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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences should consider adding a category for Best Couple, now that 2012 has proven just how often certain performances would falter if not for the presence of an equally important supporting actor or actress. Could you imagine Ted without Mark Wahlberg? Or Bradley Cooper without Jennifer Lawrence in David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook? Unlikely. As we put a cap on the cinematic year, we wanted to go back and single out the duos who turned our heads with combustible on-screen chemistry. We admit to cheating in at least one selection, and we admit an over-reliance on the Hollywood “bromance.” But we think it’s a great list. Tell us, whom did we omit?
10. Ted and Mark Wahlberg, Ted
Grown men shouldn’t play with stuffed teddy bears. Unless that man is Mark Wahlberg, and the teddy bear happens to be voiced by Seth MacFarlane. The Funky Bunch leader was right at home playing a beer-swigging, pot-smoking South Boston slacker who can’t commit to his impossibly gorgeous girlfriend (Mila Kunis) because it might drive a wedge between he and his best friend, Ted. The “bromance” between man and bear was so well-received by audiences that MacFarlane and Wahlberg are confirming a sequel, promising it will be “sick.” So long as they can top the bone-crunching hotel fight scene, we’re on board.
9. Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, Moonrise Kingdom
Do you remember your first love? A series of letters shared by pen pals Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) kindle an endearing first love, sending the entire island community of New Penzance into a tizzy, in Wes Anderson’s whimsical film. It takes effort to slice through the trademark kitsch Anderson packs into his endeavors. Yet Gilman and Hayward connect so deeply as the outcast duo that their adventurous spirit and need to be together – at least for a few summer days – appears effortless. Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman plug into the rhythms of Anderson’s dialogue, helping Moonrise ranks as one of the director’s most-embraceable ensembles. But it’s the earnest, honest performances by Gilman and Hayward that rise above the fray, and make us want to dance on a deserted beach in celebration of young love.
8. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
There’s no bullshit between Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), no filter that normally separates on-screen couples in conventional Hollywood fare. From the moment they meet, when Pat uncomfortably asks Tiffany how her late husband passed, we know that they are going to bare their souls and speak their minds, even if it means hurting themselves or those around them. Lawrence and Cooper give career-best performances in David O. Russell’s alarmingly funny comedy of dysfunctions, hammering away at the unnecessary necessities society hides behind. Are they crazy for embracing such candor? Or are we the off-kilter ones, content to hide behind emotional lies? People have asked what will become of this imbalanced couple once the credits roll. I can’t say. But the time spent with them is priceless. I’d give them 5 points. I’m sure they’d cheer.
7. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Trintignant and Riva would be higher on this list if Michael Haneke’s Amour wasn’t such a difficult emotional sit. At the same time, Amour wouldn’t be nearly as effective and revered by critics and higher-brow audience members if Trintignant and Riva didn’t commit wholeheartedly to the tough march toward death we’re all going to face at some point in our tentative lives. The actors are relentlessly precise playing a dying woman (Riva) and the dedicated spouse dying to make her last days comfortable. We look at them and dream of possessing such strength and conviction in times of fear and uncertainty. Thank you, Haneke, for giving us what I translate to be an uplifting dénouement when one was least expected.
6. Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope von Schweetz, Wreck-it Ralph
It’s not a glitch: Wreck-it Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) formed one of the most emotionally uplifting connections on-screen, either in animated or live-action form. How, you might wonder, could a destructive villain and a bratty race-car driver touch our hearts without pushing our buttons (in typical Disney style)? Because director John Moore and his screenwriting team paint Ralph and Vanellope as misunderstood heroes trying to rewrite their narratives, and we root for their successes … even if it means the end of their respective games, as we know them. Ralph could have tumbled by overplaying any of the emotions at the core of the story. But the movie never wrecks it, and the story of Ralph and Vanellope is one we’ll happily hear over and over again.
5. Ezra Miller and Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Emma Watson is the water. Ezra Miller acts as the sunlight. And they are the nourishing forces needed to help Logan Lerman’s Wallflower grow. Chances are, you knew someone like Milelr and Watson’s characters in high school – social outcasts who were far more comfortable on the fringes of the “cool-kid” cliques, passing harmless judgments but hovering close enough to catch the emotionally damaged students before they fell too hard. Writer-director Stephen Chbosky might have colored a little bit too inside of the lines of the textbook cinematic teen “savior” templates, but thanks to Miller and Watson, Patrick and Sam always felt warm, recognizable and real. Somewhere, John Hughes is looking down at Perks, and smiling.
4. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, Hope Springs
Take note: Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones aren’t actually married. But anyone watching Hope Springs could be fooled into believing they were watching one of those off-screen couples agreeing to collaborate on a film, like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf or Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez in Jersey Girl. Playing a long-time married couple seeking assistance from a sympathetic counselor (Steve Carell), Streep and Jones dig into the warts and rough patches that plague any relationship, holding up a magnifying glass to the insecurities and fears many couples face after decades living under the same roof. They’re so in tune, we honestly believe they’ve been at it together for the bulk of their natural lives, instead of simply actors reading the words written for them on the page.
3. Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon Levitt, Looper
This one’s kind of a cheat, as Looper fans know Willis and Gordon-Levitt play the same character, just at different stages of his life. Time travel allows such on-screen trickery, sending older Joe (Willis) back to face young Joe (JGL) in a battle of wills – and brawn – that could define the fate of our planet’s future. No big deal, right? The diner scene writer-director Rian Johnson penned for his head-strong leading men, though, was a big deal, and one of the most memorable exchanges of 2012. These two actors didn’t get enough screen time together, but as that table talk proved, when they were able to share the spotlight, they made the most of it, and Looper managed to shine.
2. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena, End of Watch
Police officers don’t have partners. They have brothers and sisters. The bonds formed between cops are so formidable, officers often are willing to lay down their life if it means their “brother” or “sister” can spend another day on this earth, in the company of the loved ones they fight to serve and protect. As members of the L.A.P.D., Gyllenhaal and Pena forge an instant kinship marked by sarcastic jabs, loving compliments, and an unshakable trust. It aids them as director David Ayer plunges the duo into some horrific situations around Central Los Angeles. And its that bond that has us glued to the screen, hoping both make it safely to their End of Watch.
1. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Looking back at the list, the “bromance” appears to be a unifying factor to the couples chosen for 2012. But no two protagonists were quite as enamored with each others strengths, weaknesses, assets and detriments as Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) and Freddie Quell (Phoenix) in Paul Thomas Anderson’s arresting doctrine, The Master. But who studied whom? And which man needed the other more? We rarely knew for certain, as PTA often titled the prism and shifted the playing field beneath the feet of both men, forcing the audience – and the characters – to question what they thought they knew about the relationship being forged in the film. Hoffman and Phoenix are intensely passionate in Anderson’s drama, and scenes like their verbal confrontation in adjacent prison cells put them on the top of our list. We’d ride with these two on a slow boat to China any time.