The obvious choice, which requires no additional explanation or defense:
There’s a lot of hilarious hijinks afoot in directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s “Game Night” that qualify for this category. But perhaps the most indelible scene takes less than thirty seconds of screen time and involves Rachel McAdams’ amazing skills, a genuinely funny scenario, sharp editing and fantastic direction.
During the third act climax, McAdams’ highly competitive character, Annie, is apprehended in front of the villain’s (Michael C. Hall) private jet by one of his beefy henchman (Chad Lail). To stall him from shooting her, she lies, saying she’s got kids at home. He calls her bluff, stating, “Not with that ass, you don’t.” She adorably accepts the compliment. After he accidentally gets sucked into the turbine, Annie lets out a triumphant “Yes!” but instantly realizes “Oh, no, he died!”
Both of the actors hit their dialogue with precise comedic timing and physicality. Not only that, the scene perfectly distills the action, drama, thrills and darkly comedic tones of Mark Perez’s smart script, and highlights the snappy pace of David Egan, Jamie Gross and Gregory Plotkin’s cuts. As illustrated in less than thirty seconds, this whole film is one whip-smart, perfect package.
“Oh, no, he died!” from “Game Night.”
Between seeing the movie twice and seeing the trailer, I must have watched Rachel McAdams’ delivery of this line dozens of times by now. And it makes me laugh EVERY time. She knows she’s not supposed to be cheering a guy getting sucked into a jet engine, but can’t quite fake what she knows she OUGHT to say. In a way, it encapsulates the entire joke of the movie, of nice middle-class couples getting pulled into a dark world of crime and violence and kind of digging it despite themselves. But it also just reminds us that McAdams is a comic genius when she’s given the opportunity – which isn’t nearly enough.
John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s “Game Night”. In particular, I’d like to talk about Rachel McAdams in the seedy dive bar in “Game Night”, where she delivers an all-timer of a comedic performance as cluelessly confident yoga teacher Annie. After a decade and a half of being largely under-utilized in Sparks-esque romance films, McAdams lets loose that kinetic comic energy she first showed off in “Mean Girls”, threatening a bar of very large, very real thugs at gunpoint by reciting Honey Bunny’s stick-up speech from “Pulp Fiction” verbatim, and then taking the time to teach everyone some basic yoga as her husband takes their weapons away.
She jams along to Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” while using the (very real) pistol as a microphone, and then eventually shoots her husband in the arm while trying to prove the gun was fake. Words really don’t do it justice. It’s a lightning-in-a-bottle kind of performance: Loopy, ludicrous, and persistently charming in its off-the-rails confidence. What I’m saying is: Give Rachel McAdams an Oscar nomination, you cowards.
Jesse Plemons’ The Green Mile speech in “Game Night.”
For me, the best moment so far this year is also the funniest. It’s the scene in “Game Night” in which Jason Bateman’s character, who has been accidentally shot by his wife, sneaks into his cop neighbor’s bedroom to use the computer. Bateman drips blood on the guy’s beloved white dog, then frantically tries to clean the animal. This only leads to the entire room getting splattered. The scene is a perfect example of how hilarity can be achieved by adding one complication on top of another. The scene starts off funny, then grows increasingly hilarious as each attempt to contain the mess just makes it worse. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time.
For me, the best movie moment so far this year was the in-film performance of “Everything Must Go” by Kiersey Clemons and Nick Offerman in Brett Haley’s “Hearts Beat Loud.” It was the final song of three from the father/daughter’s DIY concert set rocking out in their own way to send off their closing record store in style.
Their duet is an energetic rush that completed the head-turning and toe-tapping captivation of the initially ambivalent store customers, as well as us in the audience. You don’t have a pulse if you’re not beaming from ear to ear by the time they finish. The title song may be the future Oscar contender and more sought-after playlist track for this summer scene, but that last song is an empowering and vibrant peak that makes the film’s resolution pop.
The out-of-focus floating child in “Hereditary.”
I’ve had a hard time shaking most of “Hereditary,” but no moment stands out quite like the dinner table scene. The grief-stricken Graham family, after suffering a double whammy of personal loss, sit down for a meal, trying their best to resume normalcy. But things bubble over when Annie (a devastating Toni Collette) lashes out at her son Peter (Alex Wolff). She goes into a manic monologue that is both heartbreaking and wicked, and deflects all blame from herself – until Peter points out how she might have prevented their situation altogether had she been a little less pushy as a mother.
There is a lot of horrific imagery in “Hereditary,” but that dinner table moment – where things are said between mother and son that can never be unsaid, where this nuclear family is fundamentally ruptured – is a different kind of horror. It’s a mirrored look at how spiteful we can be to the people we love most; the ugly thoughts that brew inside of us, waiting to spill out. Forget demons and covens and occult symbols. This is the scene that keeps me up at night.
Either you feel Ari Aster’s “Hereditary” or you don’t. It’s by no means a perfect film, but it definitely provides an experience; one that people will debate for decades. That’s what I want. Give me something to remember; moments that effectively incorporate various thematic elements to push the narrative ahead.
In “Hereditary,” the big twist is indeed shocking, but it’s the moment after that left me shook: Peter’s reaction. In this sequence, Aster strengthens the character dynamics: WHY is Peter acting this way? For some, his behavior could be perceived as outlandish, maybe unbelievable… a deal-breaker. But in his moment of complete shock, the bizarre, after-the-fact reaction does make sense. Furthermore, Aster’s gory visuals boost the psychological aspect, along with the narrative pacing. Overall, the moment raises questions about character motivations and the past, and not just for Peter.
No scene has affected me more this year than the dinner table sequence in “Hereditary.” This is an actor’s showcase, for starters, with Toni Collette and Alex Wolff going toe-to-toe. The scene shows the litany of emotions as well as how each character deals with anger and grief, from Collette as Annie unburdening herself of her thoughts towards her son; Alex Wolff presenting a guilt-riddled teenager; and Gabriel Byrne as the stoic husband, forced to keep everything inside to prevent from breaking down entirely. The scene will hit everyone in different ways depending on how your relationship with your parents and/or children is. And it has the single best insult of the year from Collette about how her son wears “that face on your face.”
In “Leaning Into The Wind,” Thomas Riedelsheimer’s second documentary about Andy Goldsworthy, the artist and naturalist heads into Edinburgh for the day to recharge his creative batteries. This means laying down on the pavement in the rain to create a temporary reverse-silhouette that remains dry just long enough for him to take a photograph. Also: climbing through a shrubbery, to the bafflement of passersby. But in the context of the film, the only thing weird is that no one is joining him. I’ve pretty much thought about this sequence every day since I saw the movie in early March.
Maybe it’s the need for a sliver of hope in a landscape as hellish as ours that draws me to this specific moment of emotional payoff, but the one that immediately pulls focus in the last few moments of Andrew Haigh’s poetic “Lean on Pete”. Charley (Charlie Plummer) the lonely and defeated boy at the center of “Lean on Pete” has watched as every injustice imaginable has run a course through his life, furiously ironing away any semblances of hope of a normal, innocent childhood. Forced to rely solely on his feral survival instincts and, in some cases, dumb luck, by the end of the film the tragedy reaches a the point where we believe that perhaps Haigh isn’t going to apply a calming balm to the pain he’s inflicted on this poor character and his viewers for almost the entire run of the plot.
Instead, we get a well earned glimpse of hope. Charley finds who he’s been looking for and a place to rest, and Bonnie Prince Billie’s song “The World’s Greatest” soars overhead as we get a breathless snapshot to a future where his life has a structure loose enough for endless possibilities, plenty of roads to turn on, and a definitively behind him. The film as a whole is a gorgeous depiction of grief and companionship but without the emotional climactic moment where we start to realize that maybe this resilient kid will be okay after all, it would have lost so much of its lasting power.
It’s tempting to pick a moment at random from “Let the Sunshine In,” but Juliette Binoche’s tirade in the countryside at her host’s proprietary vanity is one of the great comedic outbursts of recent years, and one that seems to tear down a whole modern history of fawning cinematic bourgeois rusticity in a single stroke.
My favourite film moment of 2018 so far is to be found in my (most definitely) favourite film of 2018. Claire Denis’ “Let The Sunshine In” is full of beautiful gestures and glances, like all her other films – she’s a director of emotions and sensations. The one that stands out in this latest film, and which I keep thinking about, is when Isabelle (played by forever queen Juliette Binoche) is talking to a female friend in the doorway of some bistro bathrooms. She’s telling her friend about her latest romantic affair with ‘her actor,’ which has been confusing her with its ambiguity (the man is, to use a euphemism, quite indecisive). As she goes from feeling ecstatic about the relationship to perceiving it as a catastrophe, Binoche’s face changes in a split second from her iconic luminous smile to the very definition of heartbreak. Only Binoche could have made this shift seem as understandable as it is amazingly (and hilariously) brutal.
I thought I was past the point in my life where Etta James’s version of “At Last” could do anything for me in movies, and then Claire Denis presents it as one of the biggest needle drops of all time in “Let The Sunshine In.” Denis’s talky meditation on the ecstasies and misadventures of dating in one’s middle age often leans towards the more negative end of the spectrum. It’s on a weekend away that Isabelle (Juliette Binoche) bravely enters the dancefloor on her own, only to be met by the scraggly but gentle Sylvain (Paul Blain), and the two share a dance to James’s song.
We’re introduced the rest of Isabelle’s specifically awful beaus mid-relationship or mid-sex scene or mid-argument, and it’s the genius of “Let The Sunshine In” that two-thirds of the way in, when it’s starting to feel like hope is lost, we get to see Isabelle experience the beginning of something. Romantic, hopeful, nervous. It’s a sweet, moving reminder to both Isabelle and the audience that there are indeed bright, if not too good to be true, spots in singledom––what does it matter if it falls apart soon after?
“Let the Sunshine In,” Claire Denis’ most recent film, is a breathtaking exercise in tonal ambiguity, slipping in and out of different registers in a heartbeat and achieving a thrillingly ambiguous blend of contradictory tones and emotions in any given moment. This happens most breathtakingly in the final scene, in which Juliette Binoche visits fortune teller Gerard Depardieu. We’ve spent nearly an hour and a half watching Binoche ping pong between elation and devastation, farce and tragedy, personal growth and backsliding into familiar, self-destructive behavior. Immediately prior to the scene, we’ve been given a tantalizing and telling glimpse of Depardieu’s own emotional turmoil. Compared to the intense emotion of the preceding scenes, this one is restrained, almost banal.
Depardieu speaks in platitudes, the credits begin to roll, the dialogue goes on and on. We know that this is a senseless exercise, particularly for a woman as intelligent and cultured as Binoche’s character. And yet, the effect is transfixing. Binoche’s eyes brim over hungrily; these banalities are exactly what she needs in this period of desperation. When Depardieu utters the film’s title – telling Binoche to find “un beau soleil intérieur” before she can find love – it transcends cliche and becomes the movie’s truly moving thesis. I don’t know how Denis manages to present the scene with both a sense of irony and earnest feeling – I can only sit back and watch in awe.
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