Romantic Movie Couples of the Year: 2013
It was a great year for romantic couples on-screen, actually, but when looking at the best movie duos of 2013, it seemed unfair to limit it to Love with a Capital L. Many of the most memorable pairs in movie history are platonic, or sorta-platonic, or adoring of each other in every possible way but physically. So here’s our salute to the best two-person teams of the 2013 movie year, from hot-headed cops to devoted social workers to a terrifying woman and her singular love for a yellow convertible.
Amy Adams and Christian Bale in American Hustle
“Aw god, I loved gettin’ to know ya!” That’s Irving Rosenfeld’s (Bale) cry of despair when he thinks his new girlfriend Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) has walked out on him after learning he’s a con man. He’s not remotely prepared for what happens next: Sydney strolls back in, all Continental charm, and introduces herself as “Lady Edith Greensly,” the well-connected (and completely fictional) woman who will take their cons to the next level. Sydney is a few steps of Irving throughout American Hustle, setting her sights for a while on Bradley Cooper’s Richie and keeping Irving at arm’s length, but they’re too simpatico to ever truly part. With Bale masked behind a comb-over and Adams baring (nearly) all in flashy dresses, they could have been a mismatched pair of movie stars playing dress-up. But in a movie that coasts considerably on chemistry, Irving and Sydney are the surprisingly romantic heart in the middle of the big, long con.
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
We have fallen in love with Celine and Jesse over the course of their romantic conversations, first on the streets of Vienna in Before Sunrise and then during a reunion in Paris in Before Sunset. In their third film together, we meet them in new circumstances entirely: a fight. Some of Before Midnight takes the structure of the previous films, the two of them wandering scenic streets of Southern Greece, but the meatiest section of the film happens in a generic hotel room, as Celine and Jesse dig up old wounds, obsessively recount past slights, and struggle against the violent tide of an illogical but fierce argument. They were already one of the most beloved couples in the last few decades of film, but Before Midnight makes them new again, their hurts and frustrations turning the fantasy of their early romance into aching, terrifying lifelong commitment.
Adele Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, Blue is the Warmest Color
Maybe it was like being war buddies. Exarchopoulos and Seydoux have been so frank about the brutal working conditions behind Blue is the Warmest Color that it’s hard not to see their onscreen connection as a kind of survival skill, relying on each other to get through each day of shooting. The explicit sex scenes between them have earned much of the attention, but the most intimate moments are conversations, two young women still figuring out their places in the world and leaning hard on each other to get there. It’s rare to see love this powerful and sometimes terrifying, and rarer still to see it between two women. For all the controversies about the film’s depiction of lesbian sex, Blue is the Warmest Color is still one of the best depictions of fierce young love—gay, straight, or otherwise—we’ve ever seen onscreen.
Cameron Diaz and the convertible, The Counselor
Oh, the courtship between these two. She sat in the passenger seat with a man (Javier Bardem) who suddenly seemed like nothing compared to that glistening, smooth windshield. She locked eyes with the rearview mirror and knew the windshield felt it too—that their union, so brief but so electric, was imminent. What could Bardem’s Reiner do but watch in awe, as the woman—her relevant parts described as “one of those bottom feeders you seeing going up the way of the aquarium, sucking its way up the glass”—and windshield became one. What can any of us know except that we, with our lack of leopard tattoos and admirable flexibility, will never have what Cameron and the yellow convertible knew that night? Who among us will ever be the same in the shadow of this screen romance, so brief, so powerful, so gynecologically unforgettable?
Olivia Wilde & Jake Johnson, Drinking Buddies
Kate and Luke are tight-knit co-workers at a Chicago brewery. They flirt and tease each other, but in their quieter moments it’s clear they matter to each other a lot. The trick is not just that each is in a relationship with someone else but that each is afraid to speak the truth about how they feel. Writer-director Joe Swanberg’s improvisational style gives Wilde and Johnson room to move, and his script declines to punish Kate and Luke for their illicit flirtation—at least, not in the expected ways. The final scene unfolds in silence, recalling everything we’ve learned in the previous 90 minutes to show why their friendship means so much; Wilde and Johnson do an amazing job of inhabiting that line between intimacy and real romance.
Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner, Frances Ha
“We’re the same person with different hair,” Frances (Gerwig) tells people about her best friend and roommate Sophie (Sumner), with whom she shares moments familiar from any falling-in-love montage—intimate conversations in bed, giggly dates in the park, leaning on each other on a long subway ride. The fact that Frances Ha starts at the end of this tight relationship does not make them any less wonderful a pair; Frances’s inability to deal when Sophie gets more serious with her boyfriend creates an awkward rift between them, and though much of Frances Ha is about Frances understanding herself, the changes in her relationship to Sophie put the entire film’s journey into perspective. Frances and Sophie are the kind of best friends we all want in our lives, but their dissolution is the reality—how friendships can change so much in the process of growing up, but continue to mean everything.
Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, The Heat
More than decade after Miss Congeniality and its sequel, Sandra Bullock probably shouldn’t have had anything new to add to a story about an uptight F.B.I. agent out of her depth. But the X factor in The Heat is Melissa McCarthy, a Boston cop who’s complete pain in the ass in a completely different way than Bullock’s Sarah Ashburn. Director Paul Feig commits to making both women exceptionally difficult, which makes their inevitable friendship that much more satisfying, and Bullock and McCarthy riff off each other spectacularly; we know from her career that Bullock likes to get loosey-goosey, but it’s remarkable how well her vibe contrasts with McCarthy’s brash, physically aggressive style. Everyone involved has said there’s no Heat sequel planned, but it’s hard to imagine Bullock and McCarthy not reuniting—like Crosby and Hope or Lewis and Martin, they’re a duo we’d watch over and over again happily.
Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson, Her
The icky possibilities were endless in a story about a man who falls in love with an operating system—what guy doesn’t want a woman who does all your chores and never gets fat, right, fellas? But it’s not just Spike Jonze’s careful, clever writing and directing that makes Theodore and Samantha’s romance feel so authentic; it’s Phoenix and Johansson, who were never even in the same room together, working separately to create humans (or human-like OS’s) slowly connecting across the digital void. Johansson’s smoky, earthy voice is exactly right for Samantha to feel as real to us as she does to Theodore, while Phoenix is just odd enough for us to believe that he’d fall for his computer, but not so strange we can’t imagine doing it ourselves. Without physicality between them, Theodore and Samantha connect through conversations that feel oddly familiar from human relationships. Maybe even better than what we have, really.
Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr., Short Term 12
Being a young couple is hard; being a young couple getting used to living together is harder; being a young couple hiding their relationship from their coworkers is harder still. But Grace and Mason are, on top of everything, supervisors at a short-term facility for teenagers in foster care, a place where there’s a padded room to handle meltdowns and elaborate lockdown procedures in case of a fight or an escape. Grace and Mason are not the selfless rocks we might expect from people devoted to this kind of work—survivors of the foster system themselves, they are guarded and skittish, and work hard to support each other even through emotions the other can’t understand. But Short Term 12, an incredibly generous and caring movie, celebrates Grace and Mason for the effort they make. It’s not enough to just try to be good to each other, but at least it’s a start.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
The tour-de-force scene in a movie full of great ones starts as the kind of night two delinquent high-school buddies might have planned for themselves: Jordan (DiCaprio) and Donnie (Jonah Hill) have gotten their hands on some high-quality Quaaludes, and they’ve planned the whole evening around taking them together. The drug trip goes hilariously, spectacularly wrong, but it’s just a sliver of the bad behavior Jordan and Donnie bring out in each other. Jordan is the more charismatic schemer, but Donnie is more ruthless and sometimes terrifying; Jordan rallies the troops at Stratton Oakmont with inspirational speeches, while Donnie enforces morale by eating a live goldfish in the middle of the trading floor. They’re the perfect team, and in their own weird way a great pair of friends—who else would you want behind you when you’re crashing your 147-foot yacht?
Katey Rich — VANITY FAIR