Memorable Moments 2019

The following is a list of movie sequences, scenes, and moments that percolated in my mind long after the credits rolled. In no particular order:

 

VICE – We live in confusing times

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Vice lays out its thesis with enormous clarity in its opening minutes. We are all slaves to a system of governance that is sick and broken, and we are the only ones capable of doing anything about it. But we won’t because our jobs exhaust us, our bills stress us out, and it’s easier to chill with Netflix than to engage with our putrid reality.

 

THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED) – Lunch

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A father sits across the table from his son, and they try to converse. But the father is too blinded by selfishness and delusion to truly connect with his son. The son knows this, and still he powers ahead, trying to make his dad notice him, be proud of him. It’s an extraordinarily moving moment in a film that zeroes in on father-children relationships like very few in recent memory. 

MIDSOMMAR – Intro

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This is the second year in a row a scene from Ari Aster shakes my very bones. Not even 10 minutes in and we are introduced, in a chilling way, to our heroine and the scars she’ll wear for the next two hours. Not only does the scene set the stage for the nightmare ahead, but it dives head on to the themes of loss and grief that the film explores, to varying effect.

JOKER – The Murray Show

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The most celebrated comic book villain of all time has always existed within the realm of fiction. Even Heath Ledger’s personification of the character in The Dark Knight did not step out of the screen into our real. Not so with this joker. The scene at the late night show, in which he comes clean to his sins, is chilling because you see this villain, for the first time, as existing in this very moment, perhaps somewhere close to you. It is a picture for our troubled times.

AS GOOD AS IT GETS – KITCHEN LETTERS 

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As aching, beautiful, and tender as cinema can get. Already wrote about this moment in my initial review, but it is worth mentioning again. A treatise on motherhood, singleness and loneliness that spans but a few minutes, this scene is one of the finest in years.

THE RETURN OF THE KING – DO YOU REMEMBER THE SHIRE, MR FRODO?

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Boasting an amount of gravitas that modern blockbusters can only fantasize about, the heroism of the hobbits Sam and Frodo is moving. In this moment, at the end of all things, it reaches its apex when a weary Sam literally carries a moribund Frodo on his back, on their way to a mountain of fire that may very well mean their doom. There’s a couple other sequences from this trilogy that could have made this cut, but I settled on this one since it concludes the story on an uplifting note. 

INCEPTION – GROW OLD TOGETHER

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“I miss you more than I can bear, but I have to let you go”. 

VOX LUX – AMBULANCE RIDE

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Vox Lux begins with a student walking into his classroom, taking out a shotgun and shooting all his classmates. One of the students is put into an ambulance, and for the next five minutes (I timed it) the camera stays there. It shifts from an exterior to an interior shot, the camera swirling around the vehicle, capturing the highways, the vegetation next to it. Then it captures the young victim, as the first responders attempt to keep her alive. Meanwhile, Scott Walker’s mournful score plays over all. 

THE DEATH OF STALIN – I HAVE PAPERS ON ALL OF YOU

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Were this not played for laughs, a sharp satire shining a light on the events occurring immediately after Stalin’s death in Soviet Russia, it all might be too horrific. It’s more bearable and entertaining this way, since we get to mock the disgusting human beings who were in power then, without having their atrocities in the foreground. But then there’s this scene, in which one of the leaders confronts the rest of the committee with all the nasty things everyone else has done. There’s still some jokes here and there, but you cannot help but be in awe at the lengths our species will go to for power’s sake. 

THE LAUNDROMAT – PRAYER OF DELIVERANCE

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I think most genuine believers, at one time or another, have prayed or will pray a supplication similar to the one delivered by Meryl Streep here, as she sits in a church pew. This moment only works because of what precedes it: 2 wealthy bankers say that the prayers of the rich and powerful are monetary contributions to political campaigns. Only suckers, and the rest of us, attend church to make our prayers. And right now our prayers aren’t being heard. Or they are being answered in a way not of our liking. Whatever the case, please God, deliver your perfect justice. Amen. 

As Good as it Gets

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To watch movies is to open yourself up to the lives of others. This doesn’t mean that protagonists gain your sympathy or scorn just by virtue of being the heroes and villains of their own movie. Rather, movie characters must earn the right to your investment in them. It is the screenwriter’s duty to create men and women who, beyond their attributes and flaws, come alive because they are one of us. Maybe they don’t talk or look like you, or maybe the dilemma they’ve been placed in is very specific, far removed from yours; what makes them vibrate is how they relate to the world.

This is important because with the notable exception of superhero movies, where the humans who don’t have powers are an afterthought, their life is ours. We invest in them not because that could be us, but it could be somebody. This human experience in which we love, laugh, and grieve is universal. I think that’s what it’s meant when cinema is referred to as the “most powerful empathy machine in all the arts”.

I want to bring your attention to an astonishing moment that takes place halfway through As Good as it Gets. Carol (Helen Hunt) is writing a thank you note to Melvin (Jack Nicholson), the man who just paid for the medical treatment of her son. Carol’s mom wants to have a girl’s night out, something they haven’t done in years. “I can’t”, Carol replies. “I’m in the middle of writing this letter, and what if Spence gets an asthma attack while we’re out?” The camera hovers over the half-finished letter, and we read some sentences that go beyond a mere note of gratitude. It’s almost as if Carol’s penning her whole life story.

When her mom sits with her and asks why she refuses to give herself a break now that she’s finally given the opportunity to, Carol breaks down. It’s barely noticeable at first, her face simply turning red as she recounts a story. The further she gets into the story, the more indiscriminate her tears become. By the time her story has ended, and her monologue has turned into a description on the agonies of loneliness, and the aching of being invisible to the world, she’s sobbing like a child. And sitting there, embarrassed that her mom is seeing her cry, but at the same time encouraged because that’s what moms are there for, Carol became one of the most fully-fleshed out, greatest characters I’ve seen on screen this year.