Tuesday, January 27, 2015

2014 Year End Report: Top 10 Ensemble Casts

I still think this should be an Oscar category, but for now it isn’t. But these ensembles should prove just how great this category could be.

Runners-Up: Child’s Pose had a great ensemble, all feeding off the brilliant lead. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a wonderful cast, playing both human and ape, who completely nail the tone of the film. The Double has a committed cast, who dive into the surreal nature of the film, and makes it work. The Drop has a cast who really do seem like the residents of this low income neighborhood in New York – despite being from all over the world. Force Majeure casts the family perfectly, and also nails the friends, as relationship of all sorts are established and destroyed throughout the film. Leviathan has a great Russian cast, who are all brilliant. A Most Wanted Man centers on Philip Seymour Hoffman –but there is a lot of solid supporting work all around him. Nightcrawler is in many ways the Jake Gyllenhaal show – but Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed and Bill Paxton fill out the cast nicely. Nymphomaniac. Palo Alto has a wonderful cast of young actors, who are all convincing dumb teenagers – and the uncaring, adults in their lives. The Rover is anchored by Guy Pearce, but fills the smallest roles with memorable characters, played wonderfully well. Snowpiercer had a large multi-national cast who help to create its dystopian future. Top Five fills the movie with cameos and small roles, all of which are great, and ably support leads Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson.

10. Winter Sleep - Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sözen, Demet Akbag, Ayberk Pekcan, Serhat Mustafa Kiliç, Nejat Isler, Tamer Levent, Nadir Saribacak, Emirhan Doruktutan, Ekrem Ilhan, Rabia Özel, Fatma Deniz Yildiz, Mehmet Ali Nuroglu.
Winter Sleep has been perceived mainly as a triumph for writer-director Nuri Bilge Ceylon – and while that is certainly true, what hasn’t been praised as much as perhaps it should is the cast. Haluk Bilgnier is the best – a towering performance in the lead role, as an asshole who thinks himself a wise man. But he is aided by the entire cast – Melisa Sozen as his much younger, immature wife, Demet Akbag, as his sister, who seems so nice, until she rips into him. Then there are the smaller roles – his assistant, a local cleric trying to appease him and his brother, who tries to do anything but. The movie is filled with these great performances, with small moments, that slowly help to build this massive movie, brick by brick.

9. Mr. Turner - Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Martin Savage, Lesley Manville, Joshua McGuire.
Timothy Spall dominates nearly every scene in Mr. Turner, as the title character, who answers most questions with a grunt. His behavior can be both ugly and kind, gregarious and silent, and he never shies away from any of it. It is the crowning achievement of a remarkable career as a character actor. But while he gets all the attention, the rest of the cast is just as great. Paul Jesson is Turner’s seemingly warm hearted father, who reveals a darker side in his final moments. Martin Savage is great as Haydon – so great that he suggests a different movie going on with him, whenever he’s not on screen. And Joshua McGuire is hilarious as a pompous, clueless critic. And then there are the women in the film – from Dorothy Atkinson as the silently heartbreaking, ever loyal maid used and ignored by Turner to Ruth Sheen as his former mistress, who now only sees the ugliness in Turner (for good reason) to Marion Bailey, as his wife he meets late in life who has a completely different portrait of him to Lesley Manville, in a one scene stunner, as a “scientist” who visits Turner. And these are just the actors with major roles – as with every Leigh movie, he fills out even the smallest roles with distinctive faces and personalities. Spall deserves all the credit he has received – but so does the rest of the ensemble.

8. Listen Up, Philip - Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, Krysten Ritter, Joséphine de La Baume, Jonathan Pryce, Jess Weixler, Dree Hemingway, Keith Poulson, Kate Lyn Sheil, Yusef Bulos, Maïté Alina, Daniel London, Samantha Jacober, Eric Bogosian.
Writer/director Alex Ross Perry does something very interesting in his latest film Listen Up, Philip. He has made a film all about selfishness – with his title character, played brilliantly by Jason Schwartsman, as kind of the darkest timeline version of his Max Fischer all grown up, who wants to be a great writer – and thinks he has accomplished that, and because he has, he now has the right to be a complete asshole. Jonathan Pryce, playing a very thinly veiled version of Philip Roth, is an older author who has pretty done that his whole life – and even though Schwartzman sees what that has caused Pryce to become, he longs for it anyway. Even Elisabeth Moss – as Schwartzman’s long suffering girlfriend, is pretty much a selfish character – but her selfish really leads to her liberation. And the people around them – Krysten Ritter as Pryce’s daughter who he hates and Josephine de La Baume as another woman who gets involved with Schwartzman without quite realizing what an asshole he is, are also great. And then there is the host of one scene wonders – none better than Kate Lyn Sheil as another ex-girlfriend who quite simply runs away when she cannot take it anymore. She just may be the smartest character in the movie.

7. Foxcatcher - Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Michael Hall,
Guy Boyd, Brett Rice, Jackson Frazer, Samara Lee, Francis J. Murphy III.
When you speak of the Foxcatcher ensemble, it’s really about the three central performances, and how they work off each other. Channing Tatum is in most of the scenes of the movie – and is quietly brilliant as a hulking man, in desperate need of a father figure, who ends up rejecting (or being rejected) by two of them in the course of the movie. Mark Ruffalo is perhaps the best in the movie as his older brother – who is outwardly charming, but is more selfish than he first appears. Their first scene together, in which they wordlessly wrestle, tells you everything you need to know about their relationship. The showiest role is by Carrel as Jon DuPont, whose wealthy masks his insanity – that those around him see, but write off as eccentricity. It’s a profoundly creepy performance by Carrel – one that should propel him into a new phase of his career. The way these three play off each other – either one on one, or three at a time, is brilliant – and deserving of an ensemble spot all on its own. But there is one other great performance to praise – that is by Vanessa Redgrave, as DuPont’s mother, whose withering stare, and quiet demeanor completely breaks down her son in just a few short scenes. The cast surrounding these four are all in fine form – but it’s these four that earn this spot on the list.

6. Birdman – Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Lindsay Duncan, Jeremy Shamos, Merritt Wever.
The best thing about Birdman, aside from Emmanuel Lubezki’s mesmerizing cinematography, is the ensemble cast, who keep the movie from spinning off into the ridiculous, which it seems under constant threat of doing. Michael Keaton delivers perhaps his finest performance as the man character – a former comic book actor, now trying from some respectability. Keaton is required to swing wildly from comedy to melodrama and back again – often in the same scene, and pulls it off. To me, Edward Norton is even better – brilliantly playing off his own image of being “difficult” and delivering one of the best comic performances of the year. Out of the women, Emma Stone clearly has the showcase role, as Keaton’s former drug addict daughter, trying to keep it together and reconnect with her father. Watts, as Norton’s actress girlfriend, Ryan, as Keaton’s ex-wife, and Riseborough, as Keaton’s new girlfriend, all have somewhat underwritten roles, but they are good enough to paper over them. Galifianakis, as an agent, is just this side of over the top, and does it well. Even Lindsay Duncan, as a New York Times Critic, makes her ridiculous role work. The cast here is crucial, because Birdman is somewhat of a mess in other areas – but because the acting is so good, they pull us along with it.

5. Boyhood - Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater, Libby Villari, Marco Perella, Jamie Howard, Andrew Villarreal, Brad Hawkins, Jenni Tooley, Richard Andrew Jones, Karen Jones, Tom McTigue, Zoe
Graham, Richard Robichaux, Bill Wise, Maximillian McNamara, Taylor Weaver, Jessi Mechler.
The best part of the ensemble cast in Boyhood are obviously the four principle family members. Linklater got lucky in that both Ellar Coltrane, and his daughter Lorelei, who he cast when they were children, were able to grow into real actors, who were able to quite literally grow into their roles. Their “parents” deliver even better performances. Ethan Hawke has never been so natural on screen before – he goes from an absent presence in the movie, into an irresponsible parent, into an actual adult – and yet the transition feels natural. Patricia Arquette is even better – far more than the supportive mother role we normally get in a movie like this, as her journey is perhaps the most profound and heartbreaking in the film. But Linklater also cast the smaller roles – the ones that only show up in a scene or two, well. These actors, from the various drunken stepfathers, to the teachers, to the girlfriend, who all seem to know what the main character should do – but really are as lost as he is – all hit the right notes. Trying to do that over a 12 year period had to be nearly impossible – but Linklater and his cast pull it off brilliantly.

4. Selma – David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, Wendell Pierce, Oprah Winfrey, Tessa Thompson, Lorraine Toussaint, Common, André Holland, Stephan James, Giovanni Ribisi, Cuba Gooding Jr., Alessandro Nivola, Martin Sheen, Dylan Baker, Keith Stanfield, Niecy Nash, Jeremy Strong, Nigel Thatch, Stan Houston, Corey Reynolds, Trai Byers, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Omar J. Dorsey, Colman Domingo, E. Roger Mitchell, Tara Ochs, Henry G. Sanders, Charity Jordan, Kent Faulcon, John Lavelle.
One of the hallmarks of a great ensemble cast in a movie like Selma is that the supporting characters seem complex enough that they could be the center of their own movie. It’s there in this movie everything actors like Tessa Thompson as Diane Nash or Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper or Lorraine Toussaint as Amelia Boynton or Stephen Lewis as John Lewis or Keith Stanfield as Jimmie Lee Jackson or Henry G. Sanders as Cager Lee – or even Nigel Thatch in a one scene performance as Malcolm X – hold center stage. This doesn’t even mention strong work by Wendell Pierce or Tom Wilkinson or Tim Roth or Common – and on and on and on. Yes, David Oyelowo holds the center of the movie in a towering performance as Martin Luther King, and Carmen Ejogo is a pillar of quiet strength as Coretta Scott King – but there is a lot of great work for the entire cast here.

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel - Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason
Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson.
Wes Anderson has such a specific style of acting that he likes that it is no surprise that he uses many of the same actors in film after film. The Grand Budapest Hotel has the likes of Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton and Owen Wilson – all of whom have been in an Anderson before, and all of whom deliver precisely the performances he wants from them. What’s more impressive however is how Anderson seems to instinctively know the perfect actors to add to his stock company. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, the best addition is, of course, Ralph Fiennes – who is perfectly cast as the charming, old world sophisticate, who is already a man out of his proper time even before the second world war begins. Fiennes, not generally known as a comedic actor, is hilarious throughout the film – and he gives the rest of the cast something to play off of. And , Anderson being Anderson, he gives each of his supporting players a small moment or two to shine. Anderson is a bit of a control freak to be sure – everything in his film is precisely how he wants it – and yet he has always given great roles to great actors – and The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of those.

2. Inherent Vice - Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Hong Chau, Jena Malone, Reese Witherspoon, Martin Short, Joanna Newsom, Jordan Christian Hearn, Jeannie Berlin, Eric Roberts, Serena Scott Thomas, Maya Rudolph, Michael Kenneth Williams, Yvette Yates, Andrew Simpson, Sam Jaeger, Timothy Simons, Jack Kelly, Jillian Bell, Michelle Sinclair, Sasha Pieterse, Keith Jardine, Peter McRobbie, Martin Donovan.
Paul Thomas Anderson has always excelled in casting – even in the smallest of roles. While the last few films of his career haven’t quite featured the same sort of sprawling ensembles that his breakthrough, Boogie Nights and its follow-up Magnolia, they have succeeded in featuring excellent casts and performances in even small roles. Inherent Vice is one of the best ensembles Anderson has assembled yet – and a return to the kind of larger ensemble he had in those earlier films. Joaquin Phoenix is excellent in the lead role – of course – and he’s at the center of nearly every scene in the film. And the other major roles – especially Josh Brolin and Katherine Waterston – are just as good, if not better. But Anderson succeeds is filling every scene with interesting faces, interesting accents, interesting actors – some familiar faces, like Martin Short or Reese Witherspoon or Michael K. Williams, doing things wholly unexpected of them, some familiar faces doing familiar things, like Benicio Del Toro. And then there are the left field casting choices, the small roles of people who appear for a scene then disappear into the ether of the film. There is never a false note struck by the cast here – which is nearly unthinkable since the movie is wildly different in tone from scene to scene. Anderson, who started his career as a great actor’s director, has only gotten better with time – and here may just have his best ensemble to date.

1. Gone Girl - Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, David Clennon, Lisa Banes, Missi Pyle, Emily Ratajkowski, Casey Wilson, Lola Kirke, Boyd Holbrook, Sela
Ward, Scoot McNairy.
The only cast member in Gone Girl who has been singled out repeatedly this awards season is Rosamund Pike – and there is a good reason for that, as she is amazing in the movie. She plays the innocent victim well in the first half of the movie well, and when her secrets come out in the second half, she is even better. It is a great performance as a psychopath, who doesn’t realize she’s a psychopath (she is amazed that others don’t see Nick’s “crimes” in the same way she does). But the rest of the cast is just as good. Ben Affleck has never been better than she is as her clueless husband – it’s a physical performance, and one tailor made for Affleck. The supporting cast surrounding these two are also impeccable – from Carrie Coon, who humanizes Affleck, Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit, who are subtlety effective as the cops investigating the case, Missi Pyle, who does a spot on Nancy Grace (but, interestingly, actually underplays the character wonderfully – she is less of a caricature than Grace is), Neil Patrick Harris as an ever strange ex-boyfriend, Tyler Perry, who is charming and wonderfully cynical as the most normal person in the cast, and everyone else. Gone Girl has a large ensemble – and they are all excellent. Director David Fincher never gets enough credit for his work with actors – but going back nearly 20 years to 1995’s Seven, there is hardly a weak performance in any of his films. The ensemble here may the best in his career thus far – which is really saying something.

No comments:

Post a Comment