With this week’s release of Valentine’s Day, I’ve decided to share what I think are some of the best ‘ensemble’ films I’ve ever seen.
What is an ‘ensemble’ film? You may have heard of an ensemble cast, which is a film with a ton of minor characters all in a huge film (think 2012 or The Towering Inferno). I believe an ‘ensemble’ film to be a movie which decides to take all of these characters and make the film about a number of stories rather than one massive story as we are used to seeing every week in the cinema. Sometimes these stories can find a way of coming together and sometimes these ‘stories’ are just digging into different characters to give us a sense of perspective.
Here are my TOP TEN ENSEMBLE FILMS:
10. Watchmen (2009) (dir. Zack Snyder)
What can I say about one of the most interesting detective films I had the grace of seeing in 2009. It’s definitely not the best of the year but is definitely one of the most ambitious graphic novel adaptations I’ve ever seen in a theater. You won’t find it hard to get lost in the tales of these guys’ (and girl’s) lives as ex-vigilantes living in an alternate 1985. Characters? Rorschach, The Comedian, Silk Spectre, Dr. Manhattan, Night Owl and Ozymandias.
9. Pulp Fiction (1994) (dir. Quentin Tarantino)
From the Bonnie Situation to Butch vs. Marsellus Wallace, there are so many stories happening in this film that’s it’s hard to remember that it’s all happening at around the same time. Characters? Jules, Vincent, Marsellus, Mrs. Wallace, The Wolf, Jimmy and Pumpkin & Hunny Bunny.
8. Boogie Nights (1997) (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
What if I was to tell you that there was a movie that chronicles the rise, fall and rise of the porn industry in the 70s and it starred Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds and William H. Macy? There are so many sex tales told in this one film that it’s astounding. Characters? Dirk Diggler, Rollergirl, Amber Waves, Jack Horner, Reed Rothchild, Buck Swope, Little Bill and Scotty J..
7. Elephant (2003) (dir. Gus Van Sant)
Gus Van Sant takes us on a tour of a small school in the Mid West on the one day when everything goes wrong. I couldn’t help but become engrossed in every story told here. I actually was not sure what the film was about (and am afraid to give too much away for those of you who still don’t know much) but as I got hints and nods during the movie it just grabbed me and I can’t recommend it enough. Characters? Alex, Eric, John, Elias, Jordan, Carrie, Nicole, Brittany, etc.
6. The Breakfast Club (1985) (dir. John Hughes)
The late John Hughes’ best film observes teenagers at their most vulnerable – in detention on a Saturday. What is the worst thing about being a teenager? Not being able to do what you actually want and having to waste your weekend at school? That’s just the beginning. As we spend the day with the five misfits and find out about them and why they all ended up here and where they plan to go, you can’t help but see yourself in them, whether it be in one of all five. That’s what makes this movie timeless. Characters? Bender, Claire, Allison, Andrew, Brain and Principal Vernon.
5. Reservoir Dogs (1992) (dir. Quentin Tarantino)
Finally I get to put my favorite Tarantino film on a Top Ten list. Here we’re treated to the everything about a jewel heist gone wrong, except the heist itself. We see the planning and the aftermath of a job gone wrong. Tarantino just knows how to make characters that you can enjoy from beginning to end and you just need to know what they have to say. Characters? Mr. White, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Pink, Mr. Orange, Nice Guy Eddie and Joe Cabot.
4. Traffic (2000) (dir. Steven Soderbergh)
Soderbergh takes us through the drug world in the U.S. and its sources in Mexico with three very separate stories that have three completely different tones. Soderbergh even went to the extent of actually filming each story with different filters so as to make it ever more clear to the viewer which story’s being told and when. It is a masterpiece of a movie that everyone should see. Characters? Javier Rodriguez, Robert Wakefield, Ray Castro, Montel Gordon and Helena Ayala.
3. Requiem for a Dream (2000) (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
In a story of how the streets isn’t the only place to get addicted to drugs, we see a slew of characters handle their own addictions and aspirations in New York City. I love that this movie is completely uncompromising in its message. And while that makes it tough to watch more than once, it’s the one viewing that’ll stay with you forever. Characters? Sara Goldfarb, Harry Goldfarb, Marion Silver, Tyrone C. Love and Tappy Tibbons.
2. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) (dir. James Foley)
What happens at a real estate sales office when people’s jobs are on the line. Some may say that this film is disqualified because it doesn’t really delve into each character like the other films mentioned above, but I don’t care. When I think of an ensemble on screen I think of this movie without a shadow of a doubt. Characters? Ricky Roma, Shelley Levine, Blake, George Aaronow, Dave Moss and John Williamson.
1. Magnolia (1999) (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
Is there a better film out there than P.T.A’s Magnolia? It’s hard to say. It may not be my all-time favorite, but it might just be my all-time favorite film of the last 20 years. All of these characters are followed over the period of 24 hours in L.A. and you can’t help but get emotional as a loving wife (Julianne Moore) nearly breaks down at the pharmacist’s counter, the child-genius (Jeremy Blackman) feels used by everyone around him, the self-help guru (Tom Cruise) is forced to deal with his past, along with so many other tales. It is fantastic and even though the ending comes out of nowhere and is hard to explain, it doesn’t take away from the brilliant storytelling on display. Characters? Frank T. J. Mackey, Linda Partridge, Jimmy Gator, Stanley Spector, Officer Jim Kurring and Donnie Smith.
Do you agree with the list? What are your favorite ensemble films?