For his big, glossy remake of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, Kenneth Branagh brought together a hell of an ensemble of A-List talent. Our Roundtable this week looks at other movies promising the proverbial “all-star cast.”
Note that, in order to qualify for this distinction, a film must have at least four big-name actors in major roles.
M. Enois Duarte
‘Ocean’s Twelve‘ is not only one of the best sequels that’s just as good as its predecessor, but it’s also one of the best ensemble cast movies out there. I can already hear the furious tapping of keyboards charging forth with accusations of committing cinematic sacrilege or head-scratching confusion since both films feature the same cast of actors. While that may be true, I would argue it wasn’t until this sequel that director Steven Soderbergh really found his rhythm and was a little more daring to let loose his particular brand of filmmaking.
When wanting to finance smaller, personal projects, Soderbergh will accept more mainstream, major-studio jobs. Such was the case when doing ‘Erin Brockovich’ for ‘Traffic’ and ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ to greenlight ‘Solaris’. And when those big-budget movies became hits, Soderbergh became interestingly comfortable making major studio movies that were more in line with his familiar oeuvre, which can be seen in the sequel, making for a more fun and carefree caper flick with influences from other classics, such as ‘Rififi’. At the same time, the cast was also familiar and comfortable with each other, so the entire film feels like a genuine reunion with believable camaraderie. Personally, I love ‘Ocean’s Twelve’.
While it’s pretty much a given that a Quentin Tarantino movie will have a star-studded cast, my favorite might be ‘Jackie Brown‘. As with other Tarantino films, this one has a mix of hot A-List talent like Robert De Niro and Samuel L. Jackson, and up-for-anything out-of-cycle stars like Michael Keaton and Pam Grier. While the elusive Chris Tucker is spent on a less than dignified cameo, the ensemble somehow manage to tread the line between being key characters and splitting off into their own storylines.
My all-time favorite ensemble film is Martin Scorsese’s American adaptation of Hong Kong’s ‘Infernal Affairs’. The cast list of ‘The Departed‘ is chock full of some of the best acting talent, old and (then) new. Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon play two deep-rooted characters with secret connections. DiCaprio is a Boston cop undercover with an Irish gang. Damon is the gang’s mole detective within the Massachusetts state police force. The two are aware that each other exists, but don’t know the identities of one another. Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin play higher-ups on the police side, while Jack Nicholson plays the organized crime boss. Combine the excellent non-A-lister co-stars Vera Farmiga, Ray Winstone, James Badge Dale, Kevin Corrigan and David O’Hara, a brilliant screenplay and Scorsese’s unmatched direction, and you’ve got a perfect film. There was no way that Scorsese wasn’t walking away with the Oscar for ‘The Departed’.
Brian’s mention of ‘Jackie Brown’ made me want to pick ‘Reservoir Dogs‘, but then I realized that few members of that cast were actually famous beforehand. At the time of its release, Harvey Keitel was the biggest name in the credits. Players like Steve Buscemi, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen had been working character actors, but hadn’t achieved much personal fame until Quentin Tarantino’s movie became a big indie sensation.
Instead, I’ll go with another movie from 1992: James Foley’s adaptation of David Mamet’s Pulitzer-winning ‘Glengarry Glen Ross‘. This tale of the dark side of Capitalism features one of the greatest power ensembles ever put to film. The original play is famous for its razor-sharp dialogue, and the movie lets Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Jonathan Pryce, and (stealing the whole thing in a brief scene) Alec Baldwin tear into it with gusto. (At this particular moment in time, I hesitate to mention that Kevin Spacey is in it too, but he was damn good at playing an asshole.) Best of all is the legendary Jack Lemmon as the one-time top dog trapped in a losing streak that brings out a frightening desperation. It’s some of Lemmon’s finest work. Every performance in this film is sterling.
Honorable mentions for me include Robert Altman’s ‘Short Cuts’, Wes Anderson’s ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Magnolia’.
Tell us in the Comments about your favorite movies overflowing with stars.