The Best Actor/Director Partnerships

After seeing The Great Gatsby (and admittedly not enjoying the film hugely), I can still maintain there are two types of men in the world: those who want to be Leonardo DiCaprio, and those who are liars. When this level of ‘cool’ is combined with quite possibly the most talented and consistent director since film began, the two estates of film watchers, the punters and the critics, start foaming at the mouth. I am of course talking about the great Martin Scorsese (the most mispronounced surname in film credit history). This partnership is reaching its fifth film with the release of The Wolf of Wall Street, and it is clear that their affiliation will not end here, as director/actor combinations like these have kept on bringing the audience back to the cinema since its inception. Here is a list of 5 of the best partnerships in the history of cinema. If you feel like I have missed your favourite out, please leave a message in the comment section so I can kick myself if I forgot about it.

5. John Ford & John Wayne

John Ford and John Wayne

Films Together: 24
Key Works: Stagecoach, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Very few people are as synonymous with their genre of film as Ford and Wayne are. In fact, this partnership is so important in film, that they are not only the most famous men in Westerns, but they have also come to represent the ideal of America. Their partnership is made all the more important as the Western is a staple of American film culture, and indeed was the first true American genre. Through many of their films together, Ford and Wayne documented and detailed the frontier struggle; Ford providing the style with sweeping vistas in his pioneering of shooting on location, and Wayne providing the face and the frame of the Western Hero. From Stagecoach, where Ford inserted his friend, a fresh faced Wayne, as the Ringo Kid, to his portrayal of the altogether more complicated anti-hero Ethan Edwards in The Searchers, they are the quintessential American duo, not just in film, but in American history.

Honourable Mention: Sergio Leone & Clint Eastwood. Personally, a far more enjoyable partnership to watch. Eastwood’s tall, thin, skilled man of very, very few words is as magnetic as anyone put on camera, framed perfectly by Leone’s mastery of the close-up.

4. Coen Bros. & John Goodman

The Big Lebowski

Films Together: 5
Key Works: Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou?

The Coen brothers are men who like familiarity in their actors. This is mainly down to their style of writing and their sense of humour, which they feel these actors bring to reality. Granted, this choice may seem a bit like a self-indulgent pick, but… well, it is. There are many names which crop up when one discusses the brothers Coen, including Buscemi, Clooney and probably most importantly (as she has ended up marrying Joel Coen) Frances McDormand. However, with another film coming out with them next year, John Goodman could well provide the most memorable ‘Coen’ moments. Many film fans would consider his gun-toting, freedom loving, profanity peddling turn as Vietnam veteran Walter Sobchak, the only one around here who gives a damn about the rules, in The Big Lebowski as one of the finest characters that the Coens have ever created. Goodman is consistently larger than life, and the Coens’ scripts provide him with plenty of scenery to chew.

Joel and Ethan Coen

Honourable Mention: Sam Raimi & Bruce Campbell. Another madcap combination, with Campbell actually starring in Crimewave, a film directed by Raimi and penned with the Coens. After considerable cult success with the brilliant Evil Dead series, Raimi usually manages to find a place for Campbell in his films.

3. Woody Allen & Diane Keaton

Diane Keaton and Woody Allen

Films Together: 8
Key Works: Play it Again, Sam, Annie Hall, Manhattan

Such a good partnership that they became romantically involved. Then became not so romantically involved. But the attraction between the two clearly worked in front of the camera, as Allen’s (and possibly Keaton’s) best work was realised within this partnership. Keaton even picked up a Best Actress gong for Annie Hall, providing one of the most perfect comedy performances, in one of the most perfect comedy films. Whilst Allen is keen to dispel such a rumour, people believe, including Keaton to some degree, that the reason the chemistry between the two was so notable was because the relationship they had on screen was very similar to their real life relationship. Touching and funny in its neuroticism, no wonder people prefer Woody Allen’s ‘earlier, funnier’ stuff, and Keaton was pivotal in translating his ideas to the screen. They met each other during the theatre production of Play it Again, Sam before producing a film version for the big screen. Keaton was the girl who was perfect for Allen’s stories, and for exactly the same reason, the least perfect girl for the man himself; Keaton remembers that Allen said living with her was like ‘walking on eggshells.’

Honourable Mention: Tim Burton & Helena Bonham-Carter. Another relationship made in Hollywood. Whilst Johnny Depp may be the more obvious consideration here, Bonham-Carter has been even more ever-present in bringing Burton’s weird world to the cinema recently.

2. Martin Scorsese & Robert De Niro

Scorsese and De Niro

Films Together: 8
Key Works: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas

Whilst I have already mentioned Martin Scorsese for his recent collaborations with Leonardo DiCaprio, the superior, and probably the most storied partnership in all of film, is that of him and Robert De Niro. In fact, their first film together, Mean Streets, was made in 1973, a whole year before DiCaprio was even born. Of De Niro’s 5 Best Actor nominations, 3 of them have come with the direction of his good friend Marty, even winning for Raging Bull in one of the most electrifying acting performances to ever be recorded. The fact that Scorsese himself did not win a Best Director award even became somewhat of a running joke in Hollywood until he finally won for The Departed in 2006 (with DiCaprio as a lead). De Niro tended to play deeply psychologically disturbed characters in all of these films whilst exploring themes of masculinity, violence and Italian-American culture. Key to their partnership however, is that each role is distinctly different in its approach, discovering different layers of the characters. For one, I cannot wait for the touted reunion between the two, and the great Joe Pesci, in The Irishman which could be a return to their gangland roots. However, we will be made to wait, as filming is not projected to start until early 2014.

Honourable Mention: Akira Kurosawa & Toshiro Mifune. Having made 16 films together, it would be criminal to leave out the classic partnership in Japanese cinema. Mifune said he was proud of nothing but the work he did with Kurosawa, and was present in all his work from ’48-’65 bar Ikiru.

1. Wes Anderson & Bill Murray

Bill Murray and Wes Anderson

Films Together: 6
Key Works: Rushmore, The Royal Tenembaums, Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson is another man who appreciates familiarity in his casts, with Owen Wilson turning up many times as actor and co-writer with him, as well as Jason Schwartzman and many others. Since Rushmore though, Murray has been part of Anderson’s cast without fail. Sometimes only appearing in no more than a cameo role, it could be said that he is Anderson’s good luck charm. However, it is clear he is far more than that. Whenever Murray appears and does something awesome, the internet seems to melt down. These moments are commonplace in their films together, and no one can resist the dead-pan charm of Bill Murray. Anderson’s unique signature style of directing has managed to broaden the appeal of Murray (if possible), and Murray helped give star heft and also facilitated the trademark likeability of Anderson’s movies. It does not hurt Bill’s reputation that he also took a significantly low wage to be part of Rushmore which was on a tight budget. In films where so much dialogue is unspoken, left to the actors’ expression, these two have created a niche for themselves. Murray is now as much a staple of Anderson’s films as any of his directing techniques.

Honourable Mention: Christopher Nolan & Michael Caine. On the subject of good luck charms, Caine is Nolan’s professed one, and has appeared in all 5 films of the Nolan canon since Batman Begins. With Caine confirmed for 2014’s Interstellar, it is hard to see the partnership ending soon.

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Comments (2)

  • Tarantino and Keitel (not Samuel L. Jackson – I feel he is an actor that is overused – a token actor like Jonny Depp or Morgan Freeman)? Kevin Smith and Ben Affleck (or Matt Damon or Brian O’Halloran or Jeff Anderson)? Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg? I’m sure Joss Whedon would probably fit in their somewhere…

    • Rhys W H Edwards

      Well Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright would be in my personal top 5, as long as they made at least more than 5 films. Cracking stuff, and Tarantino and Keitel does not have enough major characters for me to be a major partnership.

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