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13 of the Best Frequent Collaborators in Film

13 of the Best Frequent Collaborators in Film

Jonathan Teplitzky’s “The Railway Man” stars Colin Firth as a British officer who, as a young man, was captured by the Japanese during WWII and forced to work on the Thai-Burma Railway as a POW. Years later with the help of his wife, played by Nicole Kidman, he decides to confront one of his captors. “The Railway Man” marks the second recent collaboration between Firth and Kidman, the other being the thriller “Before I Go to Sleep,” which will be released next month. (The pair would have had a third meet up on the film “Paddington,” but Firth recently dropped out as the voice of the titular bear.) Obviously Firth and Kidman aren’t the only frequent collaborators in the film business: There are many duos who decide to work together just because something clicks and movie magic happens. Here are our favorite frequent collaborators in film. Let us know your favorites in the comments.

[ Editor’s Note: This post is presented in partnership with Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand in support of 
Indie Film Month. Today’s pick is “The Railway Man” starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman,”]

Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio

Before there was Leo, there was Bobby. Martin Scorsese has had his fair share of muses over the years, but unlike many of his peers, his main two have both been men (Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, Alfred Hitchcock, and even Michael Bay draw inspiration from the opposite sex). After creating a few of auteur cinema’s masterpieces in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s with Robert De Niro, Marty moved on to Leo with mixed success. For every “Wolf of Wall Street” and “Departed,” there’s a “Shudder,” er, “Shutter Island” and “The Aviator.” Okay, nothing is as derivatively manipulative as “Shutter Island,” but the high points of films like “The Aviator” and “Gangs of New York” came strictly from the performances, creating an argument for Leo being the one benefitting more from this partnership. However, even if he’s getting more out of the deal, audiences won’t be complaining. An .800 batting average is more than good enough for us.

Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz

It’s hard to envision a Pedro Almodovar movie (at least a later one) without thinking of Penelope Cruz. Beginning with the romantic drama “Live Flesh,” their collaboration has also brought about acclaimed films such as “All About My Mother,” “Volver” (Cruz received her first Oscar-nomination for her role in the film) and “Broken Embraces.” The director, most known for his over-the-top, flamboyant and often bizarre films, has often said that he saved the actress, who is almost 25 years his junior, from Hollywood. It makes sense, especially when considering how after winning an Oscar for the Woody Allen drama “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” Cruz was quick to thank Almodovar in her speech for being a major figure in her career. 

Woody Allen and Scarlett Johansson 

From Diane Keaton to Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest and now Emma Stone, Woody Allen is unquestionably the king of frequent collaborations. Time and time again, the 78-year-old Oscar-winner and his trusted casting director Juliet Taylor find a resourceful muse whose personality they can exploit for the writer-director’s many singular characters. Just as Annie Hall is an extension of Keaton’s bohemian assurance, so too is Helen Sinclair a subversion of Wiest’s gentle kindness. And what is Sophie Baker other than the wide-eyed spunk of Emma Stone personified? Allen’s ability to dress his characters in the actress’ persona is what makes his collaborations so rewarding, and his work with Scarlett Johansson is without a doubt the best team-up in his most recent era of filmmaking. In movies such as “Match Point” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” Allen has Johansson playing some version of the spontaneous, passionate seductress, which sounds like effortless work given her bombshell looks. And yet, Allen takes what is often a one-note supporting character archetype and moves it into the spotlight, allowing Johansson to drive the plot in surprising ways and deconstruct those stunning looks of hers with emotional richness. By clothing sex appeal in sympathetic complexity, Allen notches another winning collaboration and Johansson shows her scorching talents for mature drama.

Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin

With four Academy Awards, Catherine Martin is the most Oscar-awarded Australian in history. All four of those Oscars are for work on the films of her husband, Baz Luhrmann, whose elaborately stylized work would probably be very different were it not for the costume, set and production design done by his wife. The duo met in college at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney and first worked together on Luhrmann’s one-act stage precurser to “Strictly Ballroom.” Martin then recreated her stage designs for the film version of “Strictly Ballroom,” the first in Luhrmann’s “Red Curtain Trilogy” which also includes “Romeo + Juliet” and “Moulin Rouge!” In 2002, the pair took their working relationship back to the stage where Martin designed Luhrmann’s production of the opera “La Boheme.” While the match-up between Martin and Luhrmann allows for some of the most gorgeous design and lush environments in cinema, Martin is clearly the one reaping all of the rewards for their collaborative work. And we’re kind of fine with that. 

Sofia Coppola and Kirsten Dunst

Sofia Coppola became a serious force to watch after she released her first feature film “The Virgin Suicides,” an adaptation of the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides. While the sleepy drama was undoubtedly a hit, it also marked the beginning of the collaboration between Coppola and Kirsten Dunst, the clear standout in the film. Dunst would later appear in Coppola’s lavish “Marie Antoinette” and even has a small role in the director’s latest film “The Bling Ring.” It’s difficult to imagine these two not working together again in the future. Perhaps in Coppola’s upcoming “The Little Mermaid” adaptation? 

Wes Anderson and Bill Murray

Murray has appeared in every single Anderson film (except for “Bottle Rocket,” which was Anderson’s first feature film). And Murray has proven, time and time again over the course of his career, that he prefers to work with the same group of people for as long as possible. Before teaming up with Anderson, he spent three seasons on “Saturday Night Live” and then, for more than a decade, he collaborated with Harold Ramis on such iconic films as “Caddyshack,” “Ghostbusters” and “Groundhog Day.” Although many people mourn the collapse of his partnership with Ramis, without Anderson Murray would not have been able to ascend to the beloved cult status that he currently occupies (with great pleasure). Unlike the films Murray made with Ramis during the eighties and the early part of the nineties, which mostly relied on situational humor accentuated by intense, absurd moments, Anderson combines Murray’s absurd, often self-deprecating form of humor with meticulous, surreal settings and story lines, effectively grounding the films and their characters in reality; perhaps not our specific reality, but a reality nonetheless.

James Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock 

They may be the oldest collaborators on this list, but their work together is timeless. Although Hitchcock was more known for contentious relationships with his leading ladies and producers, such as David O. Selznick, his healthy friendship with James Stewart produced “Rope,” “Rear Window” and “Vertigo,” the latter two of which are considered two of the greatest movies ever made. The key to this successful partnership is Hitchcock’s knack for the slow burn: Be it the indelible cat-and-mouse surveillance of Madeleine through San Francisco or the entirety of “Rear Window,” the Master of Suspense earns his nickname by topping a gradual increase of atmospheric tension with an unforgettable climax. But the slow burn is nothing without a relatable character to make the pacing engaging and the shock effective. Unlike dashing contemporaries such as Cary Grant, Stewart had an everyman appeal and a trademark drawl that sounded more like an inquisitive grandfather than a debonair gentleman. Wisely, Hitchcock used Stewart’s skills to make professional photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies and retired detective John “Scottie” Ferguson approachable and empathetic guides into his labyrinth of dread. The more Stewart’s likability crashes into Hitchcock’s twistedness, the more the director scares the living crap out of his audience. More than any leading man, Stewart was the best flame to Hitchcock’s slow burning lighter.

Paul Thomas Anderson and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Of the first time he saw the actor on screen, in “Scent of a Woman,” Anderson said, “I remember sitting in the theater and seeing that movie and falling in love with Phil Hoffman, like fuck, whoever this guy is I gotta have him.” It wasn’t long before Anderson and Hoffman were working together. They partnered up for roles both big and small, flamboyant and controlled: Hoffman appeared in “Hard Eight,” “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” “Punch Drunk Love” and “The Master” — all but one of Anderson’s movies. Anderson is known not only as an actor’s director, letting his players display their range of talents, but also for his desire to write roles for actors to do things they may never have otherwise gotten to do. From contemporary middle-class pimp in “Punch Drunk Love” to the heart-wrenching nurse of “Magnolia,” Anderson gave Hoffman all he could ask for in their work together.

David O. Russell and Jennifer Lawrence

However you may feel about David O. Russell’s last two films, the darkish rom-com “Silver Linings Playbook” and the fast-paced crime drama “American Hustle,” most can agree that Jennifer Lawrence is no doubt the best thing about both of them. The director is undoubtedly an actor’s director who is great with his cast, but in these two films Lawrence brings to life two highly complex, heartbreaking, but often hilarious characters. The collaboration is clearly one that’s working, as Lawrence is set to lead O. Russell’s next film “Joy.”

Nicole Holofcener and Catherine Keener

Keener has appeared in all five of the features Holofcener has directed: “Walking and Talking,” “Lovely and Amazing,” “Friends with Money,” “Please Give” and most recently “Enough Said.” When “Walking and Talking” came out in 1996, both Holofcener and Keener were both just starting out. Although it wasn’t their first time working on a  film — having grown up in Hollywood, Holofcener spent time working on the sets of Woody Allen films, while Keener, on the other hand, managed to garner a nomination for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Female as the female lead opposite Brad Pitt in the 1991 film “Johnny Suede” with very little experience — “Walking and Talking” is, for the most part, a cautious movie. But since then, Holofcener and Keener have consistently demonstrated a keen interest in taking risks with their narrative — a trend that can most likely be attributed to the fact that they were able to establish a baseline together, upon which they could then refer to and expand upon.

Joel and Ethan Coen and Frances McDormand

In 1984, Joel Coen directed his first film, co-written with brother Ethan. This was “Blood Simple,” and it starred a rookie actress named Frances McDormand making her on-screen debut. Also in 1984, Joel Coen and McDormand married, and ever since she has been a fixture in Coen Brothers movies, highlighted by her Academy Award win for “Fargo.” It is true serendipity that two talents who would go on to such universal acclaim connected at the joint launching of their careers. Since “Blood Simple” and in addition to “Fargo,” McDormand has also appeared in “Burn After Reading,” “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” “Miller’s Crossing,” “Raising Arizona” and provided voice-over in “Barton Fink.”

Derek Cianfrance and Ryan Gosling

After initial recognition for his 1998 debut “Brother Tied,” it wasn’t until 2010 before Cianfrance returned to the narrative arena. In the first two films since that hiatus, “Blue Valentine” and “The Place Beyond the Pines,” Cianfrance has cast indie star Ryan Gosling, who has come a long way from “The Mickey Mouse Club.” Wildly different films in terms of form, but both written and directed by Cianfrance, these movies also put Gosling into very different roles. In the former, he completes an arc as a character, he ages and grows bitter and the star embodies the intoxicatingly toxic nature of the principle relationship. In the latter, his progression is cut off halfway into the movie, ending with the optimistic if troubled look only Gosling has perfected. Funny enough, it was somewhere in between these two films that Gosling became a superstar. But that didn’t matter; his second partnership with Cianfrance yielded a film at least as powerful as the first.

Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender

Earlier this year, “12 Years a Slave” took home Best Picture at the Oscars and earned nominations for its director McQueen and Fassbender in a supporting role as a vile plantation owner. While this was the pinnacle of popular appreciation for the duo, it was far from their first pairing. In 2008, Fassbender won the leading role in McQueen’s debut picture “Hunger,” which not only foreshadowed McQueen’s directorial knack for visceral grit, but also provided a launching pad for Fassbender to become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. In between, the duo made the wildly undervalued “Shame,” written and directed by McQueen and starring Fassbender. A deliberately melancholy film, “Shame” casts its star as an upper-middle class sex addict whose condition is making life increasingly difficult, to the point where he becomes a danger to himself. Fassbender gives possibly 2011’s performance of the year in that movie, and with their newfound “12 Years a Slave” success, the two are certainly likely to maintain their professional and personal relationship for years to come. 

Casey Cipriani, Eric Eidelstein, Brandon Latham, Zack Sharf and Shipra Gupta contributed to this list.
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