All the talk over the past week has regarded the extremely divisive effort Only God Forgives. This is the follow-up collaboration to Drive between director Nicolas Winding Refn and star Ryan Gosling. At the same time, the comedy genre has also seen the re-teaming of a potentially formidable duo in The Heat, made by Bridesmaids director Paul Feig and featuring Melissa McCarthy. These two films got me thinking about the great partnerships of cinema between actors and directors.
I know I mention John Waters and Divine every week, but who could really imagine one without the other during their phase as counterculture heroes in the 70s and 80s. Similarly, Scorsese and De Niro worked together from Mean Streets in 1974 all the way up to Casino in 1995, whilst the Burton-Depp love in has paired them together no less than eight times throughout the 90s and 2000s.
Interestingly enough, Scorsese’s longevity in the chair has enabled him to start up a whole new partnership in the last ten years, replacing De Niro with Di Caprio. From Gangs of New York to Shutter Island (via The Aviator and The Departed), they worked together every other year from 2002 to 2008, and will reunite later this year with The Wolf of Wall Street. Other notables include Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Nolan and his constant casting of Michael Caine, Richard Linklater using Ethan Hawke in more than just the Before… trilogy, Paul Thomas Anderson striking up a wonderful relationship with Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Hugo Weaving being relied upon to perform (a number of roles) for the Wachowskis.
But these predominantly cover the 90s or early part of the 21st century only. As we travel further into the second decade of the 2000s, who are the new partnerships to look out for? After a great internal struggle over who to leave out, here are my top five tips when it comes to duos destined for greatness:
5. Rian Johnson & Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Johnson’s made three films in seven years with JGL featuring heavily in two of them. The first is cult film Brick, and with its neo-noir tendencies and own vocabulary it jumped to indie fame with Levitt at the fore of this acclaim. Looper, an entirely different beast, came last year: it thrilled many, frustrated some and disappointed others. I unashamedly loved it, believing it to be the best (and certainly most accessible) film Johnson’s made thus far.
4. Ben Wheatley & Michael Smiley
An odd choice you might think, but a victory for British, independent filmmakers. Ben Wheatley’s quickly becoming a big fish after Sightseers and his ground-breaking deal with Film4 in releasing A Field in England on various platforms simultaneously. Smiley turned up in the latter, but also has a prominent part in buddy hitman horror Kill List, as well as a role in Wheatley’s debut Down Terrace. The duo frequently capture the weird, the wonderful and the worrying aspects of dark, gruesome characters like no-one else.
3. Derek Cianfrance & Ryan Gosling
If there’s one thing clear about Only God Forgives, it’s that it reminds you just how good Gosling and Cianfrance are together. The twosome blew the metaphorical socks off the world of film with Cianfrance’s debut Blue Valentine, with Michelle Williams completing a rather spectacular trio. The boys re-teamed this year for The Place Beyond the Pines, and Cianfrance had the mood, music, stunts and cool-looking Gosling characteristics to match Drive all the way, making it one of the definitive films of the year for both critics and audiences alike. Two completely different films; exactly why Cianfrance should be the long-term choice for Gosling, rather than Refn.
2. Jeff Nichols & Michael Shannon
Like Cianfrance, Nichols has used his rising star in every film so far. He goes one better than his rival in quantity though, with acting machine Michael Shannon featuring in all three releases over the last seven years. Shotgun Stories came first in 2007, Mud came earlier this year, and in between was the best of all: Take Shelter. It might just have been the film that propelled both Shannon and co-star Jessica Chastain onto truly big things (Man of Steel for him, Zero Dark Thirty for her) but the truth is that Shannon’s never better than when he’s working with Nichols.
1. Steve McQueen & Michael Fassbender
But the most exciting collaboration bar none in the last few years and continuing into the future has to be these two. First came Hunger (2008) and next up was Shame (2011), both visceral films that focus on physicality and abuse of the body. In the former it’s through the desperation of Bobby Sands in the biopic of his hunger strike in Northern Ireland, whilst the latter’s subject is of addiction which happens to be sexual. Fassbender shrinks down to a startling size in Hunger, whilst presenting a detached, overtaken and tortured soul in Shame. Next up is 12 Years a Slave: Fassbender co-stars with Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti and Paul Dano plus a host of rising stars in a truly astonishing cast. How far McQueen and Fassbender have come in such a short space of time, and what an exciting world it is where these two continue to make such challenging and provoking films together.