A few days ago, Film Independent announced that Mudbound would be the 11th annual winner of the Robert Altman Independent Spirit Award. Film Independent launched the award in February 2008, 13 months after Altmanís death, to honor a filmís director, casting director, and ensemble cast. Along with the Screen Actors Guild Awards, this is one of the few venues to recognize ensembles. The Oscars and most other major awards only recognize individual performances. Naming the award for Altman fit perfectly, as he throughout his career specialized in large ensemble casts. As much as anyone, Altman understood that itís the dynamic among the actors, how they play off each other, that matters as much as their individual talents. His actors often marveled at the comradery Altman nurtured on the set and how it paid off on screen.

Altman was one of the first filmmakers I thought of when my friend Orrin Konheim suggested that we write a blog about our all-time favorite film ensembles. Orrin and I each named our top 50, then commented on each otherís lists. Not surprisingly, Altman showed up three times on each of our lists. So did Sidney Lumet, perennially underrated for his work with actors. Last month we discussed our lists at the Cinema Lounge film discussion group. We discovered that, as thorough as we thought we were, there were many other films we could easily have included. For example, others in the group highlighted Dog Day Afternoon and Gosford Park, which neither of us included. While Altman, Lumet and other directors such as Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater are known for ensembles our lists also produced some surprises.

For me the criteria were simple. How well did the cast work with each other? We have seen films with all-star casts where all of them seemed like they were in different movies. Orrin and I were looking for the ones that gelled, that became teams. The other question was: Who do I remember? Was it just the leads? Or did the supporting players, even those who may have only 1-2 scenes, also make an impact? I was looking for depth, top to bottom.

So check out our lists below, and, if you have your own favorites you donít see, drop me a line.

Part I, #31-50.

Part II, #21-30.

Part III, #11-20 (Adam).

Part IV, #11-20 (Orrin).

Part V, #1-10.

Adam Spector
December 1, 2017

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