Monuments Men isn’t the first time Clooney has headlined an ensemble. Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh is well-known for putting together star-studded casts throughout his career. Perhaps his biggest and most famous is the one he hired for his 2001 remake of the light-hearted crime caper Ocean’s Eleven.
As its ill-fated sequels would show, putting too many major stars in one film can sometimes be an excuse for celebrities to hang out with each other and goof around. But for the first film in the trilogy, the actors were dedicated to making a fun, entertaining romp that was both slick and smart. Clooney and Brad Pitt were at the top of their games, using their real-life friendship as a catalyst for terrific on-screen chemistry. The film even gave Damon a comeback role of sorts, after the actor had starred in a few duds in the years prior. Supporting players including Bernie Mac provided some big laughs (the infamous “white-jack” sequence) and made Ocean’s Eleven a blast to watch.
The audience had “heroes” that were easy to root for, but no story is complete without a good villain. Andy Garcia’s Terry Benedict came off as a smug, heartless casino owner and it was easy for audiences to side with Clooney’s caring, kind-hearted Danny Ocean. Julia Roberts (coming off an Oscar win in Soderbergh’s Erin Brockovich) brought Danny’s ex-wife Tess to life and used her charm and good looks to provide the thief with all the incentive necessary to pursue a new path in life.
Quentin Tarantino is famous for either introducing audiences to a bright new talent or reinvigorating the career of an established actor. That ability was on display in full force during Pulp Fiction, as performers such as Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman received their breakout roles while John Travolta and Bruce Willis became cool again. It’s amazing what a simple line like “Zed’s dead, baby” can do.
Even now, 20 years after its release, the roles featured in the film are considered to be the most iconic for most of the actors involved. Jules and Vincent went on to become two of the most famous movie hit men. Mia Wallace’s sultry persona is a perfect embodiment of the femme fatale trope. Butch Coolidge’s cockiness and confidence not only fit Willis like a glove; those traits made him a likable character. Bit parts proved to be substantial too, as the Wolf and Marsellus Wallace (among countless others) became ingrained in the zeitgeist.
Due to Pulp Fiction’s structure (it’s essentially three short films in one big movie), all the actors get their chance to shine. Travolta was able to channel his easy-going charisma (and Saturday Night Fever dance moves) during “Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife,” where his dynamite chemistry with Thurman fueled the early part of the film. Willis was able to use “The Gold Watch” as an opportunity to fall back into action-hero mode. “The Bonnie Situation” proved to be the coming out party for Jackson, allowing the actor to unleash his emotions in a hilarious turn that would serve as the template for the many roles to come. There’s nothing like watching a great cast firing on all cylinders, and Pulp Fiction is the textbook definition of that.
Martin Scorsese’s 21st century filmography has mainly put Leonardo DiCaprio front and center, but in 2006’s The Departed, Marty’s muse was surrounded by several other acting greats. While DiCaprio’s unhinged performance as the paranoid Billy Costigan gave the film its sympathetic hero, the Oscar-winning film wouldn’t be complete without its two main villains: Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon.
Nicholson’s unpredictable Frank Costello was one of the main reasons why The Departed features one of the most terrifying scenarios put to film. The seasoned veteran was able to give the mob boss an authoritative presence and his stature as a movie legend allowed him to easily command the respect of other characters as well as the audience. Damon – who played against type – delivered an Oscar-worthy performance, creating a despicable, smug individual that viewers loved to hate.
Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg, who played Costigan’s allies in the police department, were also fine additions to the cast. Sheen’s Queenan served as a father figure to the undercover cop, being a guiding voice and calming influence during the film’s most tense moments. Wahlberg (who earned the movie’s lone acting Oscar nomination) made the most of his limited screen time as Dignam, giving us a no-nonsense Boston cop capable of making us laugh.