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Who Are the Best Director-Actor Duos Working in Movies Today? — Critics Survey

"Personal Shopper" cements Kristen Stewart and Olivier Assayas as one of the most exciting combos in film, but are they the best?

Kristen Stewart and Olivier Assayas

Shutterstock / Denis Makarenko

Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)

This week’s question: In honor of “Personal Shopper,” which finds Olivier Assayas re-teaming with his “Clouds of Sils Maria” star Kristen Stewart, who is the best director / actor duo in the movies today?

Mark Harris (@markharrisnyc), Vulture and Film Comment

Every time Matthew Broderick shows up in a movie directed by Kenneth Lonergan, I smile. It might seem an odd choice given that Lonergan has directed just three movies (“You Can Count on Me,” “Margaret,” and “Manchester by the Sea”) in 17 years, and also given that Broderick has played only supporting roles in those films. But Lonergan understands Broderick so well — his haplessness, his beleaguered, flawed decency, his hope against hope for orderliness, his gentleness, his dejection.

Theirs is a long friendship, and a collaboration that also extends to New York theater (in which Broderick beautifully carried the whole of Lonergan’s 2009 play “The Starry Messenger”). But on screen, it fits my definition of an ideal director-actor collaboration in that you can’t really tell which one benefits the most. I would watch anything they do together, and I dream of a cable series.

Charles Bramesco (@intothecrevasse) Freelance for Vox, the Guardian, Vulture

You need no longer wait for me to name a more iconic duo — it’s a deadlocked tie between Tilda Swinton and Luca Guadagnino, Tilda Swinton and Jim Jarmusch, Tilda Swinton and Bong Joon-ho, Tilda Swinton and the Coen brothers, Tilda Swinton and Wes Anderson, and Tilda Swinton and Tilda Swinton. There will be no further discussion.


Matt Prigge (@mattprigge), Metro US

I still feel this title belongs to Arnaud Desplechin and Mathieu Amalric.

Tomris Laffly (@TomiLaffly), Film Journal International, Film School Rejects

Ava DuVernay / David Oyelowo

Martin Scorsese / Leonardo DiCaprio

Paul Feig / Melissa McCarthy

Todd Haynes / Julianne Moore

READ MORE: How Kristen Stewart And Olivier Assayas Bring The Dead Back To Life In “Personal Shopper”

Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker

There are many actors doing excellent work with the same director over several films, but there’s an easy measure for the very highest levels of collaboration — changing the history of the cinema — and suddenly the subject is clarified to its sharpest outlines. The most recently forged such collaboration didn’t last very long — Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig; the other crucial one hasn’t stayed together consistently, the creative triangle of Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman (with another triangle close behind: that of James Gray, Joaquin Phoenix, and Paul Thomas Anderson) — so let’s stick with joint ventures that have a longer span.

I’m thinking of two: Jia Zhangke and Zhao Tao, and Leos Carax and Denis Lavant. Jia and Zhao invented a symbolic realism that opened a generation of Chinese cinema, and opened it to the world, with an aesthetic originality comparable to that of Abbas Kiarostami’s films. Carax and Lavant have ventured so far ahead of the rest of French cinema that no one can even try to keep up; they’re in a land apart. If I had to choose, I’d say Jia and Zhao — they press onward against official resistance; they’ve spawned a movement that’s as revelatory historically as artistically; their films break out of the framework of fiction; and their work together is ongoing.

“A Touch of Sin”

Jordan Hoffman (@JHoffman), The Guardian, VanityFair.com

With five collaborations now between them, the clear answer is Terrence Malick and Emmanuel Lubezki.

The camera is a character. Don’t @ me.

David Ehrlich (@davidehrlich), IndieWire

I respect that this is a very difficult question with any number of good answers, but the correct one might just have to be Wong Kar-Wai and Tony Leung. It’s not just how Leung’s placid veneer makes him a perfect vessel for Wong’s singularly internal approach, or that the actor’s face says more with a flat stare than almost anyone else’s does with 100 pages of dialogue, it’s also the sheer duration of the work they’ve done together. From “Days of Being Wild” to “The Grandmaster,” Leung and Wong have — over the course of three decades — together attuned nearly a century of Hong Kong history to their unique wavelength; they even went into the decreasingly less distant future with “2046.” They could adapt a URL into a visually hypnotic masterpiece, and I kind of wish they would try.

Anyway, let’s see what Sofia Coppola/Kirsten Dunst and Paul Thomas Anderson/Daniel Day-Lewis have to say about this by the end of the year.

Christopher Campbell (@thefilmcynic), Nonfics and Film School Rejects

Jeff Nichols and Michael Shannon. Though Jeff Nichols and Joel Edgerton are coming up close behind in second place. And no, I wouldn’t just say that about Jeff Nichols and anybody. These two pairs, and really the three guys all together, are exclusively magical.

Question: What is the best film currently playing in theaters?

Answer: “Personal Shopper.”

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