The Best Acting Ensembles of 2018
Casting is one of the most important things for a film. Everything could go smoothly behind the camera—the right cameraman, the perfect sound editors, brilliant production designers—but if the actors on screen are clumsy together or don’t share proper chemistry, it can be disastrous. These ten films feature strong acting ensembles that elevated great films into the best of the year.
Chadwick Boseman’s regal, reassuring lead performance as T’Challa is the backbone of this perfectly assembled ensemble. Director Ryan Coogeler’s muse Michael B. Jordan brings righteousness, complexity, and pain to the villain Kilmonger. His mirror image is Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia, who offers humanity in place of Kilmonger’s bitter revenge. Danai Guria is fierce and commanding, Leticia Wright is charming and proactive, and Queen Angela Bassett oozes badass authority. For me, the standout is Winston Duke as M’Baku, a very funny and charismatic supporting performance. Together these amazing, often underutilized actors create a world that one longs to return to.
It’s so rare to see a film with three lead female performances that deciding where to place them in Oscar categories has become a hot topic among awards enthusiasts. Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone sink their teeth into Yorgos Lanthimos’ royal macabre farce. With both striking physicality and nimble dialogue delivery, these three actresses are forces to be reckoned with (admittedly, I think Emma Stone is best in show). The male actors support them enough to make an impression (especially Nicholas Hoult’s vicious comic turn), and yet leave enough room for Colman, Weisz, and Stone to take center stage.
What can one even say about this ensemble? It’s one of the greatest assembled casts ever, all working together to paint a ferocious portrait of Chicago. Led by the indomitable, inimitable Viola Davis, Steve McQueen’s cast includes Colin Farrell, Elizabeth Debicki, Brian Tyree Henry, Michelle Rodriguez, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Cynthia Erivo, Carrie Coon, and Robert Duvall. Widows is a crackling, political thriller, and these performances are unforgettable. Along with Davis’ richly observed work, Farrell, Debicki, and Kaluuya are fierce in their roles, stretching their personas in beautiful ways. The whole cast is just top notch, each a valuable player in this twisty heist movie.
Andhadhun (Blind Melody)
Sriram Raghavan’s neo-noir black comedy is an imaginative, unpredictable thrill ride with a game cast ready for anything. Tabu, one of Bollywood’s most versatile actors, throws herself into the role of a scheming but very funny femme fatale. Ayushman Khurrana is a delight as a blind pianist, who has to always think on his feet. Anil Dhawan, Radhika Apte, Zakir Hussain, Ashwini Kalsekar, Manav Vij, and Chaya Kadam are fun to watch as a bunch of lunatics and the people forced to deal with them. Andhadhun requires its cast to do some pretty insane stuff, and luckily these actors succeed at that and more.
Support the Girls
Regina Hall, man. The woman can do anything. Meaty lead roles are all too rare for the versatile actress but in Andrew Bujalski’s restaurant workplace dramedy, Hall’s talents are put to use as a put-upon manager of a Hooters type establishment. Her supporting cast (Haley Lu Richardson, Shayna McHayle, AJ Michalka, and James Le Gros) fills out this world, making it feel lived-in and ordinary. The comedy’s authenticity is its strongest attribute, and that’s in no small part due to the actors. Weary and worn down, the performers feel like the actual people you’ve seen and forgotten while eating out.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
The Mission: Impossible films have always boasted charismatic actors to ground the outlandish action. And Fallout is no different. Tom Cruise might literally be insane. Rebecca Ferguson is very cool. Ving Rhames is charming. Simon Pegg is goofy. Alec Baldwin is… Alec Baldwin. Michelle Monaghan is full of compassion and warmth. Queen Angela Bassett deigns to grace us with her presence again. And Henry Cavill’s brick wall strength and piercing glare adds fresh excitement to the series. This was a really fun action movie, thanks to the earnest but stylish cast.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Marielle Heller’s caustic comedy/drama is such a beautiful New York movie, depicting the city’s 1990s literary scene through the outsider lens of Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy). The film is packed with amazing actors, most of which coming from the New York stage and screen community. While McCarthy and Richard E. Grant (both phenomenal) are the stars, the supporting cast is full of character actors like Dolly Wells, Marc Evan Jackson, the great Anna Deavere Smith, Tim Cummings, Jane Curtain, Stephen Spinella, Joanna Adler, Kevin Carolan, and Shae D’lyn. Together these actors populate a very specific world convincingly and marvelously.
If Beale Street Could Talk
Much like the above film, Barry Jenkins’ third film features a murderer’s row of character actors who work hard to bring life to James Baldwin’s classic novel. The film centers on the ethereal, unwavering love between newcomer Kiki Layne and rising star Stephan James. Their heavenly chemistry is surrounded by a radiant ensemble, each actor with a few scenes to shine. Regina King, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Brian Tyree Henry, Dave Franco, Michael Beach, Aunjanue Ellis, Ed Skrein, Diego Luna, Finn Wittrock, Emily Rios, and Pedro Pascal fit seamlessly into both 1970s Harlem and Jenkins’ romantic but piercing tone. Kissed by the camera, this cast is unforgettable.
Crazy Rich Asians
A glorious return to bright, beautiful studio romantic comedies, Crazy Rich Asians is groundbreaking for being one of the first mainstream films with a predominately Asian cast. Constance Wu is ebullient and charming in the lead role, with the dashing and charismatic Henry Golding by her side. Michelle Yeoh is authoritative but vulnerable. The cast is rounded out by Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Chris Pang, Sonoya Mizuno, Nick Santos, Ken Jeong, and the hilarious Awkwafina. This is a very fun movie, and the glamorous cast has dazzling chemistry. The film is successful as a romance, a comedy, and a drama with a cast that is perfectly suited to all three.
Most science fiction films star male ensembles with maybe one or two women. Annihilation on the other hand stars five women as complex, brave, hurting women: Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Nuvotny, and Jennifer Jason Leigh offer surprising, nervy performances as explorers going into a mysterious Shimmer trying to learn what’s causing it. Oscar Isaac, Davis Gyasi, and Benedict Wong are the only men with major supporting roles, and they are quite good as well. Sonoyo Mizuno is especially surreal and scary in her small role towards the end. Annihilation is a bizarre science-fiction film, and these performances match the film’s striking tone.
Honorable mentions: Avengers: Infinity War, BlackKklansman, Blockers, Game Night, The Hate U Give, Hereditary, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Ocean’s 8, A Simple Favor, Spider-Man: Into the SpiderVerse,