Monday, 31 January 2011

Encore Awards: Ensemble Acting

Sometimes I think people misunderstand the term ensemble acting – or perhaps, conversely, I place too much emphasis on it. Either way, there’s always a divide between me and the general populace. In the last decade or so, the biggest head-scratcher when it comes to singling out any cast for “ensemble” acting would be the win at the SAG for Sideways, my general appreciation for it aside Sideways just seemed like the weirdest contender for an ensemble prize – even Inglourious Basterds, which I’m not especially fond of, makes sense because that film depends on that cast working in conjunction with each other. Ensemble acting is not just about getting great performances from a number of actors, it’s about seeing a group of actors acting together – in accordance with each other, something’s that’s not as simple or incidental as it would seem.

(click on the photos for reviews)

Animal Kingdom: (Cast: James Frecheville, Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Guy Pearce, Luke Ford, Jacki Weaver, Sullivan Stapelton, Dan Wyllie, Anthony Hayes, Laura Wheelwright, Mirrah Foulkes)
 I sort of wish that Animal Kingdom would turn into a mini-series, because though Michod doesn’t exploit it there’s something brilliant about watching the family in their natural habitat just coexisting with each other. Even the smaller characters like Nicky’s entire family exist in the same fabric – all of them on the same wavelength with each other (the dinner at their house) or those two scenes in the coffee shop; one with Baz and one without, where everyone has their own reaction to give, no matter how understated.

For Colored Girls (Cast: Loretta Devine, Whoopi Goldberg, Macy Gray, Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, Phylica Rashad, Anika Noni Rose, Tessa Thompson, Kerry Washington)
Perry doesn’t thrust the entire female ensemble together until the closing moments, but even within these separate stories we have ensembles at work – divided as they are. Phylicia Rishaad and Kerry Washington, as the watchers in the group are given the task of interacting with almost everyone – and Rishaad especially thrives on this slightly voyeuristic way. It’s such a rare thing to see an accomplished female ensemble playing opposite each other so those moments where Goldberg and Newton go at it, or Devine stops in for a chat with Jackson, simmer because even when Perry doesn’t know precisely which decision to take in procuring the right amount of (cinematic) drama, the cast is doing a brilliant job.

The Kids Are All Right (Cast: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Waskikowska, Josh Hutcherson, Yaya DaCosta, Zosia Mamet, Kunal Sharma, Eddie Hassell)
The very essence of The Kid Are All Right depends on that quintet of actors working together, the first and final dinner scenes in the film work not only because of the writing and the direction but because every tangent of that pentagon works perfectly. And then, there are those actors on the sidelines – like Yaya DaCosta working opposite Ruffalo, or Mamet and Sharma opposite Wasikowska. All these actors in totality are imperative in establishing that suburban cacophony that defines The Kids Are All Right

Scott Pilgrim vs the World (Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, Kieran Culkin, Alison Pill, Johnny Simmons, Jason Schwartzman, Mae Whitman, Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Mark Webber, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh)
In theory, the ensemble of Scott Pilgrim vs the World should not feel as integrated as it does. It’s essentially a situation where Scott goes through the film fending off evil exes, belligerent “frenemies”, officious siblings and best-friends, morose band members and cloying girlfriends – and that’s just the half of it. But even though it seems like Cera’s doing the heavy lifting, Wright doesn’t shirk at opportunities for everyone to meet up with each other; like Knives and Ramona or Wallace and Stacey. Even if direct conversation is lacking between some branches, they all inhabit the same environment establishing a palpable uniformity in the performances.

The Social Network (Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Max Minghella, Rashida Jones, Armie Hammer, Rooney Mara, Brenda Song, Joseph Mazzello, Douglas Urbanski)
It would be wrong, not to mention a little seditious, to call The Social Network a courtroom drama, although – to some extent – it functions as one. The deposition scenes have the main players opposite a host of bit players all doing good work and as the story unfolds in flashbacks – noting the most “important” moments – everyone gets the opportunity to play the highs and though like with Scott Pilgrim vs the World they’re play opposite Eisenberg it doesn’t prevent them from playing opposite each other.
FINALISTS: Sometimes it seems like The Fighter doesn’t realise that it has an ensemble to play with, so they end up getting a bit marginalised at times – still, ultimately, when Russell realises the fun to be had in largeness of the cast things get exciting; The King’s Speech thrives on a cast that’s not getting as much love as it should – despite it’s one-man focus it really is an ensemble at heart, like seeing how many talented thespians can pop up and play opposite Firth; sort of the same way you’d think that Rabbit Hole is the Becca and Howie story, but there’s much good to be found on a larger scale – not just Wiest, Oh, Teller and Blanchard (all great) but those support group folks with their one scenes and that awesome realtor with the quirky facial expressions.
Which 2010 film stands out as a fine example of ensemble acting at its best, for you?


Robert said...

Well I don't have to tell you how much I love Scott Pilgrim, so... :)

Anyway, great choices! I forgot how fantastic the "Animal Kingdom" ensemble is, and how well they all work together. And of course, "Kids" and "Social Network" both had fantastic ensembles.

Fitz said...

I'd mention Shutter Island, but for the most part it is focused on Mr. DiCaprio.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Strong choices, all of them. Even if I'm not the biggest fan of Animal Kingdom, that really was a family unit. Fantastic interplay between them. For Colored Girls, Scott Pilgrim and The Kids Are All Right also made my list. Social Network has the advantage of being framed by ensemble scenes: all the clients and lawyers acting off of each other in the depositions? Heaven.

I'd put in The Fighter, for I do believe it to be ensemble-focused -- that's why few are taking notice of Wahlberg's performance. The sisters, the trainers, the brothers, the Brits...great work. I do love Easy A's cast, too, though admittedly it, too, is a series of people interacting with Emma Stone. On the other hand, the family scenes alone...

Luke said...

Well, I'm not the hugest fan of the Animal Kingdom cast - or the movie for that matter - but it's mostly due to that central performance of that young guy. I mean, what happened to his ability to create any sort of facial expression? Just leave the heavy lifting to Jacki Weaver. :) But I'm excited to see For Colored Girls here. Phylicia Rashad and Loretta Devine had particularly memorable bits, and gosh, do they ever deserve it with the thankless roles they're usually subjected to.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

well, robert you don't have to tell me how much you love it - but i don't mind when you do.

fitz the cast in shutter island is so weird for me. i love williams, dicaprio and clarkson. HATE what ruffalo does, do not care for kingsley. it's all so odd.

walter i do love those deposition scenes, you wouldn't think that they're fincher's strongest bits - but they are.

luke shame on you for not praising frecheville. i sort of love that performance. (and come on, weaver didn't do ALL the heavy lifting.) and, ugh, loretta devine NEEDS a movie role ASAP.

Simon said...

Twas a good year for ensembles. Especially among the up-and-coming actresses.

M. Hufstader said...

Part of me wants to add Inception to the list, because I think they were all great their own right. However, I have to say, I don't think they did much for the chemistry between any of the characters, except maybe Arthur and Eames, but I think that was much of the actors pulling their own weight instead of the script. All in all, great choices!