2005 Calvins: Best Cast
By David Mumpower
February 16, 2005
This category's criteria for judging relative success or failure has always been left vague. The decision on whether to vote based upon a simple roll call as opposed to the interaction among the thespians is in the eye of the beholder. Some of us could select their lists in this category before the applicable movie is even released in theaters. Others laud motion pictures based on the chemistry of the various players. For most of us, a happy balance is found somewhere between these two extremes. Were it done the former way, Ocean's 12 probably would have won the vote in a landslide. Instead, it doesn't even make the list because, well, we saw the movie. If the BOP staff were dating Steven Soderbergh, he would be sleeping on the couch right now. If, on the other hand, we voted solely on the way the various performers bring out the best in one another, our first and second place selections would almost certainly have exchanged positions. The reason why will be obvious in a moment.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the winner for Best Cast of the year. A strong contender for most of the major categories at the Calvins, this production really stands out for the who's who in Hollywood list during the end credits. There is the obvious big name in Jim Carrey along with four-time Academy Award nominee Kate Winslet. Backing them up are everyone's favorite hobbit, Elijah Wood, and everyone's favorite damsel in distress, Kirsten Dunst. These four actors have all frontlined a movie that earned $250 million domestically, with Carrey, oddly enough, being the only one without a $300 million on his resume. Any time you have a group where Spider-Man and Lord of the Rings are not the most financially successful titles up for discussion, you know you are talking about box office heavyweights. This foursome would be more than enough justification for the top vote, but Eternal Sunshine also includes indie film sensations Tom Wilkinson and Mark Ruffalo plus Arrested Development comic relief David Cross. And, oh yeah, the film they create together is an instant classic that is cleaning up at awards season despite being the movie that has been out of theaters the longest. Factoring in the Hollywood blue bloods involved and the quality of their output, it's no surprise that Eternal Sunshine is a runaway winner for Best Cast.
With the notable exception of one fat, hairy man and his proudly displayed bouncing penis, Sideways is by and large a four-person ensemble piece. Sure, other thespians are involved, but 90% of the dialogue goes to the same quartet. That's what makes their recognition as the second best cast of 2004 so surprising. If you had walked up to the average person six months ago and given them the names of this group then asked them to identify in what format the movie was showing, TNT would have been a reasonable guess. After all, Sandra Oh is largely known to people as a co-star on HBO's dreadful sports series, Arliss. Thomas Haden Church has endured any number of failed projects since he left NBC's Wings a decade ago. Sure, Paul Giamatti gets his fair share of recognition from critics, but he's not exactly a household name. And Virginia Madsen has been presumed lost in the '80s for 15 years now. There might be no greater cinematic miracle in 2004 than this group pulling together to each offer the performance of their career. This is arguably the best example of group career resurgence in the past five years.
The Kill Bill productions are a fascinating insight into the madness of Quentin Tarantino. Sure, Uma Thurman gets all the hype, but it's the rest of the cast that blends perfectly. In order to counterbalance one of the world's most beautiful women, a mix and match solution was proffered. Gorgeous, talented women like Lucy Liu and Vivica A. Fox were highlighted in the first production. Lurking in the wings for the sequel were casually introduced characters who were less aesthetically pleasing but more storied actors. We have already discussed David Carradine from when he finished second for Best Supporting Actor, but there are always chronic tough guy Michael Madsen and Hong Kong icon Gordon Liu. QT even gave reformed mermaid Daryl Hannah a splashy role and a saucy eye patch. All the casting elements mix together to form a fascinating chemical reaction of genre-mashing celluloid, and we're in awe of it.
Garden State proves to be a cross-category heavyweight. But nowhere else is this more evident than in the Best Cast category, where it ties for third with the Kill Bill sequel. Zach Braff should be mentioned first and foremost here since the movie is very much his baby. The most amazing part of how he handles his first production, though, is the way that he is not afraid to give his co-stars showier roles. While Braff's character all but vanishes due to his chronic bout of tragedy-induced self-loathing, others are allowed to shine. Chief among them is Star Wars prequels survivor Natalie Portman. The actress has been wasting away by greenscreen for the past several years, but she rises to the challenge here. Her portrayal of an all-too-emotionally-available waif is the most heartwrenching of the year. And we have already discussed the greatness of Peter Sarsgaard in the Best Supporting Actor category. The masterstroke, though, is in the casting of Ian Holm as a seemingly well-intended father who is secretly harboring a deep-seated grudge. If there were a villain in Garden State, it would be Holm, but his presence is so calmly understated that his menace borders on the genteel.
BOP has been a bit ahead of the curve when it comes to the career of TV's Tim Bisley, a situation not without its frustrations. Since nobody else in North America has been even marginally aware of Spaced, the prior work of actor Simon Pegg, we had no one with whom to share our unmitigated excitement for this project. That sucked. Now that Shaun of the Dead has turned into a surprise buzz film, we are relishing the opportunity to share with others the discovery of this wry British fanboy and his works of subtle genius. You don't have to know who any of the cast members are to relish how well they blend together in Shaun of the Dead, but if you do watch Spaced next time it's on late night cable, we promise the movie is that much better. For this reason, we give the cast of unknowns the nod for fifth place over the much more pedigreed stables of thespians beneath it.
Falling just short of the top five are Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. In the case of Harry Potter, the cast was largely the same as previous incarnations but with four notable additions. Veteran actor Michael Gambon came onboard to create a more hippy version of Professor Dumbledore, David Thewlis was introduced as a charismatic but secretive Professor Lupin, and Emma Thompson portrayed flighty fraud Professor Trelawney. But the entire film revolved around one character, Sirius Black, and it's undeniable that Gary Oldman was born to play the role. Keeping a franchise fresh is one of the trickiest accomplishments in the industry (which is why MGM/UA continues to agonize over their next James Bond). The most impressive feat of the Potter series is the way they keep perfectly meshing new blood with old favorites.
BOP loves Wes Anderson the way that the NRA loves the Second Amendment. So, if anything, it's surprising that The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou finishes this low. This quirky, stubbornly off-putting movie proved divisive to the staff. Some of us, myself included, felt the cast to be one of the most fully realized in recent memory. Others found it to be a severe misstep after the magnificence of Calvins Awards 2002 dominator The Royal Tenenbaums. Our voting reflects the end-of-spectrum opinions on both sides. The Life Aquatic casting proved to be an all-or-nothing proposition for our group.
The Incredibles, Finding Neverland and The Aviator comprise the lower tier which rounds out our top ten. As usual, we struggle with the debate of how to laud an animated cast of vocal talent. We love the movie, but it's hard to vote for voice actors over the garden variety ones. With Finding Neverland, we love the group and particularly Johnny Depp. But this winds up feeling like a two man show (well, one man and one boy) more than a group event. The same could be said of The Aviator, an amazing cinematic accomplishment whose lead will be remembered first and foremost despite stellar efforts from Cate Blanchett and Alan Alda.
Films finishing just outside the top ten voting for Best Cast are Spider-Man 2, Million Dollar Baby, The Bourne Supremacy, Hero, and A Very Long Engagement.
||Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
||Kill Bill Vol. 2
||Shaun of the Dead
||Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
||The Life Acquatic with Steve Zissou