‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ reviews: The Coen Brothers’ Netflix anthology is ‘funny,’ ‘mournful’ and ‘jauntily morbid’

Joel and Ethan Coen have tackled the Western genre before with “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000) and “True Grit” (2010), but their new Netflix anthology film, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” is a marked departure from those, if only in its structure. It tells six disconnected stories that range from upbeat to tragic, to both all at once. How are critics responding to this latest offbeat genre piece, which started streaming on Friday, November 9?

As of this writing the film has a MetaCritic score of 80 based on 25 reviews, all of them classified as positive, though a few of them more ambivalent than others. And the film has a Rotten Tomatoes freshness rating of 95% based on 55 reviews (only 3 classified as “rotten”). Taken together, those scores indicate a lot of love for this collection of short stories, and very little outright dislike.

Individual reviews are describing the film as “another piece of Coen Brothers’ gold” with “moments of surprise, delight, and connection.” But while it’s “funny,” it also has “a streak of pitch-black nihilism” and is “genuinely mournful,” which is consistent with the skewed and occasionally jaundiced look at humanity the filmmakers have brought to previous titles like “No Country for Old Men” (2007), “A Serious Man” (2009) and “Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013).

But despite their iconoclastic nature, the Coens have won four Oscars over the course of their career: one for writing “Fargo” (1996), and three for writing, directing and producing “No Country.” Will the academy darlings strike gold again to Netflix? Or will they have to wait for the next wagon to come by? Check out some of the reviews below, and join the discussion on this and more with your fellow movie fans in our forums.

Lorry Kikta (Film Threat): “I hope people take heed and go see it in the theater because it’s an entirely different experience. However, if you don’t want to or can’t for whatever reason, watch it on Netflix. It’s yet another piece of Coen Brothers’ gold that just makes me curious about what kind of magic they’re going to make next.”

Dana Stevens (Slate): “Like many of the Coens’ later films (‘No Country for Old Men,’ ‘A Serious Man,’ ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’), ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ has a streak of pitch-black nihilism … But in its best scenes, this portmanteau of jauntily morbid fireside tales also offers a streak of something else, like the underground vein of gold that Tom Waits’ prospector patiently seeks: the small human moments of surprise, delight, and connection.”

Jessica Kiang (The Playlist): “It is an anthology of six segments that comprises two that are as funny as any comedies the Coens have made, two that are as offbeat-involving as any of their more dramatic titles, and two that rank among the worst things they’ve done.”

Stephanie Zacharek (Time): “Most of ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ isn’t what you’d call a laugh riot. There’s also something genuinely mournful about it; it leaves you feeling a little exposed, as if you’d been dropped, alone, into the wide-open prairie and weren’t sure you wanted to be there. It’s effective in a somber way, and as shot by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, it’s dazzling to look at, a reinvention of classic literature of the old west with a storybook feel.”

Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominations are announced on January 22.

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