Cinema is much more than the sum of its parts. In any given movie, if I’m lucky, there is one or more aspects to the finished product that stands on its own. Whether a performance or a musical score, the features that make up a movie enthrall me.
I went over the 177 films I watched this year in search of the ten most memorable scenes contained within them. Because every compilation is subjective, these are not, by any means, the finest scenes I watched.
They are the ones that made me cringe, smile, cry, and spoke to me in some way or another; the ones that kept reminding me why I like movies so much.
In alphabetical order:
Force Majeure – Couples Dinner
Public embarrassment at the dinner table is at the top of the most uncomfortable things I can imagine. The other would be having the girl I love find out I am not only a spineless dweeb, but a liar too. These two collide magically when Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) are having dinner with strangers, and the conversation devolves into an earlier incident the couple had. Funny at first, then absolutely squirm worthy, the scene ultimately becomes a sad portrait of a marriage that much like the mountain at the lodge they are staying, is about to explode.
Mississippi Grind – Grand Piano and Dreams
Ben Mendelsohn is one of the most interesting actors around. This year alone I saw him in a Western (Slow West), a thriller (Black Sea), a historical epic (Exodus: Gods and Kings), and a superhero movie (The Dark Knight Rises). But it was his turn as Gerry, the depressed and gambling prone former shell of a man in Anna Boden’s Mississippi Grind which let me know I was never going to forget about him.
The moment where he sits at the piano and starts to play Gymnopédie No.1 to Vanessa, a prostitute he just met hours before, is beautiful in its simplicity. And then he confesses something to her. And she confesses back. Much like Mendelsohn himself, the moment is unforgettable.
Polisse – Goodbye Mommy
Sometimes it is necessary to engage in cinema that is made outside of the U.S. if only to observe how filmmakers approach material that American directors would do so very different. If an immigrant woman is forced to abandon her only child in the hands of police care, you have two choices: you appeal to sentimentality and play it for tears, which is how most American pictures function; or you go the route of Polisse. The camera never tells you how to feel. Much like a documentary, it is simply recording another day at the office for these unsung heroes. The tears this time are earned.
Pride and Prejudice – Bliss
This is on my list simply because it is lovely. The loveliest actually. Too lovely to ignore.
Run All Night – Escape
Little did I know, walking into the theater that spring afternoon, that the latest Liam Neeson shoot ‘em up was not only going to become my favorite, but that I’d still be talking about it eight months later. The scene in question occurs halfway through the movie, in which a beaten and bloodied Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) limps his way to freedom alongside his son Mike (Joel Kinnaman). It consists simply in them trying to evade capture by the police. There are no explosions or CGI monsters behind them. It is just a father trying to do what’s right for his son for the first time in his life; and a son, giving his dad a second chance.
Swingers – Voicemail
Maybe it’s because I’ve been as pathetic as Mike (Jon Favreau) is. Maybe because, long ago in my youth, I might have done something similar. Whatever the reason, once Mike picks up the phone at three in the morning and starts to leave a series of increasingly desperate and despondent voicemails in the phone of a girl he just met, it’s impossible to look away.
The Dark Knight Rises – Bruce Rises
Because I did not watch Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy when it came out, once I finally did, I did not approach each film as an event. I saw it as a Greek tragedy adapted for modern times consisting of three acts. The element that bonded the acts to each other and is present throughout the entire story is bats. The most significant use of the animals arrives in the last film, as Bruce Wayne attempts to escape the hell Bane locked him in. From the start, the series has been about Bruce’s quest to defeat fear. Spurred by his father’s dying words of “do not be afraid”, Bruce tries to overcome fear. That Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) is the one villain who is present throughout the trilogy is telling. Here in prison however, Bruce discovers what he has been searching for since the moment a crook gunned down his parents more than twenty years ago. Fear does not have to be your enemy. And as he escalates the prison’s walls, bats come flying out. Bruce Wayne’s journey is complete. And so is Batman’s.
The Final Girls – New Beginning
What wouldn’t we give to be back in the arms of a loved one we lost? For a moment, it does not seem real. The sting of loss overwhelms so much that it must be a dream; life is not supposed to hurt this much. Max (Taissa Farmiga) sits with her mom discussing the endless possibilities of being alive. Seeing Max’s face display surprise, sadness and hope, sometimes within the same beat, is heartbreaking. I was expecting a silly slasher comedy; what I got instead was the best model I’ve ever seen on Kubler-Ross’s 5 Stages of Grief.
The Theory of Everything – Flashback of a Life
This is where the movie tells you to take out your bag of tissues. Usually, I’d roll my eyes and wait for the credits to start rolling, but during the two hour runtime I had become incredibly invested in Jane and Stephen’s romance. Indeed, this movie is a romance, plain and simple. It deserves to go out big.
Wild Tales– Pasternak
This is probably one of the most inventive, if not the absolute funniest, cold openings I’ve ever seen in a movie.