The acting ensemble award is an award that looks at the entirety of a film’s casting decisions and tries to give an overall award for the collective achievement of all the performances. The casting of smaller parts matters just as much if not more than the casting of stars, there’s no “I” in team, and I’m looking for movies that manage to have solid casts top to bottom. I’m not just looking for tons of stars either, in fact the reckless casting of recognizable faces can potentially hurt you here if they don’t all fit (which is why 12 Years a Slave didn’t make the cut BTW).
- American Hustle: David O. Russell has alienated a number of actors over the years, but he does seem to have found a cadre of actors who can stand him and many of them have returned to star in American Hustle. The core cast of Bale, Adamas, Cooper, and Lawrence is of course great but it does run deeper than that. Jeremy Renner has largely been left out of the awards discussion, but his work is as transformative as anyone’s and note should also be made of Louis C.K. (who pops up in two nominated movies this year), who has great comical chemistry with Bradley Cooper. The brief appearances by Michael Peña and Robert De Niro are the icing on this emasculate cake.
- Blue Jasmine: Woody Allen has always been great at assembling casts, and he really outdid himself with Blue Jasmine. I’ve already talked at length about Blanchet, Hawkins, and Cannavale, but it goes deeper than that. Alec Baldwin isn’t stretching himself here, but he certainly works in his role and so do Michael Stuhlbarg and Peter Sarsgaard. Louis C.K. also shows up and does a good job but is ironically overshadowed by a much inferior stand-up comedian: Andrew Dice Clay, the casting of whom proved to be oddly inspired.
- Inside Llewyn Davis: I’m docking some points for the casting of Justin Timberlake (who’s good in the singing parts of course, but who has a kind of dumb look on his face at all times), but otherwise this is pretty solid. Carry Mulligan fits in really well and so do John Goodman, Adam Driver, and F. Murray Abraham. The film also deserves kudos for having the vision to put a non-celebrity like Oscar Isaac in the main role. I’m sure that pissed off some money men, but it was the right call.
- Man of Steel: People got a little too caught up in complaints about the final action scene to sit back and appreciate the incredibly solid cast that Snyder and Nolan were able to assemble. Henry Cavil proved to be a worthy Superman and I thought Amy Adams did a great job of re-inventing Lois Lane while Kevin Costner and Diane Lane both did a very good job of playing slightly younger versions of the kents. On the Krypronian side we had Russell Crowe as a more active and interesting version of Jor-El while Michael Shannon and Ayelet Zurer were both excellent villains. Even the really small parts like Lawrence Fishburne’s Perry White, Richard Schiff’s Emil Hamilton and Christopher Meloni’s Nathan Hardy were all on point.
- Nebraska: A best ensemble award is as much for the people in charge of casting as it is for the actors themselves. Those people in charge of casting did a great job of filling Nebraska with authentic faces that feel at home in the desolate rural locations. A number of the people in small parts are non-actors, and when casting the main parts they showed amazing restraint in order to make sure that they only brought in people like Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacy Keach, and Bob Odenkirk who actually look like they could conceivably be living in places like Billings, Montana and Hawthorne, Nebraska.