There’s surprise hype around “Parasite.” Not sure if any other Korean film received this kind of wide buzz and acclaim on an international level, or got this much awards recognition in the United States and/or the United Kingdom. This year, “Parasite” became the first foreign language film to win the marquee SAG Award for Best Ensemble Cast, which is an incredible achievement. Director Bong Joon-Ho was very happy, saying, “I think today was truly important as these actors were acknowledged by fellow peers and that’s the greatest joy of this night.” And indeed, “Parasite” has one of the best casts of the year and it’s great to see them getting recognized all over the world.
Song Kang-Ho is probably the standout, once again demonstrating his talent at work through a sea of complicated emotions. He’s probably the most recognizable face as he had been in several other successful Korean films that got worldwide attention. However, the rest of the cast is equally brilliant; Park So-dam’s performance is so much fun and Park Yeon-kyo also convinces us of her essential goodness. Cho Yeo-jeong is awesome as the charming-but-clueless character, Lee Sun-kyun hits all the right notes, and Lee Jung-eun also deserves a mention. The thing here is the family here feels very real, and they’re portrayed in such a way that we sympathize with them. The cast is kept relatively small as it is composed of less than 10 different actors, but that’s one of the things that is so wonderful about “Parasite.”
4. The Irishman
Martin Scorsese’s epic gangster masterpiece is bringing the old legends back together. It’s very understandable why Alec Baldwin felt so sentimental while watching these guys working as a cast, because really, will this be the last time we get to see them together? Especially in a film like this, because the most recent De Niro-Pacino collaboration was, unfortunately, “Righteous Kill.” But this time they’re in a film that deserves to have them.
Robert De Niro gives a heartbreaking performance with a kind of a character that is tough and violent, but you get to see the humane sides of him as well – the kind of moral conflict Scorsese likes. Al Pacino plays Jimmy Hoffa with his Pacino-esque intensity, but is it close to the real Hoffa? That’s debatable, but it’s certainly fascinating to watch Pacino here and just great to see him with such a strong part after a long time. Joe Pesci is a revelation, transforming into a character he never did before, which surprised many people.
While most of the praise was focused on these three guys, everybody shines here. The lack of female cast was often noted. Yes, Anna Paquin doesn’t speak here, but her moments of silence speak more than any words could do and some of her sequences are very powerful. Stephen Graham is superb as the febrile Anthony Provenzano, and it’s great to watch his scenes together with Pacino. We’d wish to see Harvey Keitel to get more material to work with, but isn’t it great just to see him back in a Scorsese movie? Graham is not the only one from “Boardwalk Empire”; Bobby Cannavale and Jack Huston are other names that are nice to see, just like Ray Romano, whose short monologues in the courtroom are pretty good. Sure, some of these supporting performers could all have much more to do, but it’s great to see them all together, and they do the best that could be done with the material they were given.
3. Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach has gathered an excellent ensemble for the most awarded film of his career. Adam Driver has previously starred in three of his films: in a decent supporting role (“Frances Ha”), an entertaining side performance (“While We’re Young”) and an amusing cameo in “The Meyerowitz Stories.” This time Driver gives possibly the best performance of his career where he gets to show what a gifted actor he is at both drama and comedy. That one last scene where he reads to his kid is one of the most heartbreaking moments of the year. Scarlett Johansson’s long scene with her lawyer is very effective and she hasn’t managed to get such a great role since 2013.
The supporting roles are all great; it’s amazing how Ray Liotta and Laura Dern both portray hotshot, highly successful lawyers, but they tend to have different personalities. Liotta is more loud, but Dern is more calm and cool. As for Alan Alda, he amuses with every single one of his scenes. Good for Dern that she finally won an Oscar after an excellent career, but it’s unfair how little recognition both Liotta and Alda got. Then again, their categories were competitive. Each supporting character is so well-written that one won’t mind seeing a full feature-length film about them.
Also, a small shoutout to brief but absolute delightful performances by Merritt Weaver and hilarious Julia Hagerty. Child actor Azhy Robertson also did everything that could be done with the character. It’s crazy that this movie missed SAG nomination for Best Ensemble Cast, but it was nice to see the whole cast awarded with the Robert Altman award at the Indie Spirits.
2. Knives Out
Since a sequel has been confirmed, one expects that Daniel Craig will be back with his hilarious comedic skills and amusing Southern accent as Benoit Blanc, and we wonder if Rian Johnson will manage to bring a cast excellent as this. Craig is a great movie star, no doubt about that. It’s no wonder his Bond is beloved, but he works even better as a character actor.
The whole cast here is a total delight. Ana de Armas is probably more of a lead than Craig and it’s one of her best roles to date; and if you compare what she does here to something like “Knock Knock,” which was the first time she was introduced to such a wide audience, the range is impressive. Chris Evans finally gets to play a douchebag kind of character and he’s surprisingly good at it. Michael Shannon is always great and when you know that he ad-libbed some of the funniest lines in the movie, it makes his performance even better. Toni Collette is on a hot streak recently and her Gwyneth Paltrow-ish persona in the movie is wonderful, and many of her sequences are funny.
The legendary Jamie Lee Curtis is always great, so is Don Johnson. Christopher Plummer is also one of the MVPs; just that moment before he dies is so powerful. It’s amazing that at his age he keeps delivering great work back-to-back. Some characters like Katherine Lengford’s aren’t all that special, but some characters deserve more mention; Jaeden Martell, for example, was totally hilarious. On top of the main cast being this great, the movie still keeps on surprising us with surprising cameos from Frank Oz, M. Emmet Walsh, and voice work by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
It’s almost impossible to make a “best cast” list any year Quentin Tarantino has produced a film and not include his movie. A devoted cinephile, he always gathers great actors and often unexpected names, which have sometimes helped those actors to revive their careers or be introduced to major audiences. This time in “Hollywood,” he cast two of the biggest stars on the planet and gave them some of their best roles. Leonardo DiCaprio surprised many to show his great comedic skills in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and here he’s hilarious once again, albeit in some kind of dark way. Tarantino also let him improvise one of the most memorable scenes of the film.
Brad Pitt, in a role that finally got him an acting Oscar, is also impressive; he’s humorous but in a kind of dark/mysterious way, he’s cool but also has a menacing/dangerous side. It’s both a movie star performance and a supporting character actor-like work. DiCaprio and Pitt are great together and make a very fine duo, but their individual scenes are also great. Margot Robbie is the best choice for Sharon Tate; it’s not much of an “acting” role, but she’s there for her presence and it’s the best way for the film and for what she represents in the film.
Then there are countless supporting roles: Mike Moh and Damien Lewis do fine impersonations of the real-life figures they play; Timothy Olyphant has excellently portrayed TV cowboys but to see him here alongside these guys is something else; Dakota Fanning delivers the thrills; Bruce Dern shows up in an excellent cameo that was originally meant for Burt Reynolds (RIP); Al Pacino has a minor role, but isn’t it always great to see him? It’s nice to see him in such a big film at this period of his career. The MVPs of the supporting cast are the born-to-be-a-star Julia Butters, and the amazing Margaret Qualley, who adds so much to the character that could be totally uninteresting at the hands of a lesser actress. Seeing Uma Thurman’s daughter Maya and Bruce Willis’ daughter here is another great moment.
But the movie keeps on surprising: “Love Witch” star Samantha Robinson; a surprise cameo from Lena Dunham; the Oscar-nominated “Midnight Cowboy” actress Brenda Vaccaro; and TV’s Spider-Man Nicholas Hammond are some of the surprising names in the cast, When it comes to some of the younger members of the cast, Victoria Pedretti has become a bigger name with her performances in “The Haunting of Hill House” and ”You”; the gorgeous Sydney Sweeney is now known more thanks to “Euphoria”; Austin Butler is now preparing to play Elvis Presley.
Kudos to the casting directors for having a great eye on emerging young talents. Tarantino regulars Zoe Bell and Michael Madsen show up in minor roles as well as Kurt Russell, but he surprisingly comes back with his narration skills. In an extended release, we also have James Masden and voice cameo by Walton Goggins (he’s not the only name from Tarantino’s favorite show “Justified”).So It’s an all-around incredible cast, full of unexpected names, great performances, and delightful work by everyone. We just wish Tim Roth’s part didn’t get cut.