The great Howard Hawks once famously said that what makes a good film is “three great scenes, and no bad ones.” While we’d argue that that’s not an absolute hard-and-fast rule, he wasn’t far off. With 2011 providing a number of above-average films, there’ve been plenty of memorable moments to go around, even if we couldn’t attest to them all following Hawks Law.
But sometimes, that’s fine. If we go into a movie, and come out with one great scene rattling around our heads for the next few days — a great action sequence, a moving piece of catharsis, a composition that puts goosebumps on the back of our necks, or a choice that says something about the artform or the human condition, or simply a good joke — we consider that a victory. And there’s plenty of all of the above to be found in the list below of our 25 favorite moments from the movies in 2011. But beware: there are spoilers, both minor and major ahead.
“The Adventures of Tintin” – The Motorbike Chase
Let loose by the new performance-capture technology, Steven Spielberg seems more playful in “The Adventures of Tintin” than in anything that he’s made in a decade. It’s the most Spielbergian Spielberg picture in a long time, and this is never more apparent than in a breathless second-act action sequence that rivals anything he’s ever done, ever, for pure thrills. In a fictional North African country, Bagghar, a hawk belonging to villain Ivan Sakharine (Daniel Craig) has stolen the last of three scrolls leading to hidden treasure. In one cut-free shot, Spielberg tracks the scroll on a relentless downhill chase, moving from bird to man to dog to man as the town is trashed and flooded by Tintin (Jamie Bell) and Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis). Despite the Michael Bay approach becoming so prevalent, it isn’t bluster and noise that makes an action scene memorable, it’s the beats, the gags and reversals, and no one has a better sense of that than the man in charge here, from Haddock firing his bazooka the wrong way round to a hotel being moved by a tank to a new seafront location. It’s somewhere between Indiana Jones and Looney Tunes, exactly the tone that Spielberg needed to catch for the project, and a masterclass in how to stage and direct action. While some of us have issues with the arguably thin ‘Tintin’ plot and characters, we can all agree, this scene stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the director’s best set pieces, and provides ample proof that Pixar doesn’t have a monopoly on high-quality CGI fare.
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“Attack The Block” – Moses Vs. The Gorilla-Wolf-Motherfuckers
It’s no secret that many of us at The Playlist fell in love with this wonderful little British sci-fi film from writer/director Joe Cornish. So it’s a bit of a challenge to narrow down just one memorable scene over others in this clever, refreshing and perfectly paced genre mash-up. But really, Cornish saved the best for last in a movie filled with thrilling, scary and often very funny scenes. The gang’s leader Moses (John Boyega, in a strong debut), taking full responsibility for the actions of his that have caused a very focused and lethal alien invasion on his and his mates’ apartment block, takes charge and takes on the hilariously labelled “gorilla wolf motherfucker” aliens during the film’s slick slow-motion finale (thank you Basement Jaxx and unsung hero Steven Price for adding considerable badassery to this scene). Moses shows he’s worthy of his fearless leader role amongst his crew as he slays the beasts, gets his own “Die Hard” moment hanging from a tall building during an explosion, and saves the day. It’s a moment to stand up and cheer for, even more impressive when you consider the arc of this character from hooded thug to hero.
“Bellflower” – The Bloodied Walk In The Street
Thanks to DP Joel Hodge, and the director’s penchant for building his own cameras from spare parts, “Bellflower,” Evan Glodell’s acidic relationship disaster movie, has a look all its own. And few scenes are better equipped to display it than a disturbing and enigmatic opening that sees heartbroken and possibly brain-damaged lead Woodrow (Glodell himself) furiously strutting across a blown out street, blood smeared on his shirt and a permanent beard inked on his face. We’ll understand the full, horrifying connotations of that moment much later, but as the film opens, playing out critical scenes backwards, you are drawn in, grasping the power of simple images that raise unsettling questions. “Bellflower” can’t be easily summarized, but that moment has a singular power that serves as a rabbit hole down to the unforgiving chaos that will inevitably unfold.
“Bridesmaids” – The Competing Speeches
“Bridesmaids” was full of amazingly awkward moments, but some of the best were bred out of the passive-aggressive rivalry between the raw nerve of Kristin Wiig‘s Annie and the princessy Helen played to hate-able (yet strangely sympathetic) perfection by Rose Byrne. Annie’s initial off-the-cuff maid of honour speech, at BFF Lillian’s engagement party, is one-upped by Helen’s earnest follow-up, full of tears and cutesy in-jokes. Annie, refusing to let Helen have the last word, follows up her speech with another, turning the toast into a painfully hilarious verbal smack-down. As the rounds continue to fourth and fifth speeches, with Helen smoothly repeating a heartfelt saying in Thai and Annie bouncing back with some disjointed high school Spanish, the whole scene, in true Sideshow-Bob-stepping-on-rakes style, almost stops being funny, and then cycles back. Wiig’s honed improv comedy skills come to the fore, propelling the discomfort forward, while Byrne manages to politely hold her own, even through an out-of-tune rendition of Dionne Warwick’s ‘That’s What Friends Are For.’ Its a slowly built mix of laugh-out-loud funny and painful cringe, and a particular comic highlight in a film that’s full of them.
“Certified Copy” – Binoche Waves To Camera
Because of the nature of Abbas Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy”, which is both a meticulous study of various stages of a relationship and a dissertation on reality and fiction in art, logic is tossed aside and the director has a sandbox full of emotions and scenarios to play with. The result is a carefully constructed, consistently affecting, often mesmerizing puzzle without a weak link to be found – from the cutesy flirtations between leads Juliette Binoche and William Shimmel to the diverting, fascinating gaze at an elderly couple tightly bracing one another during a walk (a shot with more power and substance than most movies have in their entirety). It’s all engrossing stuff, even for audiences uninterested in cracking the director’s mysteries or those with less ardor for his previous works. But one thing sticks out most, and it comes right after an argument the couple have while dining out: Binoche is left to sulk at the table alone, an act which she indulges until she suddenly eyes the camera and gives a perky, whole-hearted wave. We’ve never seen someone so glad to break the fourth wall in a long time (though she’s actually saying hello to newlyweds outside), and it should be known that this singular moment of legitimate joy is the happiest Binoche has been since the beginning of the film – and honestly, probably the last cheerful mood she experiences. It’s Kiarostami being playful, but he is also examining presented truth in a different way – at first making it seem like his character is directly conversing with us, when actually she is still fully within the universe he has constructed. He’s also questioning relationships not between his fictional characters, but between them and us. Is her wave any less genuine because it’s not actually to us? Or is every action by an actor, directly confronting us or not, wholly for us given our job as an audience? It’s these realities in cinema – and all the inevitable truths, lies, compromises, and relationships involved in them – that Kiarostami has been picking at for years now, but he has never nailed them so simply. Or so adorably.
“The Deep Blue Sea” – Cockles & Mussels
Not strictly speaking a 2011 release in the U.S. (a planned awards run for Rachel Weisz never seemed to materialize), but one that’s flown under the radar during brief festival runs and even on its U.K. theatrical release, this film deserves a little highlighting. If there’s one thing that Terence Davies loves, judging by his previous work, it’s a good old singalong. Comeback film “The Deep Blue Sea” has a few, but one of them forms the moment of the film (a beautifully acted, but rather low-key drama) that has lingered long after we saw it. In the film’s early 1950s setting, Hester Collyer (Weisz) lives a seedy existence with younger R.A.F. burnout lover Freddie (Tom Hiddleston), opening the film by attempting to kill herself with a gas oven. But in (ironically) happier times, a flashback to the Blitz, Hester and her then-husband William (a beautifully understated Simon Russell Beale) shelter from the bombs with a diverse group of Londoners in (now-defunct) Aldwych tube station. Davies’ camera glides along the platform as everyone, from Russell Beale’s high court judge to poverty-stricken nippers, shares in a chorus of traditional ballad “Cockles & Mussels.” It’s a goosebump-inducing moment of beauty and unity, one that rides high in Davies’ canon, even if the film around feels a little minor.
“Drive” – The Elevator Scene
For a film filled with many memorable moments — the opening action scene, the credits, Ron Perlman’s huge frickin’ teeth, the masked slasher stalking scene, Christina Hendricks meeting a shotgun, Albert Brooks getting all knifey, the hammer and the bullet — the one that seemed to have the most lasting effect on audiences was that elevator scene. Riding a lift with a bad guy who clearly intends no good, the music subtly changes, the lighting brightens on the two young love-stricken leads, Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan, as the camera pulls in ever so slowly and finally, all those lovey-dovey looks and slightly awkward silences come to a head. He finally consummates his obvious affection for her with a swooning kiss, she kisses him right back… then bam! Our hero takes charge against his foe, wrestles him to the ground and makes cherry pie out of his cranium. Director Nicolas Winding Refn looked to Gaspar Noe’s “Irreversible” for inspiration for his movie’s head-bashing scene, and while it just misses the complete, jaw-dropping visceral impact of that film’s second most graphic scene, it does show the Danish helmer’s skill for implying violence more than showing it outright. Is the kiss imaginary, as some have suggested? Is the violence? Does it matter? Considering the inevitable, apocalyptic consequences Refn lends to our star-crossed lovers’ just burgeoning relationship after this brutal act, you have a layered, deeply sad yet beautiful scene we won’t soon forget.
“Hanna” – Container Chase
Who would have thought the director previously behind two Keira Knightley-starring period Oscar bait pics — “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement” — could make a mostly successful and very entertaining action film? But pull it off Joe Wright did in his take on a recent cinematic trend, the kid as super assassin. In the film’s action set piece highlight (followed closely by the badass single-take subway fight scene with Eric Bana), we really see what Saoirse Ronan’s titular protagonist is capable of. This thrilling sequence is set in a container park, a familiar action movie setting, but one given a new angle here as a kind of playground. It helps that Ronan, in a strong performance, is actually believable doing all that ass-kicking against grown men (including Tom Hollander as the year’s most hilariously dressed villain), but not enough can be said for Wright’s confidence with action. He and his DP know exactly where to place the camera to give us the best view of the fighting, and he clearly knows how to lay out the geography. Never for a moment did we feel confused or lost amongst all the action, a rare treat in modern genre films. Then add in the not-so-secret ingredient, a propulsive beat-and-dance-driven music cue from The Chemical Brothers (being one of the choicest cuts from one of the year’s best scores), and you have an action scene that overshadows most of those found in bigger, more expensive summer fare.
“I Saw The Devil” – The Taxi Scene
Director Ji-Woon Kim is a master of the stylish action scene, as he’s proven with his last three films, “A Bittersweet Life” (criminally unavailable on Region 1 DVD), “The Good, the Bad, the Weird,” and his latest — the seemingly final statement on South Korean revenge films — “I Saw the Devil.” All three films star his favorite actor Byung-hun Lee, and as great as he is in ‘Devil’, its best scene features another fantastic Korean actor, none other than Oh Dae-su himself, Min-sik Choi, here playing a sadistic serial killer (in an role a polar opposite from the one he took in “Oldboy”). Chances are, if you’ve already seen the film and liked it like we did, you’ve already guessed what scene we’re talking about. After Choi has been captured for the first time and injured by Lee, he’s picked up by a taxi, still trying to figure out what the hell just happened to him. Something is off almost immediately (there’s a lot of psycho killers in this film’s left-of-center universe) in this brilliantly staged sequence, as the astute viewer will notice the two men in the cab are not who they appear to be. Choi takes action, slicing up the two men like paper dolls. Kim shoots the scene tightly in the car (though he must have used some kind of “Children of Men”-style camera rig), then spins the camera around several times as the arterial sprays come fast and furious. It’s beautiful and, frankly, cool as hell. But it also showcases the director’s talent for small moments of built-up tension leading to a visceral release.
“Margaret” – The Accident
A film as scattered and imperfect as “Margaret” is — with the troubled plot at times feeling like scraps of a dozen different versions reassembled together — the delayed release pretty much meant it was always going to be about the moments. And while there are a number of contenders from Kenneth Lonergan‘s long-delayed and flawed masterpiece, it’s the crucial accident scene which even those not on board #TeamMargaret have to admit is one of the most powerful of the year. Flighty, self-absorbed teen Lisa (Anna Paquin) is out in town, trying to find a cowboy hat on a whim. She spots a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) wearing one, and tries to flag him down. He’s distracted, jumps a light, and runs over a woman (Alison Janney), who, leg severed and seemingly hallucinating, dies in the sobbing Lisa’s arms. It’s a moment of true stomach-churning horror, more traumatic than anything in any genre slasher of late. But it’s also desperately moving, as Janney loses her sight as she inches towards death, calling out for a daughter who, as it turns out, died long ago. But, it’s also blackly funny, as two passers by bicker on how to apply a torniquet to Janney’s severed leg. It’s genuinely unlike anything seen elsewhere this year, and a gut punch that leaves you reeling for the rest of the film.
“Martha Marcy May Marlene” – John Hawkes Sings To His Followers
It was hauntingly used in the trailer and released online as a recording, but in the context of the rest of the film, John Hawkes’ serenading to his followers is almost too good. His wiry frame is draped in a loose-fitting tank top as he sits cross-legged, plucking the strings of his instrument with an ease and confidence that tells you nearly everything you need to know about this man, but also belies his more sadistic and violent tendencies. He’s charming, creepy and completely believable as a modern-day Charles Manson figure, able to manipulate his brethren by telling and giving them everything they want. Yes, Hawkes singing the words “well she’s… she’s just a picture… that lives on my wall” is a beautiful, pretty much perfect stand-alone performance in an already wonderful, brilliantly directed film by first-timer Sean Durkin, but when the film ends, with some questions left unanswered, it’s these moments that linger. We have to understand why Martha (Elizabeth Olsen), a smart, independent person, would fall under Patrick’s spell, but Hawkes is so magnetic here that we get why Martha can’t shake her commune experience. After a three-minute song, we’re right where Durkin wants us: in her head. It’s a paranoid, scary place to be, but we understand how she got there.
“Melancholia” – Planets Collide
Maybe, given his reputation as an impish prankster (further cemented by his off-color Nazi comments at Cannes this year), Lars von Trier felt the need to open his beautiful, bewildering “Melancholia,” with an end-of-the-world sequence as if to say, “Yes, this is really how things are going to end.” Von Trier stages things similarly to the prologue for “Antichrist,” with everything artfully unfolding in super slow-motion, though here going for a gracefully apocalyptic tableaux as a painting turns to cinders, a horse sinks into the ground, electric-blue sparks shoot out of Kirsten Dunst’s fingertips, and all is set to appropriately baroque music from Wagner’s “Tristan & Isolde.” The one downside is that you expect these images to reoccur at the film’s conclusion, but von Trier chooses not to linger: when the end of the world actually happens, we’re gone in a flash.
“Moneyball” – Scott Hatteberg Hits A Home Run
While it might be brainier and more numbers-driven than your average sports movie, Bennett Miller’s immaculately made “Moneyball” is still a sports movie, and every good sports movie needs an uplifting high-point. And while Miller undercuts his with subsequent defeat, when it comes and while it lasts, it’s a good one. Scott Hatteberg (a lovely, severely undervalued supporting turn from “Parks and Recreation” star Chris Pratt) is a player past his prime, with permanent nerve damage to his arm meaning that he can no longer pitch a ball like he used to. Recruited to Billy Beane’s (Brad Pitt) Oakland As as part of their statistically driven new team, and forced to play first base, a position he knows nothing about, he’s adrift, and made something of a scapegoat by coach Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman). And then comes the most crucial game yet. The As attempt to clinch a record-breaking twenty-win streak against the Kansas City Royals, but throw away an eleven-run lead. With the game tied, Howe, making peace with Hatteberg, sends him out to bat. The player misses once. He misses twice. But on the third swing, he smashes the ball into the crowd, and thanks to the work Pratt’s already put in toward painting his character as a man whose confidence is almost irreparably shattered, and the expert cutting, it’s as uplifting a scene as we got all year long.
“Rampart – The Dungeon Scene
There’s something about 2011 and dank, disgusting sex dens of debauchery. In “Shame” Michael Fassbender wants to get off so bad, that in his heightened, almost fixated mental state, he enters a gay club where men are just fucking and fisting like the world is going to end any minute. It is completely depraved and a shocking reminder of how the character’s affliction controls his life. In Oren Moverman’s police drama “Rampart,” there’s a similar scene, but with a slightly different tone. In it, Woody Harrelson’s toxic and self-destructive cop character is on the bender to end all benders. He’s laced up with booze and narcotics of every stripe and enters a similarly debauched haven of drugs and pounding techno music. As Justice’s “Let There Be Light” slices through the seizure-enducing lights and mental fog (yes, it’s anachronistic musically, so what), the screen goes black, then light, and back and forth, almost as if Harrelson’s fucked up character is going in and out of conciousness. Playing with light, sound, picture and more, Moverman creates a jarring and disorienting scene that’s as if you, the audience, have dropped too much ecstasy and are fully out of your mind. Woody gropes various women, dances and then vomits from all the excess in a particularly wretched and strikingly in-your-face moment. It’s not just the drugs though, Harrelson’s body is seemingly just rejecting all the noxious psychological garbage that’s in his crumbling psyche. Never has such a vile man been so well captured on the screen, nor his physical attempt to purge himself unsuccessfully of all those virulent demons.
Rango” – The Bat Chase
There are a number of spiritedly strange moments in Gore Verbinski’s animated delight “Rango,” but the most rousing, the most jaw-dropping, the most hilarious and weird, has to be a prolonged chase sequence involving a stagecoach getting pulled by a boar and a horde of inbred rodents riding bats and firing Gatling guns. “Rango” is a mélange of influences, but it’s saying something that Verbinski could reference “Apocalypse Now” (complete with a banjo-plucking rendition of “Ride of the Valkyrie” by Hans Zimmer) and “Deliverance” (or maybe it’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre“) during a sequence that also features Johnny Depp, as a conflicted chameleon, flying through the air while wearing a dress. In a movie as breathlessly inventive as “Rango,” it’s hard to pin down a single sequence, but if you had to show just one scene to someone to convince them of the movie’s greatness, this would be it.
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” – “No!”
A minor summer miracle, Rupert Wyatt’s second film and his first studio tentpole undertaking turned out to be an entertaining, surprisingly moving and even occasionally thought-provoking origin story of how those damn dirty apes began to “liberate” a formerly human planet. While plenty of ink will be spilled on end of year lists about the dust-up on the Golden Gate Bridge, as clarity-driven and thrilling an action scene as has been seen in recent blockbusters, we chose to focus on another scene that toes very close to the line, but manages not to spill into self-parody. Caesar (Andy Serkis), the chemically enhanced super smart chimp, faces off against Dodge (Tom Felton), a daddy’s boy who runs a “sanctuary” and frequently partakes in torturing the animals. Dodge is about to put Caesar down with his taser when something indelible happens — Caesar catches his hand in a grip, meets eyes with Felton, and speaks clear English — specifically, the word “No!” He’s seemed so firmly ape-like before that the development of Caesar’s larynx is a genuinely chilling moment, and as ridiculous as it might seem on paper, you’re virtually there shouting ‘No’ with him. Serkis is a masterful motion capture actor and this is his moment, triumphant and chilling – the beginning of a revolution.
“Rubber” – The “No Reason” Speech
The year’s reigning champion of sheer WTF-ery, Quentin Dupieux’s nutty opus opens with Stephen Spinella’s sheriff stepping out of a car trunk and espousing directly to the camera the far-ranging glories of the nonsensical. “In the Steven Spielberg movie, ‘E.T.’, why is the alien brown? No reason. In ‘Love Story,’ why do the two characters fall madly in love with each other? No reason. In Oliver Stone‘s ‘JFK,’ why is the President suddenly assassinated by some stranger? No reason.” And so on and so forth, with Spinella citing example after example of lunatic film scrutiny before associating a fundamental lack of rationale on screen with life’s own chaotic tendencies (“Why do some people love sausages and other people hate sausages? No fucking reason.”). He finally assures the audience that the film to follow will revel in the ridiculous before pouring out a glass of water (for, again, no reason), crawling back into the trunk and leaving the scene, and from there on out, it doesn’t skimp on the surreal. Even if the rest of the non sequitur-laden “Rubber” doesn’t do it for you, surely this superbly silly speech will get a grin for its seemingly cheeky, essentially celebratory look at the limitless creative potential inherent in any work of cinema — yes, even one about a killer tire.
“Shame” – Carey Mulligan Sings “New York, New York”
It couldn’t be a simpler scene in the strictest sense of filmmaking: the camera lingers directly on Sissy (Carey Mulligan) as she croons the Frank Sinatra standard before the sophisticated clientele of a Manhattan lounge, with director Steve McQueen only occasionally cutting back to her quietly moved brother, Brandon (Michael Fassbender), a reaction which we will learn is a rare feat in and of itself coming from the rather taciturn sex addict. Even on first listen/viewing, it’s an utterly haunting rendition, backed sparingly by a piano and fraught with emotional significance as the previously unstable Mulligan verges on tears with each refrain. It’s a breathtakingly direct showcase of unfettered talent and melancholy tone alike, running the length of the song with minimal interruption or distraction, and in a movie laden with nudity (and sadly notorious for it), it arguably stands as the most naked moment of all. However, as McQueen’s drama continues to unfurl, the implied history between these troubled siblings retroactively lends an increasing gravity to the song’s themes of striking out on one’s own and shaking off the so-called “little town blues” that define their past traumas. However broken these two must be deep down inside, if they can make it here — in the town of brand new starts and no apparent sleep — maybe they really can make it anywhere.
”The Skin I Live In” – The Big Reveal
Pedro Almodovar’s latest, “The Skin I Live In,” seems to mark a culmination of what the director’s been working towards of late, the perfect mix of his ability and desire to tackle fucked-up subject matter, genre elements, Hitchcockian filmmaking and questions of sexuality and gender all at once. Add all that in to a very particular and modern take on the mad scientist and monster movies of yore, and ‘Skin’ rises above all his works, in this writer’s humble opinion. Many of the elements that didn’t work in his previous effort, “Broken Embraces,” are done far better here. We’re mostly talking about the extended flashback, a common Almodovar tactic. With “The Skin I Live In” it’s all about the payoff to that long flashback, and boy/girl, is it a doozy. The simple but brilliant use of a dissolve provides the big reveal we’ve been waiting for, and should have seen coming. Suspension of disbelief could’ve been a huge issue in this key moment, but with Almodovar’s masterful control and direction, it all somehow makes perfect sense. Everything we’ve seen up to this point has been given an entirely new context. It’s a moment that doesn’t just pull the rug out from under the audience, it takes the whole floor with it too.
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” – Smiley Describes His Meeting With Karla
While being fairly low-octane for a spy thriller, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” has a number of suspenseful set pieces that linger in the memory: Benedict Cumberbatch’s Peter Guillam stealing a file from the Circus, Mark Strong being ambushed in the opening, the extended flashback with Tom Hardy in Istanbul. But the moment that lingers longest is a quiet scene of heartbreak between two characters getting a bit drunk together, and a sheer tour-de-force of acting. For much of the film, Gary Oldman’s George Smiley is a man who specializes in fading into the background, and not a man of many words. But he lets his guard down with Guillam as he explains his one encounter with Soviet spymaster nemesis Karla, a chance interrogation in which he let slip his own personal Kryptonite; his devotion to his perpetually unfaithful (and in a neat directorial touch, unseen) wife Anne. It’s pretty much a straight monologue from Oldman, but he plays it like an aria, Smiley’s mask slipping slightly while never quite losing control. And suddenly, a middle-aged man talking to a colleague in a room contains more fireworks than any loud blockbuster all year.
“The Tree of Life” – March Of History Sequence
It’s probably the most hotly debated sequence of the year, and though droves of moviegoers walked out during this amalgamation of scenes, Terrence Malick’s depiction of the world’s beginnings is one of the most uniquely visual sequences any director has attempted in a while. Yes, it’s a riff on Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and yes, often it seems that Malick isn’t quite reaching the level of ambition he once had for the project. But truly gorgeous visual moment follows truly gorgeous visual moment, like the swirling pattern of what looks like stained glass, in images that are unparalleled in any film that we’ve seen this year. Including special effects by Kubrick veteran Douglas Trumbull, it’s the kind of thing that’s barely even been attempted in decades, framing the relatively intimate family tale within the entire span of human history, at once showing their insignificance and their importance. It’s pretty difficult to evoke emotion in a silent, 20-minute-plus sequence that shows atoms colliding and exploding to create the Earth (and that whispery voice-over doesn’t ever get less weird), but Malick manages to make a mini-movie about the world within his movie about a family’s struggles. And yes, there were dinosaurs too.
“Uncle Boonmee Who Can See His Past Lives” – Boonmee’s Son Comes Back
The story of this film, on the surface, concerns Boonmee, the sweet, calm lead character, as he travels to his farmland in the jungles of Northern Thailand. He goes there with his sister-in-law and a doctor who gives him dialysis treatments for his failing kidneys. Then the weird shit starts to happen. We’ll gladly leave it to you brave viewer to take in the many delights to be seen in this masterpiece from Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, but the most memorable has to be mentioned, involving the ghost of Boonmee’s dead wife and his son (now a re-incarnated ape-man thing with creepy red eyes) dropping by during a quiet dinner. Encompassing many of the film’s themes and moods in a mere ten minutes, as it begins, things are scary and tense, but soon thoughtful discussion gives way to a curious state of grace.
“Warrior” – The Final Fight
There is precious little in Gavin O’Connor’s sports drama that deviates from the well-worn underdog formula, but its recipe for success begins with telling the story of three related underdogs and ultimately pitting two of those against one another in the ring in a big money showdown. Unemployed family man Brendan (Joel Edgerton) is desperate for that substantial cash prize, while war vet Tommy (Tom Hardy, a beast in this) could use the win as a means for redemption and to help care for an old friend. Meanwhile, former S.O.B. Paddy (Nick Nolte, grizzled as ever) craves forgiveness from the sidelines. It’s not nearly as corny as it should be, thanks in no small part to each actor’s deeply determined performance and O’Connor’s steady build to their climactic confrontation, and once the Conlan brothers actually duke it out before an audience of thousands, if not millions, their emotional aggression aligns with the sheer physical brutality of the fight as Brendan and Tommy convincingly pummel their way towards reconciliation. It’s a moving reward for withstanding the film’s commonplace contrivances, albeit a catharsis freely given up by the film’s marketing campaign and even plastered on the DVD cover. Don’t let that tactic fuel your apathy, though (as the anaemic box office take would suggest it already has); these men and this movie earn their gut punch.
“We Need To Talk About Kevin” – The Flowing Curtain
Among the many achievements of “We Need To Talk About Kevin” is the way that Lynne Ramsay constructs an incredibly strong connection between the audience and her lead character of Eva played to perfection by Tilda Swinton. The manner in which the director explores Eva’s personality, memory, and emotions by strictly keeping the film within her perspective works wonders — we feel her experiences, even if there’s a slight inkling every so often that she’s not the most reliable narrator (memories are completely governed by emotions here: take, for example, Ezra Miller’s occasionally heightened performance). She’s mostly sure that her son is evil incarnate, evidenced by his vile behavior and general lack of remorse for anything he does. However, within her, however small, is a kernel of hope that somehow Kevin is redeemable. Throughout the film, this optimism is mostly voiced by Eva’s husband Franklin (played by John C. Reilly) but towards the end of the film, we see it manifested in Kevin’s mother by one of the most haunting and evocative shots of the year. It’s nothing more than a single flowing curtain in front of a patio door in a darkened and empty house, a curious movement set to the monotonous beat of an outside lawn sprinkler. This moment is in many ways a decisive factor for Eva, one that determines the rest of her life, and the build-up as the camera inches closer to what she sees beyond that open door is torturous. Using a single shot, Lynne Ramsay provides a haunting, stirring moment that incredibly overpowers everything that had been drilled into us since the first frame.
“Young Adult” – The Kitchen Conversation
Jason Reitman’s wonderfully bitter pill of a movie might have only just opened in limited release, but it still deserves to join the ranks of the year’s most striking movie moments. Gone to see it yet? Are you back? Good. As Charlize Theron’s woman-child, Mavis, seems to finally be getting her shit together after burning very nearly every last bridge in her Minnesota hometown, she sits down for a breakfast nook conversation with Sandra (Collette Wolfe), sister to Matt (Patton Oswalt), with whom Mavis has ultimately bonded over their shared dysfunctions. She has come to accept that these small-town folk are perfectly content with their small-town lives, but after a critical night of emotional equivalence, the newly well-adjusted Mavis decides to share coffee with the one person who resents her neighbors just as Mavis had, and thus enables her regression to condescending bitch (which we guess is still a step up from “utterly delusional bitch”). Theron’s as dead-on here as she is throughout the film, but Wolfe combines the aching vulnerability of her performance in “Observe and Report” with the childish petulance from “Hot Tub Time Machine,” as she hands Mavis the figurative match with which she can torch her ties to Matt, Sandra and the whole god-forsaken town of Mercury. Coming from writer Diablo Cody, it’s a warped re-definition of the happy ending, and it hurts. So. Good.
— Oliver Lyttelton, Erik McClanahan, Mark Zhuravsky, Sam Chater, Christopher Bell, RP, Drew Taylor, William Goss, Cat Scott,