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The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

on February 26, 2016, 12:00am
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18. The Usual Suspects (1995)

the usual suspects The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio del Toro, Kevin Pollak, Chazz Palminteri, Pete Postlethwaite, and Kevin Spacey

Groupthink: It’s hard to overstate the importance of The Usual Suspects. Not only does this film have one of the most defining plot twists of all time, but along with L.A. Confidential, it ushered in a new era of neo-noir crime films set in and around Los Angeles. Like a more demented, cynical version of Ocean’s Eleven, this one depends entirely on an ensemble of cast-off criminals played by A-list actors. Kevin Spacey’s poker face is the obvious standout, but Gabriel Byrne, Stephen Baldwin, and Benicio del Toro also acquit themselves nicely. –Collin Brennan

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17. The Big Chill (1983)

the big chill The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, and JoBeth Williams

Groupthink: Whether it realized it or not (probably not), The Big Chill basically invented its own subgenre: old friends reuniting in the face of tragedy. So many movies have been made in this template since Lawrence Kasdan’s comedy hit cinemas in 1983, yet pretty much none of them have resonated. That’s probably because the format lends itself to narcissistic navel-gazing, but also because none of these latter-day films have a cast with the charisma and natural rapport as this one. It didn’t hurt that Kasdan’s crackerjack cast – Glenn Close, William Hurt, Tom Berenger, Jeff Goldblum – were already well-established, but the film achieves that rare quality where the interactions between the characters feel neither scripted nor improvised, just natural. Kasdan’s script also keeps existential rumination to a minimum, focusing instead on inside jokes, lived-in exchanges, and the subtle changes that unfold among old friends as they enter their mid-30s. –Randall Colburn

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16. Mustang (2016)

mustang poster The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Güneş Şensoy, Doğa Doğuşlu, Elit İşcan, Tuğba Sunguroğlu, İlayda Akdoğan, Nihal Koldaş, and Ayberk Pekcan

Groupthink: Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang is one of 2016’s best films so far, and much of that is due to its fresh-faced ensemble. The film follows five orphaned sisters in a small Turkish village, each of whom buck and contort against the puritanical values imposed upon them by previous generations. The story centers on the youngest and most impressionable sister, Lale, whose identity throughout the film is shaped by the relationships she’s formed and the behavior she witnesses in her sisters. As such, each are painted in rich, detailed strokes, and Lale shares intimacy and heartache with every single one of them. But there’s an electricity that exists among them whenever they’re all onscreen together, and Ergüven makes the most of those moments by capturing the fivesome in sumptuous tableaus awash in natural light and windswept beauty. –Randall Colburn

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15. Get on the Bus (1996)

get on the bus The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Charles Dutton, Andre Braugher, Hill Harper, Wendell Pierce, Bernie Mac, Harry Lennix, Isaiah Washington, Ozzie Davis, an uncredited Randy Quaid, and Richard Belzer

Groupthink: A bus full of African-American men en route to the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. transforms into an act of aggressive enlightenment. Lee’s Get on the Bus took a bunch of guys, all from different classes, age groups, and ideologies, and pit them at each other one discussion at a time only to swing the door wide open on the complicated state of being black in America. It’s a forgotten film with a dynamite cast that lingers for its red-blooded passion, prose, and personalities. Watching actors allow themselves to be this angry in such tight spaces is daring micro-cinema with larger-than-life themes and messages. Watching Ossie Davis school a young boy on what it was like in the ‘60s for a black man is profound stuff. Seeing Andre Braugher sit next to Hill Harper as they learn about one another is fascinating. And seeing a collection of grown men shout and sing “shabooya!” in unison as a way to get to know one another, well, beats “kumbaya.” –Blake Goble

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14. The Departed (2006)

the departed The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Anthony Anderson, and Alec Baldwin

Groupthink: Matt Damon is probably the only star of The Departed who feels entirely comfortable with the Boston accent, but Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson meet him pace-for-pace in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning ensemble crime drama. Nicholson tends to get the lion’s share of praise for his delightfully devilish turn as a mob boss, but Damon’s suppressed, conflicted, sort of bad guy might be the film’s secret emotional center. –Collin Brennan

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13. The Wild Bunch (1969)

wild bunch The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: William Holden, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, Ben Johnson, and Warren Oates

Groupthink: Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 Western epic The Wild Bunch is best remembered for its brutal violence, the likes of which most audiences had never witnessed before in a major studio film. That violence is still very much a part of its legacy, but we should also remember that The Wild Bunch is first and foremost an ensemble film with one hell of a cast. William Holden delivers perhaps the best performance of his career as beleaguered gang leader Pike Bishop, while the rest of the outlaws — including Ernest Borgnine and Robert Ryan (whom Peckinpah cast after seeing him in The Dirty Dozen) — share in the bloody fun. –Collin Brennan

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12. Short Cuts (1993)

short cuts The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Lyle Lovett, Tom Waits, Andie McDowell, Buck Henry, Julianne Moore, Chris Penn, Robert Downey Jr., Lily Tomlin, Tom Waits, Matthew Modine, Anne Archer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Madeline Stowe, Lili Taylor, Tim Robbins, Frances McDormand, Fred Ward in a green wig, and Huey Lewis, without The News, urinating in a stream.

Groupthink: The cast is near uncountable in Altman’s epic poem. Folks are heard and seen en masse as Short Cuts, inspired by the works of Raymond Carver, covers the sprawl of personalities and types in modern L.A.. and Altman manages to tap into what feels like dozens of stories over a three-hour observation. Cops, doctors, musicians, artists, ingenues, waitresses, fishers, and a cavalcade of characters, just acting naturally. Short Cuts is all the pleasure of people-watching without the awkward anxiety of eye contact. Altman invites you to stare and knew exactly how to wait patiently for the best moments from his actors. –Blake Goble

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11. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

ocean's 11

Cast: Bernie Mac, Carl Reiner, Elliot Gould, Don Cheadle, Scott Caan, Andy Garcia, Julie Roberts, and some trio of pretty boys name Pitt, Damon, and Gorgeous George Clooney

Groupthink: Listen, the original Ocean’s Eleven from way, way back in 1960 is what happens when you get a bunch of drunken frat boys together to make a movie. Soderbergh’s 2001 remake is what happens when you get a bunch of talented, drunken frat boys together to make a movie. And what an exhilarating caper Soderbergh assembled, with a cast of handsome hoodwinkers robbing not one but three casinos at once. Everyone, from Reiner to Clooney gels and looks super cool here. –Blake Goble

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10. Dazed and Confused (1993)

dazed and confused The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Rory Cochrane, Sasha Jenson, Milla Jovovich, Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, Michelle Burke, Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, Marissa Ribisi, Renée Zellweger, Shawn Andrews, Cole Hauser, Ben Affleck, Deena Martin, and Nicky Katt

Groupthink: God, where to begin? Richard Linklater’s raucous sophomore effort shines a light on every nook and cranny of a Texas high school in 1976. What makes this ensemble – packed to the gills with future legends like Ben Affleck, Renée Zellweger, Matthew McConaughey, and Parker Posey – so effective is how they so often shatter the supposed boundaries of high school social strata. Sure, cliques exist, but, like in real life, they’re rarely exclusive. Rory Cochrane’s Slater, for example, is as accepted among the jocks as he is the burnouts. And the nerdy trio of Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, and Marissa Ribisi may be shy, but they’re not bullied. One of the film’s greatest delights is watching how dynamics shift as characters like Affleck’s dickwad O’Banion or McConaughey’s lecherous Wooderson enter and exit cars and conversations. As with the aforementioned The Winner, this film isn’t defined by its protagonist (Jason London’s “Pink” Floyd) so much as anchored by it. –Randall Colburn

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