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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Five Best: Ensemble Casts

courtesy of

My brother called me over the weekend with this suggested feature list. After watching a movie (covered in the list), he was curious what I would rank as the five best ensemble casts of all time. I had to set rules to help me narrow down the list: eight (that's right, eight) talented performers who are more than just a cameo in the film and the film has to be at least a marginally okay film. These aren't the best movies with ensemble cast - just the best set of talent ever on screen together, whether they used that talent or not. Here they are in chronological order.

NOTE: The Ocean's movies are disqualified. No reason...I just don't feel like including them. Get off my back. This is my blog, I'll do what I want.

Scene from "Murder on the Orient Express" courtesy of

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Starring: Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jaqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York
Based on the classic Agantha Chritsie novel, this film won an Oscar for the great Ingrid Bergman and boasted a laundry list of great actors. The film has a wondefully claustrophobic feel to it, as the great Hercule Poirot (played by Finney) tries to solve the murder that happened the night before. Directed by the late Sidney Lumet, Murder on the Orient Express has a cast of actors and actresses that have won a combined 8 Oscars and been nominated for another 22. Now that is a bowl full of talent.

Scene from "Short Cuts" courtesy of

Short Cuts (1993)

Starring: Andie MacDowell, Bruce Davison, Jack Lemmon, Julianne Moore, Matthew Modine, Fred Ward, Jenifer Jason Leigh, Chris Penn, Lili Taylor, Robert Downey Jr., Madeline Stowe, Tim Robbins, Frances McDormand, Peter Gallagher, Tom Waits
Director Robert Altman had a habit of working with ensemble casts. This film earned him his fourth Oscar nomination for Best Director (though he died in 2006 still empty-handed after seven nominations). Short Cuts is a simple story of the everyday lives of Los Angeles people who have loose associations with each another. The extensive and talented cast boasts 23 Oscar nominations and 4 Oscar wins amongst them.

Scene from "The Thin Red Line" courtesy of

The Thin Red Line (1998)

Starring: Nick Nolte, Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, John Cusack, Adrian Brody, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Jared Leto, John Travolta, George Clooney, Thomas Jane, Nick Stahl, Tim Blake Nelson
The movie that was the inspiration for the list certainly belongs smack in the middle of it. Terence Malick's sweeping look at the Vietnam War is, just like every other Malick film, a beautifully deep, almost surreal experience. He never had a cast like this, one though. Of all the actors listed (and not listed) above, there are a total of 13 Oscar nominations and 4 Oscar wins.

Scene from "Love Actually" courtesy of

Love Actually (2003)

Starring: Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Keira Knightley, Laura Linney, Alan Rickman, Bill Bob Thornton, Rowan Atkinson, Elisha Cuthbert, January Jones
Turning to the lighter side, this rousing British ensemble comedy pretty much had every successful British actor working in 2003 in the cast. Directed by Richard Curtis, this Christmas-themed story of love, life, and relationships is essentially eight rom-com sotrylines all shoved together, which turns out surprisingly entertaining. Among the cast are 4 Oscars won and 10 other nominations.

Scene from "Inception" courtesy of

Inception (2010)

Starring: Leonardo Dicaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Michael Caine, Ken Watanabe, Tom Berenger, Marion Cotillard, Pete Postlethwaite, Lukas Haas
Christopher Nolan's dream world was packed full of special effects and, more importantly, a lot of talented actors. Navigating through the dreamscape were a group of performers who collectively already own 3 Oscars, as well as 11 nominations. Though the film is better known for its mind-blowing visuals, without a solid cast the film would have gone nowhere fast.

Just Missed the Cut - These are great ensemble casts, too; but it's called the "five best," not the "ten best." I had to make decisions that wore down my mind. I lost serious sleep over this list.

Scene from "The Towering Inferno" courtesy of

The Towering Inferno (1974)

Starring: Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Richard Chamberlain, Jennifer Jones, O.J. Simpson, Robert Vaughn, Robert Wagner
Why didn't I choose it? When your ensemble cast includes O.J. Simpson, I have to draw a line. Plus, the film is a little too cheesy for my tastes.

Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette in "True Romance" courtesy of

True Romance (1993)

Starring: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, Samuel L. Jackson, Bronson Pinchot, Michael Rapaport, James Gandolfini
Why didn't I choose it? I just included it in a list recently, and I hate to name the same movies over and over. Plus, Walken and Pitt are almost cameos and Pinchot and Rapaport are hardly A-list actors.

Scene from "Pulp Fiction" courtesy of

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Starring: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Tim Roth, Ving Rhames, Harvey Keitel, Bruce Willis, Rosanna Arquette, Eric Stoltz
Why didn't I choose it? I felt like I needed to disqualify this film because it barely met the qualifications. Arquette, Stoltz, and Keitel are barely in it (though their parts are memorable), so I feel like they aren't really a part of the larger ensemble I'm talking about.

Scene from "Saving Private Ryan" courtesy of

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Starring: Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Matt Damon, Adam Goldberg, Ted Danson, Paul Giamatti, Dennis Farina, Jeremy Davies
Why didn't I choose it? It came out in 1998, the same year as The Thin Red Line. And I think Malick's film is better, overall. There are less weak spots in The Thin Red Line's cast, too. Maybe it's me, but I've never cared for Burns and Danson isn't an A-list star...anymore.

Heath Ledger and Maggie Gyllenhaal in "The Dark Knight" courtesy of

The Dark Knight (2008)

Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Anthony Michael Hall, Eric Roberts
Why didn't I choose it? I don't know. Maybe because it's a comic book movie. Maybe because Murphy is barely in it and Hall and Roberts aren't exactly top-billed actors. When people remember the film, it won't be for the ensemble - it will be for Ledger's groundbreaking final performance.

There are plenty of others I left out. Feel free to complain below.

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