This weekend, comedy sequel “22 Jump Street” hits theaters, on a wave of goodwill and giggly advance reviews (our own included). For once it seems the usually barren ground of the comedy sequel has yielded something decent, and that is cause for celebration indeed. But already now the question is starting to bubble to the surface: well, why are we surprised? What did we expect? Didn’t we know that the infallible genius directing team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller are behind it?
Over the course of just four films, from their why-on-earth-was-it-any-good animated debut “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” Lord & Miller have established themselves with a 100% hit rate at taking unappealing premises (a cartoon about raining hamburgers; a jokey rehash of a forgotten 80s TV show; a film based on, um, colored plastic bricks) and turning in fresh, inventive and genuinely funny takes. And one of the reasons for that, we have to believe, is that they’ve an (apparently strong and affable) partnership going on. Rather like the consular system that prevailed during the Roman Republic, two heads are better than one when it comes to making tough decisions about whether to execute someone or where to put the camera to maximize the goofiness of Channing Tatum’s expression. But then we thought, hey wait though, are two heads better than one? Or do too many cooks spoil the broth when it comes to directing duos and teams?
So we resolved to investigate, and these are the fruits of our labor, a ranking of every directing team we could think of from worst to best. Our rules were that the team had to have worked on an least two narrative feature films together and to have shared an official directing credit on both, but still the resulting ranking was hard to come by. After all, we’re comparing teams who’ve worked together for decades with ones who’ve done just two films; and should a team who’ve turned in two solid films and no duds be ranked higher or lower than a team who’ve made three classics and five stinkers? These are the quandaries that gnawed at us and that we settled using a highly scientific matrix based on rules of thumb approximations and gut feelings. Here then, worst to best, we give you directing teams: ranked.
32. Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer
Who Are They? Perhaps they see them as merry, irreverent pranks, where the rest of us (except their inexplicably loyal audience) see their films as a blight on the cinematic landscape, but this pair of… people, who met in college and wrote “Spy Hard” and “Scary Movie” together (relative genius) have gone on to maybe the most toe-curling directorial career in history, churning out limp, cheap, brainless spoof after limp, cheap, brainless spoof.
Best Film: How relative can we be? THEY ALL SUCK. I dunno. ”Date Movie”? Or “Vampires Suck” at least lampooned (lamely) a phenomenon we dislike, so maybe that? Oh god, have I just put “Vampires Suck” in a column headed by “best”? I need a shower
Worst Film: Again, since we can’t pick all of them, let’s go for “Meet The Spartans.” Or “Disaster Movie.” Or “Epic Movie.” Screw it, all of them.
Any Solo Directing Projects? It takes two people to muster up this much disdain for an audience’s intelligence, so no. Also, don’t put the idea into their heads that they could double their output. Shoot it before it lays eggs.
31. Greg & Colin Strause
Who Are They? High-profile VFX wizard brothers (everything from “Titanic” to “X-Men: Days OF Future Past”) turned low-profile directors of two critically assassinated features.
Best Film: “AVPR: Aliens Vs. Predator – Requiem” ouch, yes, the even-worse sequel to the terrible “AVP: Alien Vs. Predator” with the even more cumbersome title, is their best directorial film.
Worst Film: “Skyline” is their other directorial effort and we’re pretty sure it solely exists to make everyone involved with the similarly themed, piss-poor “Battle: Los Angeles” feel a lot better about themselves.
Any Solo Directing Projects? Nope. They’ve recently gone back to VFX work and that’s cool with us.
30. David Moreau & Xavier Palud
Who Are They? French writer/directors given the keys to a Hollywood remake on the basis of their French-language debut together.
Best Film: “Them” is the debut in question (aka “Ils”) a low-key, minimalist horror that’s promisingly tense initially but fails to stick its landing.
Worst Film: “The Eye” is the Jessica Alba-starring remake of the decent Pang Brothers’ Hong Kong horror “The Eye,” and it’s terrible.
Any Solo Directing Projects? With those two titles being the only ones they share, perhaps “The Eye” experience has soured the partnership. Both have solo piloted one French-language feature apiece since, a romantic comedy for Moreau and for Palud an action thriller from the Luc Besson stable. We’ve seen neither, but will happily state that both are miles better than “The Eye,” because we have seen “The Eye.”
29. Huck Botko & Andrew Gurland
Who Are They? Bad-taste, but occasionally on-the-mark mockumentarians whose two features together saw them heralded in some quarters as kind of next-gen Ferrell/McKay or Apatow-esque filmmakers.
Best Film: “Mail Order Wife” was their first feature together and is a pretty lunatic, gonzo film, wildly uneven in a kind of sketch-show way, but occasionally very funny and often very cruel in its deconstruction of the practice of “buying” a relationship.
Worst Film: “The Virginity Hit” was their bigger and more recent feature together, backed by the aforementioned Ferrell/McKay as producers, but significantly more toothless than their first, with the Youtube/social media/camera phone aesthetic feeling rather tiresome this time out — it’s a mockumentary that doesn’t fool anyone so why not just make it as a film?
Any Solo Directing Projects? Both do their own things too, but they have their groove: prior to this partnership Gurland directed “Frat House” with “The Hangover”‘s Todd Phillips and more recently Botko directed the ridiculously-premised “Bad Johnson” about a man whose penis takes human form (as Nick Thune).
28. Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg
Who Are They? Co-writers of all three ‘Harold & Kumar’ movies, Hurwitz & Schlossberg made their directing debut with the middle film in the trilogy and went on to the dizzying heights of the fourth “American Pie” installment.
Best Film: “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay” while a disappointment after the first installment, is still the better of their two titles to date.
Worst Film: “American Reunion” isn’t terrible, but was not a film you felt anyone cared really cared about, possibly even the directors.
Any Solo Directing Projects? Not so far, with something titled “Cherries” listed on IMDB as their next joint directorial venture.
27. Josh Gordon & Will Speck
Who Are They? Comedy directing duo behind “Blades of Glory” and “The Switch” and also the short-lived “Cavemen” ABC TV show.
Best Film: “Blades of Glory” isn’t quite as funny as it should be, given its top-flight comedy cast, because while Amy Poehler and Will Arnett are tremendous in support, Will Ferrell feels like he’s going through the same motions again, and Jon Heder reveals the limitations of his comic persona. Still, as intermittently funny as Ferrell on ice should be.
Worst Film: “The Switch” despite a fairly promising sperm-switch concept and cast in Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston, the film blurred into a few other similar projects at the same time, like “The Back-up Plan” and failed to, um, deliver.
Any Solo Directing Projects? Nope, these guys seem joined at the hip with even their TV and web show gigs being directed jointly.
25. Deborah Kaplan & Harry Elfont
Who Are They? Fellow NYU grads who write together more often than they direct and are behind the screenplays for some shockers in addition to their two directorial features: “The Flinstones in Viva Rock Vegas,” horrible Patrick Dempsey thing “Made of Honor” and horrible Amy Adams thing “Leap Year” among them.
Best Film: “Josie and the Pussycats” is a film we have probably more time for than we should, but we find the female cast, especially Parker Posey, kinda irresistible.
Worst Film: “Can’t Hardly Wait” was their debut, and is not far off ‘Pussycats’ in terms of its distinctly mid-level quality, so as a personal preference, probably indicating a dislike for its more sprawling, unfocused structure, we’re putting it second.
Any Solo Directing Projects? No and no more joint ones in the cards either. They seem to have worked solely as co-writers since the disappointment of ‘Pussycats’ in 2001.
24. Danny & Oxide Pang
Who Are They? Unforgettably named twin brothers from Hong Kong who specialize in horror and action genre films at home with infrequent trips to the U.S.
Best Film: We can’t pretend to have seen all of their Hong Kong titles, but of those we have seen, the original version of “The Eye” is a pretty good supernatural thriller that only loses its grip in its last reel.
Worst Film: “The Eye 3” is pretty bad, but we have to call out their English-language Nic Cage-starring remake of their own “Bangkok Dangerous” for special notice. It’s Nic Cage phoning it in of course, but it’s not even fun Nic Cage phoning it in.
Any Solo Directing Projects? Recently they’ve ventured into solo directing projects in Hong Kong, but it looks like they’re sticking fairly close to the genre fare they’ve made their names in together.
23. Michael & Peter Spierig
Who Are They? A brother directing team with two shared features under their belts and one more, in the shape of Ethan Hawke-starring time-travel yarn “Predestination,” on the way, which we reviewed out of SXSW this year.
Best Film: It’s not saying a huge amount, but the also-Ethan-Hawke-starring “Daybreakers,” while somewhat lost in our memories amid the rash of vampire genre movies that plagued us a few years ago, is a solid B-movie that’s main flaw is its self-seriousness when it could be having more fun.
Worst Film: “Undead” was their debut, and while impressive for its gory effects on such a small budget, it doesn’t nail its comedy-horror tone quite well enough to come off as anything but derivative.
Any Solo Directing Projects? None as yet, and “Predestination” is still without a distribution deal.
22. Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor
Who Are They? Either the filmmaking devil incarnate or the fuck-you bastions of OTT WTF and occasionally wondrous gonzo genre experimentation. Perhaps surprisingly, we err a little more on the latter side.
Best Film: While this writer is among the few vocal admirers of “Crank 2: High Voltage” for its completely balls-to-the-wall nonsensical approach that incorporates 8-bit video sequences and moments where characters turn into giant rubber puppets, “Crank” is still the more satisfyingly ludicrous film overall, so we’ll go with that as being their magnum opus.
Worst Film: “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.” Even with our most apologetic apologism hat on, we can’t make any excuses for this pile of twaddle, which even the directors poked fun at recently. Also, they wrote “Jonah Hex.”
Any Solo Directing Projects? Mark Neveldine has gone off to do his own thing recently, exorcism horror “The Vatican Tapes,” which is due out next year and stars Dougray Scott and Djimon Hounsou.
21. Kurt Voss & Allison Anders
Who Are They? Three-time feature collaborators “Border Radio,” “Sugar Town” and “Strutter,” Voss and Anders work more apart than together, but reteam seemingly at roughly 12 year intervals of installments in their loose thematic trilogy.
Best Film: Tough call, as there’s not a lot to choose between “Sugar Town” “Border Radio” and “Strutter” (the latter got no U.S. release outside a couple of festivals) and they all feel like indie riffs in the Jarmusch-ian vein. We’ll take “Sugar Town” as it is slightly more polished and approachable, though it doesn’t have the energy that “Border Radio”’s punk milieu lends it, and “Strutter” is sweeter.
Worst Film: “Border Radio” then, but we’re throwing a dart.
Any Solo Directing Projects? Yes indeed. Anders made her solo debut after “Border Radio” with the terrific little indie “Gas Food Lodging” and went on to do offbeat female-centric gentle dramedies “Grace of my Heart” and “Mi Vida Loca.”Since then she’s mostly been involved in TV, directing four “Sex and the City” episodes, a few TV movies and some“Southland”s among other gigs. Voss meantime languishes in B-movie purgatory with a “Poison Ivy” sequel and “Below Utopia” with Alyssa Milano and Ice-T, among others, to his name.
20. Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini
Who Are They? Husband and wife filmmakers who work in both narrative and documentary formats.
Best Film: “American Splendor” was their first narrative feature and still by far their best, centering on a defining performance from Paul Giamatti as hangdog comic book writer Harvey Pekar.
Worst Film: We were disappointed by the Kristen Wiig-starrer “Girl Most Likely” but probably our least favorite of their joint efforts has the anonymous, relentlessly straight-down-the-middle “The Nanny Diaries” with Scarlett Johansson.
Any Solo Directing Projects? Not that we know of, and the team have drama “Ten Thousand Saints,” starring the promising cast of Emile Hirsch, Hailee Steinfeld, Ethan Hawke, Emily Mortimer and Julianne Nicholson, in the works at the moment.
19. Stephen & Timothy Quay
Who Are They? Upping the ante on the other twins in this list by also being identical, the Quay brothers are prolific and influential stop-motion animation filmmakers, firmly at the arthouse end of the spectrum, who have so far just two full-length features to their name, both of which combine live action and animated elements.
Best Film: With only two features to judge from we’re flipping a coin but their feature debut, “The Institute Benjamenta” is slightly more accessible, if you can call a highly impressionistic, black and white “Eraserhead”-esque dream state “accessible.”
Worst Film: Which just goes to show just how impenetrable their 2005 follow-up “The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes” is, again boasting some remarkable imagery and a dark fairytale/nightmare atmosphere, but destined to lose as many viewers along the way as it entrances.
Any Solo Directing Projects? No, they’re merely identical, but might as well be conjoined. (See “Stuck on You”)
18. Mark & Jay Duplass
Who Are They? Reigning kings of the mumblecore movement, with Mark also making inroads into a serious acting career, the brothers have recently branched out into more formalist, structured filmmaking and yielded some of their most satisfying work as a result.
Best Film: Of their five features so far together (we’re counting “The Puffy Chair” even though Mark wasn’t technically credited as director, just as co-writer and producer) “Jeff Who Lives At Home” saw them venturing furthest in to the mainstream, and frankly, we liked it.
Worst Film: We may not have hated “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” as much as our reviewer, but it certainly felt like a regressive step with neither the loose-limbed honesty of the early mumblecore efforts nor the structure and jokes of big-screen sitcoms “Cyrus” and ‘Jeff.’
Any Solo Directing Projects? Jay directed 2011 feature doc “Kevin” and a segment of the “Slacker 2011” omnibus feature; Mark’s acting sideline has taken off in recent years and he’s a series regular on “The Mindy Project.”
17. Paul & Chris Weitz
Who Are They? Filmmaking brothers who’ve collaborated as directors three times and who each have an equally uneven track record on their solo directorial outings.
Best Film: “About a Boy” is their crown jewel, marking not just their best collaboration but, along with “High Fidelity,” the best Nick Hornby adaptation yet, and starring a baby-faced Nicholas Hoult. Though we also have warm feelings toward the original “American Pie” — it can’t be blamed for the endless sequels and me-toos in the gross-out teen sex comedy genre that followed.
Worst Film: “Down to You” without a doubt, a deeply strained third go-round at a film version of “Heaven Can Wait” this time starring Chris Rock, and surprising now mostly for reading Louis C.K.’s illustrious name in the writing credits. You wouldn’t know.
Any Solo Directing Projects? Both have solo directing careers as well — Paul did the solid “In Good Company,” the very odd “American Dreamz” and the crap “Little Fockers” among others; Chris launched and sank a franchise with “The Golden Compass,” took the money for “Twilight: New Moon” and surprised everyone with the small but affecting “A Better Life.”
16. Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Who Are They? If they’d only ever written “Bad Santa,” we’d have a lot to thank these guys for, but as directors they’ve put out two insightful, offbeat and charming films in the usually uninspired romantic comedy genre, and if one of those was more or less “disappeared” by a studio unsure what to do with it and due to ongoing legal issues, that’s hardly their fault.
Best Film: “Crazy Stupid Love” is crazy stupid fun, with an adorable cast (Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Julianne Moore) and a tight, funny script that isn’t afraid to cut the sweet with a generous helping of sour too.
Worst Film: They only have two so this has to go to their debut “I Love you Philip Morris” which is hardly fair after all the other injustices heaped upon it. In fact, featuring genuinely winning performances from Jim Carrey and Ewan MacGregor in an uncompromising, funny, bittersweet gay love story, the film deserved a much bigger push than it got.
Any Solo Directing Projects? None as yet and as a team they’ve the Will Smith-starring “Focus” due out next year.
15. Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud
Who Are They? Two-time collaborators, Paronnaud actually comes from a comic/illustration background, but they co-adapted and co-directed Satrapi’s graphic novel “Persepolis” to massive acclaim and to a Jury Prize in Cannes 2007.
Best Film: “Persepolis,” the remarkably fresh, funny and insightful animated memoir of growing up during the Islamic revolution in Iran.
Worst Film: “Chicken With Plums”
Any Solo Directing Projects? Not for Paronnaud outside some animated shorts, but Satrapi continues to impress with her highly individual style, first with the little-seen but very enjoyable “Gang of the Jotas” and more recently in the surprising, odd but again very beguiling “The Voices” with Ryan Reynolds.
14. Albert & Allen Hughes
Who Are They? Twin brothers (Albert is 9 minutes older) born in Detroit but raised in California, they burst onto the scene in 1993 with their ferocious feature debut “Menace II Society” but mostly struggled to live up to that promise since (though “Dead Presidents” is underrated, taken on its own and out of the shadow of their killer debut). In fact, after those two films, their career is pretty subpar, but the striking debut and solid follow-up earns them a spot closer up top than usual.
Best Film: “Menace II Society” is still an uncompromising high watermark in the gritty ghetto genre of black urban filmmaking that exploded in the early 90s. Interestingly, Tupac was supposed to star, but had a falling out with the brothers and left the project.
Worst Film: We’re not huge fans of “The Book of Eli” but “From Hell” is the Hughes bros film that hurts the most as it’s based on the genius (and this writer’s personal all-time favorite) graphic novel by Alan Moore and should have been about a billion times better than this incoherent, turgid Johnny Depp vehicle.
Any Solo Directing Projects? As a solo director, Allen has forged a career path doing some TV, a segment of the “New York I Love You” omnibus film, the Dr. Dre/Eminem video for “I Need A Doctor” and most recently directing the coolly received Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe vehicle “Broken City”.
13. Joe & Anthony Russo
Who Are They? Emmy-winning brothers (for “Arrested Development”) who worked a great deal in TV and kind of surprised everyone by being handed the keys to the “Captain America: Winter Soldier” gig.
Best Film: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Sure, we had our issues but the brothers delivered on following up a surprisingly good first film (Joe Johnston‘s “Captain America: The First Avenger”) with a surprisingly good sequel. We were surprised. In a good way.
Worst Film: In reality possibly “Pieces,” their student film debut, but since we haven’t seen that we’ll go with “You, Me and Dupree” a film in which three irritating characters (Kate Hudson, Matt Dillon, Owen Wilson) irritate each other for 108 long minutes.
Any Solo Directing Projects? They tend to both work on the pilots of the various successful TV shows they’ve shepherded, and then split up to direct individual episodes, but with regard to features they seem a solid team, with “Captain America 3” next up for them on that front.
12. Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden
Who Are They? Writing/directing team Boden & Fleck seemed like they came from nowhere to bag an Oscar nomination for star Ryan Gosling in “Half Nelson” (the film that certainly broke him out properly) but they’d been working on that script for years, aided by the Sundance Writers’ Lab. Since then they’ve collaborated on two further features, with one more in the pipelines.
Best Film: “Half Nelson.” A searingly good debut, the Gosling-starring picture is about a crack-addicted high school teacher who befriends an African-American student with ties to a local drug dealer. It’s sensitivity to race and cultural clashing is well-observed, Gosling is super in it and its aesthetics (both music and visuals) are dreamily striking.
Worst Film: "It’s Kind of a Funny Story," an adaptation of Ned Vizzini‘s coming-of-age novel about mental illness. Boden & Fleck are carving out an eclectic career, but this serio/comic drama with Emma Roberts and Zach Galifianakis, isn’t terrible by any means, it just isn’t their finest hour either.
Any Solo Directing Projects? None to speak of yet. Their next picture, a con-man duo picture in the vein of Altman’s “California Split” with Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn, “Mississippi Grind,” is already in the can.
11. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
Who Are They? Husband and wife team who went from a long career directing music videos straight to Oscar success with their debut feature “Little Miss Sunshine.”
Best Film: The utterly endearing“Ruby Sparks” is a much, much better film than the “dream girl made manifest” log line it sports, especially set off by Paul Dano’s engaging performance that hits all notes from physical comedy to the darkness later on, and Zoe Kazan’s winning, warm turn as Ruby. Unexpectedly terrific, romantic and yet uncompromising in where it’s willing to go and the questions it poses.
Worst Film: Well, that leaves “Little Miss Sunshine," which, no, this writer didn’t drink the kool-aid on. It has some lovely performances and clearly the best of intentions, but feels often too cloyingly on the nose to really convince.
Any Solo Directing Projects? None to speak of, they’ve been a directing team since the eighties, with a bevy of videos and commercials to their names also.
10. Scott McGehee & David Siegel
Who Are They? A writing/directing team with five features to their name, whose partnership dates back to their sinfully stylish mid-nineties debut “Suture,” McGehee and Siegel may be among the less expected teams to crack our top ten but their singular sensibility and unerring eye for cinematography has made us longtime fans.
Best Film: Probably still “Suture” for our money, their black-and-white debut which is as incomprehensibly, surreally plotted (it’s a noir story featuring twins who look identical to everyone in the film including themselves, but who are played by the black Dennis Haysbert and the white Michael Harris) as it is strikingly, gorgeous to look at. However the Tilda Swinton-starring “The Deep End” is strong too, while “What Maisie Knew” showed them bringing a more emotive element into their often detatched, carefully composed style.
Worst Film: “Bee Season” with Richard Gere feels like their most anonymous work, and certainly their most ponderous, with their trademark cerebrality somewhat undercut by the starriness of the ensemble (Juliette Binoche, Max Minghella and Kate Bosworth also star) and a story whose contrivances aren’t as well hidden by style or atmosphere this time out.
Any Solo Directing Projects? None, and long may they continue to work together. Even when they miss, as with their Joseph Gordon-Levitt-starring “Uncertainty,” they miss interestingly.
9. Bobby and Peter Farrelly
Who Are They? Oh Farrellys, you make it hard to wholeheartedly include you in our top ten, because despite a clutch of bona fide comedy classics, you will go and make shit like “The Three Stooges” and the pointless remake of “The Heartbreak Kid.” We’ve enough leftover warmth toward you for your early hits to let you scrape to no 9, but let this be a warning: “Dumb and Dumber To” better be, contrary to the evidence of the trailer, hilarious.
Best Film: The Farrellys had a history of making comedies that were disdained on release only to build to a major following after (“Dumb and Dumber,” “Kingpin”) but that was not the case for instant megahit “There’s Something About Mary” which is still their unassailable classic, as it was on release. It walks exactly the right line between funny and gross, cheerful and dark, witty and slapstick — they’d struggle with this balance elsewhere.
Worst Film: Like in the turgid “The Three Stooges” the tiresome “Hall Pass” or the toxic “Shallow Hal,” for example.
Any Solo Directing Projects? No, they mostly share credit and blame equally across their eleven feature titles to date, though Peter did apparently take solo duties on 2 segments of “Movie 43” so that ignominy is all his.
8. Phil Lord & Chris Miller
Who Are They? Meeting as freshmen in college, this dynamic duo already had a penchant for creating animated shorts. A lot of TV work followed that never went past the pilot stage (MTV’s "Clone High" for example) and that eventually lead to their first writing/directing gig, an animated adaptation of the kids’ book “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs.” An enjoyable and well-received hit for all ages, their career quickly took off in several directions including live-action comedy work (the “21 Jump Street” franchise). Boasting a clever, self-aware and meta- approach to their writing that comes with a strong understanding of classic pop cultural touchstones, they seem like the ideal, optimistic duo to reboot any ailing franchise (and were naturally offered the “Ghostbusters” series which they turned down)
Best Film: “The Lego Movie" may well be their peak to date — our review calls it "the first great studio film of 2014, one that fills you with childlike wonder and awe, no matter your age." A dizzyingly inventive, metatextual blast, albeit one whose success sorta terrified us.
Worst Film: Hardly a bad picture in their short career, if you had to pick a worst, it would likely be “22 Jump Street” because as hilarious and clever as it can be and as self-aware and self-deprecating as it is about about being a rehash, well, it is a rehash (it’s also a bit of a patchy film, though definitely a rare successful comedy sequel).
Any Solo Directing Projects? None yet and they’re on such an amazing run right now, we wouldn’t want them to split their powers.
7. Paolo & Vittorio Taviani
Who Are They? The placement here of the Italian Taviani brothers, is a tricky case: it will probably incite cinephile disdain (why aren’t they higher?) and general reader befuddlement (who the hell are they?) as their 19 features to date have often been as critically fawned over (Pauline Kael went into raptures over “The Night of the Shooting Stars,”) as they have been underseen outside Europe. Their Palme D’Or-winning “Padre Padrone,” or more recently the Berlin Golden Bear-winning “Caesar Must Die" are probably their best known films abroad but we find ourselves occasionally underwhelmed by the brothers’ approach, in which social or political grit (their films often feature historical time periods and Italy’s peasant class) can sit at odds with the classic romanticism of their photographic style. Even “Caesar Must Die” which denotes a shift in register, left us a little cooler than many. Still, they’re a force to be reckoned with in world cinema terms, even in their 80s, and are currently in production on a new film which will no doubt play the European festival circuit next year.
Best Film: Out of nearly twenty titles, this is always going to be a subjective choice, but we’re going to skip the undeniable power of the Cannes-winning “Padre Padrone” in favor of “Chaos” whose daunting length (188 minutes) becomes more approachable when you realize it’s a collection of four shorter films (and an epilogue), based on short stories by Italian author, poet and playwright Luigi Pirandello.
Worst Film: There are a couple of television movies/miniseries that we haven’t seen and can’t judge, but of their titles that we’ve seen, we were not too keen on “The Lark Farm,” and “Fiorile” is probably the film that feels the slightest, and that most exemplifies their tendency to favor glorious shots of the Tuscan countryside over real connection with the characters, who in this case are laboring under an inherited family curse.
Any Solo Directing Projects? None. The brothers work together as both scriptwriters and directors (Marcello Mastroianni referred to them as “Paolovittorio”).
6. The Zucker Bros. and Jim Abrahams
Who Are They? An American comedy trio that wrote the cult movie “The Kentucky Fried Movie” and who specialized in wacky, slapsticky comedy during the 1980s and 1990s (“Airplane!,” “Top Secret,” “Naked Gun”). For a while, they were kings, until that brand of humor fell out of favor and felt out of date in more winky and ironic times.
Best Film: Most will believe it’s “Airplane!” their 1980 lampooning of 1970s disaster films. And yes, the Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty and Leslie Nielsen is a hilarious comedic touchstone, but we personally prefer the Val Kilmer starring WWII spy movie/musical “Top Secret!” which we recently affectionately wrote about in our feature where we ranked the best films of the summer of 1984.
Worst Film: “The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear” The original, with Leslie Nielsen as the inept, dunder-headed detective (based on their earlier and excellent, short-lived ABC television series “Police Squad!”) is terrific silly fun, but each sequel quickly became diminishing returns. And this is where the trio broke apart from directing together (David Zucker has the sole directing credit on part II, but they’re all credited as writers and producers). The uninspired final and third film in the trilogy is utterly forgettable and not even one member of the trio directs (and even only D. Zucker has a writing credit).
Any Solo Directing Projects? Yes, plenty of ‘em. In fact, 15 films in total between them all. The most notable being “Hot Shots!” (1991; Abrahams), “Ghost” (yes, the 1990 Swayze/Moore supernatural weepie; Jerry Zucker) and “BASEketball” (1998; D. Zucker)
5. Lana & Andy Wachowski
Who Are They? The Chicago-born and bred siblings Lana and Andy Wachowski. They began writing comics (Marvel’s Razorline imprint, Epic Comics), broke into screenwriting with 1995’s Stallone/Banderas combo "Assassins" and would quickly change the entire game of sci-fi blockbuster cinema with a little film called “The Matrix.” Pretty incredible, considering the one film they had made before it “Bound” was a pretty standard (but pretty terrific) neo-noir thriller. They essentially made one of the biggest quantum leaps from small-scale to blockbuster filmmaking ever.
Best Film: Incontestably “The Matrix” for reasons that should be obvious. Not only was the film incredibly visually dazzling and entertaining, it brought some serious ahead-of-its-time concepts and weighty themes to the summer blockbuster. It influenced everyone, including the Christopher Nolans of the world aspiring to bring a mix of scope, entertainment value, and vision with intelligence and something to say.
Worst Film: A toss up between “Cloud Atlas” and “Speed Racer” (both are of which are beloved in some circles and the “Matrix” sequels were a bust too), but with a gun to our head it’s “Speed Racer” because as clunky as “Cloud Atlas” is, it has big ambitions, explores some serious universe-pondering questions and is a fairly engaging watch for a movie that’s three hours long. ‘Racer’ really only has (admittedly amazing) visual panache going for it.
Any Solo Directing Projects? Some writing and producing credits here and there, but no solo filmmaking gigs.
4. Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro
Who Are They? Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro’s co-directing creative partnership (Jeunet, a proper filmmaker, Caro, a cartoonist first) was short-lived, only lasting two films. But the duo made two highly stylish, influential and indelible works that blended fantasy, dark humor and steampunk (predating the use of the term by several years) into a unique Gallic flavor.
Best Film: There’s only two to chose from so their best would have to be their 1991 debut “Delicatessen,” which centers on the idiosyncratic cast of characters living in a dilapidated apartment building — in a post-apocalyptic/famine-starved world of course — and the despotic butcher who kills people in order to feed his tenants. It’s hilarious, thrilling, has visual inventiveness that’s off the charts and a decrepit and swollen approach to art direction that is to die for.
Worst Film: “Worst” would have to be “The City of Lost Children.” But with a score by Angelo Badalamenti, breathtaking cinematography by Darius Khondji and a stellar lead performance by Ron Perlman it is anything but “bad” and arguably on a par with their debut, if not as well received at the time.
Any Solo Directing Projects? Yes, they “broke up” after 1995 and all of Jeunet’s directing work after — "Alien Resurrection," "Amélie," "A Very Long Engagement," “Micmacs" and "The Young and Prodigious Spivet” — may be solo-credited, but they all bear the tone and style of the earlier works (though perhaps not quite as dark). Caro did work on “Alien Resurrection,” including storyboards and as a design supervisor. He also directed several shorts and TV movies before and during the Jeunet partnership (some animated, sci-fi and docs) and he made his feature-film solo directorial debut with "Dante 01" in 2008 that never received a U.S. release, but can be found on DVD for the curious.
3. The Coen Brothers
Who Are They? Two Jewish brothers who grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis creating a unique and askew cinematic worldview of deadpan humor, and in later years, a poignant, existential dread.
Best Film: Boy, that’s really impossible to call. “Raising Arizona” is kinetic comedy classic that’s utterly hilarious. “The Man Who Wasn’t There” and “No Country For Old Men” ushered in an era of sobering humanity (or a lack thereof), bleak examinations of mortality and the fatalistic idea we’re not always in control of our fate, often wrapped in opaquely breathtaking endings. "A Serious Man," "Inside Llewyn Davis" "Barton Fink" and "Miller’s Crossing" are also serious contenders for best film. Maybe one day they’re going to be looked at as the oddball Kubricks of their day; artists with a completely distinctive perspective that always delivered.
Worst Film: The remake of the Ealing comedy "The Ladykillers" is generally regarded as their worst, but “Burn After Reading” feels just as inconsequential, as does “Intolerable Cruelty.” The truth may be there is really no such thing as a bad Coen brothers movie per se, but those are certainly the most minor.
Any Solo Directing Projects? Ethan is uncredited on all the films up until 2004 when they earn a proper co-credit, but it’s understood they both direct. Ethan has also dipped his toe into solo playwright work, but they are mostly conjoined.
2. Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Who Are They? Darlings of the arthouse, social realist filmmaking brothers, the Dardennes have been writing, producing and directing together since starting out in documentaries in the late ‘70s. Often using non-professional actors in stories of striking naturalism set in their native Belgium, usually among the economically deprived lower classes, they’ve won the Palme d’Or twice and a Cannes Grand Prix. Yes, they pwn Cannes.
Best Film: A very tough call and we’re tempted to put in their most recent “Two Days, One Night” starring Marion Cotillard, if only because it’s freshest in our minds, playing this year’s Cannes. But it is a little atypical of their usual style, so maybe we’ll go with their Grand Prix winner, 2011’s “The Kid With A Bike” as the most exemplary of their affecting, unaffected, deceptively simple approach.
Worst Film: Again, hugely, hugely relative, and having not seen all their early documentaries, we can’t be totally definitive, but their first narrative film “Falsch” feels more like a tentative experiment in form (it’s the rather theatrical story of Holocaust victims gathering in what seems to be an airport but turns out to be the ante room of the afterlife/Death) and is absent their trademark naturalism and contemporary social commentary.
Any Solo Directing Projects? No, they only work together.
1. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
Who Are They? If you don’t know, we’re jealous because you have a world of amazing to discover. The so-called “Archers” after the name of their production company, are the sine qua non of filmmaking duos, boasting an unparalleled back catalog of stone cold classics (please check out our full retrospective here if you don’t believe us; it probably boasts more A grades than any we’ve done). The British Powell and the Hungarian émigré Pressburger met in 1939 and would collaborate on 24 films over the following decades. While they shared writer, director, and producer credits on each of their collaborations, they did split duties but in a strangely even fashion: Pressburger mostly came up with the story ideas, they’d both work up a script, Powell would do most of the on-set directing, while Pressburger handled producer duties, before stepping back in to collaborate on the edit and the soundtrack. Popular but not hugely celebrated at the time, their work was happily reevaluated, thanks to the tireless efforts of chief admirer Martin Scorsese, among others, prior to their deaths (Powell 1990; Pressburger 1988) and is such a touchpoint that we can only see it continue to grow in stature in the years to come.
Best Film: There are a lot to choose from, but “A Matter of Life and Death” is probably, objectively the easiest to label their best. Starring David Niven as an airman shot who’s shot down but due to a metaphysical mix up, remains alive and falls in love when he should be in the afterlife, it’s simply one of the most daringly original and romantic of love stories cinema has ever produced. And we’d also like to shout out its polar opposite within their canon: “Black Narcissus” a film about a slow, heavy, erotic madness setting in among a group of nuns in an isolated Himalayan convent.
Worst Film: Decidedly relative but of their proper, feature-length films, “The Elusive Pimpernel,” also starring David Niven is a very insubstantial romp that smacks of contractual obligation all round. But it’s still pretty watchable.
Any Solo Directing Projects? Michael Powell directed quite a few films without Pressburger of which the rather nasty “Peeping Tom” is the most celebrated, or some might say overrated. Pressburger has just the one solo directing credit: “Twice Upon a Time” a ‘Parent Trap’-esque family film from 1953 that really just proves how much better they were together than apart.
OK, that’s a wrap. Weigh in below and tell us what you think. – Jessica Kiang with Rodrigo Perez