vulture lists

15 Greatest Actor-Director Pairs

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, featuring Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, opens this weekend, and it marks for us another chapter in an extremely fruitful collaboration between two remarkable kindred spirits — Burton the brooding artist and Depp the movie star desperate to stay true to his inner freakishness. It got us thinking about other iconic collaborations between noted directors and favorite actors, collaborations that enhance both the filmmaker and the performer, and which stand as bodies of work in and of themselves. (We also added a couple of repeated pairings that, for all their frequency, will leave the opposite of a legacy.) Needless to say, there were a lot to choose from, so we’ve restricted ourselves to collaborators who’ve worked together in the last 25 years (sorry, Hitchcock and Stewart!) and English-language movies (sorry, Toshiro, Akira, Marcello, Federico, et al). We know we’ve missed a few, so please post your choices below.

COLLABORATIONS: Seven (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, The Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland) TRADEMARK: Tormented characters who are good eggs under all the psychological baggage. Like a lobotomized matinee idol (in the best possible way), Depp is the pretty boy who makes Burton’s twisted visions so compellingly watchable. HIGH POINT: Edward Scissorhands LOW POINT: The Corpse Bride — Johnny Depp is pretty much useless as just a voice. STATUS: Coming to thousands of movie screens this weekend with Alice in Wonderland.
COLLABORATIONS: Three (Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, True Lies) TRADEMARK: Perfect specimens of masculinity rendered vulnerable, often by females and/or liquid robots from the future. HIGH POINT: Terminator 2: Judgment Day LOW POINT: True Lies STATUS: Schwarzenegger, as you may know, abandoned movies for politics. And while they’re reportedly still friends, one wonders what Cameron thought of Schwarzenegger’s very visible role in the 2004 presidential election, the outcome of which prompted the Canadian Cameron to revoke his application for U.S. citizenship.
COLLABORATIONS: Eight (Mean Streets; Taxi Driver; New York, New York; Raging Bull;King of Comedy; Goodfellas; Cape Fear; Casino) TRADEMARK: Unhinged characters barely holding it together — DeNiro is the taut wire on which Scorsese hangs his vision of America as a tribe where violence rules all. HIGH POINT: We’re not gonna choose between Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. LOW POINT: New York, New York. DeNiro as a romantic lead. Blame it on the cocaine. STATUS: Scorsese has found a new muse in Leo DiCaprio, while DeNiro decided he wanted to see what it was like to work for such noted stylists as Jay Roach and Tom Dey.
COLLABORATIONS: Four (Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island) TRADEMARK: Violence crossed with innocence. Unlike DeNiro’s work for Scorsese, DiCaprio’s characters display a wide-eyed pluck and verve that must remind the director of all the classic Hollywood movies that he loves. HIGH POINT: The Departed LOW POINT: Let’s be clear about this: Gangs of New York is a great movie, but Scorsese didn’t seem to quite know what to do with Leo at first. STATUS: Still going, especially in the wake of Shutter Island’s box-office success.
COLLABORATIONS: Thirteen (A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her Sisters, Radio Days, September, Another Woman, New York Stories, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Alice, Shadows and Fog, Husbands and Wives) TRADEMARK: The cute nebbish. Although half the time Allen himself was romancing Farrow onscreen, she was in many senses the most perfect distillation of his own onscreen persona — clumsy yet adorable, confused yet whip-smart, well-meaning yet unaware of the damage she/he did to others. HIGH POINT: Take your pick between The Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Husbands and Wives. LOW POINT: September. STATUS: Definitely dead, thanks to the worst breakup ever.
COLLABORATIONS: Six (Out of Sight, Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve, Ocean’s Thirteen, Solaris, The Good German) TRADEMARK: Smooth criminals. Clooney is the slick operator who stands above the fray, with an occasional romantic indulgence to bring him back down to earth. HIGH POINT: Out of Sight LOW POINT: Solaris STATUS: Still going; the two have also partnered up as producers. If this partnership can survive Solaris, it can survive anything.
COLLABORATIONS: Three (O Brother Where Art Thou, Intolerable Cruelty, Burn After Reading) TRADEMARK: All-American cynics who realize they actually care about the world. The Coens mix a bit of Clooney’s Soderberghian slipperiness with a dose of old-fashioned, and only somewhat ironic, Capra-esque earnestness. HIGH POINT: Intolerable Cruelty LOW POINT: Burn After Reading STATUS: Probably still viable, despite less-than-stellar box-office returns for their last two outings. The Coens can use Clooney’s star power.
COLLABORATIONS: Four (Meatballs, Stripes, Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters 2) TRADEMARK: Wisecracking horndog loser makes good, though not before getting slimed. HIGH POINT: Stripes LOW POINT: Ghostbusters 2 STATUS: Recently resuscitated, with reports of a third Ghostbusters movie. But Murray doesn’t sound too excited about it.
COLLABORATIONS: Four (Crimson Tide, Man on Fire, Déjà vu, Taking of Pelham 123) TRADEMARK: Good, upstanding men who must navigate a world governed by senselessness, alluringly shot, and choppily edited violence. HIGH POINT: Crimson Tide LOW POINT: Man on Fire STATUS: Still going, for some reason.
COLLABORATIONS: Four (Mo Better Blues, Malcolm X, He Got Game, Inside Man) TRADEMARK: Men broken down by the uncaring world around them, and who must find a way to overcome and redeem themselves. HIGH POINT: Malcolm X LOW POINT: He Got Game — one of Washington’s better performances, but one of Lee’s most uneven films. STATUS: Still going. The two are reportedly working on Inside Man 2.
COLLABORATIONS: Five (Gladiator, A Good Year, American Gangster, Body of Lies, Robin Hood) TRADEMARK: Powerful men who begin to question the world around them, then fight back with their newfound vision. And/or make wine. HIGH POINT: Gladiator LOW POINT: A Good Year. Seriously, what the hell was that? STATUS: Still going, which is amazing, given the rumors of tension between them on the Gladiator set.
COLLABORATIONS: Four (Splash, Apollo 13, The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons) TRADEMARK: A good man is faced with a situation that tests all his beliefs — whether through a hot mermaid, a tragedy in space, or evil Catholics. HIGH POINT: Apollo 13 LOW POINT: The Da Vinci Code STATUS: Probably still going, though Howard hasn’t yet confirmed that he’ll direct the third Dan Brown–Robert Langdon book.
COLLABORATIONS: Four (Matewan, City of Hope, Lone Star, Silver City) TRADEMARK: All-American charisma turned poisonous. In Sayles’s films, Cooper has gone from being the conscience of American populism in Matewan to a dim, corrupt, Dubya-like politician manipulating the electorate for his own ends in Silver City. HIGH POINT: Matewan LOW POINT: Silver City STATUS: Reportedly working on a new film together. Cooper and Sayles have been collaborating since both of their early days, so this will hopefully last.
COLLABORATIONS: Three (Trading Places, Coming to America, Beverly Hills Cop 3) TRADEMARK: A wise-cracking but lovable spirit struggles against class, racism, and ineptitude through charm and excellent impersonation skills. HIGH POINT: Trading Places LOW POINT: Beverly Hills Cop 3 STATUS: We’ll let Landis explain this one: “The guy [Murphy] on Trading Places was young and full of energy and curious and funny and fresh and great. The guy on Coming to America was the pig of the world — the most unpleasant, arrogant, bullshit entourage … just an asshole.” Amazingly, they did actually work together again after that (on Cop III), but it’s safe to say it ain’t happening again.
COLLABORATIONS: Five (Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, Grown Ups) TRADEMARK: Lovable dimwit is suddenly faced with responsibility, has to do a lot of growing up really fast. HIGH POINT: Happy Gilmore — still the quintessential Sandler performance. LOW POINT: I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry STATUS: Still going, though maybe Grown Ups will kill it dead.
15 Greatest Actor-Director Pairs