Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: What was the best movie moment of 2017?
Joshua Rothkopf (@joshrothkopf), Time Out New York
I’m going to give you two movie moments, but they come close together and combine into one “mega-moment.” Is there anything more reliably euphoric then that opening trumpet blast of John Williams’s “Star Wars” theme and that floating text crawl? (“The First Order reigns…”) In that instant, “The Last Jedi” was woven into the fabric of a globally shared nostalgia, all too rare these days. Then—and we’re talking maybe three minutes later, tops—General Hux got cosmically punk’d by Poe Dameron, and the thrill was just as significant. My crowd roared but a quietly radical thing was happening. This wasn’t going to be your daddy’s sequel. Your daddy doesn’t make phone jokes. He barely knows how to use a phone. The critics-fans disconnect was born, over nothing less than Hollywood’s most beloved franchise. Would art evolve? Would superfans allow it? (Bonus moment: The end-of-film cut to a glowing credit: “Directed by Rian Johnson.” Take that, boomers.)
E. Oliver Whitney (@cinemabite), Screencrush
Instead of overthinking this for hours, I’ll pick the scene that immediately comes to mind, one I’ve written about a few times already but keep coming back to: Michael Stuhlbarg’s “Call Me By Your Name” monologue. A tender moment where a father accepts his son’s love for another man with the utmost eloquence, the scene floored me the first time I saw it and again left me in tears on the second. It’s incredibly rare, in film and real life, to see a man comfortable in his heterosexuality openly admire the beauty of queer male intimacy, while also expressing regret over missed opportunities of his own. It’s a moment every queer person dreams of sharing with a parent, one of acceptance in coming out, but also to be taught that the last thing we should do in moments of heartache is shutdown. We’re so often discouraged from embracing sorrow, stripping us of the growth and wisdom that comes with it; but here Stuhlbarg’s Mr. Perlman rejects that and gives his son the most valuable gift a young person, and young queer person, could ask for: simply being seen and understood for who you are.
Siddhant Adlakha (@SidizenKane), Birth.Movies.Death.
SPACE DERN, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
Spoiler alert: it’s hard to truly awe audiences anymore, especially with visual effects. Double spoiler alert: Spoilers for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” to follow. Hyperspace travel or “jumping to light-speed” has been a part of “Star Wars” lore since 1977, a scientific concept possible only in theory made to take tangible, fantastical form. While this wasn’t the first time the idea had been introduced in visual media–the Warp Drive had been a staple of “Star Trek” since 1966–its appearance in “Star Wars” was akin to traveling through a tunnel of light, a la “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Pretty cool, right? Fast-forward forty years and we’ve finally reached the inevitable conclusion of that idea: its weaponization in a moment of heroic sacrifice. If you’re ever wondered what would happen if a ship jumped to light-speed into another ship, wonder no further.
Laura Dern’s distinctly designed Vice Admiral Holdo takes command of the Rebel fleet after Leia is incapacitated. She helps facilitate flyboy Poe Dameron’s realization that heroism by way of bravado and sacrifice isn’t always the right path, something he needs to internalize in order to save the Rebellion, but the film doesn’t turn away from the scenarios in which laying down one’s life may be necessary. With exposed escape ships sailing slowly toward a forgotten base, it’s up to Holdo–who Poe had doubted from the beginning, given their differing outlooks–to pilot the Rebels’ last remaining carrier and provide cover for the ill-equipped fleet. When the fascistic First Order realizes her ruse and begins firing on the Rebel life-rafts, she’s left with but one option: making the jump to light-speed in the direction of the Imperial armada.
The result is magnificent. A deafening silence befalls the cinema so you can hear your own heartbeat, as a ray of light pierces nearly every black and grey Imperial ship in the vicinity, like some otherworldly force turning coal into diamond as it splits them apart. Without the knowledge of Holdo’s sacrifice, it would seem as if The Force itself had torn these evil machines apart from the inside. The edit holds just long enough for audiences to absorb both the visual and emotional impact of what just happened. Space Dern had, from our point of view, transcended the physical and used an escape mechanism for the purpose of head-on confrontation. Once the thought it given just enough time to settle, the sound catches up to the image like thunder, rippling throughout space itself as the heroes are given the advantage they so desperately need. A perfect confluence or theme, character, and audaciously imaginative spectacle.
All hail Space Dern. May the Force be with her.
Karen Han (@karenyhan), The Daily Beast, Vice, Vulture
All of Errol Morris’s “Wormwood” is incredible, but I suspect I won’t ever stop thinking about the opening sequence. (If you haven’t yet made the time to dig into the docufilm, then turn back now; it’s best experienced cold.) As Frank Olson (Peter Sarsgaard) falls to his death in slow motion, Perry Como’s cover of “No Other Love” plays, creating the kind of juxtaposition between the beautiful and the horrible that I’ve always been partial to (the use of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” in “Blue Velvet,” for instance). Often, it’s easy to forget that there’s a very thin line between love and obsession, and it’s a line that’s tread back and forth in this sequence, as, over the course of the next four hours, “Wormwood” reveals itself to be not just about Project MKUltra, but one man’s quest for some kind of truth and catharsis. It’s a perfect sequence not just in the context of the work, but on its own, too; it’s the kind of scene I think I’ve dreamed about.
Christian Blauvelt (@Ctblauvelt), BBC Culture
The single greatest thing I saw in film this year was American filmmakers’ willingness to mix realism and fantasy. And three films, my three favorite films of the year in fact, ended on sublime, surreal notes: I’m talking about young Moonie (Brooklynn Prince) running away from the dump that is the Magic Castle motel and into the Magic Kingdom like a Floridian Antoine Doinel; Moonie’s equivalent in a galaxy far, far away sweeping a stable and then pausing in his life of servitude to gaze upon the beauty of the stars; and the wife of an explorer exiting a clubby London geographic society and finding herself in a terrifying, beautiful jungle. These three moments, from “The Florida Project,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” and “The Lost City of Z” seem plucked from dreams. Are they meant to be taken literally? As metaphors? Some combination of both, perhaps? In a year in which we all felt like we were in limbo, there was nothing more gratifying this year than to see film-makers suspend their characters as well. And these dreamlike endings are expansive, open-ended flourishes that defy the literalism and “plot is everything” mentality of contemporary Hollywood – it turns these movies into ones that keep unspooling in your brain long after the credits have rolled.
Tomris Laffly @TomiLaffly), Freelance
Courtesy of A24
Motel Manager Bobby, played by Willem Dafoe, shoos away a predator from the playground in Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project”. In that moment, we get to know the fatherly, compassionate man beneath his hardened shell in a real sense and admire the smoothness with which he handles the situation. We also witness yet another danger innocent children of the motel are surrounded with on any given day.
David Ehrlich (@davidehrlich), IndieWire
There’s a lot of competition for this particular title (the epic chase scene from “Okja” springs to mind, Bong Joon-ho’s playfully kinetic sense of movement evoking memories of peak Spielberg), but no moment has stuck with me quite like 20-minute texting sequence from “Personal Shopper.” The scene was mocked for its audacity when Olivier Assayas’ film premiered at Cannes last year, but the passage — in which Kirsten Stewart fields increasingly threatening text messages from an unknown number (who might be a ghost!) as she rides the Eurostar from Paris to London and back — comes to feel like the first purely modern expression of Hitchcockian suspense. Every click and punctuation mark raises the hair on the back of our heads until we become suspicious of the technology itself.
Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@chrisreedfilm), Hammer to Nail/Film Festival Today
As I write this, “Wonder Woman” is in the #2 spot for the year’s domestic box-office rankings. While I had issues with the film (as I do with most superhero tales these days, too many of which end with similar end-of-world scenarios, raising their stakes so high as to be virtually meaningless), I enjoyed it immensely, finding it among the better representations of the genre. But who cares what I think? What’s important about the film is that a woman-directed movie about a female superhero kicked massive blockbuster butt, outshining its male-dominated counterparts. What a perfect cinematic achievement in a year where Hollywood has had its grotesque history of sexual harassment finally exposed. Bravo!
Max Weiss (@maxthegirl), Baltimore Magazine
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture
Can I pick two?
The most affecting movie moment was Timothee Chalamet, staring into the fire, giving an acting master class as he absorbs that upsetting phone call from Armie Hammer’s Oliver in “Call Me By Your Name.” It’s particularly touching that his parents are behind him, just sort of letting him feel, which is one of the great themes of the film. My favorite closing credits scene of all time.
But if you want an injection of pure cinema, you can’t beat that image from “Dunkirk” where the helmeted allied troops—thousands of them—react to the German bombers by ducking en masse in a kind of harrowing and beautiful choreography of doom.
Kristy Puchko (@KristyPuchko), Pajiba/ Riot Material
The entire “Father Figure” fight sequence in “Atomic Blonde.” I know everyone went ape for the stairwell fight scene. Both are phenomenal. But few movie experiences this year compared to the rush of seeing that movie at its world premier at SXSW, and reveling in the sheer thrill of Charlize Theron dressed like a runway goddess, crashing through a window, using a hose to swing to safety while killing any fool that dares to cross her. There, in that moment, I finally understood what all those James Bond fans have been on about for decades. I was in Double Oh! Heaven.
Edward Douglas (@EDouglasWW), The Tracking Board
I have to go with one of my favorite moments in Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver,” which is the second heist/car chase done to The Damned’s “Neat Neat Neat.” I remember seeing a Damned doc where Dave Vanian was complaining about no one ever using the Damned in their movies. I guess Edgar saw the same doc, and it was the greatest chase sequence set to the Damned since “The Young Ones.”
Candice Frederick (@ReelTalker), Birth.Movies.Death, /Film, Bitch Media
It has to be the moment Rose (Allison Williams) in “Get Out” reveals herself to be part of the problem. I’ll admit, I went into the movie cold, so I wasn’t entirely certain what it was going to be about. Once Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose arrive at her crazy parents house where he meets them for the first time, you realize that something is not right with them, and that their white suburban racism will ultimately attempt to capture Chris, a black man who’s dating their daughter. But viewers may not expect white liberal feminist Rose to be part of their order, portraying a blind spot in the white feminist movement. Writer/director Jordan Peele totally went there though, highlighting an uncomfortable truth that perhaps none of us expected to see. It’s a bold move that definitely stays with you.
Kyle Turner (@TyleKurner), Paste Magazine
Sex, death, dancing, queerness, and politics smash into one another and are rendered completely inextricable in the finale of Robin Campillo’s “BPM.” Campillo breathlessly intercuts the members of the Paris chapter of ACT UP during an action, throwing the ashes of one of their most provocative members at pharmeceutical representatives, the same suits whose apathy shapes the lives and deaths of countless HIV+/AIDS individuals; the tear stained and sweat drenched sex Nathan (Arnaud Valois) has with another ACT UP member to help him process (or distract from, or both) the grief he feels after his lover Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) died; and the strobe light painted dances the ACT UP members use to ostensibly let go of their bodies. But the point Campillo ends up coming to is that these bodies, intermingling between sex, activism, and death, are queer and that queerness is itself political. Discerning between the three scenarios becomes harder and harder, as the strobe lights flash on and off, and all that’s left are is are the dust and the molecules in the air, every atom of queer life forced to reckon with, and imbued with, and embedded in a sense of radical politics. That’s the beat that your heart skips.