There are some films where you struggle to find the MVP, and even if you can’t, you get surprised how the cast is so packed and somehow every single member of the cast is a perfect choice for their part. That’s the way it is; sometimes the cast is the real star. Unfortunately with the exception of the SAG Awards, not many award bodies recognize the whole cast. However, they should – not only the cast but also the casting directors as well. This year was also full of some great ensemble pieces with amazing and memorable performances. Here are 10 films with such casts that we can call great for various reasons.
10. Her Smell
This is not a widely discussed film because it’s a small indie and definitely not an easy watch. Those who watched it were mostly floored by Elisabeth Moss’ raw, impressive, beautiful, remarkable turn. It’s the kind of a performance that would sweep the awards if it had a better distributor. Honestly, it may very well be the female performance of the year. She just gives it all here. Director Alex Ross Perry’s campaign letter beautifully describes the process, how it’s a performance that kept on surprise and fascinated not only the audience, but even the director itself.
Nobody else in the film’s cast had this kind of a strong role as it’s Moss’ show, but then, why is this movie on this list? Because everybody is expertly picked for their parts, everyone is very convincing, and it’s a cast full of familiar names that we’re glad to see; I mean Eric Stoltz? Virginia Madsen? This is how you choose the right actors for the right parts. This is why “Her Smell” deserved to get recognition here.
It’s a story of alienation to some degree, how Moss’ character alienates or has conflicts with her bandmates (Agyness Deyn and Gayle Rankin), their label owner (Stoltz), her mother (Madsen), her ex-husband (Dan Stevens), a newish collaborating band that seemingly worships her (Ashley Benson, Cara Delevingne, Dylan Gelula), and a friend who is now more successful than her (Amber Heard). All of the performances here are small but pivotal and effective. They all complete each other. Everybody fits their parts like a glove, so organically and naturally that, even though most of them are recognizable faces, no one feels out of place. It’s a great example of a film that benefited from excellent casting.
Kevin Harrison Jr, had two great roles this year and one of them is his powerful part in “Waves.” It’s not just him – everybody is powerful here. The movie itself is great and once again shows that Trey Edward Schults is a talent to keep an eye on. Harrison’s performance is gripping here; what makes his and other cast members’ work so effective that they don’t overdo any moment, all of them manage to find the right subtle tones in their performances and they know when it’s the time to go big.
There’s a natural turn from Taylor Russell whose part is more flashy but not without depth; it’s a lovely, enduring and touching performance and hopefully brings her more great opportunities. Each cast member delivers; Sterling K. Brown would make a great candidate for Best Supporting Actor if it wasn’t such a packed year. He comes off like your typical tough movie dad at first, but then you start to sense humanity in him. Renée Elise Goldsberry comes close to stealing the film in one scene, and she showcases one of the most interesting and compelling portrayals of motherhood of recent years.
Most of the praise seems to be focused on Brown, Harrison and Russell so people seem to forget her, but when she’s on screen, you can’t take your eyes off her. Alexis Demie also deserves a shout out for excellent work. Lucas Hedges’ plot is a bit too long and maybe the film needed less of his story, but still he turns in with a charming performance. “Waves” is a beautiful, impressive film that is also a strong technical achievement, but the raw, transparent performances of its cast is one of the main reasons why this film hit us this much.
8. The Beach Bum
This is definitely not a film for everyone. None of Harmony Korine’s films are for everyone, anyway. He’s a unique voice in the cinema, no matter if you love his work or hate him. Here he gives his actors roles that they can both have fun with and the audience can as well by watching them.
Matthew “McConaissance” McConaughey was great and his post-”Interstellar” turn was more of a mixed bag, but McConaughey still delivered touching work in “The Sea of Trees” (unfairly bashed) and “White Boy Rick,” while showcasing his more cool side in films like “The Gentlemen.” His range is impressive, of course, but this is what we missed seeing from McConaughey – playing washed-up stoner poet, no surprisingly hailed as the “role of a lifetime” by many critics.
This is an absolute trip of a movie and will probably have a cult following in upcoming years. McConaughey basically plays the modern day cinema’s The Dude – though, of course, in Korine’s style. While most of the praise was focused on him, the movie is much more than just McConaughey; everybody shines here. Is this an acting stretch for Snoop Dogg? Maybe not, but he’s having tons of fun here. Jonah Hill’s short appearance is hilarious, Isla Fisher is charming as ever, but the real scene-stealer is Martin Lawrence, who hasn’t had a great role since the late ‘90s. His appearance as a sleazy dolphin-watching tour guide is sheer brilliance. Now that he’s back with this and “Bad Boys for Life,” one wonders if he’ll get more great opportunities.
The only problem is that some of the supporting cast members needed more screen time as one couldn’t get enough of them; Fisher in particular has never been better. In fact, nearly every actor in the film gives some of their best performances ever. Who knows whether or not the cast is having fun while filming this movie, but they sure give the impression that they did have fun. And if you get into the style and tone of the film, you’ll have a lot of fun by watching them.
Ambiguity is at the center in “Luce.” You never get too sure about some of the character’s motives, what they think and/or what actually happens. It’s a movie with no easy answers and the story doesn’t really build up to some big conclusion, which is why it can be a frustrating watch for some.
One of the main strengths of the film was its all-around terrific cast. Kelvin Harrison Jr. gets his breakthrough moment here and he keeps the audience guessing; is this an overly nice guy trapped in misunderstandings, or there’s something darker to it? Octavia Spencer was better than most of this year’s Oscar nominees in the Supporting Actress category, yet she played another kind of character that you’re not too sure if you love or hate at times. It’s her most complex and maybe her best role. Perhaps if it wasn’t a summer release and a bigger movie, she’d get more talk.
Seeing Tim Roth and Naomi Watts together can give you “Funny Games” flashbacks, but they get totally different kinds of characters to deal with here. Some of Watts’ film choices in recent years have been totally awful and did no justice to her talent, but finally in “Luce,” she got to play a very interesting, conflicted, complex character. It’s a mother who wants to protect her son but after recent events, is also suspicious and somewhat confused about him.
One can say Roth doesn’t have enough material to work with, but that’s what makes his performance impressive, because it could become uninteresting if it was portrayed by your average actor. Roth still finds layers that keep his performance fresh and his character engaging. Andrea Bang and Marsha Stephanie Blake make you feel impressed in their brief moments. “Luce” was one of the most overlooked films of the year, and its cast was certainly worthy of a nomination.
6. Little Women
Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” is a fresh look at the beloved classic novel, with a new structure. She proved that some stories are truly timeless and it’s possible to re-tell them in an effective way again and again. But for a familiar subject material to work this great, you don’t just need great directorial and writing chops, but you should also get the most appropriate actors possible and she did it. Even though there’s one disappointing stunt casting (Bob Odenkirk just feels so out of place), the rest of the cast is stellar.
Saoirse Ronan doesn’t get tired of proving that she’s the best actress of her generation; her recent film choices can be easily dismissed as “back-to-back period dramas” but these are all complex roles and as Jo, in both timelines, she just nails it. You see that it’s a young woman with big ambitions, dreams, and creativity but is also kind of a mess. Up there with Winona Ryder, she can be the best Jo on film. Florence Pugh is also a revelation, since Amy is notorious for being one of the most hated characters of the novel, but she comes up with such a new amount of depth that now it’s possible to empathize with her. Eliza Scanlen is heartbreaking; Laura Dern gives such a warm, humane performance; Timothee Chalamet is at his most charming; and then, of course, there’s Meryl Streep, who needs no words.
The film focused on mostly the female cast members, and Chalamet probably got the most mention out of male actors, but the male actor choices are all great here. Tracy Letts’ sequence is fun, Chris Cooper is effective as always, and Louis Garrell is an absolute perfect casting choice as Friedrich Bhaer. The movie is full of great actors and Gerwig shows that she’s a great actors’ director by giving most of them great material to work with. Emma Watson didn’t get enough mention in reviews, but her performance is lovely as well, and certainly plays to her strengths as a performer.