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The Ten Best Scenes of 2014

The Ten Best Scenes of 2014

Boyhood” (Richard LINKLATER)
Patricia Arquette as the mom of two kids over 12 years is movingly real and natural as the mother who shepherds her children through the breakup with their father (Ethan Hawke) and two turbulent marriages before emerging as a professional successful single woman–with an empty nest. Arquette’s money scene comes near the end, when her son leaves for college and she admits, “I just thought there would be more.” Arquette is a key window into this accessible and identifiable movie, for parents and children alike.  How rare that movies show what mothering is–the investment of time and energy and love and attention and yes, letting go when the time comes. This is the scene that will win Arquette the supporting actress Oscar, her first. –Anne Thompson

Goodbye to Language 3D” (Jean-Luc GODARD)

A spoiler with a purpose: In a handful of scenes which reinvent cinema, as he has been doing for more than five decades, Godard superimposes two separate images. They arise organically out of what seems to be an if not normal at least more conventional 3D frame. The first (best experienced if unanticipated) took my breath away more than any since my first viewing of “Sunrise” or “Vertigo.” The spoiler? Close one eye during these scenes, and the result is something unique, one late career trick from the most innovative director of our time. –Tom Brueggemann 

Ida” (Pawel PAWLIKOWSKI)

Jaded filmgoers rarely are shocked these days – so much that happens in movies is telegraphed beforehand so as not to lose viewers. So when the aunt in “Ida” — a rigid Polish Communist official and judge, and integral half of a basically two-person drama with the niece she has only recently met — is seen pacing around her apartment, stubbing a cigarette, then putting on a coat – what she does next is not only unexpected, but staged in such a way to heighten the shock as no ordinary staging might have.
–Tom Brueggemann

Inherent Vice” (Paul Thomas ANDERSON)
The weird (and weirdly sexy) long take that happens upon Shasta’s return is the showcase moment of the film where, as Anthony Lane puts it, PTA finally begins to “follow his own strange star.” Up until now he has taken us, and the characters, so far out into the weeds we can barely hack our way back to trail. So when the heretofore missing and at large Shasta is suddenly dropped back into the movie, as if from the sky, we, and a fully baked Doc Sportello, are unnerved. She gets down in the altogether, splays herself supine across his body, while teasing bits about her whereabouts with other men, practically begging him to fuck her while dangling her sexuality like a carrot — and he abides, flipping her over for a good hard spanking and then, like the cat that got the cream, she tells him “This doesn’t mean we’re back together.” It’s a spooky tribute to Shasta’s sexual, manipulative power over Doc. She’s the reason for the spell this movie’s under. —Ryan Lattanzio

“Interstellar” (Christopher NOLAN)
Christopher Nolan certainly likes puzzles and the most ingenious one in “Interstellar” appears inside the black hole toward the end of the film. This is where Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper encounters the Tesseract: an artificial construct that allows him to perceive time as a physical dimension. The design and execution was a total collaboration between Nolan, theoretical physicist and exec producer Kip Thorne, the art department led by production designer Nathan Crowley, and VFX studio Double Negative led by co-owner/supervisor Paul Franklin. “We looked at works from Gerhard Richter, who has this technique of scraping the paint across the canvas and leaving these trails, so there’s this sense of a historical record,” Franklin explained in our interview. “The other thing I looked at was slit scan photography, and of, course, the Stargate in ‘2001,’ but it goes back a lot further than that. —Bill Desowitz

“Listen Up Philip” (Alex Ross PERRY)If it weren’t for a mid-stretch bright spot that finds Philip’s ex Ashley (Elisabeth Moss, blonde and marvelous until she’s yanked out of the picture) drifting in post-breakup mode, Alex Ross Perry’s “comedy” would sink. In this scene, Ashley has finally dumped her boyfriend, the titular narcissist writer, and in a long, agonizing, scuzzy, beautiful one-minute closeup of Ashley’s face in exquisite torment, expressing relief, defeat, exasperation, hope, mischief and knowing, the director and his actress together create one of the great cinema moments. And then, like a lover fondly remembered and missed, she’s gone. Alex Ross Perry told me about the scene in my interview: “In the script, it said nothing more than this: Philip leaves and closes the door. Ashley’s face shows a wave of emotion, a whole spectrum washing over. That’s all it says. One sentence. We didn’t rehearse. To take two nondescript sentences, never having her ask a question, I was astonished by the decisions she made.” —Ryan Lattanzio


Nightcrawler” (Dan GILROY)

Contemporary movies are frequently built around set pieces meant to impress audiences while being disconnected from the rest of the movie. “Nightcrawler” has multiple bravura set pieces, but none more impressive than a mid-story LA hills home invasion that the ambitious novice videographer and his assistant stumble upon. It’s hard to imagine a more tension-filled and morally questionable scene as it evolves, yet it fits perfectly within the framework of both Gilroy’s narrative but also (aided by the brilliant work of Robert Elswit’s cinematography) rather than being a stand-alone moment just meant to impress. –Tom Brueggemann 

Snowpiercer” (BONG Joon-Ho)
Marching toward the head of the titular train, the rebel cadre of Bong Joon-Ho’s “Snowpiercer” drops in on a brightly appointed classroom of upper-caste students and their cheery instructor. Aided by Alison Pill in the best one-scene performance of the year, what follows cycles through twee satire, authoritarian indoctrination, and sudden, violent action — seven or so minutes of crazed invention seemingly spliced from another movie. This is, of course, the brilliance of “Snowpiercer,” which creates a new kind of capitalist nightmare from each subsequent car, and in the process becomes a testament to the power of unsettled expectations. Embrace its peculiar energy and even the frights will leave you euphoric: “What happens if the engine stops?” Pill sings, as the sooty, bloody revolutionaries look on in disbelief. “We all freeze and die!” — Matt Brennan

“The Theory of Everything” (James MARSH)
While some have complained that this portrait of an heroic marriage should have focused more on the accomplishments of Great Physicist Stephen Hawking, and many are impressed by Eddie Redmayne’s contorted performance, it was Jane Hawking who saved her husband’s life and enabled and extended him, in more ways than one, including helping him to communicate with the outside world. And thus so does actress Felicity Jones provide the emotional heartbeat of this movie, by sharing and translating Redmayne’s emotions and making their relationship understandable. In one key scene, after Jane Hawking has resuscitated her husband after a tracheotomy and he has lost his ability to speak, she tries to show him how to use a board to communicate. We know, and they know, that now this marriage that has lasted longer than anyone could have imagined is nearing its final chapter. —Anne Thompson

Under the Skin” (Jonathan GLAZER)
You’ve never seen anything like this atmospheric sci-fi thriller before. It took Glazer ten years to be able to shoot the haunting film he wanted–unique and not overtly commercial. From the disorienting opening frames, “Under the Skin” is clearly more akin to Glazer’s mysterious and provocative “Birth” than the more conventional genre film “Sexy Beast.” “Under the Skin” leaves the audience guessing why this strange alien (Scarlett Johansson) is luring men to a house with an inky black interior and deep pool to trap her prey. In one of many arresting shots, a victim, as if suspended in amber, gazes up at her feet crossing overhead. Using a combination of practical effects and skillful augmentation with computers, Glazer started with a black screen with an absence of light and form. Then he shot the actors walking into a pool with a reflective floor, a blackout, and a special lighting rig. When the men actually sink into the floor, it went down as they walked down it, and they are submerged. –Anne Thompson

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