Five Notable Ensemble-Cast Movies in the Last Decade

Well, whaddayaknow, Takers, the movie that was never on my radar is the box office winner this weekend. The first time I learned this movie existed was when seemingly the entire movie blogosphere cried foul over how bad their poster were. There’s bad, and then there’s BAD Photoshop job, and this one was beyond dreadful. Ok, so if you’re going to copy and paste Paul Walker’s head onto another person’s body, how hard can it be to find one that fits?? The other two guys next to him don’t fare better either as their necks seem to have been, um, taken? But hey, apparently the ‘takers’ got the last laugh. Maybe all that lousy buzz was helping them after all, y’know, I guess all buzz is a good buzz in Hollywood.

In any case, there’s been quite a few of ensemble-cast movies this Summer: The Losers, A-Team, and of course the mother load of them all: The Expendables. An ensemble cast is a cast in which the principal performers are assigned roughly equal amounts of importance and screen time in a dramatic production. Of course, though the lineup alone might entice one to see a given movie, not all ensemble-cast movies are created equal. Sometimes they don’t live up to the cast it’s made up of, no matter how spectacular it is. Case in point: NINE, which is too bad considering the people involved. But it’s nice to see when the cast works more than just getting ‘butts in seats,’ but actually elevate the story. Well, I think these five are good examples of that:

1. Paris je t’aime (2006)
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Steve Buscemi, Natalie Portman, Nick Nolte, Bob Hoskins, Miranda Richardson, Rufus Sewell, Emily Mortimer, Willem Dafoe, Gena Rowlands

A love letter to the city of love, this film offers an amalgam of love stories from twenty different filmmakers. Its success sets a bunch of copycats (New York, I Love You; Valentine’s Day, etc.), but the concept alone doesn’t make a great movie. Paris, je t’aime still sets the bar high in creating a cohesive piece out of a myriad of unique and sometimes bizarre short stories. I enjoy most of the short stories, but if I have to pick a favorite, I love the Quartier Latin segment with Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazarra, directed by Gerard Depardieu. It tells the story of a married couple on their final night together as they’re about to sign their divorce papers, and they share a bittersweet moment as they reflect back on their relationship.


2. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Elijah Woods, Sean Bean, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Bernard Hill, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Karl Urban, Miranda Otto, and Christopher Lee.

The cast wasn’t what drew me into this masterpiece epic, in fact, because a lot of them were relatively unknown at the time, I see them as the characters they’re playing, not actors playing a role. And that is the beauty of Peter Jackson’s casting. I can’t imagine anybody else playing the roles of Aragorn, Frodo, Gandalf, etc. other than the actors in this movie. Each actor seems tailor-made for the role they’re playing that it’s such a seamless experience. It’s amazing the kind of unity a movie of this scale can have, perhaps it helps that the cast members have become a ‘family’ after nearly a decade of filming together.


3. Gosford Park (2001)
Cast: Clive Owen, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Helen Mirren, Emily Watson, Jeremy Northam, Ryan Philippe, Kelly MacDonald, Derek Jacobi

A mostly-British cast always appeals to me, so when I saw the poster for this movie I was hooked! Fortunately, the Robert Altman lives up to amazing cast. Set in the 1930’s, the story takes place in an old fashioned English country house where a family has invited many of their friends up for a weekend shooting party. It’s less about the main premise of murder mystery, but more about the relationship of the characters. What’s going on with the house staff and valets below the stairs are just as dynamic and engrossing as the elite socialites. So even though the pace is slow, the well-written characters and witty dialog keep it entertaining. Andrew at Encore Entertainment wisely regards this as one of his best movie cast in his meme. The casting is indeed flawless!

4. Love Actually (2003)
Cast: Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, Colin Firth, Bill Nighy, Hugh Grant, Laura Linney, Rodrigo Santoro, Alan Rickman, Andrew Lincoln, Billy Bob Thornton, and Chiwetel Ejiofor.


I just saw this one again recently and I must say the casting is just darling for this movie, even if the movie as a whole isn’t exactly a masterpiece. Again, largely British actors make up the cast of eight very different couples dealing with their own love issues that are loosely interwoven with each other. The Christmas theme in London makes it sound like a holiday movie, but the themes of unrequited love, infidelity, second chances, etc. resonate all throughout the year. It’s perhaps one of Hugh Grant’s most charming roles, though my favorite characters are definitely Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman as a couple dealing with temptation and infidelity. When I saw this with my girlfriends, we’re all swooning over the geeky-but-drop-dead-gorgeous Rodrigo Santoro as the object of Laura Linney’s affection. But fans of Mr. Darcy would surely fanning themselves seeing Colin Firth as the lonely widower finding love again after being cheated on. Bill Nighy also provides an amusing comic relief as the outrageous aging rocker.

5. CRASH (2004)
Cast: Matt Dillon, Terrence Howard, Sandra Bullock, Brendan Fraser, Don Cheadle, Thandie Newton, Ryan Philippe, Jennifer Esposito
….
This movie won several Best Ensemble Cast awards, and rightly so. They aren’t all big names like in those Ocean’s movies, but the key is finding the right actor for the role and trust them enough to interpret the characters. Paul Haggis did that very well and the result is a fascinating interwoven story that takes place in the course of just 2 days in Los Angeles. Obviously 112 minutes is such a short time frame to tell the story, and it sort of leaves the audience wanting for more. But it’s enough for us to grasp the concept/moral of the story Haggis is trying to say, and the compelling characters are so memorable that their stories linger long after the film ends.

***

Well folks, I’m sure I’m missing a few here. Let’s hear your favorite ensemble-cast movie(s)!

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42 thoughts on “Five Notable Ensemble-Cast Movies in the Last Decade

  1. You got Gosford Park, so I’m good. 🙂 I suppose I could mention another Altman film, Prairie Home Companion. I didn’t like it much but I know people who thought it was quite good, and the cast is admittedly very impressive. But that was kind of Altman’s MO.

    1. I haven’t seen PHC either, despite it being filmed in my area. It’s not really my cup of tea anyway, but I remember it did have a great cast.

      1. PrairieGirl

        Let me chime in and say I LOVED PHC. Maybe cuz I’m a home-grown midwest girl. And if you ever get a chance to see one of Garrison Keillor’s live shows at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, don’t miss it! It’s musical, funny and timely. The more you see and hear his show, the better the movie gets.

        1. Sorry Becky, but I never have much interest in it for some reason. I know it’s probably blasphemy to say this in MN but I never care for his radio show, either 😦

  2. Lovely article. Very much agree with Gosford Park, Paris Je t’aime and Lord of the Rings!

    Would probably throw the Harry Potter films in for the sheer amount of quality in the support cast.

    The Godfather trilogy has an ensemble the likes rarely seen in modern cinema. Same with the World War II epic, A Bridge Too Far.

    All of Christopher Nolan’s films from Batman Begins onwards also! Inception had one of the best casts in a film this year.

    1. Hello Andrew! Oh yeah, Harry Potter does boast an excellent cast, but I exclude that because the actors don’t have equal screen time as the principal cast of Harry, Hermione and Ron. Same argument for Nolan’s Batman and Inception, but I wholeheartedly agree the casting for those are awesome. I think Nolan is one of those directors whom the actors probably beg to work with him!

  3. So many great ensemble cast movies it’s hard to limit it down to a few. Some of my favorites are LA Confidential (my favorite movie!), Anchorman, Reservoir Dogs, hate to call it but The Godfather I and II 😉

    I liked Paris Je t’aime but it was too uneven to be great in my book. Love Actually, you probably know that I despise that bottle of corn syrup, uh I mean movie… 🙂

    1. Yeah I know, that’s why I limit it to the last decade 😉

      I LOVE L.A. Confidential’s cast. I haven’t seen Reservoir Dogs, not sure I can handle t.

      I normally don’t go for rom-coms either, but Love Actually is quite charming and it’s not all syrupy. In fact, the segment with Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman deals with a heartbreaking topic that is far from sweet.

  4. oh, I love that banner for LOTR. CRASH also had an amazing cast.
    If you ask me, I’m constantly stunned by the ensemble cast in THE EVENING, a magnificent film with a magnificent cast about whom most people never even heard off which is kind of a scandal, but we do live in a world without justice 🙂 To remind you THE EVENING had these amazing creatures in its cast: Toni Collette, Claire Danes, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Patrick Wilson, Hugh Dancy, Natasha Richardson, Vanessa Redgrave (ok, the last one isn’t amazing as a person but is a good actress). There was even Meryl Streep’s real life daughter in the cast.

    1. Yeah, if you click on it, you can see all of the main cast in details. I did see EVENING but sorry, I find it so tedious and uninteresting. I know you like Patrick Wilson and he is pretty good in this movie, but movie itself is just meh for me.

        1. He..he.. to each their own I suppose Dez. But I totally see that some people might find GP tedious, but I’m a sucker for British stuff so I guess I’m biased in that regard 😀

          1. oh, please and like I’m not a sucker for British stuff 🙂 🙂 :)I’ve British gents poll going on, I’ve Judi Dench just won British Actresses poll, I’ve swamped by Gerry Berry and RA British fans because they know I’m the advocate for British case 🙂 🙂

            1. Yes, that’s why we get along so well right Dez? 😀

              He…he.. with your new poll today I’m sure you’ll be swarmed by GB’s tarts again… as much as I like the guy I don’t think I can compete with his die-hard fans! Btw, that was cruel of you to ask me to choose between GB and Rufus!

  5. Great post here, Ruth. I think Glengarry Glen Ross is the very best ensemble job I have seen on film, just on a performance level. Godfather trilogy, of course. I like your inclusion of Love Actually and Crash. I would also think of Short Cuts, Hannah and her Sisters, and Magnolia for sure…

    1. I haven’t seen Glengarry, but I was considering it because the cast was stellar indeed. But it’s back in 1992 so not exactly in the past decade. Same reason with Magnolia, but yeah, awesome cast.

    1. I had to IMDb-ed that first one, but yeah, with Paddy Considine, Simon Pegg, Steve Coogan and Andy Serkis, I’d say that’s a great cast. Woody Allen flicks are often composed of lots of famous actors, but that one you mentioned was from 1996.

  6. Yes, LOTR was amazing. One of the few trilogys(of recent years anyway) to not turn to crap in the third movie. I also liked CRash, and i never was interested in Love Actually before, but after eeading your recommendation i might check it out now.

    As for my favorites…uhhhh, not sure actually. I really liked Franklyn. I also really liked the first 2 x-men movies, if those count. Hopefully i will be able to think of others later

    And i read imdb wrong concerning Eva Green. Her voice appeared in Quantum of Solace, but she physically appeared in Casino Royale. I got her confused with the revenge seeking chick in Solace.

    1. Give it a look, Julian, it’s quite enjoyable. I wish they didn’t use too much foul language in there, I have low tolerance for those, but a lot of British movies are like that unfortunately.

      Ohhh, I’m forgetting X-Men!! Yeah that franchise did boast an awesome cast, a great combination of Shakespearean quality and some up-and-coming actors (it was Hugh Jackman’s first foray into Hollywood blockbusters). Surely the cast of the upcoming prequel is one I’m excited about!

      He..he.. yeah I read that on your blog about Eva. I wish she were still in QoS, I’d prefer her over that Olga chick.

      1. Julian

        Well, i’m used to movies with lots of swearing 😀

        And i remember being extremely disappointed in the third X-men movie. They shouldn’t have tried to force both the Cure storyline and the Phoinex storyline into 1 movie. I’ve noticed in trilogys usually they end up stuffing too much into one movie, and it almost always ends up bad(Spiderman 3 i’m lookin at you).

        And i didn’t personally have any problem with the lead actress in QoS, but thats just me.

        1. I just choose not to get desensitized by swearing, I find most of the time it’s so unnecessary.

          Well Brent Rattner pretty much destroyed the franchise. But as my friend Ted said, he’s a “Yes, Man” director so what do you expect?

          I have more problem with the script of QoS than the girl, but she certainly doesn’t help.

  7. I laughed reading your comment on Paul Walker’s photoshopped body/head on the poster! When it comes to ensemble casts I was glad to see you added Crash to your list. Personally, I would add the Ocean’s trilogy (personal favs), The Italian Job, Troy, Black Hawk Down, and Saving Private Ryan. All fun ensemble casts. When my friends and I play our own version of “6 degrees” to connect actors to others, these titles almost always pop up! btw, thanks for voting on my site today! Appreciate you stopping by!

    1. Hi Scarlet! Well, I’m not the only one saying that, believe me. Whoever did that should never work as a designer of any kind.

      I considered Italian Job and Troy, but truthfully, I’m not fond of those Ocean movies. I was cajoled into seeing the latest one and I thought it was kinda meh. Too many superstars and it strikes me as a vanity project for them.

      Man I really should see Black Hawk Down one of these days. Heard so many good things about it, but I’m not really into war movies.

  8. Great post! Now I know what an “ensemble cast” means. I totally agree with regards to “The Lord of the Rings trilogy” casts, indeed some of them didn’t have a “Big Name” in the movie industry at that time. Look at Orlando Bloom, his career really bloomed after he had that break-through role as Legolas.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi there! Yeah, it’s amazing how a lot of them have become big stars now, especially Viggo. And you probably know this but he wasn’t the original actor chosen, he was Stuart Townsend’s last minute replacement for the role of Aragorn.

      As for Bloom, I don’t think he’s had a compelling role since LOTR, he was so terrible in Troy.

  9. I thought Paris je T’aime was way too uneven.

    Gotta agree with LoTR being on the list, although my favorite ensemble cast from the past decade would probably be The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Either that, or a Jason Reitman film.

    1. Yeah I suppose, but the segments that do work are pretty cool that it’s worth including in this list IMO.

      Haven’t seen the Jesse James film, that’s got Casey Affleck, right? I’ve only seen two Jason Reitman films: Thank You For Smoking and Up in the Air, but neither strike me as an ensemble cast though.

  10. Pingback: Hugh Jackman Holiday Party | Celebrity Buzz

  11. Still haven’t seen Love Actually, but that cast looks wonderful.

    A few I would mention: The Departed, Gone Baby Gone and Zodiac.

  12. I have always wanted a post like this to exist, after I heard Alec Baldwin calling GlenGarry GlenRoss (sp?) ‘the best cast he’s ever worked with.’ I wanted to know if movies kept the ball rolling.

    I’ve only seen Gosford Park and Crash. I feel less of a movie fan for not seeing LOTR. One day…

  13. Great top 5 Ruth. One of my favourite ensembles is the cast of Clue. I can’t play the board game now without thinking of them in the roles of Miss Scarlett, Professor Plum etc.

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