Ensemble films to watch together
August 20, 2010 3:58 PM   Subscribe

Please suggest ensemble films in which several separate storylines each explore various angles of the same theme, and some characters from different plotlines connect in unexpected ways. Love Actually is a perfect example of what I'm looking for.

Other examples: Magnolia, You Me and Everyone We Know, Amores Perros, Crash.

Bonus question: I'd like to learn about how this type of movie is constructed, and why multiple-storyline structures might succeed or fail, so I'd also appreciate links to relevant articles or books, as well as your personal observations on the genre.

posted by pseudostrabismus to Media & Arts (46 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Crimes and Misdemeanors and Husbands and Wives, both by Woody Allen
posted by griphus at 3:59 PM on August 20, 2010

Traffic. The British miniseries it was based upon is much better, though.
posted by dhammond at 4:00 PM on August 20, 2010

The Three Colours Trilogy by Krzysztof Kieslowski.
posted by matildaben at 4:02 PM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Playing by Heart
posted by gatorae at 4:03 PM on August 20, 2010

Short Cuts.
posted by holgate at 4:04 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

(The bonus question might be better suited for the MetaFilter Film Club.)
posted by griphus at 4:05 PM on August 20, 2010

(And a lot of Altman's work has that multiple-stranded ensemble element.)

Babel, another one by Iñárritu.
posted by holgate at 4:08 PM on August 20, 2010

Nine Lives.
posted by biscotti at 4:10 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pulp Fiction.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 4:10 PM on August 20, 2010

Short Cuts
posted by aka burlap at 4:12 PM on August 20, 2010

never seen it, but i think Sliding Doors.
posted by buka at 4:14 PM on August 20, 2010

Chungking Express.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 4:17 PM on August 20, 2010

Grand Canyon
What's Cooking
Short Cuts

They are all about Los Angeles. I'm not sure why.
posted by rikschell at 4:18 PM on August 20, 2010

posted by hot soup girl at 4:19 PM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sidewalks of New York springs to mind, as does Jackie Brown.
posted by essexjan at 4:22 PM on August 20, 2010

What's Up, Doc?
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 4:23 PM on August 20, 2010

Pretty much anything by Guy Ritchie, innit?
posted by elizardbits at 4:23 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

This used to be my favorite genre, if you can call it that... There are a lot of great suggestions up there. Especially Short Cuts.

Also, 13 conversations about one thing
posted by ttyn at 4:24 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and All the Rage.
posted by ttyn at 4:29 PM on August 20, 2010

And although it's not quite in the genre, Vantage Point may be a semi-candidate.
posted by ttyn at 4:32 PM on August 20, 2010

1. Slacker. None of the characters recur, so it's not like Magnolia where you gradually figure out what one character has to do with another. However, it technically has "some characters from different plotlines connect in unexpected ways," except that there are no "plotlines" in the conventional sense. The movie typically goes from scene to scene like this:
A and B are talking. A drives off, never to be seen again. We follow B as he leaves, and he meets up with C. B and C talk for a while, then B leaves (never to be seen again), and we follow C as she goes to meet up with D...
The theme is pretty obvious from the title: everyone's a slacker. They all have too much free time to hang out, grouse about life, make excuse for not doing anything, etc. An occasional scene looks like it's setting up some drama (a young man gets arrested for killing his mother; another young man breaks into a house and is too flummoxed to resist when the homeowner calmly takes the burglar's gun away and invites him into his home), but this never amounts to anything. It sounds really boring, and it sort of is, but it's fascinating at the same time.

2. Waking Life is by the same director as Slacker (Richard Linklater) and got more attention -- but I think Slacker is much better for many reasons, one of which is that Slacker has a purer structure. Waking Life has some of those smooth segues, but at other times I didn't feel there was any connection from one scene to the next. I also thought it was trying too hard to be philosophically meaningful; Slacker just reflects real life and lets you decide whether it's meaningful or not.

3. The Ice Storm. Many people like this movie more than I did. It clearly fits your "various angles of the same theme." I could see why some people would like this, but I got tired of the same theme being hammered into our heads over and over. The theme, as I saw it: Adults and children alike are bored with their humdrum lives, so they find little ways to rebel through personal transgressions (e.g. teenage sexual experimentation, mutual adultery); they're bumbling and awkward in transgressing, which reveals their frailty and humanity underneath their stoic surfaces.

4. Happiness. I love this disturbing, ironically titled movie. I'm hard-pressed to explain why I think it works so well, but I'd just recommend watching it.

5. Boogie Nights. Why does it work so well? There's no question about who the main character is, so it's easy to focus on him while also enjoying the side plots. This is in contrast with how I felt about Magnolia (the next movie by the same writer/director), which was more, "Uh ... what's my focus supposed to be here?" Similarly, the main theme is blatantly obvious (the highs and lows of the pornography industry), giving the movie a lot of breathing room to have fun with the various characters and plotlines.

6. I don't know if you're OK with documentaries, but there's a fascinating British series
called 7 Up, 14 Up, 21 Up, 28 Up, etc. They started with a bunch of 7-year-old girls and boys with contrasting backgrounds and made a new documentary every 7 years. I believe it's still ongoing. The kids (later adults) are interviewed about their views on education, their future, race, class (as in socioeconomic status), dating, etc.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:35 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train.
The film Happy Endings prompted one critic to coin the label "hyperlink cinema" for this style.
posted by drlith at 4:38 PM on August 20, 2010

oops, hit post too soon. Hyperlink for hyperlink cinema article.
posted by drlith at 4:39 PM on August 20, 2010

Just thought of one more: Away We Go, from last year, co-written by Dave Eggers, and starring Maya Rudolph (SNL) and John Krasinski (Jim on The Office). We follow the two main characters as they go from city to city, encountering a different couple in each one and trying to figure out how to deal with becoming new parents soon. You could consider each couple a separate plotline. It's charmingly executed (both the acting and the overall look), but they unfortunately seemed to think the quirky structure could take the place of interesting conflict and character development. The movie was inappropriately criticized as too smug; in fact, it was far too humble and restrained.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:47 PM on August 20, 2010

Dazed and Confused
posted by minkll at 5:24 PM on August 20, 2010

posted by thisisnotkatrina at 5:42 PM on August 20, 2010

Night on Earth: "[A] collection of five vignettes, which take place during the same evening, each concerning the temporary bond formed between taxi driver and passenger in five different cities around the world: Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome, and Helsinki. The movie begins with the Los Angeles based segment and moves from city to city as the clock turns during the late hours of the night."
posted by webhund at 5:48 PM on August 20, 2010

Coffee and Cigarettes: This movie is very much about exploring various angles of the same themes, except it's a series of vignettes that are unconnected plotwise but have repeated elements.
posted by Zen unicorn rainbow zen journal at 6:01 PM on August 20, 2010

American Graffiti?
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:10 PM on August 20, 2010

Flirt by Hal Hartley has the same story unfolding in different ways in New York, Berlin, and Tokyo.
posted by jaybeans at 6:28 PM on August 20, 2010

Short Cuts is a great recommendation, but if you're going to look at Altman I'd also pick up Nashville. Truly wonderful!
posted by hermitosis at 6:36 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by fuse theorem at 6:39 PM on August 20, 2010

Valentines Day, a much-less enjoyable American copy of Love Actually.
posted by purenitrous at 7:06 PM on August 20, 2010

posted by amyms at 7:23 PM on August 20, 2010

Lonestar by John Sayles
posted by vitabellosi at 7:42 PM on August 20, 2010

Choose Me (Alan Rudolph, 1983). Ostensibly a romantic comedy, this is a bit dark in some ways. Certainly darker than Richard Wright's stuff. On the other hand, it's perhaps too small to be dubbed an ensemble.

The Sweet Hereafter. Depressing but incredibly emotive. One of my favorite films. There is a controlling narrative and a main character, but it is largely about the other people -- families in a small town affected by a bus accident.

If you like the Tarantino or Guy Ritchie approach, there's a nifty British one -- Layer Cake. This is especially good in using the structure to gradually reveal more of what is going on, although it is not as culturally/artistically ambitious as QT.

L.A. Confidential is a bit like this, as is Sin City, but neither is really conceptually what you're talking about.

For lowbrow comedy there's It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.
posted by dhartung at 10:16 PM on August 20, 2010

He's Just Not That Into You
posted by kylej at 10:24 PM on August 20, 2010

The Yacoubian Building
posted by tomcooke at 12:13 AM on August 21, 2010

I was thinking along similar (though not identical) lines a while back when I asked this question, though I phrased it weirdly and caused a bit of confusion. You might find it useful.
posted by ga$money at 6:04 AM on August 21, 2010

Four Rooms
Time Code
posted by eccnineten at 7:21 AM on August 21, 2010

Many films by Robert Altman (try A Wediing); as well as many by Alan Rudolph -- I also liked his Equinox, The Moderns, and Afterglow; but especially the vaguely futuristic Trouble in Mind, set in Rain City (Seattle) and featuring Divine not in drag.
posted by Rash at 8:59 AM on August 21, 2010

Crossing Over
posted by wallaby at 11:11 AM on August 21, 2010

There's a great recent Japanese absurdist comedy called Survive Style 5+ that uses this structure in hilarious ways. It's one of the funniest films I've ever seen.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 8:20 AM on August 22, 2010

Grand Hotel
posted by Wemmick at 8:56 PM on August 22, 2010

Sin City
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:49 PM on August 25, 2010

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