Hollywood may be star-driven, but sometimes the best films are a team effort. With that in mind, let’s take a moment to salute 2013’s strongest, unsung ensemble movies, in which groups of exceptional actors came together to create rich worlds populated with three-dimensional characters. Many of these films feature standout individual performances, but they wouldn’t scale the heights they achieve without being complemented by choice supporting turns.
“Blue Is the Warmest Color”
While much has been made about the controversy surrounding “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” that noise shouldn’t drown out the greatness of the two women at the center of this Cannes-winning romantic stunner: Adèle Exarchopoulos (playing the young, uncertain Adèle) and Léa Seydoux (as the confident, focused artist Emma). But even those accolades ignore the film’s underrated supporting cast, who help flesh out but also complicate Adèle’s personal journey to self-reliance. Salim Kechiouche and Benjamin Siksou in particular are quite touching as young men who, like Adèle, are trying to navigate through the minefield that is adulthood.
A gritty, insightful coming-of-age drama, “Mud” isn’t just about a teen (Tye Sheridan) bonding with a potentially dangerous fugitive (Matthew McConaughey). “Take Shelter” writer-director Jeff Nichols also examines how prehistoric notions of ultra-macho masculinity are passed along from one generation to the next. Which is why Sarah Paulson and Reese Witherspoon’s bruised performances—as the teen’s mother and the fugitive’s ex-lover, respectively—are just as important: In their weary eyes, we see the toll of lives spent trying to cope with simple-minded men who never bothered to understand them.
“The Spectacular Now”
Not just a refreshingly honest portrait of high school but also life in general, “The Spectacular Now” brings together a stellar cast that’s headed by Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley as Sutter and Aimee, a mismatched, burgeoning couple who have to grow up in their own ways. (He needs to stop drinking and get his shit together. She has to stop being so passive.) But everywhere director James Ponsoldt’s comedy-drama looks, it finds people in different stages of personal growth, whether it’s Kyle Chandler as Sutter’s troubled dead-end father or Brie Larson as Sutter’s sensible ex-girlfriend who broke his heart because her future is too bright to put up with his
“This Is the End”
Because it’s a raucous comedy—and because its leads are assumed to be playing themselves—“This Is the End” is the sort of film that gets overlooked when discussing great acting. But this summer’s hit, about the funniest apocalypse ever, gets so much of its manic energy from the interplay of its stars—especially James Franco and Seth Rogen—who are all real-life buddies and exude a loving, mockingly contentious rapport onscreen. Even the well-chosen cameos, such as a tart Emma Watson, are comic perfection.
“What Maisie Knew”
One of the year’s unnoticed gems, “What Maisie Knew” chronicles how a six-year-old girl (Onata Aprile) tries to make sense of her toxic, self-centered parents’ (Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan) divorce and subsequent remarriages. Aprile doesn’t act so much as silently observes, her expressive face an emotional road map to track Maisie’s slowly shattering childhood. But don’t overlook the contributions of Alexander Skarsgård and Joanna Vanderham as her parents’ new lovers, who are torn between their romantic partners and this quietly drowning girl.