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The Best Cast Films of 2017, According to Top Casting Directors

15 casting directors explain the brilliance behind their peers’ work in “Lady Bird,” “Get Out,” “The Post,” "The Shape of Water," and more.

The Best Cast Films of 2017

The Best Cast Films of 2017

Get Out,” Casting By Terri Taylor

“Get Out”

Sarah Finn (“Black Panther,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”): If a casting director’s job is done well, there’s an imperceptible melding of their choices with the director’s vision for the film. The actors are so perfectly suited, one cannot imagine anyone else in their roles. The whole becomes much greater than its individual parts, with each performance seamlessly integrating and igniting with the others. It’s almost as if the casting director never existed and the actors just magically appeared on screen, perfectly inhabiting and breathing life into their characters.

Thankfully, this is an opportunity to examine what exactly the craft is that goes into the selection of a cast — truly, one of the most essential ingredients of filmmaking. Without the right choices, a film may rise or fall, endure or instantly be forgotten.

Watching a film like “Get Out,” it’s clear that Terri Taylor put a tremendous amount of thought into each role, mirroring the director’s wit and darkly subversive tone with the actors she put forth. Anchored by a searing and inspired performance by Daniel Kaluuya, each actor walks the fine line between naturalism and absurdity. Their grounded performances disarm and create more dissonance as the audience is riveted to the unfolding twists and turns. From the opening scene, Lakieth Stanfield’s understated banter shocks us into a reality where things are not as they seem. Allison Williams’ lighthearted charm and effervescent chemistry with Daniel later makes the turn all the more devastating. The veteran heavyweight Catherine Keener stuns in a revelatory role, the unassuming Bradley Whitford leads us effortlessly, while the dynamic Caleb Landry Jones brings danger and LilRel Howery provides a crucial and comedic link. Each and every actor adds intrigue and heightens the unfolding drama without tipping their hand. And while they have very different backgrounds and styles, on screen the actors effortlessly inhabit the same shifting landscape and display both comedic and dramatic chops.

Nuance, freshness, intelligence, darkness, levity — all these factors had to be carefully weighed and balanced in assembling this cast piece by piece. One misstep could have broken the spell. In service of this brilliant and provocative film, Terri Taylor quietly and expertly wove together a cast worthy of appreciation and celebration.

Gayle Keller (“The Big Sick,” “Certain Women”): I think “Get Out,” Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, was one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year, as well as one of the best-cast films of 2017. I wasn’t going to see it because I am not a horror film fan. I can’t remember what it was that changed my mind, I think just word of mouth. But “Get Out” is so much more than a horror film. It actually reaches across so many genres that it is hard to pinpoint it into one, which is a good thing. It made me feel and think in the way that the best films do. For me, one of the things that has added to its success is this gumbo of casting that Terri Taylor put together, where you seem to throw everything into a pot, not one ingredient dominating the flavor, and what comes out is an expertly played film.

In “Get Out” there isn’t a star at the center, but rather some well known, up-and-coming and unknown actors who help create this unforgettable film. Terri Taylor managed to service the story without calling attention to the fact that all of these actors are at such different points in their careers, yet all meld their talents seamlessly together. Bringing together a young talent from London with veteran TV and film actors and a scene-stealing stand up, just works.

Casting the sublime lead, Daniel Kaluuya, who is a relative unknown, and adding actors who are so subtle and empathetic and casting them against type, like Catherine Keener, Stephen Root, and Bradley Whitford. Having interesting and exciting up-and-comers like Lakaith Stanfield and Caleb Landry Jones playing supporting roles and finally startling unknowns like Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel, you come up with a brilliantly orchestrated ensemble. Terri Taylor brings these actors to the director​ ​and everyone trusts each other enough to take these chances. Going from the hysterically funny LilRel Howery to absolute heartbreak with Lakeith and Betty to the hellish horror of Bradley and Allison Williams, without ever breaking the reality of the world — that is what good casting is all about.

“God’s Own Country,” Casting By Shaheen Baig

Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu in Francis Lee’s “God’s Own Country”

Courtesy of Sundance

Lucy Bevan (“Murder on the Orient Express,” “Beauty and the Beast”): Shaheen did an impeccable job of casting this film. The two central performances by Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu are so convincing that you truly believe you are in Yorkshire on the farm with them. The supporting performances from Gemma Jones, Ian Hart, and all the others around them add to the authenticity of the world that Francis Lee has created. I was so moved by this touching, though provoking and ultimately uplifting film; bravo to the casting.

“Good Time,” Casting By Jennifer Venditti

Robert Pattinson and Benny Safdie in "Good Time"

Robert Pattinson and Benny Safdie in “Good Time”

Jenny Jue (“Okja,” “Inglourious Basterds”): In “Good Time,” Rob Pattinson’s Connie struggles to make bail for his brother after they botch a bank robbery, and his desperation introduces him to the full gamut of skeevy characters of New York’s early-morning hours. After noticing many of the actors have few or no credits, I reached out to casting director Jennifer Venditti and discovered many of them were a product of her “street casting,” which is no doubt the reason there is such authenticity and unpredictability in her incredible collaboration with the Safdie brothers.

One of the first faces we meet is Peter Verby, a court-appointed psychiatrist whose white hair and gentle nature suggests a thankless career-long quest to genuinely help people. Eric Paykert is a stout and steady bail bondsman, who feels like the only thing stopping his bald head from exploding with anger at any moment is the yarmulke topping it. (I later found out from Venditti that Eric is, in fact, a real bail bondsman.) Probably the most exciting find of the film is the heartbreakingly authentic Taliah Webster as Crystal, a 17-year old whom Connie encounters and subsequently talks into doing pretty much everything against her best judgement. She’s capable and vulnerable at the same time, and at the point Connie kisses her in order to distract her and keep her incentivized to help him, you’re immediately torn between the giddiness of her getting this unexpected kiss, and wanting her to flee his mayhem immediately.

Although Pattinson, Benny Safdie, and Jennifer Jason Leigh give great performances, I think it’s Jennifer Venditti’s street casting that is the real star here. The dark world of characters she has assembled represents a world I barely knew existed but now feel I’ve met over a weed-and-whiskey-fueled night through the streets of New York.

Lady Bird,” Casting By Jordan Thaler, Heidi Griffiths, and Allison Jones

Beanie Feldstein and Saoirse Ronan in "Lady Bird."

Beanie Feldstein and Saoirse Ronan in “Lady Bird.”

A24

Ellen Lewis (Casting Director for Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Jim Jarmusch): “Lady Bird” is a stunning cast led by the amazing Saoirse Ronan. Greta Gerwig hit the casting jackpot with Jordan Thaler, Heidi Griffiths, and Allison Jones. Together they assembled a group of actors who made a complicated and eccentric family believable and endearing. Their high school ensemble teetered sensitively between flawed and self-conscious, and adulthood and childhood. From Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts and Lois Smith to Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges, Timothee Chalamet and Jordan Rodrigues, it is a wonderful array of talent that brings a veracity and poignance to this coming-of-age dramedy.

“Lady Macbeth,” Casting By Shaheen Baig

Florence Pugh in “Lady Macbeth”

Sixty Six Pictures

Mark Bennett (“20th Century Women,” “It Follows”): It’s exciting to watch a film that stars really good actors that you’ve never seen before. It allows you to immerse yourself in the world of a film, without being aware of all the distracting baggage that celebrities can bring with them — things feel unfamiliar; there are no reference points. But at the same time, there can also be a wonderful sense of discovery: “Who is that actor? How have I not seen them before? Where did they find them?”

William Oldroyd’s “Lady Macbeth” is full of actors like that. All of the film’s British leads — Florence Pugh (a revelation in the titular role), Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Naomi Ackie and Christopher Fairbank — were unfamiliar to me. But each felt perfectly fitted to their respective roles, and were working with weighty material that allowed them to shine (which is the reason most actors do independent films to begin with). As such, each actor became riveting to me. So often, “charisma” is less something innate in an actor than it is a matter of seeing a talented, interesting actor placed in the right context — in a memorable role in a great script, filmed by a director with vision. The question is often asked while discussing casting if an actor “can carry a film” — but there are so many actors out there who can do just that, if filmmakers are willing and able to give them those opportunities.

It is all the harder to attract a top-shelf cast when you’re working on a modest budget and with an unfamiliar director, and the process can be laborious. It can be a lot more work to hold a hundred auditions for a role than it is to make one or two offers. That’s what makes the accomplishment of “Lady Macbeth” casting director, Shaheen Baig, all the more noteworthy. A cast like this can’t merely be bought; it must be assembled carefully, with thought, integrity, and a great deal of hard work.

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