their vast exhibits of animal specimens and cultural artifacts, the museum will be hosting a live animal feeding and a butterfly release throughout the day.

7. OGDEN MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN ART // NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art aims to teach visitors about the rich culture and diverse visual arts of the American South. Right now, visitors can view a collection of William Eggleston's photographs and check out the museum's 10th annual invitational exhibition of ceramic teacups and teapots.

8. BALTIMORE MUSEUM OF INDUSTRY // BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

Marcin Wichary, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Located in a 19th century oyster cannery on the Baltimore waterfront, the Baltimore Museum of Industry tells the story of American manufacturing from garment making to video game design. Visitors this weekend can meet video game designers and create custom games at the museum’s interactive “Video Game Wizards” exhibit.

9. SYLVAN HEIGHTS BIRD PARK // SCOTLAND NECK, NORTH CAROLINA

You can meet 2000 birds from around the world this weekend at the 18-acre Sylvan Heights Bird Park. Visitors to the massive garden can walk through aviaries displaying birds from every continent except Antarctica, including ducks, geese, swans, and exotic birds from all over the world.

10. DELTA BLUES MUSEUM // CLARKSDALE, MISSISSIPPI

Visit Mississippi, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Visitors to the Delta Blues Museum can learn about the unique American musical art form in “the land where blues began,” with audiovisual exhibits centered on blues and rock legend Don Nix, as well as Paramount Records illustrator Anthony Mostrom.

11. NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NUCLEAR SCIENCE & HISTORY // ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO

America’s only congressionally chartered museum dedicated to the story of the Atomic Age, the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History features exhibits on everything from nuclear medicine to representations of atomic power in pop culture. Adult visitors to the museum will delight in its impressively nuanced take on nuclear technology, while kids will love the museum’s outdoor airplane exhibit and hands-on science activities at Little Albert’s Lab.

12. MUSEUM OF THE MOUNTAIN MAN // PINEDALE, WYOMING

sporst, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Dedicated to the mountain men who explored and settled Wyoming in the 19th century, the Museum of the Mountain Man brings American folklore and legends to life. The museum features exhibits on the Rocky Mountain fur trade and tells the story of American folk legend and famed mountain man Hugh Glass (the man Leonardo DiCaprio won an Oscar playing in 2015's The Revenant).

13. BESH BA GOWAH ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK AND MUSEUM // GLOBE, ARIZONA

Arizona’s Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park and Museum lets visitors connect with history firsthand. The museum is home to the ruins and artifacts of the Salado Indians who inhabited Arizona from the 13th century through the 15th century, and even lets visitors wander through an 800-year-old Salado pueblo.

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20 Facts About Your Favorite Coen Brothers Movies
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Ethan Coen turns 60 years old today, if you can believe it. Since bursting onto the scene in 1984 with the cult classic Blood Simple, the younger half of (arguably) the most dynamic moviemaking sibling duo in Hollywood has helped create some of the most memorable and quirky films in cinematic history, from Raising Arizona to Fargo and The Big Lebowski to No Country For Old Men. To celebrate the monumental birthday of one of the great writer-directors of our time (though he’s mostly uncredited as a director), here are some facts about your favorite Coen brothers movies.

1. THE COENS THINK BLOOD SIMPLE IS “PRETTY DAMN BAD.”

Fifteen years after Blood Simple’s release, the Coens reflected upon their first feature in the 2000 book My First Movie. “It’s crude, there’s no getting around it,” Ethan said. “On the other hand, it’s all confused with the actual process of making the movie and finishing the movie which, by and large, was a positive experience,” Joel said. “You never get entirely divorced from it that way. So, I don’t know. It’s a movie that I have a certain affection for. But I think it’s pretty damn bad!”

2. KEVIN COSTNER AND RICHARD JENKINS AUDITIONED FOR RAISING ARIZONA.

Kevin Costner auditioned three times to play H.I., only to see Nicolas Cage snag the role. Richard Jenkins had his first of many auditions for the Coens for Raising Arizona. He also (unsuccessfully) auditioned for Miller's Crossing (1990) and Fargo (1996) before calling it quits with the Coens. In 2001, Joel and Ethan cast Jenkins in The Man Who Wasn't There, even though he had never auditioned for it.

3. THE BROTHERS TURNED DOWN BATMAN TO MAKE MILLER’S CROSSING.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

After Raising Arizona’s success established them as more than one-hit indie film wonders, the Coens had some options with regard to what project they could tackle next. Reportedly, their success meant that they were among the filmmakers being considered to make Batman for Warner Bros. Of course, the Coens ultimately decided to go the less commercial route, and Tim Burton ended up telling the story of The Dark Knight on the big screen.

4. BARTON FINK AND W.P. MAYHEW WERE LOOSELY BASED ON CLIFFORD ODETS AND WILLIAM FAULKNER.

The Coens acknowledge that Fink and Odets had similar backgrounds, but they had different personalities: Odets was extroverted, for one thing. John Turturro, not his directors, read Odets’s 1940 journal. The Coens acknowledged that John Mahoney (Mayhew) looks a lot like the The Sound and the Fury author.

5. THE COENS' WEB OF DECEPTION IN FARGO GOES EVEN FURTHER THAN THE OPENING CREDITS. 

While the tag on the beginning of the movie reads “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987,” Fargo is, by no stretch of the imagination, a true story. During the film's press tour, the Coens admitted that while not pinpoint accurate, the story was indeed inspired by a similar crime that occurred in Minnesota, with Joel stating, “In its general structure, the film is based on a real event, but the details of the story and the characters are fictional.”

However, any and all efforts to uncover anything resembling such a crime ever occurring in Minnesota come up empty, and in an introduction to the published script, Ethan pretty much admitted as much, writing that Fargo “aims to be both homey and exotic, and pretends to be true." 

6. THEY WANTED MARLON BRANDO TO PLAY JEFFREY LEBOWSKI.

According to Alex Belth, who wrote the e-book The Dudes Abide on his time spent working as an assistant to the Coens, casting the role of Jeffrey Lebowski was one of the last decisions made before filming. Names tossed around for the role included Robert Duvall (who passed because he wasn’t fond of the script), Anthony Hopkins (who passed since he had no interest in playing an American), and Gene Hackman (who was taking a break at the time). A second “wish list” included an oddball “who’s who," including Norman Mailer, George C. Scott, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, William F. Buckley, and Ernest Borgnine.

The Coens’ ultimate Big Lebowski, however, was the enigmatic Marlon Brando, who by that time was reaching the end of his career (and life). Apparently, the Coens amused themselves by quoting some of their favorite Jeffrey Lebowski lines (“Strong men also cry”) in a Brando accent. The role would eventually go to the not-particularly-famous—albeit pitch-perfect—veteran character actor David Huddleston. In true Dude fashion, it all worked out in the end.

7. JOEL COEN WOOED FRANCES MCDORMAND ON THE SET OF BLOOD SIMPLE.

Ethan Coen, Frances McDormand and Joel Coen at the Oscars
Ethan Coen, Frances McDormand, and Joel Coen celebrate their Oscar wins in 1997.
KIM KULISH/AFP/Getty Images

Coen and McDormand fell in love while making Blood Simple and got married a couple of years later, after production wrapped. McDormand told The Daily Beast about the moment when she roped him in. “I’d only brought one book to read to Austin, Texas, where we were filming, and I asked him if there was anything he’d recommend,” she said. “He brought me a box of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler paperbacks, and I said, ‘Which one should I start with?’ And he said, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice.’ I read it, and it was one of the sexiest f*ckin’ books I’ve ever read. A couple of nights later, I said, ‘Would you like to come over and discuss the book?’ That did it. He seduced me with literature. And then we discussed books and drank hot chocolate for several evenings. It was f*ckin’ hot. Keep it across the room for as long as you can—that’s a very important element.”

8. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? WAS ORIGINALLY INSPIRED BY THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Joel Coen revealed as much at the 15th anniversary reunion. “It started as a 'three saps on the run' kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, 'You know, they're trying to get home—let's just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: 'There's No Place Like Home.’”

9. THE ACTORS IN FARGO WENT THROUGH EXTENSIVE TRAINING TO GET THEIR ACCENTS RIGHT.

Having grown up in Minnesota, the Coens were more than familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the “Minnesota nice” accent, but much of the cast—including Frances McDormand and William H. Macy—needed coaching to get the intricacies right. Actors were even given copies of the scripts with extensive pronunciation notes. According to dialect coach Larissa Kokernot, who also appeared as one of the prostitutes Gaear and Carl rendezvous with in Brainerd, the “musicality” of the Minnesota nice accent comes from a place of “wanting people to agree with each other and get along.” This homey sensibility, contrasted with the ugly crimes committed throughout the movie, is, of course, one of the major reasons why the dark comedy is such an enduring classic.

10. NICOLAS CAGE'S HAIR REACTED TO H.I.'S STRESS LEVEL IN RAISING ARIZONA.

Ethan claimed that Cage was "crazy about his Woody Woodpecker haircut. The more difficulties his character got in, the bigger the wave in his hair got. There was a strange connection between the character and his hair."

11. A PROP FROM THE HUDSUCKER PROXY INSPIRED THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

Billy Bob Thornton in the Coen brothers' 'The Man Who Wasn't There' (2001)
© 2001 - USA Films

A bit of set dressing from 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy eventually led to 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There. In a barbershop scene, there’s a poster hanging in the background that features a range of men’s hairstyles from the 1940s. The brothers liked the prop and kept it, and it’s what eventually served as the inspiration for The Man Who Wasn’t There.

12. GEORGE CLOONEY SIGNED ON TO O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? BEFORE EVEN READING THE SCRIPT.

The brothers visited George Clooney in Phoenix while he was making Three Kings (1999), wanting to work with him after seeing his performance in Out of Sight (1998). Moments after they put their script on Clooney’s hotel room table, the actor said “Great, I’m in.”

13. A SNAG IN THE MILLER’S CROSSING SCRIPT ULTIMATELY LED TO BARTON FINK.

Miller’s Crossing is a complicated beast, full of characters double-crossing each other and scheming for mob supremacy. In fact, it’s so complicated that at one point during the writing process the Coens had to take a break. It turned out to be a productive one: While Miller’s Crossing was on pause, the brothers wrote the screenplay for Barton Fink, the story of a writer who can’t finish a script.

14. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY IS THE FIRST COEN MOVIE THAT WASN’T THE BROTHERS’ ORIGINAL IDEA.

In 1995, the Coens rewrote a script originally penned by other screenwriters, Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John Romano. They didn’t decide to direct the movie, which became Intolerable Cruelty, until 2003.

15. THE LADYKILLERS WAS WRITTEN FOR BARRY SONNENFELD TO DIRECT.

A still from the Coen Brothers' 'The Ladykillers.'
Melinda Sue Gordon, SMPSP - © 2004 - Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved.

The Coens effortlessly jump from crime thriller to comedy without missing a beat. So when they were commissioned to write a remake of the British black comedy The Ladykillers for director Barry Sonnenfeld, it seemed to fall in line with their cinematic sensibilities. When Sonnenfeld dropped out of the project, the Coens were hired to direct the film.

16. BURN AFTER READING MARKED THE FIRST TIME SINCE MILLER’S CROSSING THAT THE COENS DIDN’T WORK WITH THEIR USUAL CINEMATOGRAPHER, ROGER DEAKINS.

Instead, eventual Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki acted as the director of photography. The Coens would work with Deakins again on every one of their films until 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis.

17. IT TOOK SOME CONVINCING TO GET JAVIER BARDEM TO SAY “YES” TO NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Though it’s hard to imagine No Country for Old Men without Javier Bardem’s menacing—and Oscar-winning—performance as antagonist Anton Chigurh, he almost passed on the role. “It’s not something I especially like, killing people—even in movies,” Bardem said of his disdain for violence. “When the Coens called, I said, ‘Listen, I’m the wrong actor. I don’t drive, I speak bad English, and I hate violence.’ They laughed and said, ‘Maybe that’s why we called you.”’

18. PATTON OSWALT AUDITIONED FOR A SERIOUS MAN.

Patton Oswalt auditioned for the role of the obnoxious Arthur Gopnik in A Serious Man, a part that ultimately went to Richard Kind. Oswalt talked about his audition while appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, in which it was also revealed that Maron was being considered for the lead role of Larry Gopnik (the role that earned Michael Stuhlbarg his first, and so far only, Golden Globe nomination).

19. THE CAT IN INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS WAS “A NIGHTMARE.”

A photo of Oscar Isaac in the Coen brothers' 'Inside Llewyn Davis' (2013).
© 2013 - CBS Films

Ulysses, the orange cat who practically stole Inside Llewyn Davis away from Oscar Isaac, was reportedly a bit of a diva. “The cat was a nightmare,” Ethan Coen said on the DVD commentary. “The trainer warned us and she was right. She said, uh, ‘Dogs like to please you. The cat only likes to please itself.’ A cat basically is impossible to train. We have a lot of footage of cats doing things we don't want them to do, if anyone's interested; I don't know if there's a market for that.”

20. THE COEN BROTHERS PROBABLY DON’T LOVE THE BIG LEBOWSKI AS MUCH AS YOU DO. 

We’re assuming the Coen brothers are plenty fond of The Dude; after all, he doesn’t end up facing imminent death or tragedy, which is more than most of their protagonists have going for them. But in a rare Coen brothers interview in 2009, Joel Coen flatly stated, “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.”

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