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Ranked: Our Favorite Directing Duos From Best To Worst

Features
by The Playlist Staff
June 12, 2014 4:03 PM
22 Comments
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This weekend, comedy sequel “22 Jump Street” hits theaters, on a wave of goodwill and giggly advance reviews (our own included). For once it seems the usually barren ground of the comedy sequel has yielded something decent, and that is cause for celebration indeed. But already now the question is starting to bubble to the surface: well, why are we surprised? What did we expect? Didn’t we know that the infallible genius directing team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller are behind it?

Over the course of just four films, from their why-on-earth-was-it-any-good animated debut “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” Lord & Miller have established themselves with a 100% hit rate at taking unappealing premises (a cartoon about raining hamburgers; a jokey rehash of a forgotten 80s TV show; a film based on, um, colored plastic bricks) and turning in fresh, inventive and genuinely funny takes. And one of the reasons for that, we have to believe, is that they’ve an (apparently strong and affable) partnership going on. Rather like the consular system that prevailed during the Roman Republic, two heads are better than one when it comes to making tough decisions about whether to execute someone or where to put the camera to maximize the goofiness of Channing Tatum’s expression. But then we thought, hey wait though, are two heads better than one? Or do too many cooks spoil the broth when it comes to directing duos and teams?

So we resolved to investigate, and these are the fruits of our labor, a ranking of every directing team we could think of from worst to best. Our rules were that the team had to have worked on an least two narrative feature films together and to have shared an official directing credit on both, but still the resulting ranking was hard to come by. After all, we’re comparing teams who’ve worked together for decades with ones who’ve done just two films; and should a team who’ve turned in two solid films and no duds be ranked higher or lower than a team who’ve made three classics and five stinkers? These are the quandaries that gnawed at us and that we settled using a highly scientific matrix based on rules of thumb approximations and gut feelings. Here then, worst to best, we give you directing teams: ranked.

32. Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer
Who Are They? Perhaps they see them as merry, irreverent pranks, where the rest of us (except their inexplicably loyal audience) see their films as a blight on the cinematic landscape, but this pair of… people, who met in college and wrote “Spy Hard” and “Scary Movie” together (relative genius) have gone on to maybe the most toe-curling directorial career in history, churning out limp, cheap, brainless spoof after limp, cheap, brainless spoof.
Best Film: How relative can we be? THEY ALL SUCK. I dunno. ”Date Movie”? Or “Vampires Suck” at least lampooned (lamely) a phenomenon we dislike, so maybe that? Oh god, have I just put “Vampires Suck” in a column headed by “best”? I need a shower
Worst Film: Again, since we can’t pick all of them, let’s go for “Meet The Spartans.” Or “Disaster Movie.” Or “Epic Movie.” Screw it, all of them.
Any Solo Directing Projects? It takes two people to muster up this much disdain for an audience’s intelligence, so no. Also, don’t put the idea into their heads that they could double their output. Shoot it before it lays eggs.

31. Greg & Colin Strause
Who Are They? High-profile VFX wizard brothers (everything from “Titanic” to “X-Men: Days OF Future Past”) turned low-profile directors of two critically assassinated features.
Best Film: AVPR: Aliens Vs. Predator - Requiem” ouch, yes, the even-worse sequel to the terrible “AVP: Alien Vs. Predator” with the even more cumbersome title, is their best directorial film.
Worst Film: Skyline” is their other directorial effort and we’re pretty sure it solely exists to make everyone involved with the similarly themed, piss-poor “Battle: Los Angeles” feel a lot better about themselves.
Any Solo Directing Projects? Nope. They’ve recently gone back to VFX work and that’s cool with us.

30. David Moreau & Xavier Palud
Who Are They? French writer/directors given the keys to a Hollywood remake on the basis of their French-language debut together.
Best Film: Them” is the debut in question (aka “Ils”) a low-key, minimalist horror that’s promisingly tense initially but fails to stick its landing.
Worst Film: The Eye” is the Jessica Alba-starring remake of the decent Pang Brothers’ Hong Kong horror “The Eye,” and it’s terrible.
Any Solo Directing Projects? With those two titles being the only ones they share, perhaps “The Eye” experience has soured the partnership. Both have solo piloted one French-language feature apiece since, a romantic comedy for Moreau and for Palud an action thriller from the Luc Besson stable. We’ve seen neither, but will happily state that both are miles better than “The Eye,” because we have seen “The Eye.”

29. Huck Botko & Andrew Gurland
Who Are They? Bad-taste, but occasionally on-the-mark mockumentarians whose two features together saw them heralded in some quarters as kind of next-gen Ferrell/McKay or Apatow-esque filmmakers.
Best Film: Mail Order Wife” was their first feature together and is a pretty lunatic, gonzo film, wildly uneven in a kind of sketch-show way, but occasionally very funny and often very cruel in its deconstruction of the practice of “buying” a relationship.
Worst Film: The Virginity Hit” was their bigger and more recent feature together, backed by the aforementioned Ferrell/McKay as producers, but significantly more toothless than their first, with the Youtube/social media/camera phone aesthetic feeling rather tiresome this time out — it’s a mockumentary that doesn’t fool anyone so why not just make it as a film?
Any Solo Directing Projects? Both do their own things too, but they have their groove: prior to this partnership Gurland directed “Frat House” with “The Hangover”‘s Todd Phillips and more recently Botko directed the ridiculously-premised “Bad Johnson” about a man whose penis takes human form (as Nick Thune).

28. Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg
Who Are They? Co-writers of all three ‘Harold & Kumar’ movies, Hurwitz & Schlossberg made their directing debut with the middle film in the trilogy and went on to the dizzying heights of the fourth “American Pie” installment.
Best Film: Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay” while a disappointment after the first installment, is still the better of their two titles to date.
Worst Film: American Reunion” isn’t terrible, but was not a film you felt anyone cared really cared about, possibly even the directors.
Any Solo Directing Projects? Not so far, with something titled “Cherries” listed on IMDB as their next joint directorial venture.

27. Josh Gordon & Will Speck
Who Are They? Comedy directing duo behind “Blades of Glory” and “The Switch” and also the short-lived “CavemenABC TV show.
Best Film: Blades of Glory” isn’t quite as funny as it should be, given its top-flight comedy cast, because while Amy Poehler and Will Arnett are tremendous in support, Will Ferrell feels like he’s going through the same motions again, and Jon Heder reveals the limitations of his comic persona. Still, as intermittently funny as Ferrell on ice should be.
Worst Film: The Switch” despite a fairly promising sperm-switch concept and cast in Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston, the film blurred into a few other similar projects at the same time, like “The Back-up Plan” and failed to, um, deliver.
Any Solo Directing Projects? Nope, these guys seem joined at the hip with even their TV and web show gigs being directed jointly.

25. Deborah Kaplan & Harry Elfont
Who Are They? Fellow NYU grads who write together more often than they direct and are behind the screenplays for some shockers in addition to their two directorial features: “The Flinstones in Viva Rock Vegas,” horrible Patrick Dempsey thing “Made of Honor” and horrible Amy Adams thing “Leap Year” among them.
Best Film: Josie and the Pussycats” is a film we have probably more time for than we should, but we find the female cast, especially Parker Posey, kinda irresistible.
Worst Film: Can’t Hardly Wait” was their debut, and is not far off ‘Pussycats’ in terms of its distinctly mid-level quality, so as a personal preference, probably indicating a dislike for its more sprawling, unfocused structure, we’re putting it second.
Any Solo Directing Projects? No and no more joint ones in the cards either. They seem to have worked solely as co-writers since the disappointment of ‘Pussycats’ in 2001.

24. Danny & Oxide Pang
Who Are They? Unforgettably named twin brothers from Hong Kong who specialize in horror and action genre films at home with infrequent trips to the U.S.
Best Film: We can’t pretend to have seen all of their Hong Kong titles, but of those we have seen, the original version of “The Eye” is a pretty good supernatural thriller that only loses its grip in its last reel.
Worst Film: The Eye 3” is pretty bad, but we have to call out their English-language Nic Cage-starring remake of their own “Bangkok Dangerous” for special notice. It’s Nic Cage phoning it in of course, but it’s not even fun Nic Cage phoning it in.
Any Solo Directing Projects? Recently they’ve ventured into solo directing projects in Hong Kong, but it looks like they’re sticking fairly close to the genre fare they’ve made their names in together.

23. Michael & Peter Spierig
Who Are They? A brother directing team with two shared features under their belts and one more, in the shape of Ethan Hawke-starring time-travel yarn “Predestination,” on the way, which we reviewed out of SXSW this year.
Best Film: It’s not saying a huge amount, but the also-Ethan-Hawke-starring “Daybreakers,” while somewhat lost in our memories amid the rash of vampire genre movies that plagued us a few years ago, is a solid B-movie that’s main flaw is its self-seriousness when it could be having more fun.
Worst Film: “Undead” was their debut, and while impressive for its gory effects on such a small budget, it doesn’t nail its comedy-horror tone quite well enough to come off as anything but derivative.
Any Solo Directing Projects? None as yet, and “Predestination” is still without a distribution deal.

22. Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor
Who Are They? Either the filmmaking devil incarnate or the fuck-you bastions of OTT WTF and occasionally wondrous gonzo genre experimentation. Perhaps surprisingly, we err a little more on the latter side.
Best Film: While this writer is among the few vocal admirers of “Crank 2: High Voltage” for its completely balls-to-the-wall nonsensical approach that incorporates 8-bit video sequences and moments where characters turn into giant rubber puppets, “Crank” is still the more satisfyingly ludicrous film overall, so we’ll go with that as being their magnum opus.
Worst Film: “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.” Even with our most apologetic apologism hat on, we can’t make any excuses for this pile of twaddle, which even the directors poked fun at recently. Also, they wrote “Jonah Hex.”
Any Solo Directing Projects? Mark Neveldine has gone off to do his own thing recently, exorcism horror “The Vatican Tapes,” which is due out next year and stars Dougray Scott and Djimon Hounsou.

21. Kurt Voss & Allison Anders
Who Are They? Three-time feature collaborators “Border Radio,” “Sugar Town” and “Strutter,” Voss and Anders work more apart than together, but reteam seemingly at roughly 12 year intervals of installments in their loose thematic trilogy.
Best Film: Tough call, as there’s not a lot to choose between “Sugar Town” “Border Radio” and “Strutter” (the latter got no U.S. release outside a couple of festivals) and they all feel like indie riffs in the Jarmusch-ian vein. We’ll take “Sugar Town” as it is slightly more polished and approachable, though it doesn’t have the energy that “Border Radio”’s punk milieu lends it, and “Strutter” is sweeter.
Worst Film: “Border Radio” then, but we’re throwing a dart.
Any Solo Directing Projects? Yes indeed. Anders made her solo debut after “Border Radio” with the terrific little indie “Gas Food Lodging” and went on to do offbeat female-centric gentle dramedies “Grace of my Heart” and “Mi Vida Loca.”Since then she’s mostly been involved in TV, directing four “Sex and the City” episodes, a few TV movies and some“Southland”s among other gigs. Voss meantime languishes in B-movie purgatory with a “Poison Ivy” sequel and “Below Utopia” with Alyssa Milano and Ice-T, among others, to his name.

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22 Comments

  • maustal | June 29, 2014 7:52 PMReply

    Great list! But no "Fargo" among the Coen's best?
    And the Maysles, where are they?
    :)

  • Ed | June 22, 2014 12:45 PMReply

    While the Quay Brothers may have made only two features, they have consistently produced high quality shorts, two recent of which I happen to be the Producer of, namely: "Through the Weeping Glass" and "Unmistaken Hands: Ex Voto F.H."

  • David Ehrenstein | June 18, 2014 2:28 PMReply

    Where are the Straubs?

  • Sanker from india | June 17, 2014 7:48 AMReply

    Oh yeah, I agree that the Maysles are INCREDIBLY important and need to be here!!! Salesman is one of Matt Zoller Seitz's 10 fav films of all time

  • Sanker from india | June 17, 2014 7:46 AMReply

    Amazing list! Even I was surprised to see the coens in 3rd spot, but the Dardennes and the Archers are worthy greats! A lot of people consider peeping tom to be a voyeurism classic and even on par with psycho. I don't want to judge you not liking it because I haven't caught it myself.

  • Christopher | June 15, 2014 7:13 PMReply

    "Clone High" isn't an example of a project that never made it passed the pilot stage...

  • Rich Corle | June 13, 2014 9:06 PMReply

    Powell and Pressburger are the clear #1. Good list.

  • Emma | June 13, 2014 10:39 PM

    Indeed (philistines, these cracker jacks).

  • HN | June 13, 2014 1:47 PMReply

    It is insulting to place Coen Brothers on this list among others - Coens are in another league.

  • cirkusfolk | June 13, 2014 12:21 PMReply

    What about the Polish Brothers? Like the Coens, they both write it, then one directs and the other produces.

  • Brett | June 12, 2014 7:15 PMReply

    The Maysles should be on this list and they should rank towards number one. The brothers Quay should be way higher as well. Seriously, the Farrely brothers beat them?

  • KMS | June 12, 2014 6:29 PMReply

    The Coen Brothers are #1, period.

  • David Ehrenstein | June 18, 2014 2:30 PM

    The Coens are #2 (if you catch my drift)

  • CR | June 12, 2014 6:27 PMReply

    Sprecher sisters.

  • XXX | June 12, 2014 6:11 PMReply

    What about the Soska sisters?

  • sagi | June 12, 2014 5:01 PMReply

    Christ...
    How the hell the coen brothers only in the third place?

  • Emma | June 12, 2014 4:52 PMReply

    One mistake. "The Kid with a Bike" was released in 2011 and not 2007.

  • Alison | June 12, 2014 4:57 PM

    Don't be a pedant. This place is bad enough as it is with commentors contributing f*cking nothing. Just write in already you twat.

  • Xian | June 12, 2014 4:33 PMReply

    You left off the Ford Brothers (Howard & Jonathan) who directed the terrific Romeroesque zombie movie "The Dead" which was set in, of call places, Africa... and had a largely African cast. Not a great masterpiece, but not a piece of crap by any means... its a highly competent, well directed/acted, technically adept zombie movie full of solid characters, tight suspense, and a modest amount of gore (also well done!). They're working, or have just finished up the sequel to the movie, to be set in India. If the first movie was crap, I doubt I'd be singing its praises here, and they're probably a filmmaking duo to watch.

  • Nathan Duke | June 12, 2014 4:24 PMReply

    The Dardennes Brothers are great, no doubt - but better than the Coen Brothers?

  • Joel and Ethan Coen | June 12, 2014 4:06 PMReply

    Friedberg and Seltzer are among your 32 favorite directing duos? Yuck.

  • Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne | June 12, 2014 4:16 PM

    They're on the tail end which means worst. Dumb Americans.

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