Saturday, 18 February 2012

Encore Awards (2011 in Review): Ensemble Acting

Typifying the term “ensemble acting”, what it constitutes and which film achieves it best is something quite difficult. On the one hand, the larger the cast does not necessarily good “ensemble” acting, although it does provide them with more opportunities to do. Alternately, though, small casts can allow for chances of the ensemble being allowed to act together – and isn’t that ensemble acting? Usually, there’s a “scene” where the ensemble cast are at their best. Last year’s winner - The Kids Are All Right - won significant points for the lunch scene where the family meet Paul, and that final dinner scene, and Jules’ breakdown – hell, almost every scene plays out like an advert for ensemble acting. (last year's ballot here). I'm not sure any film this year manages that as well, but they are worthy contenders.

(pictures take you to reviews)

THE NOMINEES

The Help
(Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Alison Janey, Octavia Spencer, Sissy Spaceck, Emma Stone)

The cast is especially large, so we’re never lucky enough to get to see them all acting together. The film’s peak, though, are the moments of impressive tangents the ensemble creates with each other and in moments when the script dwindles the sheer dedication of the ensemble makes it sing.

(Key Moment: The entire fluid movement of the first bridge meeting, Minny and Aibeleen interact, Celia calls, Skeeter entering, Sissy’s loopiness.)

The Ides of March
(George Clooney, Paul Giamatti, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Max Minghella, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood)

Perhaps, on occasion, there is too much of a steady focus on Stephen when more could have been done with the supporting players but it’s interesting how Stephen becomes the fulcrum around which the ensemble moves resulting in a situation of alternating bit players working – excellently – around him….even if a few of them seem wasted.

(Key Moment: The diner scene with Tomei, Gosling and Giamatti. Not very “ensemble” as far as scenes go, but effective for the union of actors.)

A Separation
(Sareh Bayat, Saraina Farhadi, Leila Hatami, Shahab Hosseini, Peyman Moaadi, Ali-Asghar Shabazi, Merila Zarei)

The script is so precise and detailed it’d be easy to remember Farhadi and miss the focused performance of the ensemble. When the films takes us out of the claustrophic house (and even there are key ensemble moments) the school, the courtroom all preent fine moments of the main players and smaller characters working together.

(Key Moment: The final meeting at Razieh and Houjat’s house. Devastating.)

Tinker Tailor Sailor Spy
(Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Thomas Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Gary Oldman, Mark Strong)

The use of the ensemble is similar to The Ides of March, as the supporting cast seems to exist around Oldman’s performance. Even in scenes with a paucity of players unfold there’s the striking sense that the actors are working with each other, and not just adjacent to each other.

(Key Moment: I could go for any of the meetings in that room, but – for all the vagueness marking the flashbacks – I like the Christmas party as indicative of the ensemble at work.)

Win Win
(Bobby Cannavale, Melanie Lynskey, Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Alex Shaffer, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young)

It uses the type of lived-in, vaguely kooky characters which are staples of the indie film, but it really does work and the cast is better than the script becomes in the final moments. For a film which depends on the offbeat charm which comes with entering a family dynamic based on sincerity the work of the cast is essential.

(Key Moment: The café meeting – Giamatti, Ryan, Cannavale, Foley. Hilarious and sweet, if incidental.)
 
    
Runners Up: the actors in Hugo tend to be supplements on occasion, but Scorse elicits fine work from there and even on the side-lines their honesty rings through; for all its inconsistency on tone London Boulevard utilises its expansive cast in the best of ways; the cast of the past is utilised better than the present in Midnight in Paris; but I’m splitting hairs, they’re both effecting establishing the film’s ideals; Rampart lives and dies by Woody, but it survives by the supporting players’ abilities to carve effective arc with him
    
Honourable Mentions: Beginners; Bridesmaids; Carnage; Comtagion; Melancholia
           
What constitutes good ensemble acting for you? Which film did it best in 2011?

4 comments:

Ryan T. said...

These were my picks for Best Ensemble work this year: Bridesmaids, Contagion, Harry Potter, The Help, The Ides of March, and Midnight in Paris with the latter coming out on top. But I love your notices for Win Win and Tinker Tailor!

Andy Buckle said...

I don't really know how I would define a fine ensemble cast. A lot of it does come down to well-written supporting characters, who, if played by quality actors can be memorable even if their involvement is small. Throw in some excellent leads and supporting work like this - and I think that warrants commendation for the ensemble. Is ensemble a large cast sharing the screen evenly or is it an all-round quality cast of leads, and supports? I think your selections are fantastic (with A Separation being the standout for me). I completely understand why The Help has been winning awards for its performances, and I enjoyed both of Clooney's films. Then there is Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Oldman was nominated, but Cumberbatch, Hardy and Strong were excellent, and Firth was against type) and Midnight in Paris (though Rachel McAdams was a poorly written character amongst them).

Amir said...

So glad to see you remembered Win Win. And you top two are unquestionably the best of the year, I think.
I would add the ensemble of Of Gods and Men to this list. I don't know if you happened to see the film. I think it was easy for the priests in that film to work as a collective ideology, but they didn't. They managed to carve out characters for themselves separately and be distinct.
I seem to love the film more than a lot of people do.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

ryan why, oh why, couldn't the SAG give some love to the ides of march? i'm not a happy camper about that.

andy "Is ensemble a large cast sharing the screen evenly or is it an all-round quality cast of leads, and supports?" the eternal question, i think? is crash (where the characters each have their own non-intersecting arcs) a better ensemble than something like closer with four actors, constantly together?

amir you always bring up these films i've never even heard of :( on win win though, still i film i like very much more than one i actually love, and it's ensemble is so subtle about its goodness, but it IS an ensemble film ultimately, i think.