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18 Beautiful Examples of Co-Star Chemistry in 2018

Year in review list mania each day. Here's Nathaniel...

This is our fourth year of highlighting that unpredictable spark between actors that can elevate a movie whether the movie is able to catch up or not (see previously installments for '15'16 and '17, if you're so inclined).  If only we could bottle these formulas but the thing about great chemistry is that it can't ever be fully recreated even if old movies during the studio system teach us that the same pairing can at least generate similar energy again. Why Hollywood doesn't still try to repackage successful combos of actors (rather than just all the brand do-overs) remains an unsolved mystery 

Herewith the most beautifully realized relationship energy of the year...

18 [TIE] Ben Foster & Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace 
AND Josh Hamilton & Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade (Single Father/Teenage Daughter)
There's a lot to recommend in both films, two sleeper arthouse successes this year, but neither film would have the same emotional resonance without that authenticity of feeling in the central duet. Marvel at the way Hamilton looks at or speaks to Fisher, for example, perpetually impatient to be let in on her interior life, but also nervous about intruding on her journey and walling her off yet further. Equally impressive is the difficult balancing act McKenzie plays as both dutiful daughter and emotional caretaker for her troubled father, as she grows ever more restless to escape him without losing him. What a quartet of performances...

17 Chloe Moretz, Sasha Lane, and Forrest Goodluck, The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Misery Loves Company)
There's power in unity, especially for oppressed people. Cameron Post is a bit uneven but at its core it's quite truthful about the way queer young people form immediate bonds with their own while they await adult escape from their needlessly small lives and homophobia-ridden circumstances.

16 Regina King & Colman Domingo, If Beale Street Could Talk (Parents)
Their scenes are never about their marriage but watch how both actors imbue everything with the cushioning strength of this longtime love. #COUPLEGOALS

15 Hilary Swank & Michael Shannon, What They Had (Estranged Siblings)
Relatable. They nailed the odd dichotomy of being both totally comfortable and uncomfortable with someone at the same exact time, shared history as bonding agent.

14 Raul Castillo & Evan Rosado, We the Animals (Father & Son)
Please seek this Indie Spirit nominated treasure out. You won't be sorry you did.

12 [TIE] Nicole Kidman & Lucas Hedges, Boy Erased
AND Julia Roberts & Lucas Hedges, Ben is Back (Mother & Son)
On the evidence of these two relationships, both quite moving however flawed the movies around them, as well as his breakout in Manchester by the Sea, Lucas Hedges should continue exploring the complicated bonds between troubled sons and their loving but sometimes clueless chief parent/guardian who isn't quite sure how to guide them into adulthood. At least as long as said parent/guardian is an Oscar-winning actor. Hedges just turned 22 so he's only got a couple more years left to explore this. DO A FEW MORE QUICK! 

11 Anna Kendrick & Blake Lively, A Simple Favor (Odd Couple Friendship)
They couldn't be more perfectly cast and their odd couple alliance and very different screen energy powers this hugely enjoyable genre-hopping film.

10 Jorge Lendeborg Jr, Nick Robinson, Alexandra Shipp, and Katharine Langford in Love Simon (High School Clique)
The physical ease and emotional resonance of this quartet is the unsung foundation of this movie's success. They lay all the blueprints down for every slight, romantic aspiration, awkward secret, and each disruption to their group dynamic that the plot throws at them. Their tight movie-movie routine at the beginning of the film as they drive to school with their signature drinks, makes the romcom's epilogue that much swoonier; a quartet becomes a quintet without skipping a beat. 

09 Viola, Elizabeth, Cynthia, and Michelle in Widows (Gig Economy Co-Workers)
Sometimes ensemble chemistry isn't about actors clicking-in to each other's groove, but about dramatizing the ways in which they only reluctantly will do so, bringing uncomfortable frictions and suspicious alliances into the room with each other. 

08 Ryan Gosling & Claire Foy, First Man (Husband & Wife)
I'd argue that this is the year's most successfully dramatized screen marriage, but people didn't seem to want them from a biopic about the space program. Their loss! These two pack an emotional wallop when they're paired.

07 Charlize Theron & Mackenzie Davis, Tully (???)
If you haven't yet seen this we don't want to spoil this enigmatic relationship for you. We've been calling it the year's most underrated and misunderstood movie for months now, and the Oscar worthy screenplay by Diablo Cody and these two complicated performances make that so.


05 [TIE] Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, and Olivia Colman, The Favourite AND Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, and Alessandro Nivola, Disobedience (Triangular Passions)
On the evidence of these two superb pictures, Rachel Weisz should forever more star in tetchy triangular movies in which longtime relationships are disrupted by volatile new situations and the inevitable shifts in feeling that come with time.


04 Tomasz Kot & Joanna Kulig, Cold War (Lovers) 
Cold War's years-spanning stacatto romantic tragedy lives or dies by the sexual chemistry between the lovers. Kot and Kulig more than provide. You can feel the merciless undertow of their passion informing and affecting every bad decision, compromise, and separation. And that mid-film sex scene is a true scorcher because of it.

03 Principal Cast in The Shoplifters (Makeshift Family) 
Have we convinced you to see this gorgeous new classic yet? Japan's Oscar finalist and Palme d'Or winner is in movie theaters right now in multiple cities - GO SEE IT. We've written or spoken about the emotional power of this makeshift family of five in podcast, interview, and performance rave form before.

02 Melissa McCarthy & Richard E Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Drinking Buddies)
You should really read former TFE contributor Manuel Betancourt's beautiful take on the neccessity of queer friendships in art over at Electric Literature

01 Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga, A Star is Born (Mutual Muses)
Chemistry can make the difference between a story being a well-received movie or a cinematic event. That's especially true in romantic dramas (see Titanic, Doctor Zhivago, Funny Girl, Moulin Rouge! etcetera). Oh sure, "Shallow" generates electricity all its own but A Star is Born as a full movie soars or crashes depending on the chemistry of the leads and Cooper and Gaga have it in spades. For this we might even thank Cooper's guiding hand behind the camera in addition to his partnering in front of it... a dynamic that is mirrored with true, well, dynamism onscreen in the story of Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) and his discovery Ally (Lady Gaga). Her career lifts off into new realms but in one of the new version's (of an old tale) best tweaks, the rock star's brother makes us privvy to the melancholy knowledge that her talent is also reenlivening his own if not enough to save him; he hasn't played this well in years. 

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Reader Comments (31)

Brady Jandreau and Lane Scott in The Rider. But was it acting?

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterken s.

Great list!!

I would just add:
(1) Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen in Green Book and
(2) Brady and the horse in The Rider

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRod

Toni Collette & Alex Wolff in Hereditary, Natalie Portman & Oscar Isaac in Annihilation

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterchoog

I would add Zoe Renee and Kelvin Harrison Jr in "Jinn"

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKJ

Collin and Miles in Blindspotting.

The bumbling group of would-be leaders in The Death Of Stalin.

Joe and the Hammer in You Were Never Really Here (why not).

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMe

Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce in The Wife. They really felt like a long-married couple.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterken s.

Totally forgot to write them down ^^^

In this age of intense campaign fraud, they should have pushed Pryce in supporting. I presume they see him as the lead he is, and I assume that the lead category is why he's never been mentioned. He gives one of the best performances of the year. In supporting I'd imagine he'd give a boost to Close's chance of winning, and I think he'd win.

I liked the film a lot but the flashbacks hurt the film a lot. Even so, I'd like to watch again. Maybe I can call him supporting haha.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMe

I’m so letdown Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant weren’t #1. That’s one for the ages.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

wow! did Nathaniel write this? if so, shocked to see Moretz listed!

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered Commenteranonny

Pryce has been campaigned as supporting in The Wife.

I totally agree with your 1-3 here. Excellent choices!

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Well then that's pretty shocking. He's clearly lead and should be close to an easy win in the supporting category.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMe

The mother, father and son in Custody;

The principal actor of The Rider and all the horses;

Glenn and Jonathan in The Wife;

Yalitzia and Cuarón family in ROMA;

Dumbledore and Newt / Credence and Nagini / Newt and Leta / Teseus and Leta / Teseus and Newt in Fantastic Beasts 2;

Henry Cavill and Angela Bassett in M: I Fallout.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJon

Don't forget:

1. Yoo Ah-in & Jun Jong-seo & Steven Yeun, Burning
2. Eva Melander & Eero Milonoff, Border
3. Reilly & Phoenix & Gyllenhaal & Ahmed, The Sisters Brothers
4. Principal Cast, Game Night
5. Jeff Bridges & Cynethia Erivo, Bad Times at the El Royale

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLilie

I know it’s voice work and a sequel, but John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman play off each other so well in Ralph Breaks the Internet. I’m not sure if they recorded together for the original, but they did for this one and their dynamic is truly what makes the movie work

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

I am glad you're in peace with Hilary Swank again.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Love Simon?!?’ Fuck no! What an embarrassing pick. Nathaniel, you should know better.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMike

I still havent watched A Star is Born because of how unrealistic it feels in this day and age. Guitar music is largely dead and lets be frank, popstars just arent a thing anymore. Lady Gaga isn’t even anywhere near the big deal she used to be. And well the age of the uber talented/genius musician making it big is...its not over per se but nobody cares about songbirds anymore. The whole thing just kinda depresses me tbh, how mechanical it all is now in some ways. Business based. Music is a buyers market now. Sigh. Plus it kinda seems like Brad was like “I want an Oscar and idgaf what it’s in, Ill take art design idgaf.”

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterkris01

Where I think A Star is Born is great, and both Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga gave very good performances, I can't say I bought their chemistry. They seemed in two different worlds when love was in the air, and their chemistry only seemed real when they were at odds. My boyfriend found it killed the second half of the movie for him.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher Kryaninko

Another Game Night vote.

The clever Sharon Horgan and the not-so-bright Billy Magnussen make a great team.
Watching them get to know and appreciate each other is a treat.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered Commenteradri

I'm not in love with the movie, but Gaga and Cooper's chemistry is undeniable.

Love that final shot of First Man. The ending is so sharp and dry, almost European.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Sandra bullock and a blindfold ,the most sensitive restrained performance she has ever committed to screen. Can it not be bullock , close , Colman , Collette and Kidman as ba nominess this year , I’d argue it might be the best line up in many a year ... one can hope

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGizmo

• Carey Mulligan/Jake Gyllenhaal/Ed Oxenbould, WILDLIFE (family)

• Kathryn Hahn/Paul Giamatti, PRIVATE LIFE (spouses)

• Olivia Cooke/Anya Taylor-Joy, THOROUGHBREDS (odd couple friendship)

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMrScreenAddict

"I still havent watched A Star is Born because of how unrealistic it feels in this day and age. Guitar music is largely dead and lets be frank, popstars just arent a thing anymore. Lady Gaga isn’t even anywhere near the big deal she used to be. And well the age of the uber talented/genius musician making it big is...its not over per se but nobody cares about songbirds anymore. The whole thing just kinda depresses me tbh, how mechanical it all is now in some ways. Business based. Music is a buyers market now. Sigh."

It's true. The state of mainstream music is depressing. There's still plenty of good indie guitar music but its near impossible to breakthrough to the mainstream playing it.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJackie

Great list Nathaniel. Love your #1!

December 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

This is a fantastic list. I might quibble with a couple and I haven't seen a few, but there is just so much awesome here. Your Lively/Kendrick and Weisz trio picks are inspired.

A few pairs/group I would've probably added would be Blanchett/Bullock in OCEANS 8, Lily James and her friends/paramour in MAMMA MIA 2, Daveed Diggs/Rafael Casal in BLINDSPOTTING, and Kiersey Clemons/Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons/Sasha Lane in HEARTS BEAT LOUD.

December 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

McCarthy and Grant #1 for me. Bullock and Blanchett should be on the list.

December 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAM

Kris & Jackie -- hmmm. not sure what world you guys are living in but guitar playing country-tinged rock stars are still selling out stadium shows constantly (even if they aren't hip in the larger media... but then country tinged rock stars rarely were).

Also since when are pop stars dead? You never hear the end of it if Beyonce or Lady Gaga so much as breathe. Madonna still breaks records every time she tours even if radio won't play her anymore. Rihanna, Beiber, The Weeknd, Taylor Swift, and on and on and on and on are hit factories. P!nk is still going strong. the list goes on and on. And there's new hitmakers every year as there always have been: Camila Cabello and Dua Lipa anyone?

December 22, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Your number one is wrong.

December 22, 2018 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Nice to see that you still surprise with your pick for number 1 - wouldn't have thought it would be your choice - but so fare I do agree - though i haven't seen all films yet - sweet to include "Love Simon" here I enjoyed it just because of THAT special chemistry ... can't wait now to see "Cold War" & "Can You Ever..."

December 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMartin

Gaga/Cooper could be our next Stone/Gosling!

December 23, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy


December 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

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