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The Best Ensembles of 2013

Written by on December 27, 2013 

While year-end discussion often singles out specific performances, it’s time to give praise to the entire ensemble. Too often overlooked, we recently got a great chat with some of Hollywood’s top casting directors and now, for this specific feature, praise goes to those that carefully put together the casts below. From studio comedies to dismissed dramas to small independent features, check out the ten best ensembles of the year and let us know your favorites in the comments.

12 Years a Slave

A good ensemble isn’t just a case of getting a lot of famous and talented people into a single film. So as far as 12 Years a Slave is concerned, the strength of the ensemble comes from finding the right actor for each role, and then watching them interact in a way that dissolves the artifice of casting and creates an accurate representation of life. Sure, Chiwetel Ejiofor is the center of this story, but his performance is matched in depth and feeling by everyone else involved, from small parts from Paul Giamatti and Benedict Cumberbatch, to larger roles like the ones brought to screen by Michael Fassbender and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o. – Brian R.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

This film is a case of every actor carrying an equal burden of the story and screen time, and each of them ably pulling off the task. Rooney Mara is the center of the story, creating a layered and conflicted character, and her interactions with both Casey Affleck and Ben Foster are stirring, moving, and richly imbued with feeling and longing. Any movie with a love triangle is going to depend a lot on the way the difference in character interaction informs the characters themselves, and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints benefits greatly from this central ensemble. – Brian R.

The Counselor

Few mainstream films in 2013 seemed as willing to shirk off that nasty little m-word as The Counselor, a work that’s attracted its equal share of detractors and boosters. I’m somewhere in the middle, but for all Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy’s picture may or may not do with the utmost grace, the force and veracity of its cast cannot be denied. Somehow rendering Michael Fassbender the least-interesting ensemble player are, in particular, Javier Bardem and Cameron Diaz, the former of whom’s flamboyance and the latter of whom’s… everything are so often on the verge of sending the film into a cartoon land. Noted in conjunction with Brad Pitt‘s all-too-brief appearances as a Canadian cowboy (did we mention this film is strange in the smallest of ways?), it seems a little more of their touch throughout would have gone a long way. – Nick N.

Inside Llewyn Davis

While the Coens‘ latest drama surrounds the struggles of Llewyn Davis, in a role perfectly suited for Oscar Isaac, his journey wouldn’t be the same without the ensemble this duo has put together. They’ve always had a knack for finding the perfect supporting casts for their films and Inside Llewyn Davis is no different; from Adam Driver‘s contribution to Please Mr. Kennedy to Garrett Hedlund‘s tight-lipped, stoic turn alongside the commanding John Goodman all the way down to the journey of Ulysses the cat, each performer sells this intricate, downtrodden world. – Jordan R.

The Place Beyond the Pines

A epic movie that spans two generations, many decades, and three distinct stories calls for a cast to match its ambitions. Here we have Bradley Cooper as a continuing through line through a tale that involves Ryan Gosling as a bank robber, Eva Mendes as his estranged flame, and Dane DeHaan as a boy whose life is forever altered by the path of his father. This is in addition to a number of smaller roles populated perfectly by Bruce Greenwood, Ray Liotta, and Ben Mendelsohn. The scope of this film requires a group of characters who can keep us invested in every era and every plot strand, and this group does that in spades. – Brian R.

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