The Best Acting Ensembles of 2017
When a film has a finely tuned ensemble, the film can soar to its highest potential. It’s not just about stacking the film with great actors (though you need that, too). A perfect ensemble has chemistry with each other; each cast member gelling with the others in perfect harmony. From the lead roles to bit parts, these films featured a group of actors working together like a well-oiled machine.
The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro’s aquatic fairy tale is a film to behold. As stunning as the film is visually, the film wouldn’t work without its set of lonely, heartfelt characters. Sally Hawkins leads the cast as Eliza, a loveable mute woman living her small life. Richard Jenkins is heartbreaking as Giles, her gay artist neighbor searching for a connection. Octavia Spencer is the backbone of the film as Eliza’s friend Zelda. Michael Stuhlbarg is neurotic scientist, and Michael Shannon plays the embodiment of toxic masculinity. Doug Jones, with imposing but alluring physicality, brings the fish-man to life. Longing unites these characters, and the film’s plot-heavy second half has an emotional charge through these convincing, striking performances.
After the critical and financial failures of R-rated comedies Rough Night, Snatched, Chips, and Baywatch, Girls Trip was refreshing. Regina Hall stars alongside Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, and 2017 breakout star Tiffany Haddish, in this uproarious, wild comedy. Not only are these ladies hilarious but their characters feel real and authentic. Each character is going through her issues and brings her own individual perspective to the film. These women are joined by Mike Colter, Kate Walsh, Larenz Tate, Deborah Ayorinde, and Kofi Siroboe, who populate this world with eccentric, engaging characters. Its wacky cast of characters instills the film with humor, humanity, and heart.
The Big Sick
This multigenerational empathetic comedy needs a strong set of warm actors. Playing a version of himself, ace comic Kumail Nanjiani gets to do some dramatic acting and nails it. He’s complemented by a winning, charming Zoe Kazan. Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher, and Zenobia Shroff play the two sets of imperfect, yet ultimately perfect parents with aplomb—flawed yet trying to be better. The supporting cast has a lot of talented lesser-known actors like Aidy Bryant, Bo Burnham, Adeel Akhtar, Kurt Braunohler, and Vela Lowell—all very funny and genuine. The Big Sick feels so personable and likable, and that’s due to its assembly of actors.
For a film that is so deep-rooted in one city, the ensemble has to feel like a full community. Greta Gerwig, in her solo directing debut, assembles a cast that is very harmonious together. Led by star Saoirse Ronan, each cast member, from Laurie Metcalf to Timothee Chalamet, feels like a natural fit to the story. Gerwig’s film has empathy for all its characters, even the antagonistic ones. This film showcases that everyone has his or her own life and story to tell. You could imagine a spin-off for the majority of these characters. Each actor young and old makes their character feel like a fully realized individual.
Jordan Peele’s firecracker horror satire has such an incredible cast. For a movie that teeters on the fence of horror and comedy, Peele needed a cast that could all seem like they are playing in the same movie. Peele found the perfect actor for each role. Daniel Kaluuya’s commanding star-making performance leads the pack, that includes brilliant turns from Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Betty Gabriel, Lil Rel Howery, Lakeith Stanfield, Caleb Landry Jones, and Marcus Henderson. His casting of Girls star Alison Williams is the clincher; her textured role as the privileged white girl is what makes the film hit the hardest.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
I could just name the actors in this film. The film is about hope and loyalty, and the cast sells it. Between brilliant old pros like Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Laura Dern, Andy Serkis, and Benicio del Toro to young hotshots like Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, and Adam Driver, the cast is stacked with charismatic, radiant actors. Their chemistry gives this film high stakes and emotional honesty. The late Carrie Fisher gives a graceful, powerful performance, giving a proper sendoff to the icon. Mark Hamill has never been better as a grizzled, weary Luke. Top to bottom this movie is perfectly cast.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (and a few other superhero films)
This year provided several hit superhero films with exciting ensembles. The gravitas of Logan, the optimism of Wonder Woman, the wacky bickering of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the zany antics of Thor: Ragnarok, and the team building of Justice League were served by talented actors. I wanted to highlight the effortlessly diverse ensemble of Homecoming, the rare film that actually looks like it takes place in New York City. Together the actors made this third incarnation of the web slinger series feel fresh and vibrant. What could have been a stale reboot is actually a delectable throwback—thanks to the chemistry between the actors.
This Netflix original does something really tricky. It switches perspective between a handful of characters. Rather than feel disjointed, Dee Rees’ postwar drama plays like a tapestry of the 1950s South. Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Rob Morgan, and Mary J. Blige work together to tell the story of two families bound by WWII, and separated by race. Mudbound is really an incredible film, and the performances are compelling, interesting, and nuanced. Dee Rees mirrors these two families, with Mitchell and Hedlund’s veterans as the heart of the film.
While I didn’t really care for Free Fire as a film on the whole, I did really enjoy the Mexican standoff caper as an excuse for talented and charismatic actors to play around in ‘70s costumes. Led by Oscar-winner Brie Larson, the crazy cast of characters is having a ball shooting, cursing, and double crossing each other. Larson, Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, and Cillian Murphy fully understand what kind of movie they’re in. The rest of the cast, including Jack Traynor and Sam Riley, add flavor and excitement to the action scenes.
xXx: Return of Xander Cage
As silly and over the top as this movie is, you gotta admit the cast is high roller. The xXx sequel didn’t do well here in the US, but outperformed worldwide. That’s probably because of its international cast including Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Ruby Rose, Nina Dobrev, Kris Wu, Tony Jaa, and Toni Collette. The quips fly as hard as the punches, and the movie is a zany, wild ride. The international cast work well, coming together as a fun and collaborative team.
Honorable mentions: Atomic Blonde, Call Me by Your Name, A Cure for Wellness, The Disaster Artist, The Fate of the Furious, The Florida Project, I, Tonya, Logan Lucky, Split, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri