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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Top 10 Week: Scenes of 2016

#10: I'm Back, You Bastards, The Dressmaker

Like an anti-hero in a classic western, but dressed like a femme fatale in a classic noir, Kate Winslet's character in The Dressmaker steps back into her dusty hometown, sets down her suitcase, lights a cigarette, and makes the above pronouncement. Though the film then takes a bit of a detour, making it appear as if it's going to be something else, it eventually comes back to the acid promise of these opening moments in a fashion as grand and flamboyant as everything else in the film.

#9: The Epilogue, La La Land

The coulda, the woulda, and the shoulda. The final number in La La Land is exuberant and melancholy at the same time and dazzling all the way through. It's a film buff's dream, containing references galore, and it's a beauty of a sequence, pulled off with grace, tugging at the heartstrings, and above all entertaining.

#8: What Don't You Want?, Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water is not a comedy, but it contained one of the single funniest scenes of the entire year. Objectively speaking, this scene, in which the film's two lawmen stop to get something to eat and encounter a waitress who is not here for anything even vaguely resembling nonsense and is only interested in taking one order with only one variation on it, is not one that the film technically needs. It doesn't function to advance the plot, and in a certain way totally stops it dead for a few minutes. Yet it's so vital to the character of the film that Hell or High Water would feel like a lesser work without it. Watch it.

#7: The Bathroom Scene, The Nice Guys

Ryan Gosling does a lot of dancing in La La Land, but it's in his performance in The Nice Guys that he shows himself to be a master of movement. The ballet of gun, cigarette, pants, magazine, swinging door, and desperate attempt at modesty is a thing that has to be seen to be believed. Watch it.

#6: No Dames, Hail, Caesar!

It was a great year for musical numbers and one of the best was the "No Dames" number from Hail, Caesar! which saw Channing Tatum do his best Gene Kelly and make the case that whatever the next big musical is, he ought to be in it. Watch it.

#5: I Was a Fucking Jet Engine, Sing Street

Sing Street is a story about a boy and a girl, but it's also a story about a boy and the older brother he idolizes, whose tastes and interests inform his own, and it's the story of that older brother, whose own life has stalled but who was once a shining star and takes a moment to ensure that his brother remembers that. Sing Street has a lot of great musical moments in it, but it's this speech from one brother to another that is the highlight of the film. Watch it.

#4: Several Individual Dance Parties Happening Alongside Each Other, The Lobster

Easily the shortest scene on the list, lasting all of about 10 seconds, but it's also one of the funniest moments in any film in 2016. In this scene a group of rebels who have dedicated themselves to living as solitary individuals (rather than as government mandated couples) celebrate a victory by having a dance party, by which I mean that they dance in the general vicinity of each other, each listening to their own music with ear buds. "We dance alone," the leader explains, "That's why we only play electronic music." You have to see it within the context of the whole film to really get it, but it's as delightful as it is bizarre.

#3: The Reunion, Moonlight

Really, the whole final section of Moonlight from the moment Chiron gets back to Miami until that final shot is flat out fantastic, but it's those initial minutes when Chiron reunites with Kevin after so many years that stands out in particular. Full of uncertainty but also hope, slightly awkward as the two characters try to suss each other out and speak between the lines, and tinged with an almost overpowering sense of anticipation as we wonder if Chiron will actually be able to speak the words, this is one of the most powerful scenes in film in 2016.

#2: The Confrontation, Fences

Set the scene. Let Denzel Washington and Viola Davis loose on the material. No further assembly required. Fences carefully builds itself towards this moment and it doesn't disappoint as Washington and Davis play out the history between their characters - the hopes, the dreams, the disappointments, the broken promises - and find themselves at a crossroads.

#1: The First Contact, Arrival

Arrival is a thoughtful film, including in its approach to how it imagines humans would react to the sudden, mysterious arrival of aliens on Earth. In the film's best scene its protagonist prepares to see the aliens for the first time, a moment that is full of wonder and fear and disorientation. Amy Adams' reaction in that moment - wanting to see, but unable to bring herself to take that first step - is so genuine and powerful that it sets the tone for everything that comes after.

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