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Entries in Best Ensemble (20)

Wednesday
Aug272014

Gone With The Wind's Glorious Ensemble

Entr'acte After last week's screening of the first half of the gargantuan Gone With the Wind. I realized that three fourths of my memories of the movie come from its first half. What would this screening of Act 2 reveal? We return now to wind-swept Georgia and the tale of the most famous of southern belles, Scarlett O'Hara.

Scarlett summed up: Surrounded in Rhett's wealth and love (the future) but still focused on her self and past girlish ideals (Ashley Wilkes in her hand). Perpetually vain and unhappy.

Part 2 The first act of GWTW is, largely, a Civil War film albeit one that's told brilliantly off the battlefield. The second act shifts gears to Reconstruction. While the South is being rebuilt, Scarlett is doing her own life remodelling. It's now a romantic melodrama, but pleasantly also a rich ensemble film as each character comes into sharper focus (Hattie McDaniel's Mammy and Olivia de Havilland's Melanie in particular - both superb)

Ashley Wilkes, simpleton that he is, still doesn't get Scarlett, assessing her strength like so: 

You never have trouble facing reality."

Oh, Ashley! Our semi-delusional Southern Belle is still continually fantasizing about you, a man she can't have and wouldn't want if she had him, while denying her love for the one she has and does actually want... in her own way. All the way she's hoping to recapture or clinging to her obsession of former glories of the Old South: Tara with its lush lands and easy wealth, the cheap labor force (ahem), and even her girlish waistline which alarming grows to a (GASP!) 20" and she cannot figure why. 'Childbirth? Fiddle-dee-dee!'

If Ashley Wilkes, who idolizes Scarlett, were choosing Part 2's Best Shot, I know just what he'd choose.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Jan292014

We Can't Wait #5: Inherent Vice

[Editor's Note: We Can't Wait is a Team Experience series, in which we highlight our top 14 most anticipated films of 2014. Here's Amir Soltani on "Inherent Vice."]

Inherent Vice
Doc Sportello, a perennially buzzed detective in Los Angeles at the beginning of the 70s, gets himself tangled up in a mess with former lovers, low life gangsters, prostitutes, billionaire crooks, a ship called Golden Fang and a whole lotta people with really weird names.

Talent
One of America’s greatest filmmakers, Paul Thomas Anderson, is behind the camera and one of America’s greatest actors, Joaquin Phoenix, is in front of it. Cinematographer Robert Elswit is collaborating with the director again after a one-film break, as is composer Jonny Greenwood. Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Martin Short, Reese Witherspoon and P.T.'s partner Maya Rudolph fill out the rest of the cast list.

Maya Rudolph in "Inherent Vice"

Why We Can’t Wait
With Paul Thomas Anderson’s name attached, little else is needed to drum up excitement. In my opinion, he has directed three spotless masterpieces (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood and The Master) and the rest of his filmography is as compelling as it is provocative. His is a singular and vital voice in modern American cinema. But there’s another factor at play here too: Inherent Vice is one of my favorite novels of recent years, and one of Pynchon’s most polished and coherent works. Its relatively modest scale should lend itself better to adaptation than the rest of his bibliography.

It will also be interesting to see Anderson in a more relaxed mood again. Vice has the potential to take him back to the Altman-esque structure he so successfully utilized in Boogie Nights, both because of its sprawling cast of colorful characters and its bitter humor and casual insight into the Angelenos counterculture. Few directors can get an ensemble to click as comfortably as Anderson does and it’d be a shame if he never used that gift again. If adapted faithfully, Doc Sportello is more central to the narrative than Dirk Diggler was, but there’s still plenty of meat for everyone else to chew on here. Plus, look at that cast! It’s mouthwatering. So good, in fact, that I’m willing to forgive the presence of Reese Witherspoon!

But We Do Have To Wait
Warner Brothers has the distribution rights, but we know we have to wait a while. None of Anderson’s films have been released earlier than mid-September on the calendar, and chances are this one won’t be an exception. A festival bow in Venice is likely; one in Toronto is almost inevitable.

Previously on "We Can't Wait"
06 Into the Woods
07 Snowpiercer
08 Nymphomaniac
09 Boyhood,
10 Big Eyes,
11 The Last 5 Years,
12 Gone Girl 
13 Can a Song Save Your Life 
14 Veronica Mars 
runners up  just missed the cut.

Thursday
Dec262013

Year in Review: Best Ensembles & Best Casting

To the tune of Madonna's "Music" ♫

Hey Mr Director, get your ensemble on, all the guys & ladies
And once the movie starts
don't ever let them stop, they're gonna drive me crazy

People make the movie come together - yeah


As annoying as it was in 2003 when Mystic River was attempting to halt the inevitable Lord of the Rings coronation with a sort of 'people are the best special effects!' Oscar campaign, the sentiment was true and remains so. I've been going to all kind of movies my whole life and  I've yet to see anything that's as remarkable as the happily regular occurence of weird electricity and true magic sparking when fine actors collide, collude, combust or cooperate.

So as we're all celebrating the holidays with our own personal ensembles of friends and family, I thought it would be a good time to honor the most special collections of players in 2013.  I can never let the Screen Actors Guild have the last word on this matter because, though acting is their raison d'etre, they never get this category right, opting for popular Oscar bound films with big casts and not really thinking about the WHOLE cast, and how all those players are interacting and bouncing off or working together. This year, they chose August: Osage County, American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club, 12 Years a Slave, Lee Daniels' The Butler, and I think two of those are really poor choices (though I like all five films) when you're thinking about the acting collective as opposed to just one or two performances within it. SAG's past history suggests that they're only comfortable with "star" ensembles so they were never going to go for fine teams like Frances Ha and Short Term 12 but why not Prisoners which is a sharp example of stars NOT connecting with each other on purpose. Everyone in that cast is alone since all the characters are horrified by each other (and sometimes themselves), trapped in their own personal grief and grievances.

When you're talking about great ensemble work I think you're also talking about fine direction and smart casting, though there are exceptions. Two fascinating examples of how complicated this all gets in that you can have one without the other(s) are August: Osage County and 12 Years a Slave. A:OC has a lot of fine actors in it but the director John Wells can't figure out how to see all of them at once, opting too often for shot / reverse shot when he needs to widen the camera or choreograph them differently so we can watch them together. I've never understood why so many contemporary directors have trouble absorbing this concept since their peers who are skillful at shooting group scenes are hardly obscurities. Just watch a couple of movies by David O. Russell and Paul Thomas Anderson (or classic departed directors like Wyler or Altman) and you'll instantly be smarter about ensemble vision; They know exactly when to go to or stay with a two-shot or a three or four or even five shot... Hell, get everybody in there -- the more the merrier! As for 12 Years, I'm on record as complaining about the casting. Too many of its (white) supporting players are too familiar as  faces go which, in a lesser movie, would really derail the existential horror. But there's no denying that when this cast is acting together it's absolutely electric... I still get chills thinking about the way Michael Fassbender leans on his co-stars like they're his furniture and the way the various actors playing the slaves freeze up whenever they're being observed and the multiple nuances of when the actors are willing to look at each other and when they're too scared or smart to. It's all top notch work but if the director wasn't wise enough to let you see this -- and many directs aren't, just stiching 90 minutes of establishing shots and close-ups together and calling it a movie -- the ensemble probably wouldn't be winning as much praise.

Without further ado... My Nominations for Best Casting & Best Ensemble

And, in case you haven't seen THR's Casting Roundtable. I watched it only after making my lists since I didn't want to be unduly influenced but it's completely interesting. 

I only wish they could have found room for Rich Delia and Douglas Aibel, since I'm honoring both this year.

Wednesday
Dec112013

SAG Nominations Are In!

Good morning Oscar watchers. This morning brings one of the biggest precursors of the season: the Screen Actor's Guild. These days the eventual Oscar cross-over is usually somewhere between "very hot" (19/20 for 2009) to "very warm" (17/20 in 2011 and 2010) so you can guarantee a large number of the below nominees will show up on Oscar ballots in January.

What are we thinking will cross over? What will fall out? Will tomorrow's Golden Globe nominations (!!!) erase whatever momentum that some of today's nominees have amassed (we're looking at you August: Osage County and Lee Daniels' The Butler)?

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Nov122013

A Look Ahead at the SAG Award for Best Cast

It’s Amir here. Nathaniel and I have both previously shared our frustration about the way this prize is handled. Theoretically, this should be one of the best awards of the season. Imagine celebrating directors who can bring together an ensemble of actors with exciting chemistry, films that develop several characters in equal measure, and actors who find their footing by playing against other members of the cast. As previously stated, the award should be more about a collective achievement than multiple individual ones. Sadly, that’s not how it works in the real world.

Slumdog Millionaire's win remains baffling to this day.

 

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Sep102013

Today in Stupid: 20 Best Picture Nominees & Standing Os for August: Osage County

Relax. The headline is misleading, thank the baby Jesus. Variety is merely wondering if there should be 20 nominees and the only argument they can see against it is that it would make the ceremony even longer?!? Why would anyone propose such a thing? Oh, yes, shameless traffic-baiting is always the why. A website gotta have hits. But since we're feeling generous we've indulged them with a link.

The Film Experience would rather go back to 5 when a Best Picture nomination meant something and was difficult to procure. Even with 10 slots available it's so diluted. One unfortunate side effect is the Best Director category which, despite some fascinating surprises last year, has lost some of its appeal since gone are the days when you could wonder about the "lone wolf" nominee. With any more Best Picture nominees all the tension and drama that comes with annual competition would instantly be sucked out of it, like a zigzagging balloon with knot untied, falling to the ground in a rubbery lump of no fun who cares.

In other stupid news there seems to be a weird notion floating around twitter that the Standing Ovation for August: Osage County is a big deal somehow or that it's "rare".  Standing ovations are the furthest thing from rare at festival screenings if the cast or director actually shows up... unless they went and changed the definition of rare while I was up flying the friendly skies. They're kind of expected... that thing you do to say 'thank you for coming, movie stars!' 

Julianne, Dermot, Julia, Juliette, Ewan & Abigail at the premiere

Nevertheless August: Osage County is clearly where your head is out (I read the comments sections) and where Twitter's been sl let's discuss the reactions after the jump

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Aug242013

Review: Short Term 12

An abridged version of this review was previously published in my column at Towleroad

The movies that hit us hardest can be the toughest to talk about. Sometimes that's because they're personal, striking you right where you live. Sometimes it's more intangible than that, showing you something you needed to see about a less familiar world just to the side of your own, while never forgetting to move and entertain you. Short Term 12 will surely be one of those movies for many, either way.

This rich drama from the Hawaiian filmmaker Destin Cretton, is based on his short film of the same name and concerns a very private young woman named Grace (Brie Larson) the supervisor at a Foster Care facility. Grace is an expert at navigating the emotional chaos of the kids she watches over but less adept at meeting her own emotional needs or opening up to her friends and co-workers about her own secrets. She's got at least two of them weighing her down. Short Term 12 refers to the setting, a temporary shelter for troubled or abandoned kids as they await their next foster home assignment.

I have no personal experience with the foster care system or abusive birth parents or mentoring kids -- Hell, I was never even a babysitter (Youngest Child Escape Clause) -- but within minutes the foreignness of it all slips away. [more...]

Click to read more ...