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Directors of For Sama

Lulu Wang (The Farewell)
Ritesh Batra (Photograph)
Schmidt & Abrantes (Diamantino)
Wanuri Kahiu (Rafiki)
Jia Zhang-ke (Ash is Purest White)

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Best of '15: Co-Star Chemistry, the Great Intangible 

These are the 15 relationships that really crackled for us on screen this year with an electric snap... or familial/platonic warmth... or sexual combustibility... or tense reserve ... or  lived-in authenticity ...or any combo thereof depending on what the relationship called for. Kudos to the actors, directors, screenwriters, and casting directors who all obviously contributed to capture lightning in a bottle. The following examples of screen chemistry told us so much about the characters within the story and sometimes outside of it from long before the events of the movie or projecting out after the narrative. Do I find it troubling that the SAG and BFCA nominations for Best Ensemble avoided ALL of these films save Spotlight? Why, yes --- yes I do! Thanks for asking. 

Note: I opted not to include Carol in the list primarily because the obsession is too strong and every single relationship in the movie is fascinating (yes even Therese & Richard's! Even Harge & Abby who only get one scene together) and it wouldn't be fair to the other pictures with its web of relationships, new, old, soured, fresh, complicated and all superbly rendered. Joy, which is better than the initial response suggests, also has fine pockets of chemistry within a bustling cast (something David O. Russell excels at) but I couldn't settle on any one relationship.

The list is presented without commentary... but for what you have to say in the comments. 

15 Sylvester Stallone & Michael B Jordan in Creed (trainer/trainee and surrogate something)

14 more couplings after the jump...

14 Oscar Isaac & Domnhall Gleeson in Ex Machina (mad scientist / guinea pig)

13 Charlotte Rampling & Tom Courtenay in 45 Years (old marrieds)

12 Wagner Moura & Clemens Schick in Futuro Beach (lovers)

11 Matthias Schoenaerts & Carey Mulligan in Far From the Madding Crowd (employer / employee... and love interests. It's complicated)

10 Lily Tomlin & Sam Elliott in Grandma (exes)

09 Saoirse Ronan & Emory Cohen in Brooklyn (new lovers)

08 Christopher Abbott & Cynthia Nixon in James White (mother/son)

07 Michael Fassbender & Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs (co-workers)

06 The Spotlight Team in Spotlight (co-workers)

and five total 'how did they conjure that?' jaw droppers...

05 Charlize Theron & Tom Hardy in Mad Max Fury Road (nervous allies)

04 Brie Larson & Jacob Tremblay in Room (mother/son)

03 Laia Costa & Frederick Lau in Victoria (strangers whose chemistry forces the one night plot into action)

02 Kitana Kiki Rodriguez & Mya Taylor in Tangerine (best girlfriends)

01 Juliette Binoche & Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria (star/assistant)


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Reader Comments (34)

Completely agree on #1

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBensunce

This year was amazing for dynamic duos. I'd also add:

Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg (The End of the Tour)
Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)
Abraham Attah and Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation)
MIchael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson (Creed)

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSquasher88

Love the number 1. L O V E

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

but for their final scene, i'd have gone with blunt and del toro (beauty/beast)

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Superb list. Let's give it up though for John Boyega. He was so damn charismatic and his scenes with Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac were full of great chemistry.

I also thought for a fairy tale Disney, Lily James and Richard Madden had good chemistry as well in Cinderella.

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

Elizabeth Banks and John Cusack, LOVE & MERCY
Emily Blunt & Daniel Kaluuya, SICARIO

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

Beautiful list. You hit most of mine, though I'm surprised you didn't have Blanchett with either Mara or Paulson. I had totally forgotten the mentions of Futuro Beach, so I'm glad you mentioned it.

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

(Oops. Jumped right into the list.)

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

Pls do this list every year. Such a continually under-remarked attribute of any great actor is their ability to share themselves on the screen with other actors. Movie magic that's better than any special effect.

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCaroline

Caroline -- i so agree! which is why i did it... and why i continually whine about SAG's weird definition of ensemble. It should not mean "a movie i liked with actors i know" but "which group of actors really sold the movie and their in-movie relationships to me." acting as a unit!

December 21, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Your number one choice is everything

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterChris James


December 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Zitzelman

LOOOVE your top two.

Heresy, but for me, the most interesting chemistry in Steve Jobs was between Fassbender and the daughters in the first and second acts. A weird sort of fascination/repulsion. I also think that's where he did his best work.

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKate

This is a fantastic list. I would second BVR's pick of Elizabeth Banks and John Cusack, and Squasher's Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne. I did not like The Danish Girl, but they definitely had terrific chemistry.

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

The relationship between Rocky and Adonis gives me tears just by thinking about it. Love that movie!!! Im also a lifetime Rocky fan so I'm biased.

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJosh

Great list, but I have to mention Alex Jennings and Alex Jennings (inner self/outer self) and Alex Jennings and Maggie Smith (homeowner/squatter) in The Lady in the Van, and Cotillard/Fassbender (spouses) in Macbeth.

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Brie Larson and Amy Schumer in Trainwreck had a great natural chemistry

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRami

I'd add Amy Poehler and Phylis Smith. And maybe David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph W

Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke in "Mistress America."

"Sometimes I don't know if you're a zen master or a sociopath."

"I'm just normal."

Also, don't know if it counts, but the relationship between Arlo and Spot in "The Good Dinosaur" is beyond lovely. We have the voice actors and especially the animators to thank for that, who convey everything through minute facial expressions and body language.

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

I'd add Cate Blanchett & Robert Redford for their duo in TRUTH. There's such a clear bond between the characters right from the get-go and Blanchett and Redford sell it perfectly.

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

nice list but where is Eisenberg and Segal for THE END OF THE TOUR?!?!

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

Surprised you left off Blythe Danner and Sam Elliott in I'll See You in My Dreams. A lovely little duet. (Ditto Schumer and Larson in Trainwreck.)

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

No Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Groan? ;-)

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Good list I need to check out Futuro Beach

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

John Boyega and Daisy Ridley.

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

I found Futuro Beach to be totally passionless, but I must have missed something.

Great choices though! Got to give honourable mention to Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne in Spy - perfect sparring and power play

December 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoFo

I second Jonathan's mention of the Mistress America pairing and JoFo's mention of the Spy pairing.

Happy to see you recognize Creed. It seems like some people who haven't seen the film have a knee-jerk, disgusted response to the idea that Stallone could be nominated--but he's actually fantastic. I saw it with my family over Thanksgiving and am far from a huge Rocky fan, and I was completely won over.

December 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

I got so nervous when I scrolled down and down and Juliette Binoche & Kristen Stewart were not showing up. But they are even number 1!
And happy you included Victoria.

December 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterIvonne

I know there's no Carol chemistry here, but seriously, Blanchett and Paulson were my couple of the year. That scene, 'Tell me you know what you're doing', 'I never did'. I wanted to see their love story.

December 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKeegan

I'll second the votes for Greta and Lola in Mistress America and Schumer and Larson in Trainwreck.

December 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Great list! I probably would have put Sly and Michael B. higher up on this list, because their chemistry gave me goosebumps! This should be a blogathon; I love it!

December 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney

The bromance in "Ex Machina" did have a touch of homoerotic mental bondage

December 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Ivonne: me too! i was wondering why Kristen and Juliette didn't show up in the list till i found them #1!

December 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHav

i was wondering why Kristen and Juliette didn't show up in the list till i found them #1!

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