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The Best Movie Scenes of 2015

The Best Movie Scenes of 2015

“45 Years” (Andrew Haigh)

A simmering tension has been building between long-wed
British retirees Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) since a
letter arrived with news that the frozen body of Geoff’s first love, who died
after slipping into the crack of a glacier more than a half century ago, has
been discovered in the Swiss Alps. 

Despite Kate’s growing realization that her entire marriage
has been haunted by this phantom rival, the couple goes through with their plan
to throw a big anniversary party. Matters start to come to a boil when the
less-than-erudite Geoff gives a crowd-pleasing toast to his wife. Kate wanly
smiles as they step into a blue spotlight for a solo dance to their favorite
song, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” by the Platters. 

But the lyrics of the final
chorus betray the reality of the situation as the music becomes isolated on the
soundtrack: “When a lovely flame dies, smoke gets in your eyes.” Geoff lifts Kate’s arm up in the air
triumphantly, but she jerks it down as a despondent look washes over her face.
The Moody Blues get the last word as their early hit, “Go Now,” plays over the
end credits: “We’ve already said, ‘Goodbye.'” — Susan Wloszczyna    

“Amy” (Asif Kapadia)

The torchy British songstress Amy Winehouse already had five
Grammys and a slew of hits to her name by the time she entered Abbey Road
Studios in March 2011 to record the jazz standard “Body and Soul” with one of
her heroes, Tony Bennett, for his “Duets II” album. She also brought along a
rep for drug and alcohol abuse, as this highly intimate documentary fully
details, and was prone to bouts of crushing self-doubt despite her success. 

The filmed meeting between the enduring legend and the
instant icon, which produced what would be her last piece of recorded
music, is quite revealing. Bennett
clearly is a fan as he tells how he came to choose her as a singing partner by
asking himself, “Who sings this way? When I heard Amy Winehouse, I immediately
said, ‘This one’s got it.'” That was in spite of her notoriety in the press: “Everybody just said, ‘Oh, I don’t know how you’re going to handle her.'”

But handle her Bennett did, with patience, paternal
tenderness and, most importantly, mutual respect. He patiently waits for her
nerves to subside after a flubbed take. “I’m sorry… I was terrible,
I was terrible. I don’t want to waste your time,” says a defeated Winehouse,
looking as if she might just walk out. Bennett, however, puts her at ease,
declaring that he isn’t going anywhere: “It’s getting better each time and you
sound wonderful.” Reassured, she soon gets into the groove and nails it. The
collaborators then enjoy a warm embrace.

The album was released that
September, two months after she died from alcohol poisoning, and their duet
would go on to win a Grammy for best pop duo or group performance. If only the
rest of the world had showered Winehouse with same concern and affection as
Bennett did, she might still be winning Grammys today. — SW

“Brooklyn” (John Crowley)
When Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), the Irish immigrant at the center of “Brooklyn,” agrees to dinner at the home of her new beau, Tony (Emory Cohen), the prospect of navigating a plate full of spaghetti in front of Tony’s boisterous Italian American family proves daunting enough to require lessons. That she handles the situation with aplomb is the key to the film’s breathtaking romance: it’s here, the charming Cohen shrugging and smiling as Eilis makes her winsome first impression, that their love affair begins to blossom. Capturing enough warmth and affection to bring an ache to your heart, the scene becomes a microcosm of director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby’s gorgeous period melodrama, an embrace of the sincere that suggests the films of a bygone era. “Brooklyn” may have been released in 2015, but the depths of feeling it conjures around the family table are nothing if not timeless. — Matt Brennan    

“Carol” (Todd Haynes)
“Carol” gushes with so many wonderfully realized moments that to choose just one feels like a pathetic response to the film’s unbearable romantic power. Haynes cleverly bookends the film with a key exchange at the Ritz Tower Hotel as Carol (Cate Blanchett) attempts to woo back her jilted paramour Therese (Rooney Mara) over tea. Initially, we’re looking from the outside in, with the camera gliding across the room as a man interrupts this seemingly innocent meeting between two women. When the scene plays out again at the movie’s climax, we realize, of course, just how loaded this moment really is, and it’s the one we’ve waited for: Carol says “I love you.” Therese silently shatters, visibly resisting the impulse to “say yes to everything.” But she gives in anyway. — Ryan Lattanzio

“Grandma” (Paul Weitz)

As Elle, a 70-something hardcore lesbian intellectual, and Karl, a seductive grandfather of 11
and Elle’s ex-spouse of a mere two
months, Lily Tomlin and Sam Elliott manage to re-create the entire arc of a hurtful
relationship in just 11 minutes. Though they haven’t seen
each other in 30 years, barriers quickly crumble when Elle arrives at Karl’s
scenic hillside home with intent of asking for a loan to pay for her teen
granddaughter’s abortion. 

From the moment that a leering Karl asks, “Want some
zucchini?” and ends up sharing ears of corn with Elle in his kitchen, it is
clear that he has unresolved feelings for her and she will try to use that to
her advantage. She lights a joint, he serves beer and Elle asks to borrow 500
bucks. The atmosphere acquires a chill, however, when Karl realizes she has an
ulterior motive for the visit: “It’s painful to see you. It makes me feel old.” He then asks for a kiss in exchange for the favor and they share an
affectionate smooch. 

Emboldened, Karl then asks
her to sleep with him (“For old time’s sake”). But she refuses. “You wronged
me,” he says, but he eventually agrees to help out. That is, until Karl learns
why Elle needs the cash. He becomes enraged since it reminds him of how she had
an abortion and did not tell him – only to later have a child following a fling
with another man. With old wounds
still festering, Elle and her granddaughter take their leave. — SW    

“Inside Out” (Pete Docter)

The epiphany for Joy in understanding the importance of
Sadness occurs when she revisits Riley’s memory of her hockey celebration. It
begins as a happy memory but when she rewinds back to the beginning, it’s
revealed that sadness actually led to joy. Riley sits and sulks alone about her
hockey disappointment, which signals to her parents that she needs an emotional
lift and they arrange for the team to cheer her up. So the takeaway for Joy is
that sadness and joy are intertwined, which allows her to go back and
prioritize what’s best for Riley. It’s a wonderful moment of recognition and
reversal that’s so crucial to good storytelling. — Bill Desowitz

“James White” (Josh Mond)
Cynthia Nixon and Christopher Abbott utterly destroy you in Josh Mond’s semi-autobiographical story of a guy spiraling out of control while grappling with his mother’s terminal cancer. The intimate final stretches of the movie offer a two-handed showcase of devastating screen acting as James (Abbott) tries to make Gail’s (Nixon) last minutes on earth as bearable as possible. Unfolding as a long take, he holds her up against the bathroom wall and together they imagine what they’ll do when she gets better. They both know she won’t. On the soundtrack, Billie Holiday casts an elegiac pallor over this late-night vigil. You’d have to be made of stone not to be moved. — RL

“Mad Max: Fury Road” (George Miller)

Who but Charlize Theron, in all her muscular maturity, could play one-armed Imperator Furiosa, who more than holds her own with Mad Max (Tom Hardy stepped in for Gibson, after receiving his blessing), measure for measure? (Theron wanted to shave her head.) She even shows her prowess in a key moment that defies every Hollywood convention. “Normally the guy takes the shot,” Miller told me. “But it’s her gun. She’s the one that we see using it. It seems to be logical for the character. There’s one bullet left. To survive, they’re counting the bullets.” So Max hands her the gun and lets her take the shot over his shoulder. She makes it. Hardy understood this departure from Hollywood male-fantasyland. “Because I’d miss!” he explained. “The reality is I would miss and she wouldn’t. The great thing about Mad Max is he’s real. He’s not that confident. He doesn’t think he’s going to make it. He knows what he’s good at and what he isn’t.” —Anne Thompson

“The Martian” (Ridley Scott)
“It’s about a guy trapped on Mars by himself, farming in his own feces,” screenwriter Drew Goddard told his wife as he was becoming obsessed with computer programmer Andy Weir’s ebook, long before it became a bestseller. “It’s really about scientists and the scientific process as a metaphor for life.” After a harrowing opening sequence in which a team of astronauts abruptly evacuates the red planet, leaving beloved botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon), he wakes up buried in red sand with a piece of metal piercing his torso. He drags himself back to the base, strips, puts himself on the operating table and after he has painfully patched himself together, wrapped in a blanket, he sits down to record his first video log. In that moment, he is alone, but he is talking to us, if not to the people back on Earth who must find out that he is alive in order to figure out how to save him. Shortly we accept the concept that multiple cameras on the base are tracking Watney’s moves and that he is constantly talking to them about his progress. It works as both a narrative device—and the only way to keep him from going mad. —AT

“Phoenix” (Christian Petzold)
In the astonishing finale of “Phoenix,” in which Holocaust survivor and former nightclub singer Nelly Lenz (the extraordinary Nina Hoss) is made over in her own image by her traitorous husband, Johnny (Roland Zehrfeld), she commands him to play Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash’s “Speak Low” as if it were the old days. By the time the piano cuts out, and Johnny stands face to face with the evil he’s committed, Christian Petzold’s homage to “Vertigo” lays claim to one last reversal of fortune: having spent much of the film pretending to be herself, the 1943 jazz standard sees Nelly once again becomeherself, rediscovering her voice in the wreckage of the war. – MB   

“The Revenant” (Alejandro González Iñárritu)

Talk about visceral and immersive. The bear attack of
“The Revenant” not only sets Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) on his
survival story in the frozen wilderness but also furthers his understanding of
nature. It’s brilliantly executing by director Alejandro González Iñárritu,
cinematography Emmanuel (Chivo) Lubezki (who uses both the Alexa 65 and the hand-held
Alexa M to get inches away from the mauling), DiCaprio, sound designers Randy
Thom and Martin Hernandez, and Industrial Light & Magic, which is nominated
for an Annie for its believable animation. What really makes the scene work is
an unpredictable random quality to the action. — BD

“Spotlight” (Tom McCarthy)

A different kind of ephiphany occurs during this
dialogue-heavy scene outside the courthouse between Boston Globe reporter
Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) and attorney Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci).
It’s one of the longer scenes in the film and is complex in terms of conveying lots of
backstory and tricky legal concepts, but it enables Rezendes to seize the
public documents needed to write his story about the Catholic Church’s coverup of rampant child sexual abuse. It’s
executed quickly and efficiently by Tom McCarthy (who co-wrote the script with
Josh Singer), and is particularly well acted by Tucci and superbly edited by
Tom McArdle. — BD

“Tom at the Farm” (Xavier Dolan)
In this darkly erotic thriller, which finds Guillaume (Dolan) at once attracted to and repulsed by his deceased lover’s muscular, menacing older brother (the unbearably sexy Pierre-Yves Cardinal), the French Canadian wunderkind comes closest to consummating the two leads’ dangerous dalliance with a tango in an empty barn. Dolan’s open-mouthed longing, mere inches from Yves-Cardinal’s scruffy, handsome face, mimicked my own response to the moment’s electric sexual tension. In the context of a film that moves effortlessly across the porous border between fear and desire, their pas de deux reduces the sadomasochistic allure of “Tom at the Farm” to two tremendous minutes: I wanted so desperately for them to fuck and then hated myself for wanting it, which made me want it all the more. – MB    

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