Staff Recs: Best Film Ensembles

Every so often, a movie ensemble absolutely blows audiences away and makes us ask ourselves, “How can one movie could contain so much talent and power?”

The cast of "A Fish Called Wanda." (via flickr.com)

Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Jackie Weaver, Liam Neeson and Robert Duvall — every so often, a movie ensemble, like the cast of Steve McQueen’s upcoming heist drama “Widows,” absolutely blows audiences away and makes us ask ourselves, “How can one movie could contain so much talent and power?” Just last year, the acclaimed ensembles of films like “The Post,” “Get Out” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” seemed almost too good to be true and luckily, they weren’t. Plus, this year’s hefty ensembles for “Widows,” “Black Panther,” “A Star is Born” and “Vice” prove that our favorite actors and directors need to continue mingling on the red carpet and producing on screen entourages of our wildest imaginations. To celebrate the stellar ensembles of this year and the sights yet to be seen, the WSN staff has compiled a list of our favorite casts of recent years.

“Boogie Nights”

Daniella Nichinson, Arts Editor

Paul Thomas Anderson’s sprawling tale of the 1970s porn industry in San Fernando Valley is a masterpiece deserving of comparison to the likes of “Citizen Kane” and “The Godfather.” “Boogie Nights” is an epic portrait of young Eddie Adams — later Dirk Diggler — who finds himself thrust into the pornographic film industry under the wings of renowned director Jack Horner. Anderson guides you through a chaotic world of sex, drugs, excess and hedonism with the help of an impeccably hand-picked cast. Mark Wahlberg transforms from shy teenager Eddie Adams to a confident Dirk Diggler and does so with swagger and bravado. The patriarch of “Boogie Nights” is Burt Reynolds’ Jack Horner, who seems to be the only level-headed member of the ensemble. What’s a PTA film without Philip Seymour Hoffman? Hoffman plays the awkward and self-deprecating Scotty J. His performance, as in all of his films, is outstanding and lights up the screen. The rest of the cast, which is unbelievably spectacular, is rounded out by Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Heather Graham, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy and innumerable others. This talented ensemble is the essential ingredient that immerses “Boogie Nights” in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles’ pornographic film industry.

 

“Tropic Thunder”

Guru Ramanathan, Film & TV Editor

 

“Tropic Thunder” is a film about filmmaking that is so deliberately self-obsessed that it escalates to absurdity. The action-packed satire features a star-studded lineup, including actor/director Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black, who play three egotistical actors cast in a big-budget war movie. After getting on the director’s nerves, they are placed in the middle of a jungle and told they will be filmed with hidden cameras, but they wind up getting involved in a real war zone. For a comedy, and especially a satire, to work well, the chemistry and timing between the cast is critical for the writing to really leap off the page as intended. In some cases, a bad script can be elevated by a good cast and vice versa. Luckily “Tropic Thunder” had both elements going for it because its cast was incredible, giving performances that were both inherently funny and also a scathing criticism of Hollywood stereotypes of the action genre, acting methods, typecasting and the cutthroat nature of the film industry. Tom Cruise adds to this already-stacked ensemble as the short-tempered movie producer Les Grossman. Unleashing an endless stream of rage and profanity, Cruise, equipped with giant hands and a fat suit, is especially unforgettable in a scene where he threatens to destroy an agency. Cruise’s character is oblivious to the situation — the agency is made up of terrorists and are holding Tugg Speedman (Stiller) hostage. Cruise is the scene stealer right down to the film’s credits, in which he angrily dances to Ludacris’ “Get Back.” Overall, the ensemble is as entertaining delivering jokes as they are fighting terrorists and running from explosions, making “Tropic Thunder” one of the best action comedies of the 2000’s.

“A Fish Called Wanda”

Alex Cullina, Books & Theater Editor

This 1988 heist film is frequently cited as one of the greatest comedies of all time — it has the unusual distinction of apparently causing a man to laugh to death. The farce-filled script by writer/actor John Cleese is as tight as anything he ever did with Monty Python. However, the plot, involving a diamond heist, multiple double-crossings and a very special fish, pales in comparison to the cast’s totally committed performances. Cleese, as the ineffectual, emasculated lawyer Archie, is delightfully over-the-top, constantly fumbling and bulging his eyes in shock over some turn in the plot, and Jamie Lee Curtis exudes sex appeal as Wanda, a con artist who seduces Archie. But the real standout is Kevin Kline, who won an Oscar for his performance — a rarity for a comedy — as Otto, Wanda’s utterly self-confident and completely idiotic lover.

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