Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Lunchtime Poll: There's So Many of You

The multiple character/ interlocking dramas storytelling device dates further back than Robert Altman though Altman was probably best known for it, deftly weaving multitudes of characters together for one dramatic or thematic or other effect. I'm beginning to think that there are too many of them being made now in the post Crash (2005) days. Or maybe that's just because I just finished watching one and did not like it.

Q: Which multiple interlocking characters film is your favorite? Do you like this subgenre of movies?

Please have at it in the comments.
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35 comments:

Dame James Henry said...

Although obvious, Nashville is my favorite. The satire is pitch perfect and the performances from Ronee Blakely (one of my favorite performances of the 70's) and the rest of the cast are impressive.

Michael Parsons said...

You cannot go wrong with Alman. My favourite has to be "Gosford Park".

Not only is the class system so wonderfully poked fun at, but it is the women who prove to be the most interesting characters in the film. I am in for an actress lover.

As much as Maggie and Helen were lauded, big praise needs to be heaped on Kelly, Emily and Eileen who shone just as bright.

A-Men

JS said...

I believe the term is "hyperlink" story when it's done on film.

Robert Altman's "Kansas City" is one of my new favorite discoveries. Whenever somebody asks me, "but what was it about?", I just scream "Kansas City!"

Tim said...

Tough, tough call between Short Cuts and Nashville. Far be it from me to end the Altman love-in.

Hyperlink film is indeed a phrase people use, although for my tastes it sounds too much like a post-modern media theorist's attempt to sex up a narrative style that's been around since Intolerance.

Alex C. said...

I think Paul Thomas Anderson's first couple films were great ensemble pieces. I'm personally nuts for Magnolia. Even though I loooovved TWBB, I wouldn't mind if PTA's next project was back in the interweaving story genre.

Robert said...

Yeah this is a sub-genre that's becoming quite tiresome. I think the problem is that too many directors think it best allows them to make grandoise statements about life. But to make it work it ends up getting marred in ridiculous coincidences.

Whereas Altman (who still did it better than anyone) used it simply to convey what it was like to live at a certain place and time through the eyes of everyone.

My favorite: Short Cuts. Not just because of evil chef Lyle Lovett. But that certainly doesn't hurt.

Beau said...

Short Cuts, Magnolia, or Gosford Park. Take your pick.

Jose said...

I still love how Quentin made "Pulp Fiction" work.
"Magnolia", "Booie Nights" and "Nashville" are way up there for me as well.

Anonymous said...

Short Cuts and Magnolia for me too. Touch picking between them.

But I gotta say, I also have an odd fondness for Playing By Heart too. Yes, the ending is far too sickeningly tidy, and Connery is at his most tiresome in it... but there's good stuff in there, including Angelina Jolie before she quit acting, and a corking John Barry score.

Rob

Anonymous said...

"Tough" picking, rather than "Touch", obviously.

Rob

Deborah said...

I have to put Nashville first. Pulp Fiction second. I'm not a huge fan of Short Cuts or Magnolia. Sorry. Don't shoot me.

Amores Perros is very good, but it was at exactly that point that I noticed that this kind of film was getting on my nerves.

DL said...

That subgenre is actually one of my guiltiest pleasures. I tend to love them even when they're not very good.

That said, Nashville is definitely the best of the best. (And actually one of the best movies ever made, if you ask me. )

Walter L. Hollmann said...

This is my favorite genre (sub-genre, i guess) of film. Gosford Park got me into it: I only wanted to see a Maggie Smith murder-mystery, and what I got was a delicious look at social etiquette and class structure. Oh, and Kelly Macdonald.

I have two favorites, though: Nashville and Everyone Says I Love You. Nashville, of course, is beautifully done, and the music is addictive. My family's from the South, so quite a few performances--especially Ned Beatty and Barbara Baxley--just clicked.

Everyone Says I Love You is Woody Allen's musical, a throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood. It's more a collection of vignettes than an actual plotted film (as ensemble films do), but it's so sweet and fun. The final dance between Woody and Goldie Hawn...sigh. Why can't life be more like that?

NATHANIEL R said...

yeah i'm not sure i like the hyperlink phraseology since Altman popularized the genre before there was such a thing as hyperlinks.

rob --i'm glad you mentioned playing by heart. it's hit and miss as most of these multiplied stories are but i did thing Jolie was special in it.

i think this type of film is best when they don't try to hard to surprise you with how the characters are connected but just let the stories play

Anonymous said...

Gosford Park has to be my favourite, love the allusions to Agatha Christie type murder mysteries and the fact that the murder was almost incidental to the character development. Love Helen's performance, it packed an emotional wallop at the end of the film.

SecretMargo said...

John Sayles is the unsung hero of this subgenre, I'd say. Lone Star is a great example of how the kaleidoscopic-yet-lived-in effect can be acheived without seeming contraption-y or fussily Altman-derivative.

Ivan said...

Pulp Fiction, Amores Perros & Gosford Park...in that order.

BTW, I hated Crash. I thought the connections were way too contrived.

SecretMargo said...

@dl: I know what you mean. I enjoyed The Heights and The Safety of Objects, but I felt pretty dirty afterward, I admit. The performances have a tendency to get crushed by the interlocking gears of the stories converging.

amir_uk said...

Can't claim to have a favourite because I can't recall enough of them right now (and because all of the Altman/PTA examples have rightly already been mentioned over and over again)... but Babel took my breath away on first viewing.

Aaron said...

I love all the Altman and Anderson movies mentioned, but one of my more recent favorites has to be Rodrigo García's Nine Lives.

Peter said...

I'm going with Go, just because no one's mentioned it yet.

Although obviously Pulp Fiction, Magnolia, and Gosford Park are all excellent choices as well.

Anonymous said...

GOSFORD PARK!!!

Glenn said...

I like this genre when done well. But in 2006 alone there was Babel, 2:37 and Fast Food Nation, all of which had the exact same problem. They have so many characters that there isn't enough time to give them all proper three act scenarios. So what we're left with is a whole of storylines left unfinished. What happened to the Pitt/Blanchett characters once they got back to America? THAT would have been interesting. What happened to the girl who was raped by her brother in 2:37? That's a helluva storyline to follow. And so on. I want to know what actually happens to these people and the directors cop out and just end them. Whereras in Altman's films and various other great examples of the subgenre (Pulp Fiction, etc) they feel like they end at a natural place. Not like they have just been cut off at the knee.

...I'm not sure if any of that made sense.

RC said...

Grand Canyon, Amorres Perros, Magnolia, Gosford Park.

smugguy said...

"Boogie Night", "Magnolia", and "Short Cuts" probably, but a lot of Altman will do.

I think one of the better of late was perhaps "Happy Endings." Not a classic to the level of those mentioned above, by any stretch, but Maggie Gyllenhaal and Lisa Kudrow make an irresistible pair. Even the lovely Laura Dern has a bit part, and Tom Arnold is... fuck it, he's actually, well, good in this.

Cagatay said...

My pick would be Friends with Money by Nicole Holofcener. British indie "Scenes of Sexual Nature" is also great fun and possibly best multiple character comedy I've seen in a while.
I also liked all three Inarritu films, with my favourite being Babel, I guess.

Rosa said...

Magnolia is my favorite. I have to see Gosford Park though.

NATHANIEL R said...

smugguy... I'm happy to see Happy Endings mentioned. good stuff. I've written about it before but not as much as i perhaps should have given my feelings for it. i still can't believe i'm the only place where maggie g could pick up any awardage though. crazy good performance

Ben JT, Birmingham UK said...

I'm not sure, but I think we're confusing ensemble pieces with many characters with multiple interlocking dramas.

As I understand it Crash, Nashville and Magnolia have multiple stories with characters from differing social and economic backgrounds who happen to interconnect over the period of the film.

Gosford Park and Boogie Nights have a group of connected characters (they're all relatives or employees of the McCordles or work in the porn industry) where there is little in the way of coincidence but the story is followed over a number of characters with no clear leads.

Of course there are films which it would be difficult to place in either side of this arbitrary split. Grand Hotel has a group of people who are only connected by being in the hotel at the same time - pretty much a huge coincidence - but that's clear from the outset not developed over the course of the film.

Generally I prefer the films where the multiple protagonists have a connection from the start, all these massive coincidences do sometimes feel trite and forced (see Crash), however all my other examples are excellenet films which proves there's always room for a good film with a bad premise.

Sorry about the essay - I hope it makes sense.

Piper said...

I like this genre but can't stand Crash.

Sayle's City Of Hope.

Rules Of The Game.

Pulp Fiction.

Gosford Park

Boogie Nights

NATHANIEL R said...

ben jt --thanks for that. That's what i meant actually. films where the characters are connected randomly but definitely connected as opposed to just ensemble films.

Middento said...

I'm coming in late on this, but I'll throw our huzzahs for two already mentioned (Short Cuts and Go) and one which I'm not sure if it counts, given Ben's clarification: what about Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter? That's an odd choice as well, particularly since characters are connected at the beginning but those connections shift wildly (and often disconnect) throughout the course of the flick.

Cagatay said...

How about "Me and You and Everyone We Know"? Not sure this one counts though.

I absolutely love it either way.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Goodbar´s picks:
City of God
Magnolia
Short Cuts
Boogie Nights
Go
Amores Perros

MRRIPLEY said...

THE BIG CHILL!