The Big Lebowski is about a cheerful loser; The Man Who Wasn't There is about a miserable loser. The Big Lebowski stars a schlubby Jeff Bridges; The Man Who Wasn't There stars a scowling Billy Bob Thornton. The Big Lebowski, though it's set in the early '90s, boasts a '70s-inspired pastiche of browns and tans (and one stunningly purple jumpsuit); The Man Who Wasn't There, a noir set in 1949, is in somber black and white, with shafts of pale light cutting through the air and inky shadows eating up everything else.
The Big Lebowski is undoubtedly the favorite, here, among both critics and fans—it easily screens at least half a dozen times in Portland every year. The Man Who Wasn't There, though, is an often overlooked Coen Brothers film—lost in the shuffle of Blood Simple and Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou? and No Country for Old Men—which is a shame: Gorgeous and devastating, at times darkly comic and at times just dark, The Man Who Wasn't There is fucking fantastic, a sad, sharp, twisting film that sticks with you for days afterward.
Screenings of The Big Lebowski and The Man Who Wasn't There follow each other this weekend at the Northwest Film Center, and both films are easily worth seeing—but catching The Man Who Wasn't There on the big screen is a too-rare opportunity that shouldn't be missed.