Friday, May 09, 2008

Rating Game Redux (34): Group Shot

When our local paper asked for three ensemble cast movies, I was reminded how difficult it is to make a good movie that doesn't profit from ensemble. Even "star vehicles" improve when the secondary characters are allowed to step up; consider the floating eccentrics of most Coen brothers movies, drifting into the scene, demanding our attention, then moving on. Episodic pictures like After Hours (1985) and The Lord of the Rings explicitly forefront such contributions--in fact, as the hero(es) encounter(s) each moment, those who inhabit the new space often determine the trajectory of the narrative--or at least provide a satisfying interlude.

Still, certain group efforts are hard to miss. Here's a scant three of them.

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Pryce, and Alec Baldwin preen and bluster and wheedle their way through David Mamet’s best “men’s club” movie, in which real estate salesmen vie for a Cadillac, a set of steak knives—and the last shreds of their dignity.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

What’s amazing is that the sets, costumes and makeup do not overshadow the actors; in fact, these troopers join forces to outshine the Technicolor excesses, resulting in a surprisingly “personal” movie, funny (even satirical) and touching.

Tokyo Story (1953)

The great Yasujiro Ozu, with his all-but-invisible touch, has his characters whisper in our ears the sad everyday secrets of family life, whose minor separations, rivalries, and missed opportunities accumulate into a tragedy expressed as a sigh.


Anonymous said...

Please don't forget the wonderful, wacky emsebles of Christopher Guest's movies! Spinal Tap,Best in Show,Mighty Wind!

Sherry H.

Paul J. Marasa said...

Sherry, they were among my first choices--especially Best in Show. But since these first appear in our local paper, I often think my fellow panelists might hit those particular notes, so I try a different melody. So to speak--er, sing.

But you're right: Their high-wire improvs alone award them high marks for ensemble work.

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