With the release of the Wachowski siblings’ latest, Jupiter Ascending, the time seems right to re-examine those sibling partnerships which have yielded some of the finest works of cinema in recent (and not so recent) years.
15. The Hughes Brothers
When Boyz in the Hood was released in 1991, its director, John Singleton, made history as both the first black director nominated for an Oscar, as well as the youngest ever person recognised in that category. However, Menace II Society, the directorial debut of twin brothers Albert and Allen Hughes, was an even darker and more downbeat depiction of life in the hoods of South Central Los Angeles.
The Hughes brothers’ films carry an uncomfortable low-level intensity, infused with the feeling that violence may explode at any moment. That is true in their underrated follow-up to Menace II Society, Dead Presidents, a Vietnam-era film from the perspective of a black soldier, rather underrepresented in cinema. Since then, their output has been more genre-orientated, with the Alan Moore adaptation, From Hell, and the Denzel Washington-starring dystopian action film, The Book of Eli.
14. Martin and John Michael McDonagh
Though it remains to be seen whether either, or both, will sustain a long-term career in cinema, there’s no doubting critical consensus is on the side of London-Irish siblings Martin and John Michael McDonagh at the moment. Born in Camberwall to parents from Sligo and Galway respectively, Martin McDonagh’s roots are in the theatre, with his famed Leenane and Aran Islands trilogies, as well as his Oscar-winning short film, Six Shooter. Nevertheless, his work has received a certain amount of criticism from some who saw him as indulging in lazy Irish caricatures from a position of privilege as someone raised and educated in the UK.
The same abuse was leveled at brother John Michael McDonagh for his film, Calvary, which features a staggering number of absurd caricatures. That being said, both directors have at least one decent film under their belt, whether it’s John Michael’s farcical The Guard or Martin’s gory, profane black comedy In Bruges.
13. The Farrelly Brothers
However one feels about Dumb and Dumber To, the belated follow up to Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s debut, there’s no doubting they struck gold when they cast Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels as a pair of simpletons back in 1994. Their follow-up, Kingpin, may have lacked some of the naive warmth of Dumb and Dumber (based as it was on a script which neither Farrelly had written) but it did feature a memorably sleazy turn from Bill Murray in a then rare non-leading performance.
And there can be few cinema fans unaware of There’s Something About Mary’s infamous ‘hair gel’ sequence, which has achieved immortality comparable to the campfire scene in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles. Admittedly, their track record has since then been a little patchy (including the ill-received Dumb and Dumb sequel) but, like the Zucker brothers before them, their gross-out humour paved the way for countless other scatologically-obsessed comedies, from American Pie to Bridesmaids.
12. The Brothers Quay
Residing in England since 1969, the Philadelphia-born Stephen and Timothy Quay have carved out a niche as two of the most influential figures in stop-motion animation. Primarily working through the medium of short films, the brothers’ forays into feature length fare – Institute Benjamenta and The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes – have received mixed critical success.
Peter Bradshaw, resident film critic for The Guardian, thought The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes’ surrealism would have been better suited to a shorter running length, but nevertheless admitted to “how dull the cinema marketplace would be without the Quays.”
11. David and Jerry ZuckerThough their partnership includes the invaluable writing and producing input of Jim Abrahams, David and Jerry Zucker were arguably the most influential comedic filmmakers of the 1980s. Their sketch troupe, Kentucky Fried Theater, made its way to the big screen in John Landis’ The Kentucky Fried Movie, though it was Airplane! that marked their directing debut.
Having secured the rights to the obscure disaster film Zero Hour! via Paramount, their scattershot, gag-a-second approach paved the way for the likes of Hot Shots! and (regrettably) the Scary Movie franchise. The Naked Gun, an update of their 1982 TV series Police Squad!, was every bit as funny, and spawned two sequels. Since then, they have largely worked separately and often outside the comedy genre, but their 1980s work, including the underrated Top Secret!, stands the test of time.
10. The Wachowski Siblings
The Wachowskis are among only a handful of filmmakers who can command a budget of well over $100 million per movie, as evidenced by the whopping $175 million Warner Brothers has spent on Jupiter Ascending, an astonishing amount for a film not based on pre-existing material. Still, they’ve delivered the goods regularly enough in the past for such a risk to be taken. Like the Coen brothers, they debuted in neo-noir with Bound, an erotic thriller about a lesbian couple attempting to steal $2 million from the mob.
But it was The Matrix in 1999 that was truly a game-changer. Overshadowing Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in the hearts and minds of sci-fi fans around the world, it spawned two sequels whose merits are often heatedly debated. The Wachowskis’ adaptation of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, co-directed with Tom Tykwer, may have been flawed, but for many, including the late Roger Ebert, it was a testament to the ambition on cinema. How well Jupiter Ascending fares remains to be seen.
9. Paolo and Vittorio Taviani
Despite never becoming as widely known outside their native Italy as they are within in, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have racked up an astonishing sixty-plus years behind the camera, as well as winning the highest possible honours at both Cannes and the Berlin International Film Festival. They began as documentarians with L’Italia Non è un Paese Povero (Italy is Not a Poor Country), co-directed by Joris Ivens, before moving into dramatic features.
Padre Padrone took home the Palme d’Or in 1977, while Caesar Must Die – about a prison in Rome set to perform a version of Julius Caesar – won the Golden Bear in Berlin, despite protestations from some that the jury, led by Mike Leigh, had shunned younger talent at the festival. At a combined age of 170, the Taviani brothers are still making films, with Wondrous Boccaccio expected in 2015.