What with the recent release of Shutter Island, featuring the fourth collaboration between filmmaker Martin Scorsese and his muse Leonardo DiCaprio, and this week's Alice in Wonderland, marking the fifth teaming of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, a lot of movie geeks, including New York Mag's Vulture, are thinking of the most fruitful director/star couplings. Under the eye of a certain filmmaker, an actor can show all of his facets. Similarly, sometimes a director can see things in an actor that the performer didn't know he had.
Vulture considered only the last 25 years, so Alfred Hitchcock was out of the running in its top 15. Hitchcock liked to say that when he cast the ideal man, he tapped Cary Grant (Notorious, To Catch a Thief, North by Northwest) and when he needed an Everyman, he called upon Jimmy Stewart (Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo). Likewise, the comically unstable chemistry between Woody Allen and Diane Keaton (Annie Hall, Love and Death, Manhattan, Manhattan Murder Mystery) did not fit the time restrictions. Limiting the contest to pairings post-1990, also excludes Howard Hawks and Grant (Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, I Was a Male War Bride, Monkey Business) the legendary John Ford/Henry Fonda team (Young Mr. Lincoln, The Grapes of Wrath, My Darling Clementine, Ford Apache) and, or course, the dynamic John Ford/John Wayne duo (Stagecoach, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Ford Apache, The Quiet Man, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance). And then there's the case of D.W. Griffith and Lillian Gish, whose credits are too voluminous to cite.)
Would Clint Eastwood enjoy his iconic status had he not worked repeatdly with Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly)? Ditto Eastwood's work with Don Siegel? (Coogan's Bluff, Two Mules for Sister Sara, The Beguiled, Dirty Harry)? It is fair to say the the screen union of Vincente Minnelli and Judy Garland (Meet Me in St. Louis, The Clock, The Pirate) fixed both of their places in the Hollywood firmament. And you may disagree, but I don't think any director uses Paul Rudd more effectively than Amy Heckerling (Clueless, I Could Never Be Your Woman). Or is it that Rudd feels secure to give her performances that he doesn't give Judd Apatow? And good golly, I haven't even mentioned George Cukor/Katharine Hepburn, Akira Kurosawa/Toshiro Mifune, Francois Truffaut/Jean-Pierre Leaud, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder/Hanna Schygulla.
If there were an Oscar for best American director/star teams, my nominations would be Spike Lee and Denzel Washington (Mo' Better Blues, Malcolm X, He Got Game), Howard Hawks and Cary Grant, Nancy Meyers and Diane Keaton (this is tricky, because Meyers is screenwriter only on some of these titles: Baby Boom, Father of the Bride, Something's Gotta Give), Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood, Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart and Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, New York, New York, Raging Bull, King of Comedy, GoodFellas, Cape Fear and Casino).