Like so many talented auteurs, Paul Thomas Anderson has no issue attracting A-list talent to his films. Regardless of the subject matter, Hollywood’s best actors are always willing to work with him. Case in point: 1997’s Boogie Nights, which explored the workings of the porn industry during the 1970s and 1980s.
The ensemble is an overstuffed who’s who of famous character actors that is too long to list in this space. Among the standouts are Oscar nominees Burt Reynolds and Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, John C. Reiley, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (who gave one of his best performances). Whether it was lending gravitas to make an adult filmmaker seem respectable (Reynolds), a smooth-talking, good-hearted salesman (Cheadle), or lonely souls searching for love and recognition (Moore and Seymour Hoffman), all of the actors gave layers to their characters. In the hands of other performers, this outrageous group could have come off as one-note, but instead the characters were deep and relatable.
Boogie Nights also served as the coming out party for one Mark Wahlberg, who displayed impressive acting chops by delivering a performance that was at times dramatic and funny. Giving off vibes of confidence and cool on the outside, Wahlberg paints Dirk Diggler as a naïve, wide-eyed youth who craves the spotlight and is dependent on the acceptance of others to get by in life. Dirk may seem like he’s living the dream, but he’s actually a troubled individual – something Wahlberg is able to convey throughout the film.
One look at David O. Russell’s filmography, it becomes clear that he has a knack for encouraging big-name talent to work with him. That’s probably because his last three films have scored an astonishing eleven acting Oscar nominations (with three wins). Four of those nods came in the recently released American Hustle, in which the director reteamed with Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence to tell a story about the art of survival set during the ABSCAM operation.
While some critics found the overall film to be problematic (not ours), one point the majority agreed on was that all the actors delivered great performances. With outlandish hairstyles and loud costumes, it would have been easy for the characters in American Hustle to become caricatures, but the talented thespians playing them allowed them to be seen as real people. Bale and Adams served as dual protagonists, making their characters relatable and sympathetic by injecting some honest emotion into their performances (see: Irving’s conflicting feelings about his friendship with Carmine Polito). Cooper’s overly ambitious Richie DiMaso not only provided some of the funnier moments (the running “ice-fishing story” gag with Louis C.K.), but also crafted a character that would do anything to be respected (another relatable trait).
Lawrence stole every scene she was in as the ditzy, hot-mess that was Rosalyn, blowing up science ovens and standing her ground with gusto. Jeremy Renner, the one actor in this ensemble to not get an Oscar nod, is also worthy of a mention. His Mayor Polito was very good-natured and likable, and Renner was also responsible for one of the film’s more heartbreaking scenes. Russell let his actors improvise and run loose on set – and lucky for him, he had this talented cast.
It’s hard to imagine a time when Star Wars was considered a major risk, but prior to the influential 1977 original, that was exactly the case. 20th Century Fox took a big gamble by bankrolling George Lucas’ space opera; a situation that was only compounded when the director hired a relatively unknown cast to play the three main roles.
With its otherworldly settings and (at the time) strange jargon about Jedi Knights and the Force, it helped immensely that a trio of humans was at the center to ground the concepts in some kind of reality. Mark Hamill became an instantly relatable protagonist, capturing that feeling of aspiring for more we all have. Harrison Ford turned in a star-making performance as Han Solo, using the character as ground zero for his trademark bravado and undeniable sense of charm. Leia, played by Carrie Fisher, became one of pop culture’s strongest female characters by proving that she had the tenacity to be more than just a damsel in distress. In an Oscar nominated turn, Sir Alec Guiness gave credibility to the project by establishing one of the greatest examples of the wise, old mentor archetype ever seen.
Of course, the most recognizable character to emerge from the original film was arguably Darth Vader. While the two performers responsible for bringing the Dark Lord to life never appeared on-screen, they were also important parts of this ensemble. Body-builder David Prowse was the perfect choice to portray Vader, as he used his large frame to give the character an intimidating screen presence. But it’s the baritone voice of James Earl Jones that made the villain whole. His now famous voice is a big reason why the film was so successful and it’s hard to imagine Star Wars leaving the same impact without his vocals.
As always, our list is not meant to be all-inclusive. Be sure to share some of your favorite ensemble casts below in the comments section. Whether it’s the band Cameron Crowe got together for Almost Famous, the cops and criminals of Fargo, or the Fellowship of the Ring, there are many to choose from.
Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisAgar90
The Monuments Men is in theaters February 7.
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