Have you ever played "The Movie Game"? It was ubiquitous when I was at university the first time around, and I was quite pleased to discover that it exists outside of the world of college film dorks. I am going to do you a huge favor if you've ever tried the game and stalled out, but first let's catch up everybody else.
For those of you who have not or aren't sure, the game is remarkably simple. At a party or social gathering, take any circle of people (the larger the better), and start the game by naming a movie. The person to your left will then name an actor / actress from that movie, and moving clockwise, you will continue to name another movie they were in, someone in that movie, and so on.
Some folks play for points, and if you get to a certain number of "pass"es, you're out. Others will do an indefinite movement to keep the game going as long as possible, because it can be fun.
There are, invariably, two exceptions to the "fun" rule:
1) Someone who is moderately to very drunk will always insist that they're going to "kick your ass", only to complain about how hard the game is and wander off halfway through. Happens every time.
2) Two or three people will emerge as being very good at the game, and eventually as alcohol and party interests remove all other players, it will shrink to a very sad state indeed.
As a way to prevent the second from happening and to provide the drunken fool from the first point a fair shot, I'm going to provide you with the Rosetta Stone of "Movie Game" movies. It also happens to be the easiest way in or out of a "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game you'll ever play, but that is another story.
Normally, I would tell you to study up on the filmographies of Wallace Shawn, Paul Giamatti, Bud Cort, Bob Balaban, or any number of terribly useful supporting actors that appear in just about everything, but for the novice, may I present a film so packed with actors and actresses that it's almost impossible not to immediately find another movie to go to.
I present to you, Michael Mann's Heat.
Watching it again this afternoon, as I seem to do every two or three years, I'm struck not only by how well it still holds up, but also at the almost ridiculous amount of "name" talent who appear in small roles. Starting with the leads, I'm just going to work my way through the cast - periodically identifying movies of names that don't seem familiar- and I guarantee your movie game has an ace up its sleeve from the get-go:
William Finchter (Contact, The Chumscrubber)
Dennis Haysbert (24, Jarhead, Far from Heaven)
Hank Azaria (The Simpsons, Grosse Point Blank, Shattered Glass)
Ted Levine (Evolution, Birth, The Fast and the Furious)
Tom Noonan (Last Action Hero, The Pledge, Heaven's Gate)
Kevin Gage (Space Camp, The 'burbs, May)
Wes Studi (Dances with Wolves, Last of the Mohicans)
Xander Berkeley (The Grifters, Taken, Candyman)
Bud Cort (Harold and Maude, Pollock, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou)
Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump, Con Air)
Diane Venora (Bird, The Substitute)
Amy Brenneman (Your Friends & Neighbors, City of Angels)
Tone Loc (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, Ferngully: The Last Rainforest)
You can get in and out of Heat in any number of conceivable ways, and believe me when I say I'm scraping the tip of the iceberg with the likes of William Finchter and Xander Berkeley's film work. The same goes for Hank Azaria, Danny Trejo, Kevin Gage, and Henry Rollins. Or hell, play it safe and work from the top of the list. And what did I say about Bud Cort? See how he pops up in the oddest places?
Watching Heat is a who's who of "hey, that guy!", and movies like this keep "The Movie Game" interesting precisely because they open up more opportunities for others. It can get you out of a sticky situation when someone drops a really random movie that only one big "name" is in. Suddenly you can whip out Heat and save the day!
For you trivia junkies out there, I imagine you'll be studying the bottom of the list, and you'll have a lot to work with. I look forward to locking horns with you in the future...