Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli, Carlo Buccirosso, Giovanna Vignola, Pamela villoresi, Galatea Ranzi, Robert Herlitzka, Isabella Ferrari, Fanny Ardant, Antonello Venditt, Francesca Amodio – The Great Beauty
Yes, let’s just go ahead and put The Great Beauty on the path to win my worst of the year award by adding a worst ensemble award to its worst director award. Time would fail me to explain all of these people; the creepy nun that knows the names of every flamingo in Rome, the Vatican exorcist, the giraffe loving filmmaker, the performance artist who bangs her head into a stone wall while nude as the entirety of her “art . . .” God, I loathed this movie. And everyone in it is dreadful.
Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine, Nate Parker – Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
The main quartet here is the real draw, though Nate Parker is very good in a small supporting part. Affleck, Mara, Foster and Carradine are all fantastic in their respective roles and part of what makes the film hit as hard as it does is the fact that all the performances are deeply, deeply minimal, really interior performances. Affleck is a convict heading home to his wife (Mara) and young daughter; Carradine is the adoptive father of both of them and Foster is the stolid police officer slowly falling in love with Mara’s character. It’s a real chance to be awesome and they are.
Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Robert Musgrave, James Caan, Lumi Cavazos, Shea Fowler, Andrew Wilson, Kumar Pallana, Leslie Mann – Bottle Rocket
The Wilson brothers, as a pair of misfit criminals, really own this film; it’s probably Owen’s only genuinely great performance, before all the tics had solidified into schtick and Luke, always the better actor of the two, is equally fantastic. Then there’s the hilarious cast that makes up James Caan’s ragtag criminal gang; they all come perfectly into play, particularly in the climactic heist. Anyway, this is a fantastic cast for a great, great comedy.
Emilio Estevez, Paul Gleason, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, John Kapelos – The Breakfast Club
If you remembered that I watched The Breakfast Club in 2014, you saw this coming. As a cast of high-schoolers forced together for an all-day detention, Estevenz, Hall, Nelson, Ringwald & Sheedy are all downright wonderful, occasionally career best (Sheedy, Estevez, Nelson, Ringwald . . . well, okay, everybody in this ensemble but Hall is career best). They take their stock character types and play to type but also give the characters real depth and pathos and humor. Then there’s Gleason as the bullying teacher and Kapelos as the likable janitor; in their scene together, Gleason finds a way to develop his character beyond just a terrifying villain, which is surprising. Anyway, all together, it’s a small cast, but every single one of them is dead perfect.
Brendon Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, Marie-Josee Croze, Domhnall Gleeson, David Wilmot, Pat Shortt, Gary Lydon, Killian Scott, Orla O’Rourke, David McSavage – Calvary
Brendon Gleeson heads this cast as a stolid priest facing death; Kelly Reilly is phenomenal as his suicidal daughter. The rest of the cast make up his parish and these are some seriously ****** up people, ranging from a sociopathic wealthy landowner to an atheistic and hateful doctor to a creepy male prostitute to a psychopathic child killer (Gleeson’s son Domhnall in a massively great one scene cameo). It’s a genuinely terrific ensemble – once again, every actor is cast perfectly and every performance is dead on.
Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens, Peter Bull – Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love the Bomb
Peter Sellers in three roles; Scott as an unhinged admiral; Hayden as an unhinged officer bringing about the end of the world; Pickens as a hokey bomber pilot; Bull as the pompous Soviet ambassador. Say no more. The end of the world has never been so brilliantly acted, that is for sure.
Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Talia Shire, Lee Strasberg, Michael V. Gazzo, G.D. Spradlin, Amerigo Tot, Bruno Kirby, Harry Dean Stanton, James Caan, Abe Vigoda, Gianni Russo – The Godfather Part II
Phenomenal cast here, all the way from the leads down to the tiniest roles (Bruno Kirby is a pitch perfect young Clemenza; Harry Dean Stanton is a disheveled, pessimistic FBI agent, Spradlin is a pretentious, insufferable politician; Tot is an unforgettable, silent assassin); the final scene even brings back stalwarts from the first film and Caan comes in like a house on fire. More about some of these others later (no spoilers, but Best Actor and Best Actress categories are coming up!), but suffice it to say that this ensemble is beyond brilliant.
Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson, Bob Margolin, Paul Butterfield, Eric Clapton, Dr. John, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Ronnie Hawkins, Van Morrison, Cleotha Staples, Mavis Staples, Roebuck “Pop” Staples, Yvonne Staples, Ringo Starr, Muddy Waters, Ronnie Wood, Neil Young – The Last Waltz
Scorsese’s documentary of The Band’s farewell concert is quite simply one of the best music films I’ve ever seen; perhaps the very best. Besides The Band, there’s a lengthy list of great musical artists that stop by to do a couple of songs with them. A few of them are underused; Ringo Starr and Ronnie Wood show up for just one song, but the rest of the artists listed above bring something approximating their A-game and the film is absolutely gripping because of it. Legends captured at their peak or close to it; you really can’t beat that.
Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard, James Le Gros – Night Moves
This is the smallest group to make it into my top twenty ensembles. But it’s very worthy. Eisenberg, Fanning & Sarsgaard are all absolutely perfect as a trio of eco-terrorists plotting to blow up a dam. Fanning might be a bit of a surprise if you haven’t seen her since she grew up; but she’s matured into a fine young actress. Le Gros, of all people, has a single scene part and he’s genuinely fantastic and memorable – it’s close to my favorite scene in the film. A short list, but long on talent.
Iko Uwais, Tio Pakusadewo, Oka Antara, Cecep Arif Rahman, Julie Estelle, Very Tri Yulisman, Yayan Ruhian – The Raid 2
If we take “performance” at its most basic meaning, this cast, and the stunt performers too, are perhaps the best performers of the year. This film doesn’t call for a tremendous amount of range in the emoting part of acting; you’ll be effective in the long run if you can look menacing and also cool. But the control this cast has over their bodies is nothing short of stunning. The cast is mostly filled with actual martial artists; if I’d wanted to make the list book length, I’d have taken the time to track down the rest of the ensemble, by which I mean, the various actors/stunt players that just keep coming at our hero and getting beaten down for their trouble. I kept the list short, but this ensemble is actually dozens deep, I bet, and every one of them a breathtaking talent.
Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine, Anthony Heald, Brooke Smith, Kasi Lemmons, Danny Darst, Alex Coleman, Chris Isaak – The Silence of the Lambs
Everyone remembers Foster and Hopkins, both brilliant; Ted Levine is just as good as Buffalo Bill. Heald is pitch perfect and memorable in a slimy role; others have extremely small roles, but get almost no credit – Brooke Smith, for instance, the girl in the hole, gives an absolutely phenomenal performance. It’s a case of great casting all the way down the line.