This was such an odd question for me. Obviously best cast is not synonymous with best film, but the overlap is hard to avoid even when I think that it doesn’t always end up being there. Only a few days ago I waxed on (with the help of others) about the all around brilliance of The Philadelphia Story and really that comes to mind as the strongest cast I can think of. True, other than the four principals (Hepburn, Grant, Stewart, Hussey) the cast is filled with less-popular folks but what makes The Philadelphia Story cast so brilliant is the fact that big names aren’t necessary to make it so. Any scene in the film sizzles, regardless of if the big names take centre stage.
Another film I mentioned in my top ten, Gosford Park would be a worthy candidate for best ensemble. From Helene Mirren to Michael Gambon to Maggie Smith to Clive Owen to Kristin Scott Thomas to Emily Watson and on and on and on, it’s just too brilliant for words. Is it not obvious why I’m always fawning over Altman’s masterpiece? It’s the way of the Britons, though, consider Howards End another film peppered with the English that’s just fantastic when they all come together.
Still, the small casts don’t get enough credit – look at Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf – only four greats in Taylor, Dennis, Burton and Segal – and they do all the heavy lifting brilliantly. A Streetcar Named Desire has more than four but it all comes down to Stanley, Brando, Leigh and Malden and they work brilliantly together. I don’t love the play or the film for Long Day’s Journey Into Night – but I dare anyone to not be floored by the collective brilliance of Katharine Hepburn, Dean Stockwell, Ralph Richardson and Jason Robards in Lumet’s oft forgotten film.
The eclectic casting in All About Eve is worthy of remembrance too. Every one, not just Bette, turns in brilliant performances even if it’s all about the women at the end of the day…a bit like Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway, the men are smashing but it’s the women who take the cake at the end of the day.
I often think of Shakespeare as being the perfect playwright for ensembles and it makes sense that it’s a Shakespeare piece that I first though of. I wouldn’t call it the best ensemble – anyone I’ve mentioned thus far could take the cake, but I can’t be the only one who thinks that the ensemble of Shakespeare in Love is something to applaud heartily. Its best picture victory remains as one of the Academy’s most lucid decisions in the nineties and there’s no doubt that the ensemble is one to treasure.
Film is good, but there’s something particularly great about seeing a group of actors – big or small – work cohesively. There are dozens more I can think of, but these nine take precedence...and this is all for the MEME.