My Nominations: Altered States. The Blues Brothers. Caddyshack. The Elephant Man. The Empire Strikes Back. Heaven’s Gate. The Long Good Friday. Ordinary People. Raging Bull.
As always with this category, I present a range of films with either a combination of big names which must have been an extraordinary feat to pull together in a single film, or a smaller cast pulling off extraordinary feats of acting. Altered States features William Hurt in his film debut (and Drew Barrymore to a lesser extent), backed up by the (marginally) more established Blair Brown, Bob Balaban, and George Gaynes. More a film of ideas than people and performances, the cast nevertheless do well with a bizarre story.
The Blues Brothers takes a list of fully established comedians and throws them in the middle of some of the most famous musical icons of all time. When I was young I didn’t really know that most of the performers in the film were actual singers who had been around for decades, so believable are the performances. You could argue that outside of Fisher, Aykroyd, and Belushi the others are cameos, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that you have John Candy, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, Charles Napier, James Brown, Ray Charles, Frank Oz, Chaka Khan, Paul Reubens, Kathleen Freeman, Twiggy, John Lee Hooker and others popping up. Caddyshack pulls a similar trick, upping the list of comedians instead of having Blues Legends. It’s the only film you’ll find Chevy Chase and Bill Murray together, throwing in Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, Michael O’Keefe, Brian Doyle Murray, and Sarah Holcomb.
The Elephant Man is the actor’s dream – great story, great characters, and a great director behind it all – then you look at the cast around you, from John Hurt to Anthony Hopkins, and from Anne Bancroft to John Gielgud, Freddie Jones, and Wendy Hiller. Some of those give, arguably, career best performances. Raging Bull is in a similar vein, with De Niro, Pesci, and Cathy Moriarty leading the way. You can’t avoid Ordinary People thanks to its Awards success and list of names – Robert Redford directing Donald Sutherland, Judd Hirsch, Mary Tyler Moore, Elizabeth McGovern, Timothy Hutton, M Emmet Walsh, Adam Baldwin and others.
Likewise, you can’t ignore The Empire Strikes Back. The core cast returns (minus those killed off), and we have a few new faces and voices joining and instantly fitting in and making an impact. You all know it, no point saying any more. The Long Good Friday is probably the least known film here with only Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren known to audiences outside of the UK. For British viewers, there’s a host of familiar faces – Nigel Humphries, Derek Thompson, Brian Hall, Gillian Taylforth, with the likes of Dexter Fletcher and Pierce Brosnan popping up in cameos. Finally, Heaven’s Gate, if you want to find out why it was so derided for yourself beyond simply hearing the criticism and stories, has a cast you can’t balk at – John Hurt, Christopher Walken, Isabelle Huppert, Jeff Bridges, Joseph Cotten, Kris Kristofferson, Brad Dourif, Geoffrey Lewis, Mickey Rourke, Terry O’Quinn – a mixture of big names and familiar faces most people will recognise even if they can’t place the name. Everyone is good too – not career best, but if you’re a fan of any of the performers, it’s a must see.
My Winner: The Elephant Man
Let us know your winner in the comments!