Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Widescreen Awards: Ensemble Performance

The major awards bodies don't seem to get what an ensemble is. They tend to award films with the highest number of nominate-able performances (The King's Speech) or the most familiar faces (Black Swan) or both (The Fighter).

An ensemble is more about the collective. Although there can be, and often are, actors who stand out for one reason or another, very little of that is attributable to the filmmaker placing greater importance on one character or performance. In an ensemble, the entire cast works together for the betterment of the whole production and actors tend to have more uniform screen time.

The argument could be made that some of my choices stretch the boundaries this definition (Fish Tank and That Evening Sun have very distinct protagonists), but they still find the time for strong supporting characters and interesting subplots.

Fish Tank: Katie Jarvis, Kierston Wareing, Michael Fassbender and Rebecca Griffiths, Harry Treadaway

The oppressive world of Mia, the 15-year-old aspiring dancer at the heart of Fish Tank, is due in no small part to its cast. If they weren't comfortable diving headfirst into the uncomfortable, the film would've come across as stilted. As it is, the dysfunction feels organic to the situation. And, even at that, its tempered by real human compassion.

Life During Wartime: Shirley Henderson, Allison Janney, Ally Sheedly, Ciarán Hinds, Dylan Riley Snyder, Michael Lerner, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K. Williams, Paul Reubens and Rich Pecci

Life During Wartime is a veritable smorgasbord of compact yet wonderful performances. With a cast so large, Solondz's camera doesn't spend too much time aimed at any one actor. From Paul Reubens jilted figment of Shirley Henderson's imagination to Rich Pecci's China-obsessed, socially inept shut-in, they all make the best of it and they all contribute to the overarching story.

Night Catches Us: Anthony Mackie, Kerry Washington, Jamara Griffin, Wendell Pierce, Jamie Hector and Amari Cheatom

Recruiting two of its main supporting actors from the ranks of “The Wire,” Night Catches Us features some of the best casting of any film this year. There are no stand-outs, but they all pull their weight like a true ensemble. Jamara Griffin, in particular, turns in a realistically grounded performance as Kerry Washington’s inquisitive young daughter. For once, a movie child that looks and acts like a child, sans the capital-M maturity and sentimentality that adult filmmakers like to project onto them.

That Evening Sun: Hal Holbrook, Ray McKinnon, Carrie Preston, Mia Wasikowska, Walton Goggins, Barry Corbin and Dixie Carter

That Evening Sun offers stellar performances by a number of underappreciated familiar faces. Ray McKinnon and Carrie Preston, as the rent-to-buy tenants of Hal Holbrook’s old farm, work wonders with what could have been stock characters. “That Evening Sun” is lent even greater poignancy by the late Dixie Carter, an ethereal presence in the film and Holbrook’s wife onscreen and off,

Tokyo Sonata: Teruyuki Kagawa, Kyôko Koizumi, Yû Koyanagi, Kai Inowaki, Haruka Igawa and Kanji Tsuda

The cast of Tokyo Sonata does an almost miraculous thing. The family in the film feels like a real family coping with all the trials and tribulations real families do. There's little melodrama here; just a turning point in the life of a family that's at once universal and distinctly Japanese.

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