Celebrate Ash Wednesday The Bruce Campbell Way: With 8 Great Actor / Director Partnerships
Most great partnerships aren't fifty-fifty splits. Michael Jordan was always better than Scottie Pippen, Bill Gates always more important than Paul Allen and ham blatantly more appealing than green eggs. Engels barely gets credit for writing The Communist Manifesto and Ralph Sampson could hardly keep up with Hakeem after his knees went. Look at Lennon and McCartney. There has perhaps never been a more perfect songwriting pair, and yet, nearly everyone secretly thinks one befitted a lot more from the other. But here's the thing, with the notable exception of green eggs and ham, every single one of those better half's was made greater because the other was in his life. It's like Paul Simon and Art Garunkel. Paul Simon is a genius. He made great albums without Garfunkel. Playing by himself, he commands some of the highest concert ticket prices in the industry, but nothing he ever does by himself will compare to the perfect harmonies the two put together. Garfunkel is the cherry on top of his Sunday, and no matter how many “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard's” he writes, they'll always be cherry-less.
As you may know, today is Ash Wednesday, easily the most Evil Dead-ish of all the Christian holidays. In order to celebrate, Cinema Blend has put together a litany of articles focusing on the horror classic. The film represents a lot of different things to fans, but for me, it's the embodiment of one of those timeless partnerships. Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell have made nine movies together. Both have proven they're more than capable of working on their own, but something feels right when they're together, even if it's just for a split second. They belong side by side because each has a knack the other could never get anywhere else.
So, because it's Ash Wednesday and because there's never a potential word play that slips past the Cinema Blend staff, here is a tribute to the director actor partnerships we can't get enough of. Raise your chainsaw arms and salute greatness with me.
Paul Thomas Anderson & John C. Reilly A partnership may usually be about winning together, but now and again, it can be about knowing when to step aside. John C. Reilly actually did that before production on There Will Be Blood. Despite having a role specifically written for him, the actor told his friend and boss only to cast him if there wasn't a better option. There was, Anderson chose it and his film was nominated for Best Picture. Bromance 1, selfishness 0. As for the roles Reilly has taken, he's proven brilliant in all three. There's a certain sadness behind his eyes. It doesn't fully develop in Boogie Nights, but Anderson's direction hits all the right painful grins in exploiting it for Magnolia. Jim Kurring is one of the more honest characters ever portrayed on film. He lost his gun. It makes him look like a fool, but he had to tell you. He told you he'd tell you, and now he's worried you won't like him anymore. We all still do.
Woody Allen & Diane Keaton Woody Allen has gone through a lot of muses over the years, but none which suited him quite as perfectly as Diane Keaton. With a dutiful smile and some strange fashion choices, she argues over everything from bugs to intelligence in a host of films from Love And Death to Manhattan to Annie Hall. There's just something about the way she responds to his neuroses that's timeless. Much has been made about the “Woody Allen character”, but not enough has been made about his perfect foil. No one will ever bounce off him quite as well. It takes a strong personality to counterbalance an elitist, talkative asshole, but both were ultimately better precisely because Keaton had the acting chops to hold her own. Hollywood doesn't have the same spunk when these two are apart.
Martin Scorsese & Robert DeNiro All apologies to Dicaprio, Keitel and Pesci, but the partnership Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro shared was perhaps more brilliant and influential than anything cinema has ever seen. During a twenty-two year period, they collaborated on eight films, seven of which are legitimately awesome, the other of which gave us the song “New York, New York”. Victory. Here's what makes it so special. Like the lazy smart kid who's suddenly had a fire set under his ass because some new genius sixth grader moved to town, both of these men are completely unwilling to give each other mediocrity. They respect each other too much. You can't settle or give a C- effort if you know the other guy is ripping every line drive into the left-center gap. If you do, you're gonna look horrid in comparison. Let's just give the rundown here: Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, New York, New York, Raging Bull, The King Of Comedy, Goodfellas, Cape Fear and Casino. Where's the weak spot apart from New York, New York? I know you're gonna say it. Don't even fucking say Cape Fear! Don't do it. That movie is positively frightening and you know it.
Wes Anderson & Bill Murray Owen Wilson may be the more consistent Anderson collaborator on paper, but through the director's skewed lens, Murray has found an entirely new career in quiet, angry comedy. Discounting his cameo in The Darjeeling Limited, the comedian has played an integral role in four Anderson films, and because of them, he's a more complete and diverse actor. Would he have even been cast in Lost In Translation had he not played detached to such utter perfect in Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums? It's very debatable, but even as he continues to expand his repertoire to films by such eccentrics as Jim Jarmusch, Murray remains fiercely supportive of Anderson. His voicework was wonderful in Fantastic Mr. Fox, and it's little stretch to assume he'll be steady as always in the director's upcoming Moonrise Kingdom. Don't think it's all one sided though either. Murray's association brought Anderson an audience and publicity while he was looking to capitalize on Bottle Rocket. Symbiosis at its best.
George Roy Hill & Paul Newman I almost broke my own rules and stuck Robert Redford here in some off-putting threeman partnership, but to do so would have meant ignoring Slap Shot, the greatest non-boxing sports movie ever made. I wouldn't have been able to sleep, and whether Robert Redford is pleased or not with this article seems a foolish concern. If he's got taste, he'll like it. If you've got taste, you probably worship both The Sting and Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. Nominated for a combined seventeen Oscars and still living it up on movie channel reruns almost daily, they represent the peak of both men's careers. Here's a little story to illustrate how much The Sting owns. I grew up in a super religious household. I didn't get to see an R-Rated movie until I was 15. When I was 7, my parents and I rented The Sting. Ratings were different back in the day, and you could get away with boobs in a PG movie. Out of nowhere, they showed up in all their feminine glory. My mother screamed and ran for the remote. My father stopped her and calmly said, “Never turn off The Sting mid watch. It deserves more respect than that.”
Ron Howard & Clint Howard Clint has shown up in seventeen of his more famous brother's directorial efforts, and the world is a better place because of it. Usually playing a ridiculous side character but occasionally stepping up for a more meaty and dramatic role, the two have perfected his placement through the years, always implementing him exactly when I feel like seeing him. Take Parenthood, an underrated movie perhaps a bit too prone to silliness that's still worth seeing. Ask yourself: would this film be worse if it didn't have Clint as an overbearing little league father repeatedly screaming “He had no business being out there! No business!”. Yes, it would. Everyone has their strengths, and for between three and seven minutes per Ron Howard film, Clint continues hitting home run after home run. He's like a game of Where's Waldo at this point, though unlike that stripped douche bag, the balding actor has never caused me anxiety or grief.
Judd Apatow & Seth Rogen Anyone who watched Freaks And Geeks during its initial run through may not have seen much potential in Seth Rogen, at least initially. His character was mostly filled with one note sarcasm, but Apatow saw enough to give him a fully developed story arc late in the season. After performing admirably, the director continued with him in Undeclared, which got him a bit part in Anchorman, which got him a bigger part in The 40 Year Old Virgin, which got him the lead in Knocked-Up. Early on, there wasn't a whole lot of partnership going on between these two. Apatow was the man in charge who gave Rogen opportunity after opportunity, but as those came, Rogen took advantage of every single one, until eventually, the two really became partners. It's an interesting power balance, but one that has served each very well the last few years. Of all the Apatow players (except first lady Leslie Mann), Rogen by far has the most equal footing. He is now a star in his own right, but that hasn't stopped the pair from continuing to reinvent comedy, one heartwarming second at a time.
Christopher Nolan & Michael Caine Christian Bale and Leonard Dicaprio may have combined to be the centerpieces for the last four Christopher Nolan films, but it's Michael Caine's calming brilliance that centers the chaos. In all four of those films, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight and Inception, he's been inserted perfectly to stem the rising tide. Take his Alfred, so subtle, yet forceful or his magical engineer in The Prestige, so wise, yet mostly detached. These characters may say things like “obsession is a young man's game”, but even nearing eighty, his devotion to the craft is unmatched. Christopher Nolan needs that anchor, just as much as Caine needs that push the director's scripts give him. These two will soon join forces again for The Dark Knight Rises. With any luck, we'll get at least one more sliver of brilliance after.
Keep right on celebrating Ash Wednesday the Bruce Campbell way, right here on Cinema Blend. Look for more Ash Wednesday fun coming throughout the day right here.
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