reunited and it feels so good

Scorsese and Leo, Russell and J. Law: Evaluating the Director-Actor Oscar-Race Reunions

Photo: Universal Pictures; Mary Cybulski/Paramount Pictures; JoJo Whilden/Weinstein Company

It is fun to work with friends, which is presumably why Hollywood directors cast their favorite actors in movies again and again and again. This fall/winter Oscar season has been a particularly fruitful one for director-actor pairs: You have Leo and Scorsese (Wolf of Wall Street), Fassbender and McQueen (12 Years a Slave), David O. Russell and everyone in American Hustle. But how effective are these repeat pairings? Are they new and exciting ideas from collaborators who bring out the best in each other? Or are they … the same movie you saw last time? A role-by-role analysis, below.

Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
The role: The terrifyingly brutal slave owner, Edwin Epps
Previous collaborations: Hunger, Shame
How different is it from their last projects? Fassbender excels at finding the whiff of soul in seemingly soulless characters — usually with McQueen’s help — but 12 Years a Slave is new territory for even him. He’s also not the main focus of the film; it’s less of a character study, and more of a horrifying commitment to evil.
Should they keep working together? Yes. McQueen gets the best out of Fassbender (even if it’s a scary best).

Ridley Scott and Michael Fassbender, The Counselor
The role: The titular Counselor, who gets mixed up with a bonkers drug deal
Previous collaborations: Prometheus
How different is it from their last project? Well, Fassbender is a human in this one.
Should they keep working together? No, because Ridley Scott should go make more movies about uncompromising women (in space or Arizona). He is great at those.

Ridley Scott and Brad Pitt, The Counselor
The role: A womanizing cowboy named Westray
Previous collaborations: Thelma and Louise
How different is it from their last project? Brad Pitt looks older? And has a hat.
Should they keep working together? Why not? The Brad Pitt Supporting-Actor Era is glorious; put him in everything.

David O. Russell and Amy Adams, American Hustle
The role: Conwoman Sydney Prosser, a.k.a. Lady Edith Greensly. She seduces Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and — if you’re counting the one bathroom kiss — Jennifer Lawrence
Previous collaborations: The Fighter
How different is it from their last project? Same kooky accents and down-on-their-luck feel. But Adams was the straight woman (or as straight as you get, in a Russell movie) in The Fighter, and here she’s pulling all kind of wackadoo stunts. In curlers, too. Amy Adams looks great in curlers.
Should they keep working together? David O. Russell watched Enchanted and thought, “Hey, there is a really sexy and slightly angry woman that I’d like to put in all my films.” She owes him forever. Yes.

David O. Russell and Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
The role: Rosalyn, the drunk, hysterical wife of Christian Bale. She may or may not cause a few problems in the con
Previous collaborations: Silver Linings Playbook
How different is it from their last project? Again, same zany Russell feel, and Lawrence gets a lot of her trademark zingers, plus crying. She does not hold back. But Lawrence is playing even older this time — she’s a mom in Hustle — and against people who were mostly born in the seventies, at least. It begins to feel like she’s playing dress-up.
Should they keep working together? Sure, but maybe she should do three or four movies with someone else, first. (Mostly taken care of.)

David O. Russell and Christian Bale, American Hustle
The role: Irving Rosenfeld, the brains (sort of) behind the ABSCAM con. Also, the guy with the comb-over
Previous collaborations: The Fighter
How different is it from their last project? Bale goes from desperate drug addict to sleazy, entirely charismatic ringleader. It is a totally different performance.
Should they keep working together? Yes. Bale is great in this, and he won an Oscar for The Fighter. This is a combination that works.

David O. Russell and Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
The role: Ambitious but kinda stupid Richie DiMaso, the FBI agent who dreams of taking down every corrupt congressman in America
Previous collaborations: Silver Linings Playbook
How different is it from their last project? There is no mental illness here, but Cooper’s DiMaso has similar sides to Silver Lining’s Pat: angry, full of thwarted ambition, devoted to a moral code that no one else seems to acknowledge, and prone to dance sequences. The perm is new, though.
Should they keep working together? Cooper is fantastic in American Hustle — maybe the best of the bunch. But he can only play this role once or twice more before it becomes grating. He should mix it up, probably.

Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
The role: Jordan Belfort, a lowly guy from the Bronx just trying to prove himself (with very illegal business practices and strippers and mountains of cocaine)
Previous collaborations: Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island
How different is it from their last projects? It’s funny. Specifically, Leonardo DiCaprio is funny. It turns out that he’s a gifted physical comedian.
Should they keep working together: If Leo gets to be funny, then yes. 100 percent.

Peter Berg and Taylor Kitsch, Lone Survivor
The role: Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, part of a SEAL team whose cover is exposed during a mission in Afghanistan
Previous collaborations: Battleship, Friday Night Lights
How different is it from their last project? There are no aliens, like in Battleship. But Kitsch is doing a particularly Riggins-y thing here, with his easy masculinity (and shirtlessness).
Should they keep working together? On, say, a Friday Night Lights movie? Don’t ask Taylor Kitsch about that. He is tired of talking about that.

The Coen brothers and John Goodman, Inside Llewyn Davis
The role:
Cranky, patronizing heroin-addicted jazz musician Roland Turner, who gives Llewyn a ride to Chicago
Previous collaborations: Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?
How different is it from their last projects? The movie is more muted than most Coen Bros projects, but Goodman plays the Coen-iest character, a blustery buffoon whom you could most easily plop into any of their other films without provoking any cognitive dissonance.
Should they keep working together? They should, and they will! This is Goodman’s sixth film with the brothers, and there’s no end in sight.

UPDATE: This post has been clarified to note that it is just including the fall/winter batch of Oscar bait. Hence the omission of The Great Gatsby (DiCaprio/Luhrmann) and Only God Forgives (Gosling/Refn).

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