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The Best Ensembles of 2012

Written by on December 20, 2012 

Here’s the first 2012 wrap-up feature where all praise goes to the casting directors. Some films have trouble nailing down a single, talented A-list star, but today we’ve got ten examples of films that go above and beyond when duty calls. Below you’ll find ten films in 2012 that showcase the best examples of not only great acting, but stellar ensembles that work sublimely together. Check out the rundown and let us know your favorites in the comments.


Argo takes the framework of a heist film and applies it to an intense geopolitical nightmare to create a fast-paced, engaging story about the magic of Hollywood and the power of a really well-told lie. Ben Affleck controls the madness as the straight man at the center, John Goodman fills out the role of the stolid but tired old hand, and Alan Arkin is the slick-talking wildcard. With solid and assured work from Bryan Cranston and Kyle Chandler as the government higher-ups in charge and a who’s-who of character actors beyond naming (Rory Cochrane, Scoot McNairy, and Clea DuVall just to name a few) playing the hostages, the deck is loaded firmly in this film’s favor even before you get into the thrilling plot. – Brian R.


It’s not enough that Robert Pattinson proves his genuine acting chops with David Cronenberg‘s latest, but he’s also surrounded by one of the most versatile ensembles of the year in this story of a man and one wild mission to get a hair-cut. Whether they are popping in and out of his limousine or showing up elsewhere on Pattinson’s journey, the group comprised of Juliette Binoche, Sarah Gadon, Mathieu Amalric, Jay Baruchel, Kevin Durand, K’naan, Emily Hampshire and Samantha Morton each provide memorable insight to Pattinson’s dense lifestyle. Capping off with one of Paul Giamatti’s best turns in some time, this is one of the strongest ensembles of the year. – Jordan R.

Cloud Atlas

Taking an a whole new variation of ensemble work, Cloud Atlass is a film so ambitious it’s hard to keep track of just who is who (the credits do help, but while based on our immersion in the film, you just kind of go with it). Across six time periods, the cast seamlessly shape shifts the past, present, future, and gender in this story about both freedom and density. Starring no less than Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whitshaw, Keith David, James D’Arc, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant, they are kept in check by three filmmakers, who are also perfectly in sync for this massive undertaking. — John F.

Django Unchained

Since Quentin Tarantino knows a thing or two about casting his movies, Django Unchained’s inclusion here is no great surprise. Nevertheless, his assembled team is a total blast, from the bigger stances of its leading men to the one-scene work of some surprise players. (Who the hell would have thought Don Johnson should play a suave plantation owner? After a view, Tarantino convinces us, who else?)  That they’re given such rich and satisfying dialogue to work with almost gives them an unfair advantage; as a viewer, I’m only there to take it in. Gladly did I do so. – Nick N.

Killing Them Softly

The politics of crime involves a large senate of killers, crooks, and accountants, each with their own quirks, egos, and dreams. Bringing the small-scale crime story of Killing Them Softly to life in an engaging way requires that these low-level low-lives have outsized personalities to make up for the small time stakes. Brad Pitt and Richard Jenkins play off one another beautifully, and when Pitt takes his act to the road to see Scoot McNairy the film really elevates itself. Sam Shepard and James Gandolfini bring world weariness while Ray Liotta supplies what little pathos any character in this mix could have. Ben Mendelsohn, meanwhile, adds in greasy street-level grunge with just the right dash of humor to balance out an otherwise bleak portrait of modern crime. – Brian R.

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