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. 

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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If a week ago you would’ve said that I would become deeply invested in a movie series that had it’s conclusion almost a decade ago, my cynicism would’ve gotten the better of you. If you also would’ve said that one of the Harry Potter films included one of the best sequences I would see all year, I would’ve called you out. But I have, and it does.

I will discuss the scene in question later this year, as I’m sure it will make my list of Memorable Moments of 2019. For now, let me just go on record and state how taken aback I’ve been by the bleakness and power of the Harry Potter series.

I don’t recall another mainstream picture in which the sinister appears as menacing as it does in Harry Potter. The Lord of the Rings, to bring up another fantasy series, has Sauron as the main antagonist, but he never feels as outright demonic as the villains in Harry Potter do. Sauron wants the ring back in order to take on flesh again and rule over Middle-Earth, but his motivations are never more than what we see: nothing. Similarly, presiding over a kingdom is a general enough goal that most people wouldn’t mind getting behind it.

“Nobody will doubt my powers again”, Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) hisses at Harry in The Goblet of Firerevealing the crux of the series. If the devil is really the ultimate harbinger of evil, then it stands to reason that the more characters resemble him, the more frightening they’ll be. More than death and destruction, the devil wants nobody to question his powers over those of the light. In the Gospels, Satan revels in the death of Jesus for this very reason: he’s now the most powerful being in the universe. The evil in these movies appears urgent, and above all, real.

The Half-Blood Prince has an almost desolate conclusion, foreboding more pain to come. Its stark contrast between all the others that came before is almost as stark as my response to them from The Philosopher’s Stone to now. I cannot wait to finish this series.

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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

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One of the downsides of arriving late to staples of pop culture is that they’ve become so ingrained in society as to have been completely spoiled. This year alone it’s happened to me whilst watching Inception and The Lord of the Rings, works so popular that I had a general idea of how they were going to end up despite zero effort on my part.

So it is with The Philosopher’s Stone, the first installment in the massively popular Harry Potter series. Voldemort; Snape; Dumbledore; these names are all familiar to me despite never once opening a Harry Potter book. And while there’s still some enjoyment to be had in the details of the larger story, it is a bit shameful that the endgame is known to me already.

With seven (7!) movies left to go, I hope this trend of merely watching the story hit the required beats can be reversed, and I can be surprised. Or better yet, invested.

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