April 20, 2016
You can have the biggest stars in a film, but if they don’t click together as characters, then all you really have are some bloated paychecks posing for the camera. And though the phrase “ensemble film” is thrown about quite a bit, very few really deserve that distinction. The list of films I have chosen here have been selected after much thought. These particular group of actors somehow bring out the qualities that best describe the magic that is an ensemble film. So, with that, I give you “The Twenty Greatest Ensemble Films”.
In no particular order…
- “The Godfather” (1972) Francis Ford Coppola. The operatic nature of the material brought out a sense of” famiglia” in the film’s passionate performances. The cast includes Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Diane Keaton, Sterling Hayden, John Cazale.
- “Mystic River” (2001) Clint Eastwood. This fine ensemble displayed the nuances of growing up in a small town back East. The cast includes Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laura Linney, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Hayden.
- “The Big Chill” (1983) Lawrence Kasdan. If you’re looking for an insightful film about the 60’s, this ain’t it. But, if you’re looking for an insightful film about friendships, this is one of the better examples. The cast includes William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, Tom Berenger, JoBeth Williams, Jeff Goldblum, Mary Kay Place.
- “Shampoo” (1975) Hal Ashby. An L.A. version of “La Dolce Vita” with farcical elements, played with great aplomb by its talented cast which includes Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, Jack Warden, Lee Grant, Carrie Fisher.
- “Goodfellas” (1990) Martin Scorsese. The actors bounced off each other in a rhythmic and jolting way as we inhabit their dangerous world. The cast includes Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Paul Sorvino.
- “On the Waterfront” (1954) Elia Kazan. Actors seemed to do their best work under Kazan’s direction, but this film is for the time capsule. The cast includes Marlon Brando, Karl Madden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint.
- “Pulp Fiction” (1994) Quentin Tarantino. Mixing familiar faces with new ones, Tarantino’s ensemble grooved on the colorful dialogue and generally seemed to be having a great time. The cast includes John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, Ving Rhames.
- “Dinner at Eight” (1933) George Cukor. Cashing in on the previous year’s all star hit “Grand Hotel” (1932), MGM assembled an even better script and cast which included John Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Wallace Berry, Marie Dressler, Lionel Barrymore, Billie Burke.
- “From Here to Eternity” (1953) Fred Zinnemann. Columbia had the good sense to cast actors who were at the height of their craft. The cast includes Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Borgnine.
- “The Last Picture Show” (1971) Peter Bogdanovich. At the time these marvelous actors were not as well known, so there was an air of authenticity going on in this film. The cast includes Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Randy Quaid.
- “Glengarry Glenn Ross” (1992) James Foley. This amazing group of actors bit into this material like a pack of hungry, but grateful, dogs! The cast includes Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Pryce.
- “MASH” (1970) Robert Altman. The overlapping dialogue seemed as fresh as anything the cinema had ever offered. The cast includes Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Robert Duvall, Sally Kellerman, Fred Williamson, Bud Cort, John Schuck.
- “Short Cuts” (1996) Robert Altman. Once again, Altman assembled an even more diverse group of actors to embody the people of Raymond Carver’s world. The cast includes Andie MacDowell, Bruce Davison, Julianne Moore, Matthew Modine, Anne Archer, Fred Ward, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Chris Penn, Tim Robbins, Lily Tomlin, and more!
- “American Graffiti” (1973) George Lucas. These fresh-faced actors became part of a nighttime brigade of cool cars and cool cats. The cast includes Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Cindy Williams, Harrison Ford, Charles Martin Smith.
- “Nashville” (1975) Robert Altman. twenty-four speaking parts spread across a busy weekend in Nashville (The Grand Ole Opry). Altman seamlessly intertwines the lives of these characters with an active ensemble cast which includes Lily Tomlin, Keith Carradine, Ronee Blakley, Henry Gibson, Allen Garfield, Barbara Harris, Shelley Duvall, Keenan Wynn,
- “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975) Sidney Lumet. Lumet made the extras an important part of the ensemble, as well as the cast which includes Al Pacino, John Cazale, Charles Durning, Chris Sarandon.
- “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950) John Huston. These are nighttime people who hide within the shadows. Huston was criticized for humanizing these characters. The cast includes Sterling Hayden, Sam Jaffe, James Whitmore, Louis Calhern, Marilyn Monroe.
- “Reservoir Dogs” (1992) Quentin Tarantino. We never know their names, since the mastermind behind the heist named them all colors. The drive of the narrative keeps an intensity to this ensemble cast which includes Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn, Lawrence Tierney.
- “All the President’s Men” (1976) Alan J. Pakula. The historical importance of this film brought a fine group of actors to this enterprise. The cast includes Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards, Jane Alexander, Jack Warden.
- “Twelve Angry Men” (1957) Sidney Lumet. Almost a textbook example of the ensemble film. The cast includes Henry Fonda, E.G. Marshall, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Warden, Ed Begley, Robert Webber.