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  • Emma Greenleaf

5 Underrated Director/Actor Partnerships

Continuous partnerships between directors and actors can be a magical thing. Sometimes directors are inspired by a singular actor, their writing partner, or general muse. And in some cases, they overuse them and it becomes a real snooze fest. There’s the classic pairings that we’ve come to expect from certain directors: Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro (and now Leonardo DiCaprio), David O. Russell and Jennifer Lawrence (one of the pairings that got boring quickly), and Wes Anderson and basically every actor in every single one of his movies. But sometimes there are the directors and actors that work so well together for a few films, and then never again. Often, the directors in these scenarios bring out the absolute best in the actor and create that aforementioned magic. This list will examine those partnerships that maybe never flourished into a long-lasting thing, those that are just now blossoming into something promising, and those that are just plain underrated.

#1 Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart

Out of all the pairings on this list, this one is the newest and most promising. Despite having only worked together twice so far, it is clear that Assayas has found himself a new muse. Their first partnership, Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) was a beautiful look at an aging actress, played by Juliette Binoche. But the real star of the film is Stewart as Valentine. It took a lot of roles for Stewart to break away from Twilight, and this is the film that cemented her transition into a respected actor. Playing a role very close to herself, she perfects the naturalistic dialogue written by Assayas and elevates the whole film. In their next collaboration, Personal Shopper (2016), the setting is a bit less believable, but the down-to-earth character development is there and Stewart really shines. She takes the otherworldly storyline and makes it seem realistic. Stewart is undeniably at her best when she is playing herself, and Assayas has been the first director to take that chance and let her work her magic.

#2 Richard Linklater and Jack Black

This duo has only done two films together, but what they have done has just been excellent. Linklater has always been known for his fluid, intellectual style, and Jack Black for his crude humor. The two do not seem like a great match at first glance. But that’s what make them such a surprise, underrated hit. Their first film together, School of Rock (2003), is peak Jack Black. Linklater’s love of classic rock and Black’s ‘man-child with a heart of gold’ character meld together perfectly. Their second collaboration, Bernie (2011), told the true story of a man pushed to the edge. Jack Black does not have a huge range of dramatic roles in his filmography, but with this film he shows his capability and skill with roles that have some depth to them - all because Linklater decided to take a chance on him.

#3 Xavier Dolan and Suzanne Clément

When one thinks of Dolan’s films and the actors he works with, they might first think of him, as he typically opts to use himself in the starring role if he feels the content calls for it. Or maybe Anne Dorval, who has played the mothers and main characters in his films. One actress who has been in three of his films and been the emotional backbone of many, is Suzanne Clement. Having the side role of supportive teacher in his first film I Killed My Mother (2009), she serves as the level-headed, kind teacher in between the tumultuous relationship of Dolan and Dorval’s characters. She also plays a teacher of sorts to the hyperactive Steve in Mommy (2014). Her performance as Kyla, a woman who has experienced the tragic loss of a child, is believable and nuanced. The true range of her talent really shows in her second collaboration with Dolan, Laurence Anyways (2012). Although she is not the title character, she is just as important as Laurence and she carries the emotional weight of the film. With Dolan, Clements has shown such a vast amount of skill and ability, that she could never act in another thing and would still be held in very high regard as an actor.

#4 Kelly Reichardt and Michelle Williams

Kelly Reichardt’s style isn’t one that’s going to get huge reactions from audiences. Her films often getting mixed reviews from viewers. But both she and Michelle Williams are huge critical darlings. In their first work together, Wendy and Lucy (2008), Williams is the undisputed star. She had a long career leading up to this with successful and mainstream and indie roles. Her quiet grace and willingness to bare it all emotionally pair perfectly in all three of their collaborations. Meek’s Cutoff (2010) is another film that shows Williams’ subtle style which feels true to the real-life scenarios Reichardt chooses to show on screen. Their most recent and least life-or-death collaboration, Certain Women (2016), had Williams in one of the three shared lead roles and showcased her nuanced performance and ability to play a character the audience might not root for. Receiving an Oscar nomination for her work in this past year’s quite overrated Manchester by The Sea, which featured a fake Boston accent and four minutes of real screen time, her work in Certain Women was a much more accurate portrayal of the full range of Williams’ talent.

#5 Christopher Guest/ Parker Posey

Having the longest and most fruitful partnership of all on this list, Christopher Guest and Parker Posey have had many opportunities to showcase the great work they can create together. Introduced by Lorne Michaels (you know, the creator of Saturday Night Live), the pair had promise going in. Guest is one of those directors known for working with a tight group of actors. His is a distinct style that not many can handle, so he has good reason for returning to his old friends. And while he is open with his love of Posey as a character, she often gets pushed aside in discussions of his work for the bigger characters with more mainstream fame like Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Lynch, and the always iconic duo Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara. Posey has always had great roles in Guest films. Who hasn’t? But her work with his has been more of a slow burn, with a high point in Best in Show in 2000 (those braces). With a 10-year gap in between For Your Consideration (2006) and Mascots (2016), it might only be natural for an actor to be a bit rusty with the improv style. But not Posey. She returned with her best performance in a Guest film yet, as Cindi Babineaux, a.k.a Alvin the Armadillo. She brings surprising emotional depth to the character who gets the largest number of laughs in the whole film. And that is due in part to her as much as it is to Guest.

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