It’s become something of a yearly tradition here at Flavorwire to take a pause at year’s end to recognize — as the inevitable “Year’s Best Films” lists pour forth (and ours will join them soon enough) — that while a great movie is an accumulation of first-rate writing, directing, and performance, plenty of films that didn’t make that final cut did offer us the pleasure of a perfect scene. After the jump, we present our carefully cultivated picks for ten of the best moments from this year’s films.
“I Dreamed a Dream,” Les Misérables
Director Tom Hooper’s decision to shoot the musical numbers (and the movie is mostly that) live on set — as opposed to the standard practice of lip-syncing to pre-recorded tracks — could have just been a gimmick; it also could have been a disaster. But since most (though not all — we’re looking at you, Russell Crowe) of his performers are mesmerizingly good singers, it ended up being a masterstroke, giving the songs a rough, emotional, connected quality. Nowhere was this more clear than in Anne Hathaway’s show-stopping performance of “I Dreamed a Dream,” its live performance aspect heightened by Hooper’s decision to shoot in a long, uncut close-up. This is an actor’s song, and Hathaway acts the hell out of it; kudos to her director for giving her the opportunity to do so in the most effective manner imaginable.
“Pre-title Sequence,” Skyfall
The Bond movies are famous for their pre-title sequences, the action mini-movies (often barely connected to the plotline that follows) that smash us over the head, right off the bat, with the stunts and derring-do that are the series’ trademark. But director Sam Mendes outdoes himself with the thrilling opener to this year’s Skyfall, an extended, white-knuckle pursuit via foot, car, and train. It’s fast and breathless, but with little dashes of wonderful wit (we still can’t get over that great little beat with the cufflinks).
“Flip It,” Flight
It’s a shame that Flight melts into such a boilerplate, been-there-done-that, drunk-can’t-stay-on-the-wagon tale, since it starts out so promisingly: an early morning drink and toot for cocky pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), who then proceeds to jump into the cockpit for his morning flight, negotiate a harrowing takeoff during a rainstorm, and later bring the aircraft in from an uncontrolled dive by “flipping” it and landing in a field. Director Robert Zemeckis melds high tech effects and genuine emotion with a skill he clearly didn’t lose in that decade wasted making “motion capture” movies; the sequence is downright electrifying. Shame about the rest of the movie.
“The Abortion Machine,” Prometheus
As we’ve mentioned, we shared a lot of the common concerns and complaints about Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel/spin-off/whatever, Prometheus. But it did manage to remind us that, when he wants to, Scott can pop out a bang-up set piece like few others, and in Prometheus, that moment comes when Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) discovers that she’s pregnant and, fearing the worst (since she’s sterile, plus, y’know, it’s an Alien movie), leaps on to Mission director Vickers’ personal robot surgery table and takes care of business. Sure, the device itself is introduced with the worst kind of clunky first-act foreshadowing, but still — that’s a bananas sequence, and packs the kind of visceral thrill that the rest of this pseudo-intellectual drag was sorely lacking.
“The Big Reveal,” 21 Jump Street
Great moments in movies often come near their conclusions, which makes discussing some of these scenes in spoiler-sensitive surroundings a difficult endeavor. Take, for examples, 21 Jump Street. Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s inspired film version of the cheeseball ‘80s TV classic is months past its theatrical run and home video debut, but the clever unveiling of two surprise guest stars at its climax is such a great moment, such a giant and unexpected laugh, that we’re still loath to drop any names. Let’s just leave it at this: if you’ve seen the movie, you know what we’re talking about, and you know how glorious it is.
“Airport Interrogation,” Argo
Here’s another one that requires some carefully chosen language, but here we go: Argo concerns the efforts of a CIA agent (director Ben Affleck) to smuggle a team of six American embassy workers out of Tehran in the midst of the hostage crisis. As you would expect, there are questions of trust between the spook and his charges — specifically from Joe Stafford (Scoot McNairy), the most skeptical member of the team, who simply doesn’t think it can be done, and is not the least bit comfortable putting his life in this stranger’s hands. But when they’re at the airport, in their moment of greatest danger and highest tension — you know what, screw it, we can’t do this. If you somehow haven’t done so yet, go see the movie. Wait for the airport interrogation. Thank us later.
“Conducting the Audience,” Hitchcock
What Affleck is doing in Argo — in that sequence and throughout the extraordinary (if mostly fictional) climax — is what Alfred Hitchcock once called “playing the audience like a piano.” Nobody did it better than Hitch, and while some of his admirers have taken issue with the portrait of the man painted by Sacha Gervasi’s lightweight biopic, only a Grinch could fail to find pleasure in the film’s recreation of the film’s premiere screening. In it, Hitch (well-played by Anthony Hopkins) elects to hang out in the lobby during the film’s notorious shower scene and listen to the fresh audience’s reaction to it. He takes such pleasure in the experience that he begins “conducting” them, controlling his orchestra of shrieks and gasps and never missing a beat.
“Pony,” Magic Mike
For a movie with as much skin in its premise as this one, Steven Soderbergh’s surprisingly funny and strikingly subversive male stripper tale Magic Mike doesn’t feature all that much actual sex; it’s more interested in foreplay and afterglow. In fact, its closest stylistic approximation of a sex scene features no coitus at all. It occurs when Brooke (Cody Horn) shows up at the club where her brother (Alex Pettyfer) has started dancing under the tutelage of the title character (Channing Tatum). As she watches Mike dance onstage for the first time (beyond the clip above), what first seems a scene of pro forma cutaway and reaction shots increases in frequency and tempo to become, basically, sexual encounter via clever film editing. It’s a terrific, witty, sexy scene.
“The Tsunami,” The Impossible
Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Impossible is a bit of a mixed bag: indisputably affecting, and filled with terrific performances, while simultaneously strings-showing manipulative and rather unforgivably crass in its decision to alter the nationality of the family at the center of its true story from Spanish to British. But whatever our hesitations about what follows, there’s no denying the sheer force of its harrowing recreation of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, a gripping sequence that uses convincing special effects and powerful editing and cinematography to put viewers right into that deadly soup.
“Hulk Vs. Loki,” The Avengers
Great comedy, as they say, is all about timing. And that’s the key to perhaps the single biggest laugh of the movie year: In the midst of the expected (and well-executed) protracted battle sequences that close The Avengers, we’re prepared for some kind of an extended, all-out fight between Hulk and super-villain Loki. It’s easy to forget, going in to a moment like this, that this is the Hulk we’re talking about. We’re quickly reminded.
Agree with our favorite movie moments of the year? Disagree? Let us know — and add your own — in the comments!