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The best ensemble casts of 2014

For this list, I’m going to go with the Hollywood definition of an ensemble cast, meaning a starry bunch of actors together. Sure, splitting precious screen time with a dozen A-listers could potentially lead to flat characters, but hey, what a cast!

Prime examples from 2014 include George Clooney’s The Monuments Men (Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, John Goodman, etc.), Jason Reitman’s uninspired dramedy Men, Women & Children (Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Dean Norris, etc.) and This Is Where I Leave You (Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, etc.).

Ensemble casts are aplenty, but ensemble casts that make excellent movies are far and few between:

3. X-Men: Days of Future Past

Admit it, you squealed during the film’s opening scene: Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry) and Professor X (Patrick Stewart) stylishly walking off a vaguely futuristic aero-ship.

X-Men: Days of Future Past prominently features a reunion with the original X-Men cast from 2000, but fortunately, does not exploit it. Days of Future Past’s back-and-forth narrative between the two worlds presents the film as a glossy, entertaining romp. The giant ensemble is certainly thrilling, while still evoking a sense of familiarity and intimacy. It is undeniably fun to see the young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) with his older self (Stewart), every millenial’s teenage crush Shawn Ashmore onscreen again as Iceman and a cameo appearance from Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Cyclops (James Marsden).

These mutants may have aged a fair bit (that nude Jackman scene comes to mind), but Days of Future Past’s brisk pace helps the cast to quickly gel together and truly shine.

2. 12 Years a Slave

Throughout his journey, Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) comes across a wide array of various characters in the Antebellum South, both slave and free. It is hard to ignore the compelling performances by Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o, but minor roles from Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Quvenzhané Wallis, and Sarah Paulson, just to name a few, are distinctly memorable. Each actor is essential to the rich, horrific narrative of 12 Years a Slave. Clearly, the ensemble cast solidifies the film’s strong, formidable presence. It’s hard to look away.

1. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Excluding his first two features and The Darjeeling Limited, Wes Anderson’s tendency for ensemble casts is as assured as his preference for precision and style in his rich cinematography.

The Grand Budapest Hotel had Ralph Fiennes in top comedic form as the moustached concierge M. Gustave, with first-timer Tony Revolori more silly than engaging as the loyal lobby boy, and his love interest, Saoirse Ronan’s Agatha, sugary sweet.

The film’s enormous cast is almost alarming: there’s Anderson’s go-to guys Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe and possibly a dozen more. The cast is at once enchanting, heartbreaking, ridiculous and dazzling, much like the deliciously charming fictional world of Anderson’s films.

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