What is an ensemble cast? How many actors constitute one? There aren’t any guidelines that determine what qualifies as a true ensemble, but if anyone can offer some insight it would be Woody Allen, who has been getting great groups of actors together for decades now. From Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters to Melinda and Melinda and You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, he’s always had a keen eye for casting and the stars continue to line up to work with the iconic auteur.
With the home entertainment release of his latest, fore mentioned film at hand, I thought it’d be apt to honor some of the coolest ensemble casts ever assembled. Keep in mind: this isn’t a list of the best films featuring an ensemble cast. It’s about the best rosters of talent roped in for a single production.
This under-appreciated Tony Scott action spectacle was polarizing to audiences because of its ultra-violent approach, particularly toward women. But Patricia Arquette proved herself to be one tough chick, able to take a beating a give it back in equal measure. Together with her beau-to-be Christian Slater, she embarks on an odyssey to free herself from pimp Gary Oldman and, later, his criminal overlord Christopher Walken, all while L.A. detectives Tom Sizemore and Chris Penn are hot on the trail of drugs and blood. With bonus appearances by Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Michael Rapaport and more, True Romance is a twisted web of cameos and special roles filled by some of the coolest actors of the time.
The Thin Red Line
WWII films have a long history of stellar casts comprised of legions of screen legends. This 1998 genre entry continues that grand tradition with enough A-listers to make five separate movies. George Clooney, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Adrien Brody, Miranda Otto, John Cusack, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, John Travolta, Nick Stahl, Elias Koteas and Jim Caviezel all appear in the prestigious picture at one point or another – a logistic achievement in and of itself.
This sweet rom-com gets me every time. Not just because of the cheerful dialogue and warm and fuzzy relationships, but also because of the charming cast of characters played by Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Laura Linney, Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, January Jones, Elisha Cuthbert, Rodrigo Santoro, Shannon Elizabeth, Andrew Lincoln, Denise Richards and the adorable Thomas Sangster. Together, there are around eight revolving, relatable romances in the film, but we wouldn’t have cared about any of them if not for the lovable cast.
In telling this sprawling tale about the intersecting lives of a handful of Angelenos, director Paul Haggis needed an international cast to represent the diverse population of the City of Angels. He got it with Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Esposito, Shaun Toub, Daniel Dae Kim, Matt Dillon, Loretta Devine, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Keith David, Ryan Phillippe, Michael Pena, Tony Danza and Thandie Newton. Though Dillon was the only actor recognized by the Academy at awards time, the triumph of the film belongs to its eclectic cast.
The Magnificent Seven
Akira Kurasawa’s epic Seven Samurai was practically begging for a Hollywood adaptation when it was released in 1954. By 1960, director John Sturges had made it a reality with a pack of screen idols including the dashing Yul Brynner, the inimitable Eli Wallach, the ultra-cool Steve McQueen, the bad-ass Charles Bronson, the slick Robert Vaughn, the cool James Coburn and the “newbie” Horst Buchholz. The septuplet of stars had a great deal of chemistry that made their on-screen antics all the more enjoyable to watch, and fifty years later their work on this classic film has become the stuff of movie mythology.
The star power packed into these popular motion pictures is astonishing. With Hollywood heavyweights like George Clooney, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt leading an army of talent - young and old - including Don Cheadle, Scott Caan, Bernie Mac, Andy Garcia, Carl Reiner, Eddie Jemison, Elliot Gould, Casey Affleck and Julia Roberts, there's no shortage of charisma throughout the film. You may be wondering why I chose Oceans Twelve over the 2001 remake of the 1960 original; it's because this hit heist pic also features the likes of Catherine Zeta-Jones, Albert Finney, Robbie Coltrane, Jared Harris, Vincent Cassel and Bruce Willis in appearances big and small. Not too shabby for a sequel...
Forget the awful 2008 remake. I implore you to give the original a chance. It’s a virtual who’s who of top Hollywood talent of the era. The premise is simple by today’s standards, but in 1939 its empowering themes were ahead of its time. Some of best actresses to ever grace the silver screen, including Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Joan Fontaine, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, Lucile Watson and Marjorie Main delivered the message. All of the above are Oscar winners or nominees, making this cast of female performers one of the most celebrated of all time.
I’m not sure if Francis Ford Coppola knew what he was onto when he picked his rag-tag group of actors for this kick-ass 1983 film. After all, most of the actors were relatively unknown and untested at the time (save for C. Thomas Howell, who had just starred in Steven Spielberg's E.T.), but that quickly changed in the years following its release. Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe, Diane Lane and Tom Cruise all appeared in the acclaimed teen drama, leaving behind one hell of a legacy.
The Crusades were a series of religious wars in which the Christians tried to reclaim Jerusalem from the Muslims who had conquered the Middle East in the 7th century. With the battle cry of "God wills it! " thousands of Europeans answered the call and were able to retake the fabled Holy City in the 11th century. Kingdom of Heaven begins in 1186 between the Second and Third Crusades. A fragile peace prevails mostly through the efforts of Jerusalem's enlightened Christian king Baldwin IV (Edward Norton) and the military restraint of the legendary Muslim leader Saladin (Ghassan Massoud). But it's difficult to maintain the peace. There are extremists within the Christian brigades--known as the Knights Templar--who want to wipe every Muslim off the face of the Earth. On top of that King Baldwin's health is failing. Once he's gone war is sure to follow. If ever there was a need for a hero this is the time. Enter the young French blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) who is in deep despair over the loss of his family. He joins the Crusades after the father he never knew Godfrey (Liam Neeson) comes back from Jerusalem and convinces him it's a quest worth fighting for. As Godfrey passes his sword to his son he also passes on that sacred knightly oath: to protect the helpless safeguard the peace and work toward harmony between religions and cultures so that a kingdom of heaven can flourish on earth. No pressure or anything though.
Orlando Bloom carries his first major motion picture very well easily handling the chores of being such a gallant conscientious and morally upstanding knight. As Balian the Troy costar plays the gamut. He broods over his lost wife and child has father-son epiphanies upholds his knightly duties on a regular basis falls in love with a beautiful but troubled princess and finally bravely defends the Holy City from the encroaching Muslim army thus becoming a legend. Not bad for a day's work eh? There are even times especially toward the end when Balian is standing before the denizens of Jerusalem urging them to fight when you swear you can see a little of Bloom's The Lord of the Rings alter-elf Legolas creep in. The supporting cast also does an adequate job painting a picture of some trying times. Chief among them: Jeremy Irons as King Baldwin's right-hand man Tiberias; Marton Csokas (The Bourne Supremacy) as the evil leader of the Knights Templar; Massoud as the great warrior Saladin; and lovely Eva Green (The Dreamers) as Princess Sibylla King Baldwin's sister who captures our hero's heart but makes some bad choices with dire consequences.
Even if these sword-and-armor epics are all blending together you've got to give props to the directors who make them. These films are massive undertakings and Kingdom of
Heaven with the expert Ridley Scott at the helm is no exception. The Oscar-winning director of course has had his fair share of recreating history first with the classic Gladiator and then with the contemporary Black Hawk Down. But in recreating the Crusades Scott faces his toughest challenge to date and takes on the responsibility very seriously. He is painstakingly meticulous with details even as he is building a 12th-century Jerusalem or corralling 2 000 heavily costumed extras for the colossal climactic battle sequences. And it is always a good thing when a historical film can teach you something you may not have known like what the heck the Crusades were really all about. No Kingdom's biggest obstacle is timing. While it certainly has more substance than Alexander it is not nearly as intense and stirring as The Lord of the Rings trilogy or the granddaddy of them all Braveheart. Too many of its ilk has come before and the concept has unfortunately worn thin.
CW Briggs (Allen) a New York insurance investigator has cracked many cases but in Allen's inimitable style is very disorganized. Enter Betty Ann "Fitz" Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt) an uptight efficiency expert who comes into Briggs' office to "clean things up." Sure these two seem to hate each other but what are their true feelings? At a party for a colleague Voltan the hypnotist (David Ogden Stiers) puts Briggs and Fitz under his spell and in a clever story device shows how Briggs and Fitz really feel about one another. But things of course get complicated. First there's a sudden string of jewel thefts where the evidence suspiciously leads to Briggs himself. Then Briggs finds out Fitz is having an affair with the company owner Chris Magruder (Dan Aykroyd). He could ruin Fitz if he didn't need her to help him find out who's framing him-and if he didn't have the nagging feeling that he really loves her.
Once again Allen has assembled an excellent cast--but that is after all his specialty. Allen may even decide to add his new leading lady to his personal stable. Hunt is the perfect foil embodying the fiery actress of the '40s (think Katharine Hepburn or Rosalind Russell) yet never once do you doubt her vulnerability under the tough veneer. Aykroyd is also quite good playing a rather unsavory married man who strings Fitz along. The character is reminiscent of Fred MacMurray's role in the Oscar-winning The Apartment which was no doubt an intentional tipping of the hat on Allen's part. The only less-than-stellar performance comes from Allen himself in the romantic lead. The same nebbish neurotic character that was so appealing in classics like Annie Hall and Manhattan comes off these days with significantly less charm. His pairing with an older actress (say perhaps Diane Keaton) would have made it more believable.
Nonetheless by casting himself as the lead Allen at least seems to be in on the joke. Curse may not be a gem (he hasn't had a true stand out since Hannah and Her Sisters) but it certainly ranks up there as an Allen special. The dialogue is as crisp and witty as ever: Hunt gets some of the best lines especially when she spars with Briggs. In one scene Fitz who always seems to have the upper hand tells Briggs as he walks out the door to be careful not to fall down an elevator shaft and break his hip because at his age they are hard to heal. Classic. Allen knows exactly what he wants--from the music to the costumes to the visuals. Some may think Allen's films have lost any edge he may have had when he was younger and granted they may not be entirely wrong. But Allen clearly doesn't care. Like the man Curse fits like an old comfortable glove.
After being drugged by a rival earl French nobleman Count Thibault (Jean Reno)
murders his bride-to-be Rosalind Malfete (Christina Applegate) on the eve of
their impending nuptials. While awaiting his execution Thibault sends his servant
André (Christian Clavier) to fetch a wizard (Malcolm McDowell) who can send Thibault
back in time so he can undo the night's tragic events. The spell backfires and
sends Thibault and his sidekick into the future instead of the past straight
into a Chicago museum's exhibit of medieval artifacts in the year 2000. Thibault
soon realizes that the exhibit's curator Julia Malfete (Applegate again) is
his descendant 30 generations removed after semi-convincing her of this he enlists
her help in finding the wizard who can send him back to the 12th century to save
their lineage. Meanwhile Julia's unfaithful money-grubbing husband Hunter (Matthew
Ross) throws a wrench in their plans and tries to have Thibault arrested for
false impersonation in order to hold onto the Malfete family fortune Julia stands
to inherit. Though the plot is riddled with holes the story line takes full advantage
of the 12th-century-meets-21st-century jokes and pranks including the visitors'
fascinations with modern day transportation electricity toilets and urinals
all guaranteeing good laughs.
Reno and Clavier reprise their roles in this American adaptation of the 1993 French
blockbuster Les Visiteurs. Reno brings both warmth and wit to Thibault's
character and carries the film from beginning to end. Tough chivalrous and charming
he evokes the legendary knight in shining armor. Though Clavier who plays his
subservient sidekick and brunt of all jokes elicits a few chuckles with his slip-and-fall
physical comedy he also demonstrates a tender side when he pleads with Thibault
for his freedom. Applegate puts on a believable British accent as Rosalind in
12th-century England but fares much better as Julia in 21st-century Chicago.
McDowell in the role of the blundering wizard shows that his strength may lie
more in the villainous than the comedic: his character is never really developed
leaving his portrayal one dimensional and stereotypical at best. Not much can
be said for the performances of Ross and Bridgette Wilson-Sampras either. Ross'
character is your run-of-the-mill cookie-cutter bad guy with no morals while
Wilson-Sampras overplays the made-up preening secretary.
The beginning of the film which is set in 12th-century England is done surprisingly
well from the costumes down to the cinematography; unfortunately this seems
to be where the bulk of the budget was spent. The modern day portion of the film
is sadly lacking especially when juxtaposed against the cold dark and realistically
gloomy feel of the first half. The special effects during the latter portion of
the film seem almost cartoonish and diminish the overall look of the film. While
Just Visiting retains the principal players of its French counterpart
including writer Jean-Marie Poire and director Jean-Marie Gaubert don't expect
this film to achieve a fraction of the success it had on the other side of the
Atlantic. Yet it provides good laughs from start to finish and the best moments
astonishingly enough were not limited to the ones shown in the film's trailer.