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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Top 10 Week... Scenes of 2011

#10: Hotel Room Ambush, Drive

The hotel room scene represents a turning point in the film, sending it into a violent hyper drive. But even laying the sudden shift in intensity aside, the scene is a marvel of beautifully choreographed action. Brutal (but not quite as brutal as a few other scenes in the film) and breathtaking, it's the best scene is a film that certainly has no shortage of fantastic scenes.

#9: The Grand Finale, The Artist

The Artist is full of delightful scenes but perhaps none is more delightful than the dance number with which the film ends. In keeping with the old school style, the dance number is filmed in one long shot - a refreshing change from most modern movies, which tend to show dance numbers as a series of quick cuts where you never seen the dancer in full, but rather as a series of disembodied parts.

#8: The Morning After, Young Adult

Young Adult builds towards a moment of revelation, the moment when its alcholic, misanthropic protagonist is forced to take an honest look at the person that she is and admit how unhappy and unfilfilled she is. The morning after, however, she sits at a kitchen table with someone who has idolized her since high school and tells her everything she been longing to hear, effectively undoing all the progress she made the previous night. It is a scene beautifully played by Charlize Theron, who is able to subtly show how the conversation has allowed the character to rebuild her idealized image of herself.

#7: Marcy May's Song, Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a film full of darkness and ambiguity. In order for it to be even marginally effective as a story, it has to be able to convey how its protagonist, who has the presence of mind to escape a cult, got entangled in it in the first place. In this scene the cult's leader seduces Martha, who had previously been on the fence about whether or not to join, into the life with a song and his very direct and intense attention. It's a key scene in the film and wonderfully executed by everyone involved.

#6: Showdown at Grimm's House, Hanna

Hanna was one of the most surprisingly awesome movies of 2011 and the climactic showdown between Hanna and her "creator" Marissa is the highlight. This scene is perfectly executed on every level, from the way that it brings the story back full circle, to the absolutely captivating art direction. If I was going to pick my favourite sets from 2011, the Brothers Grimm amusement park would definitely come in at #1.

#5: Prologue, The Help

The Help begins in medias res with Skeeter interviewing Aibileen. It's a simple, short scene, but it says so much and gets straight to the heart of the matter. Aibileen is a maid. She grew up knowing that she would become one. She is of the second generation removed from slavery. She dreamed (and perhaps still dreams) of being something else. Although the film sometimes plays out as a story of "white people learning things," this scene establishes Aibileen as the story's hero and foregrounds the issues that ultimately drive the narrative.

#4: Final Scene, The Ides of March

A good ending is a beautiful thing and The Ides of March had one of the best endings of 2011. The film, which is the story of idealism forever shattered, ends with a long, unsettling close-up on its protagonist. As the screen fades to black, we're left to wonder whether he'll remain silent about what he's learned and continue to consolidate his role as the power behind the power, or whether within his new, Machiavellian persona he still harbours pure intentions and beliefs and will expose the secrets he's learned. The film's title certainly hints at what he'll do, but the expression on Ryan Gosling's face leaves it open to interpretation.

#3: "The Earth is Evil," Melancholia

Melancholia is full of great scenes, some darkly funny, some thought provoking, some brutal. This scene, in which sisters Claire and Justine discuss the inevitable end of the world, is pitch perfect. For Claire, the world is nothing to be mourned and she has come to accept the end. For Justine, however, acceptance is much harder and she fights the end tooth and nail. In what is perhaps the film's best line reading she asks, heartbroken, "But where will Leo grow up?" The interplay between the two characters, and the scene itself, could not possibly be any better.

#2: The Creation of the Universe, The Tree of Life

Hands down, the most breathtakingly beautiful cinematic sequence of 2011. Though it may prove to be a dealbreaker for some viewers seeing as it brings the narrative to a halt, it's arguably the most important part of the film. The Tree of Life is largely a meditation on loss and this operatic sequence reaches all the way back to the very origin of the universe to show that no matter how defining a personal loss may be, it is dwarfed by everything that came before and everything that will come after. Death is sad, but life itself is an utter miracle.

#1: Cafe Scene, Certified Copy

Up until this scene Abbas Kiarostami's film is a relatively straight-forward story about two strangers. In this scene, however, everything gets turned on its head and the nature of the relationship between the two characters becomes increasingly ambiguous, shifting back and forth between possibilities. The sudden turnaround might be jarring were it not for how masterfully and gracefully Kiarostami guides the transition.


Damon said...

Beautiful words on the Tree of Life.

I found the scene where the kid, rebelling against his father's authority, says to him "it's your house, you can kick me out whenever you want" very moving.

Norma Desmond said...

Great scene - and probably the film's best line. Hunter McCracken was a real find.

Wilde.Dash said...

The creation of the universe scene killed it (in a good way, of course). I could watch that on a loop.

Also, I'd have to agree with Norma: Hunter McCracken was spectacular. Why isn't he being recognized??