Howard Hawks famously classified a good movie as any film that "has three great scenes, no bad ones." Well, if we can extrapolate Hawks' wisdom to the era of the needlessly distended listicle, perhaps it could be said that a good movie year has 100 great scenes, a few thousand bad ones, and an entire Adam Sandler movie comprised of the most unwatchable. By those standards, 2013 was most definitely a good movie year, and – given how little trouble we had populating this epic countdown – maybe even a great one. Individual scenes are the cinema's flashbulb memory, and though some of the films represented on this list certainly transcend their isolated pleasures, these are the moments that ultimately defined the year in movies. Reflecting on the films of 2013, these are the bits we'll be referencing every time we begin a sentence with "Remember that part when...".
These are the 100 Best Movie Scenes of 2013.
100.) I GIVE IT A YEAR // "Charades"
The best British rom com that everyone ignored was Dan Mazer's “I Give It A Year.” Its high concept is that we in the audience are in love with Rose Byrne and Rafe Spall and just want them to be happy. So we want them to see the light and get a divorce. They were meant to be friends, not lovers, and one such moment that makes this clear is an awkward night of charades with the extended family.
Oh, the yuks that come when dopey, inappropriate Spall tries to act out “Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman” using Grandma as a prop. – Jordan Hoffman
99.) 20 FEET FROM STARDOM // "The Making of 'Gimme Shelter'"
Morgan Neville’s “20 Feet From Stardom” is one of the best documentaries of the year, an informative, interesting, and illuminating look at the world of back-up singers, talents who are often some of the best in the room, even if no one else knows their name. Among those chronicled in the film is the utterly revelatory Merry Clayton, one of the best in the biz who never quite hit as a solo star. One of Clayton’s most well known and important contributions to popular music are her soaring background notes on The Rolling Stone’s “Gimme Shelter.” More a duet than a standard single, Clayton’s high-pitched and hauntingly rendered cries of “rape, murder, it’s just a shot away, it’s just a shot away” elevate the classic song to once-unreachable levels, and when she explains how it all happened in the film, it’s positively spine-tingling. – Kate Erbland
98.) OUT OF THE FURNACE // "Harland’s Hotdog"
A meth addict with an insatiable lust for violence takes a date to the local drive-in movie theater for a screening of “Midnight Meat Train”. What could possibly go wrong? Scott Cooper’s “Out of the Furnace” peaks with its opening sequence, which exists beyond the plot of the movie but indelibly establishes a bedrock of menace to support the film that follows. It’s Woody Harrelson unhinged, as his cartoonish but genuinely frightening villain Harland DeGroat proves just how unpredictable he is, capable of striking at any time (something the local Baze brothers, played by Christian Bale and Casey Affleck, will soon learn the hard way). After I likened the scene to the opening moments of “Jaws”, Cooper told me he began the film this way because after Harland tries to murder a woman with a hotdog, “you know, whenever that person or animal is around, that nothing good is going to come of it”. – David Ehrlich
97.) SNITCH // "Stunt Rock"
At the climax of this over-earnest anti-drug-war (or at least skeptical of the DEA) drama, director Ric Roman Waugh finally puts his background as a stuntman to use. The chase (skip to about 3:25) has very little in common with what’s come before, but it’s pretty excellent, CGI-free stuff, climaxing with an 18-wheeler jackknifing off the highway. There’s no hazy clutter hanging over the scene from hazy f/x, just real sparks and vehicles in motion as the truck (driven by Dwayne Johnson himself, Waugh claims) turns on its side. It’s the kind of once-commonplace stuntwork almost never seen anymore. – Vadim Rizov
96.) KILL YOUR DARLINGS // "Wolves in the Library"
Note: The clip above is from an earlier scene in the film, also set in the library.
“Kill Your Darlings” is in many ways a film about transition. It bridges the gap between the dark violence of the closet and the bright sensuality of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry, the jump from hidden queer art to open expression. This one scene is a tortured, erotic expression of this in-between. Ginsberg finds himself trying to distract a college student library volunteer, a woman who ends up responding with a bit more enthusiasm than he expected. Meanwhile his friend Lucien Carr sneaks in. As they stare at each other through a stack of books, they seem to share Ginsberg’s orgasm. It’s an old, often unfortunate pre-Stonewall metaphor: homosexuality metaphorically expressed through a conduit, two men connecting through a woman. Yet here it seems on the cusp of finally coming out. It’s a complicated moment, rich with metaphor and also pretty hot. – Daniel Walber
95.) POPULAIRE // "Typing Competition"
This charming French confection (all charming French films are required to be called “confections,” by the by) is just as light and sweet as a fresh pastry, and it goes down just as deliciously. While a period-set foreign film about professional typing competitions sound just about as boring as cinema could possibly get, Regis Roinsard‘s film is one of the year’s best little romances and it benefits from a number of typing competition scenes that make the sport of typing look, well, damn sporty and quite exciting. As a nervous young Rose Pamphyle (Deborah Francois) tackles her first big competition, humor abounds in the stands (yes, there are stands at typing competitions, packed with fans) and our heroine sets about tapping out winning words. She succeeds – and so does this delectable little film. – KE
94.) THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE // "Peeta's Pregnancy Reveal"
The latest entry into the “Hunger Games” franchise is all about political machinations, though most of them initially come care of plucky Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who all but engage in a two-stepping dance on the way to bringing each other down. But Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) has more up his sleeves than just puppy dog love and baked goods, he has his own plans – ones that include telling the entire world a whopper of a lie to curry both favor and pity. While it seemed that Katniss and Peeta had taken their “fake” love story to its highest level (a wedding!), Peeta cleverly unveiled the biggest lie of all – we’re having a (fake) baby, and you people are going to kill it with your (very real) games. – KE
93.) HER // "Phone Sex"
From concept to execution, Spike Jonze faced at least one seemingly insurmountable challenge with “Her”: how do you film a sex scene between a man and a computer’s disembodied voice? (It certainly helps that the voice in question belongs to Scarlett Johansson, who conjures the requisite feelings quite capably, but still.) Jonze, for his part, devised the perfect touch for the climax: rather than strain to suggest the body of a woman who doesn’t have one, “Her” employs a well-timed fade to black that levels the playing field by taking away the physicality of the leads altogether, leaving the act to our imaginations in much the same way it’s left to theirs. –CM
92.) WHITE REINDEER // "Christmas Orgy"
Note: The above clip is from an earlier scene in the film.
“White Reindeer” is a film that plays so heavily on ironic corruptions of holiday images that it threatens to sink into cynicism, yet its constant empathy for those ingrained notions of Christmas, to say nothing of the characters themselves, gives it a human streak that makes it one of the best films of the year. Case in point: a scene in which the recently, horrifically widowed Suzanne (Anna Margaret Hollyman) attends a swinger party held by a neighbor. The scene is naturally comic, with people holding small talk as they take off their clothes and start drifting between partners, but the film makes a point to stress how relaxing the seemingly uptight Suzanne finds it all, how it takes her mind off of things for just a small while. In a film stuffed with unexpectedly touching moments, this one takes the cake, an affirming glimpse of human connection that just so happens to involve leather. – Jake Cole
91.) THOR: THE DARK WORLD // "Portal Madness"
You need an advanced degree in mythology to understand what the baddies are actually up to in “Thor: The Dark World.” And by advanced degree in mythology I mean a lot of pre-teen nights reading those Marvel comics that are vaguely connected to Norse legend in the least academic manner possible. Either way, none of this detracts from the totally nutty boss fight between Thor and . . .whoever it was Thor was fighting at the end of this movie.
The nine realms, visually represented as ENORMOUS hula hoops, are all going to converge at once (at Greenwich's Prime Meridian, which is convenient) and Malekith the Dark Elf will then release the Power of the Aether. And that would suck. Luckily, Blondie McSpacegod (Thor) and his mighty hammer (as well as his weapon Mjolnir) are ready to zip between each of the nine realms as computer generated mayhem builds. It's basically the ending of “Monsters Inc.” Anyway, there's a lot of action and comedy, especially when an enormous ice beast ends up getting into the action. I don't care what level of snooty-pants you are, it's pretty hard not to enjoy this sequence. – JH
THE COUNTDOWN CONTINUES ON PAGE 2 (SCENES #90 – #76)
90.) ALL IS LOST // "F-Bombs Away"
Note: The above clip is from an earlier scene in the film.
J.C. Chandor paddled in out of nowhere to declare himself a major director with “All is Lost.” The film is direct and pure and sharp as all hell. Each scene is a marvelously executed microdrama of problem resolution and of visual storytelling. Indeed, there isn't much chatter – and the stoic, but extremely sympathetic Robert Redford works through the increasingly aggravating obstacles of the film as a veritable mute.
Until the moment he just can't take it anymore, and bellows the one word, the reproductive command, which would likely have been on all of our lips from the very first frame. Rarely have four letters broken more tension and acted as such a catharsis. – JH
89.) BULLET TO THE HEAD // "Power Plant Axe Fight"
38 years after his first feature “Hard Times,” director Walter Hill returns to the Market Street Power Plant. The long-abandoned facility where Charles Bronson did so much bare-knuckle boxing in that film is the site of Sylvester Stallone facing off against Jason Momoa. This is one of those adversaries-with-mutual-respect deals: “Kinda fun, isn’t it?” says Momoa. “Just you and me, two professionals, only one gets away.” He breaks open a commemorative plaque with the axes used to battle a fire in this very space, 1910. Stallone’s not amused (“What are we, f*cking Vikings?”), but the two enter into galvanizing combat to thunderously generic, ‘80s-esque blues rock; this is as gratifyingly old-school as it gets in the post-Gollum era. – VR
88.) PRINCE AVALANCHE // "From the Ashes"
As Paul Rudd wanders the burnt out forest during his “weekend off,” accompanied only by his mysterious pills and the music of Explosions in the Sky, he stumbles upon an old woman rummaging, quite literally, through her past. Rudd helps her look for an old pilot's license among the debris of her burned down house. The conversation is so specific, and shot so plainly, it takes on great universal importance.
The scene is touching on its own (and reminiscent of Tarkovsky's “Ivan's Childhood”), but David Gordon Green made it no secret how the small crew of “Prince Avalanche” just lucked into it – Rudd's unforgettable scene partner was a non-actor who had no idea the cameras were for a significant feature film. – JH
87.) STUDENT // "The Past is Prologue"
Note: The video above contains the entire film.
During a shooting break on a film set, the title student gawks at the lead actress. “She married the director of a top bank,” he’s told, “so we must be careful.” Meanwhile, the director’s chewed out by an earnest young journalist for his jejune script: “Do you think the lives of young people today are so carefree and easy that they don’t care about serious social problems?” “Why should these problems be multiplied on screen?” “Student”’s actual director Darezhan Omirbayev responds. “We have enough difficulties in real life.” His sanguine response is interrupted by the actress’ shriek as a flunky hypnotized by her cleavage pours hot water on her. The actress calls her husband (“Now you will see a real movie. Cooler than in Hollywood”), who quickly arrives with two thugs in suits to administer retributive violence. As the director’s attempts to keep things light are made impossible by contemporary Kazakh life itself, the student (the Raskolnikov stand-in in this “Crime And Punishment” reworking) looks on wide-eyed, registering the link between capitalism run amuck and straight-up violence. The whole film’s on YouTube, complete with (bad but comprehensible) subtitles, and well worth your time. – VR
86.) BLANCANIEVES // "A Bite from the Apple"
Note: The clip above is a trailer for the film. Trailers are non-linear promotional montages that Hans Zimmer ruined forever.
“Blancanieves” is a movie with incredible style, well beyond the obvious elements that come from its commitment to the black and white silence of the 1920s. Its spirit comes from the bullfight, helped along by the fact that its Snow White (Macarena García) takes an active role as a toreador herself, a welcome twist on her more passive role in the original fairy tale. This makes the inevitable confrontation with her wicked stepmother, Maribel Verdú armed with an apple and a towering mantilla, all the more interesting. The arena is empty after the defeat of the bull, and Carmen/Snow White stands in triumph. Her fall from the poisoned fruit is out in the open, emphasizing the tragedy but also conflict between these two women, and allowing for a grand and beautiful climax to this story we already know so well. – DW
85.) AUGUST OSAGE COUNTY // "Eat the Fish, Bitch!"
No, you wouldn’t want to be a member of the intensely dysfunctional Weston family, but you also probably don’t want to get in the middle of a Meryl Streep- and Julia Roberts-starring acting-off. And that’s too bad for Julianne Nicholson’s Ivy Weston, because she’s saddled with both terrifying prospects in John Wells’ “August: Osage County.” Late in the film, after plenty of inter-family screaming matches, secret reveals, and bone-chilling musical choices care of Dermot Mulroney’s smarmy Steve, Streep and Roberts face off during what should be a calm midday meal. Sure, they’ve already gotten slaphappy during quite possibly the worst family dinner of all time, but perhaps lunch will be different? Not so fast, as Roberts’ Barbara Weston finally reaches her biggest breaking point and positively freaks out on Streep as her mouthy mother, Violet Weston. As shocking as the scene is (and it is), it’s also very funny and quietly wrenching, simply because as Roberts screams at her own mother, “eat the fish, bitch!” she’s really only doing it to protect her little sister from the unearthing of the worst secret of all. – KE
84.) NEW WORLD // "Going Up?"
Note: Russian is not the official language of South Korea.
My condolences to Chris Evans and the good folks over at Marvel, whose highly anticipated “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” elevator brawl was just confronted with some potentially insurmountable precedent. “New World”, a deviously satisfying gangster saga by Park Hoon-jung that enjoyed a limited American run before being hurried onto Blu-ray, is more “Goodfellas” than “The Raid”, but the film’s centerpiece finds crime syndicate tensions exploding into blood-soaked violence. Toeing the line between elegance and brutality with a precision that feels sadly exclusive to films of the Korean New Wave, 90 minutes of political maneuvering erupt into the year’s most stab-happy scene – you’d have to watch “You’re Next” 7 times to see this many arteries be severed by kitchenware. These men aren’t trained warriors, but their lack of grace adds to the desperation, and there’s really only one moment in which one of the henchmen blows an obvious opportunity to stab their lone enemy (check the 2:12 mark of the clip). – DE
83.) SIDE EFFECTS // "Stabbed in the Front"
Murder of a kind is intimated early in “Side Effects”, but the shock of the murder itself — a few sharp, unfeeling stabs in the gut, the knife sliding right into Tatum without friction — retains its shock value even if you’d guessed it was coming from the start. And in the end, of course, the moment is a misdirect anyway: our satisfaction that the twist has come and gone in with the knife makes the figurative stabbing to come all the more disturbing. In retrospect it gains an even more startling dimension: knowing it was all an act, check how oddly (and unnecessarily) still Mara’s face remains throughout: she may not be mad, but she’s definitely not alright. – CM
82.) BASTARDS // "Night Drive"
“Bastards” is a film of total trauma, of the powerlessness of victims of physical, sexual, even economic violation. Though just about all of the characters outside of Michel Subor’s bestial, untouchable rich man are brutalized in some way, everything centers on Lola Créton’s character, a young woman who experiences horror so deep it only becomes fully, abhorrently clear in the final moments. Yet one senses everything about her permanently addled psyche in a ride she takes with some of her captors, in which she adopts a seductive nature to get control of the car, at which point she teases her predatory cohorts by turning off the headlights. As they laugh at her sense of danger, Claire Denis imbues the frame with the car’s gradual acceleration into the void, and shots that drift to and away from Créton’s face show a hardening determination and mad zeal, telegraphing what is coming but making it no less suspenseful. Her wish for self-destruction, posited as the film’s only real escape, is as troubling as the more notorious coda. – JC
81.) IN THE HOUSE // "The Last Shot"
Is it overwrought to reference Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”? It certainly can be, but only if it’s just being done for its own sake. The final shot of “In the House” is as much of a revelation as it is an allusion, a formally bold step in a film that has prior to this been mostly concerned with its script and its actors. Suddenly there is a visual metaphor that extends François Ozon’s voyeuristic ideas well beyond the borders of this single story, and outward into a whole world of hidden lives. – DW
80.) WORLD WAR Z // "Peace in the Middle East"
“Go to Israel!” David Morse shouts in “World War Z,” and not just because Brad Pitt has a production agreement with Arnon Milchan.
As the rest of the world falls into the toilet, the people who made the deserts bloom figure out a way to keep the undead out. (It likely involves two-step authentication.)
The walls of Jerusalem are a natural protection, but when the jubilant Jews and perky Palestinians thriving in harmony (finally) take to singing – look out! The zombies can't get enough of the jam. The triumph of the peace camp is the Holy Land's undoing, and soon the Lion's Gate is trampled by computer generated baddies. It is, to anyone who reads the New York Times, an undeniably entertaining plot point. – JH
79.) ABOUT TIME // "Ping-Pong With Dad"
While Richard “Love Actually” Curtis’ latest romantic comedy “About Time” sounded like, well, just another rom-com, the film is actually more interested in the relationship between Domhnall Gleeson’s Tim and his dear old dad, played by Bill Nighy. The pair already appears to be bonded enough when the film starts to unspool, but once Dad reveals the genetic secret that will inform the rest of Tim’s life – the men in their family can time travel – their relationship reaches a new level of intimacy and understanding. That’s not to say they don’t have fun (after all, who is more fun than Bill Nighy?), especially when they tackle their traditional father-son ping-pong scenes. As the film winds on, those ping-pong matches get more and more serious until, oops!, you’re crying at two British guys playing ping-pong. – KE
78.) MAGIC MAGIC // "Knife Party"
If ‘Juno Temple doing a sexy dance while under hypnosis to The Knife’ doesn’t sell you on the appeal of “Magic Magic”, nothing I can write here possibly will. But this sequence, despite its obvious surface pleasures, is propelled by the same Polanski-style dread and intrigue that makes the film so engrossing from start to finish: we’re never quite sure, in the Henry James tradition, how much of Juno Temple’s apparent descent into madness is the product of her own imagination or genuine illness, and at this moment in particular that ambiguity entrains a very provocative sense of mystery — like the best thrillers, it makes it seem as if anything at all could happen. – CM
77.) CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 // "The Strawberry's Speech"
A worthy follow-up to the surprisingly delightful “Cloudy…”, Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn’s sequel picks up mere minutes after the events of that film, with inventor Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) forced to flee his hometown of Swallow Falls after sentient foods of his own creation ran amok. In a development straight out of the “Jurassic Park” films -- no, seriously, check out Sam Sparks’ Dern-doubling outfit -- Flint and friends return to the island to discover an entire ecosystem of “foodimals” making themselves at home. Many glorious puns ensue (shrimpanzees! tacodiles! peanut butter and jellyfish!), and one adorable strawberry sidekick, Barry, makes himself known with his wide eyes and gibberish language. In keeping with the seriously silly spirit of the film, Flint rallies everyone together for a big second-act speech and Barry offers to translate for his fellow foodimals; the unintelligible yet undeniably passionate result left yours truly in stitches. – William B. Goss
76.) GETAWAY // "First-Person Phew"
The 0:32 mark in the clip above might be the single craziest thing you could have seen at the movies this year.
Can a terrible (and I mean terrible) film be redeemed by a single shot? An interminable and boldly incoherent car chase masquerading as a feature film, Courtney Solomon’s “Getaway” is to the “Fast and Furious” franchise what “The Paperboy” is to “Citizen Kane”, until suddenly – for nearly two minutes of the penultimate scene – the film achieves a breathlessly sublime cinematic purity, providing in one glorious long-take a spectacle unmatched by the entirety of even the summer’s most over-sized blockbusters.
As the long chase between Brent Magna (Ethan Hawke) and the bad guy who cares whatever winds down in the early light of day and Magna seems to be closing in on the villain, Solomon risks his precious nanosecond ASL with a breathtaking 95-second shot captured from a RED One camera mounted to the front-end mask of the Shelby as it drag-races the villain’s Mercedes SUV at 90 miles per hour along the outskirts of town. While the speed of the shot is slightly ramped to enhance the effect, there’s nevertheless a palpable thrill to the credibility of what’s on display – the film, for all of its extraordinary flaws, has reconditioned us to trust in the reality of what we’re seeing. The movie cars dash through an intersection, narrowly avoiding real-life traffic by a matter of inches. It’s illegal, it’s insane, it’s utterly irresponsible, and it’s incredible. – DE
THE COUNTDOWN CONTINUES ON PAGE 3 (SCENES #75 – #61)
75.) THE HEAT // "Improv Tracheotomy"
Note: We couldn't find a clip of this scene, so the video above is from a different part altogether. Watch it anyway. Laugh. Dance like no one is watching.
Paul Feig’s uproarious “The Heat” proved pretty handily that gross-out humor isn’t just for the boys, lovely ladies can do the buddy cop genre just fine, and Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock are the next great comedy duo. In a film crammed with plenty of laughs – centered on very different subjects, from Spanx to blackout drinking – there was still one blood-soaked entry that proved wholly unshakable. Picture it – Bullock, McCarthy, an innocent man, a pesky bit of breakfast food, and blood just blood everywhere oh my God why is there so much blood. Bullock’s Sarah Ashburn may consistently prove capable, but when she goes for an ill-advised tracheotomy, even she ends up looking unhinged (and also very kind and very smart and very blood-drenched). At the very least, that one gushing trach prepared us for further bloodletting and violence in the bold comedy. – KE
74.) YOU'RE NEXT // "Family Dinner"
As the Davison clan finally reunites in their remote Missouri home, the younger members of the family hardly wait before bickering. This dinner scene starts out as funny on its own realistically dysfunctional terms, and anyone familiar with the insular indie horror world will get an extra chuckle out of watching Ti West and Joe Swanberg as they nitpick the merits of “underground film festivals” and such. Then, like a bolt out of the blue, an actual crossbow bolt crashes through a nearby window and suddenly? All bets are off. What follows is a remarkably tense, deeply knowing and surprisingly funny take on the home-invasion genre, and the film’s precise balance of humor and horror stems from the very moment that glass shatters. – WG
73.) VIOLA // "Stage Kiss"
In aesthetic terms, much of the appeal of Matias Pinero’s “Viola” ought to seem self-evident: its sumptuous, amber-steeped cinematography; its smooth, sweeping camera choreography; its melange of Shakespearean dialogue derived and mixed from a litany of sources; its bevy of gorgeous bohemians living a life of leisure. But the film’s best scene — in which two women cycle through a rehearsal together, one with a plan to seduce the other — reveals another, less obvious virtue: Pinero’s peerless sense of rhythm. The movements of the players, the camera, the dialogue, and the editing, capped off with a smash cut away from a sudden kiss: it’s practically musical. – CM
72.) THE CONJURING // "Exposition Dump"
Note: For some reason, Warner Bros. elected *not* to upload the scene in which the film's entire plot is explained on YouTube.
When one thinks of the year’s best scenes, most selections come to mind on the strength of their remarkable visual power. While James Wan’s blockbusting spook story doesn’t want for striking imagery -- ghostly hands clapping, a doll’s head turning, a white sheet stained red with blood -- not enough due is given for one structurally impressive gambit in Chad and Carey Hayes’ screenplay. At precisely the halfway point (we checked: 56 minutes into a 112-minute film), supernatural investigators the Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) sit down to explore the history of the haunted farmhouse they’ve been enlisted to exorcise. She pulls out newspaper clippings, helpful maps, family trees, offering up explanations of long-brewing witchcraft at the drop of a hat, after which he sits back and simply says, “Well, that explains a few things.” Most films of this ilk try and save their who’s and why’s for the third act, building up to a false relief that fools no one before revealing a critical catch (see: “The Ring,” and just about every ghost story since). By sparing us that and dumping its exposition in one fell swoop, “The Conjuring” keeps its focus on the family, and the frights, right until the very end. – WG
71.) CAMILLE CLAUDEL 1915 // "Don Juan"
Note: The video above is excerpted from an earlier scene in the film, but succinctly sets the stage for the part described here.
With no diagnostic or empathetic conception of mental illness, involuntarily asylum-confined artist Camille Claudel (Juliette Binoche) looks with uniform distaste at men and women who can’t control their own bodies and action. But as she sits in a makeshift theater space and watches some of the asylum’s residents rehearse a keep-them-busy production of “Don Juan,” repeatedly running through the Don’s seduction of a virgin, a breakthrough: Claudel breaks into a smile as she registers those she saw as sub-human trying to get it right, discovering relatable human emotions and actions through the leveling ground of Art. The moment transcends the potential tastelessness of pure exploitation of real mentally ill performers and for once, normally gratuitously miserabilist director Bruno Dumont isn’t a total sh*t. – VR
70.) CUTIE AND THE BOXER // "Videotape"
Zachary Heinzerling's outstanding documentary about the Japanese ex-pat visual artists Ushio and Nokiro Shinohara is equal parts exhilarating and heartbreaking. This scene represents the heartbreak.
Throughout their 40 year marriage, Ushio has learned to take a back seat to her husband, and while he may seem like a cranky old man now he wasn't always so innocuous. Unearthed video tapes show some of his drunken rages, in which the tips of his toes step over the line into abuse. His anger, though, stems from the pain of being unrecognized and literally starving for his art. “Cutie and the Boxer” is one of the finest films to ever express the day-to-day difficulty of living as a complete artist. It ain't pretty, but it's beautiful. – JH
69.) THIS IS MARTIN BONNER // "Daughter at the Diner"
Note: The video above is the film's trailer. Even better is the film itself, which is now on Netflix Instant.
Though Martin Bonner (Paul Eenhoorn in the year’s most textured, understated performance) gets his name in the title, he spends much of the film tending to Richard Arquette’s ex-con Travis, who never threatens to fall into recidivism but nonetheless finds a hard time readjusting to normal life. Travis’ attempts to readjust reach a head when he tries to reconnect with his daughter, leading to a painfully awkward but earnest scene in a diner in which Martin finds himself roped into helping, his efforts to keep up conversation and prevent Travis from imploding. Though oriented around a deadbeat’s desire to finally accept responsibility for his life, the scene ultimately becomes a tacit treatise on friendship, on the ways that we rely, exploit, aid and forgive those to whom we feel some connection. – JC
68.) THE COUNSELOR // "Motorbike Decapitation"
Note: You'd think by now Ridley Scott would have learned not to flip his camera vertically in the middle of a shot.
Most of the discussion circulating around “The Counselor”, whether positive or negative (alas, largely the latter), has focused on Cormac McCarthy’s idiosyncratic dialogue — very much in the McCarthy style throughout, it remains, despite having been considerably shortened and simplified from the original script, the most distinctive thing about the film. And yet the most striking scene in “The Counselor” — or in any case the most striking scene in “The Counselor” that does involve cars and catfish — features hardly any dialogue at all. It’s Ridley Scott at his most workmanlike: the murder as fine-tuned procedural. –CM
67.) AMERICAN HUSTLE // "Science Oven"
“Another fire!” comes the plaintive cry from the youngest Rosenfeld in David O. Russell’s latest feature. A fictionalized account of the Abscam scandal of the 1970s, the film may center on Christian Bale and Amy Adams as a pair of con artists ensnared by deranged FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), but Jennifer Lawrence’s supporting turn as Bale’s wife Rosalyn is both show-stopper and show-stealer. Brassy, bold, and prone to burning down their oven, Rosalyn can’t be bothered to listen to advice like “don’t put metal in the science oven,” and she happily shoves an entire aluminum tin in the family’s new microwave oven without a second thought. Boom goes the “science oven,” up goes the smoke, and out come the claws. Damn this science oven! And thank God for Rosalyn! (And thank God for Jennifer Lawrence). – KE
66.) THE KINGS OF SUMMER // "Pipe Dreams"
Note: The pull-quotes in the clip above are not included in the actual film.
Jordan Vogt-Roberts' incredibly winsome debut feature, about a trio of lovable teenagers who run away from the routine displeasures of growing up and disappear into a house they've built in the middle of the woods, courses with an uncommonly accurate sense of the frustrations and freedoms of what it's like to be young and confused. The lyrics of a Youth Lagoon song that appear in the film get straight to the heart of it: "When I was 17 my mother said to me, 'Don't stop imagining. The day that you do is the day that you die.'" But it's another bit of music, a bit more raucous and crude, that best captures the film's warm energy, as the kids come across a giant pipe in the forest and – rather than simply stepping over it – instead transform it into an instrument for expressing their new tribe, the start of a summer at once both short-lived and forever. – DE
65.) MAN OF TAI CHI // "You Owe Me a Life"
Man of Tai Chi, “You Owe Me A Life” -- Looking back at 2000’s one-two punch of “The Watcher” and “The Gift,” it isn’t very hard to see why Keanu Reeves isn’t often cast as any movie’s menacing villain. Of course, that didn’t stop Reeves from casting himself in his own directorial debut, a charmingly direct martial-arts throwback that sees his Donaka Mark (!!!) tempting a young tai chi student into a ruthless world of underground fighting. For a while, one wonders just how self-aware Reeves’ endlessly sneering performance is, but all it takes is one angry roar at the camera -- you read that right -- and one priceless imperative to seal the deal on such knowing nonsense. – WG
64.) THE WORLD'S END // "Let's Boo Boo"
“Exit, pursued by a bear”: only Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg could turn a Shakespearean stage direction into the year’s best comic anecdote — as well as give rise, with “Let’s boo boo!”, to a catchphrase that could make even the Bard himself happy. And what’s really incredible is that, like “The Simpsons” in its prime, every golden line in this scene is immediately preceded and followed by a better one: it’s as if it were only written in gags and punchlines. And so in the span of five minutes we get jokes about mead, drinking rain, the location of Camelot, a toast to kids, rugby players, P.C. politics, being stuck in the 90s, and, of course, the name of Shakespeare’s last play (“A Winter’s Tale”. “Yeah, what was it called?” “A Winter’s Tale.”). – CM
63.) NEBRASKA // "Pretty Girls Make Grave Threats"
Who says you can’t go home again? Well, yes, people who are into boring clichés, but certainly not Alexander Payne, who all but physically pushes the entire Grant plan back to the eponymous Nebraska in his latest feature. While the bulk of the film is dedicated to the inner workings of the most ill-conceived father-son road trip in years, once matriarch Kate Grant (the divine June Squibb) joins Bruce Dern and Will Forte at the family homestead, things go right off the rails (and right into the laughs). Spunky, plucky, and loud, Kate tells things like they are (or at least how she sees them), even when that means turning a family trip into the local cemetery into a one-woman show about the various misdeeds and mishaps of dead family and friends. It’s one of the funniest, weirdest, and truest scenes in a film that’s pretty damn funny, weird, and true on its own, and it’s so good that you can almost see the precise moment Squibb just plain breaks out. – KE
62.) PARADISE: LOVE // "Room Service"
This movie. This nihilistic, upsetting and exploitative movie. It had a run of maybe six nights on the smallest screen in New York, and it's no surprise. There isn't much of a market for watching obese Austrian women of menopausal years engage in very NC-17 sex acts with emotionally shellshocked African rent boys (if I'm wrong, Film.com's keyword search engine traffic just skyrocketed, let me tell you).
Of the many startling moments is a party scene where a number of the women collect in a hotel room and call in a young man with a ribbon tied around his manhood. They then challenge one another to see who can bring him to attention first.
If this sounds like nothing but a freakshow – well, I suppose that isolated from the rest of the film it may come across that way. Trust me when I say that there is tremendous pathos in the movie, as well as necessary commentary about the human condition. But, also scenes like this where you say “Oh, oh, OHHHHHH I didn't need to see that!” – JH
61.) DRUG WAR // "Funny Ha Ha"
Note: The video above is the film's trailer, should you need any further convincing to see this great movie.
Up to this scene, police captain Zhang (Sun Honglei) has maintained a perfect stone face, broken only to bark mortal threats at drug dealers and orders at subordinates. Now he has to impersonate drug kingpin “Hahaha,” a character we’ve already seen. Being “Haha” requires manic laughter every five seconds, and all of Zhang’s discipline can be seen being channelled into simulating involuntary hysteria (or the cagey pseudo-foolishness of a criminal survivor). Initially he seems too disciplined to be plausible, and the threat of violence hangs heavy from wondering if he’s plausible enough to confound the inherent skepticism of the opposite party he’s meeting, a tension that lingers even after the scene’s over. – VR
THE COUNTDOWN CONTINUES ON PAGE 4 (SCENES #60 – #51)
60.) INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS // "Please Mr. Kennedy."
The Coen brothers’ latest opus is packed from top to bottom with catchy tunes and new classic jams, but absolutely nothing else holds a candle to the snappy, strange charms of “Please Mr. Kennedy.” Ostensibly penned by Justin Timberlake’s sweet-faced (and totally oblivious) Jim, the song’s first recording session is both a complete disaster (Oscar Isaac’s Llewyn unknowingly mocks Jim before signing over the rights to the biggest hit of his career) and a total victory (the song is a wonderful, wacky hit). Punctuated by the universally outstanding contributions of Adam Driver’s Al Cody (“outer…space”), there’s nothing in “Inside Llewyn Davis” that’s as joyfully transcendent as the making of “Please Mr. Kennedy.” It’s an unabashed bright spot in a dark film that digs still deeper once the strumming subsides. – KE
59.) THE GREAT GATSBY // "Reunion"
Baz Luhrmann’s attempts to revamp the Jazz Age with modern sensibilities results in a perilously haphazard adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s magnum opus, but Leonardo DiCaprio is legitimately great in the title role, and never better than in the scene in which he finally manages to reunite with the love of his life, Daisy (Carey Mulligan). The book makes note of Gatsby’s unexpectedly young age, but nothing visualizes that quite like seeing DiCaprio suddenly regress 20 years when faced with Daisy, the sudden rush of befuddlement and terror of a young man who has done everything he can to get near the woman he loves and finds upon succeeding that he has not thought one bit about what he would say to her. DiCaprio has recently found his niche as a man whose façade of confidence and control suddenly and irrevocably shifts from under him, and this scene is one of the finest illustrations of that: watching him bolt after Tobey Maguire when the latter tries to give the couple some alone time, terrified of losing his safety net, is more kinetic and thrilling than anything else in the film. – JC
58.) THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG // "A Barrel of Laughs"
Note: The above clip immediately precedes the river escape.
“The Desolation of Smaug”, or “How PJ Got His Groove Back”, may not have been enough of an improvement over last year’s installment to satisfy his most disappointed fans, but it seemed as though even the most bored and bitter viewers could appreciate the extraordinary sequence in which Bilbo and his merry band of dwarves escape from the Wood-elves. Clearly inspired by the kinetic fluidity that defined the TinTin film 9on which Jackson collaborated with Steven Spielberg), the frenetic getaway isn’t just a thrilling action setpiece, it’s also a delightfully manic bit of physical comedy – a barrel of laughs, if you will. An extraordinary Rube Goldberg machine, accented by fantasy and Kate from “Lost” firing arrows so fast it would make Katniss blush, the escape to Lake-town is the best thing Jackson has shot since “The Return of the King”. – DE
57.) 12 YEARS A SLAVE // "Cruel to Be Kind"
A free man sold back into slavery, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) faces countless indignities before arriving at the plantation of William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) and will come to suffer many more in the years that follow. However, the relatively benevolent Ford recognizes Solomon’s uncommon intelligence as few other slave owners would, entrusting greater duties to him and showing gratitude in return. Yet every act of kindness visited upon Solomon is laced with a tinge of superiority; when Ford brings a brutalized Solomon into his home, he is given a pillow to rest on, but not a bed, and most memorably, when Ford offers Solomon the gift of a new violin, the master cannot resist implying how he hopes this instrument might bring them both much joy “over the years.” – WG
56.) THE WOLVERINE // "Taking a Ride on the Bullet Train"
Who could have guessed that the cheapest and least anticipated of the year’s major superhero movies would deliver the most thrilling action sequence of them all? Well, anyone who’s seen director James Mangold’s “Knight and Day”, I suppose, as that otherwise frivolous Tom Cruise vehicle proved that Mangold can stage a set piece with the best of them. “The Wolverine” finds everyone’s favorite invincible lumberjack taking his muttonchops to Japan, where whatever happens it doesn’t really matter but when Wolverine rides the bullet train he really RIDES THE BULLET TRAIN. Sure, it’s all CG spectacle, but Mangold and his star Hugh Jackman have a terrific time working through all of the various ways Wolverine could dispose of henchmen at 200 M.P.H.. For me, the sequence eventually became so involving that my body was reacting involuntarily in my seat, a little duck and spasm with every overpass that whizzed by (seriously, it’s like they built those things just to decapitate low-level yakuza). For all the money and myth in the world, no other superhero movie in 2013 came close to matching these highs. – DE
55.) COMPUTER CHESS // "Sleepless Night"
The incredibly rude Michael Papageorge (Myles Paige) has alienated everyone at his computer chess conference, talked his way into crashing in a room for the night and then locked himself out again. He directionlessly wanders the halls, a guitar strums just as aimlessly and anything-could-happen entropy builds. In the middle of this mid-night dream reverie, he steps into an elevator and it’s full of cats, a disorienting WTF punchline. Why? “Why are cats avant-garde? Why do filmmakers like cats so much?” director Andrew Bujalski rhetorically asked in an interview. “It’s just one of those things: you can’t make an avant-garde film without one silly color sequence and cats. Cats are cinema.” Or think of what Rousseau told Boswell: “There you have the despotic instinct of men. They do not like cats because the cat is free and will never consent to become a slave. He will do nothing to your order as other animals do.” Same goes for this movie. – VR
54.) POST TENEBRAS LUX // "A Storm is Coming"
For all the complaints of willful inscrutability leveled at Carlos Reygadas, the opening ten minutes of his hugely underrated “Post Tenebras Lux” contain nothing if not simple pleasures. This scene doesn’t ask, as the film seems to elsewhere, that you glean some hidden meaning; you need only luxuriate in the images, which are some of the most radiant and beautiful captured seen all year. Don’t call it pretentious. It’s the opposite: something to admire as gorgeous on its own terms and for its own sake. –CM
53.) BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR // "That Sex Scene"
Note: The video above is a Posture Magazine montage of lesbians reacting to the scene in question.
It was the long-form lesbian sex scene you heard about all year, thanks to both its length (nearly ten minutes!), its explicit content (so very explicit), and the drama behind its filming (probably the appropriate amount of drama for an epic film about a lesbian love affair made by a rigorous director and two whipsmart leading ladies). For many people, it might have been the only scene they knew about in Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue Is the Warmest Color” – and that might have been enough to lure lookie-loos into the theater. In practice, though, a seven-minute sex scene is just a lot to endure – and it truly is about endurance, because while the scene certainly starts off hungry and hot, it soon spirals into the strange, the funny, the naked, the painful, and the trying. Turns out, even sex itself isn’t always “sexy,” and the result was seven minutes of something more intimate than any physical act – just like the film it is a major part of. – KE
52.) SIGHTSEERS // "Jump for Your Love"
Now that Ben Wheatley’s wickedly dark comedy is available on Netflix streaming as well as U.S. DVD, we’ll trust that you will go watch it, laugh, gasp, then return so we can discuss the merits of its ending. (SPOILERS AHEAD) As Alice Lowe and Steve Oram’s crazy couple make their way to a bridge near their campsite in the wake of a cross-country killing spree, they seemingly agree to leap to their death. At the last moment, though, she lets go of his hand and allows him to fall alone. The plot and soundtrack both tacitly suggest that her character has taken on his murderous characteristics (male versions of “Tainted Love” and “Season of the Witch” are eventually mirrored by female versions), and at the end of the day, what is heartbreak but a violation of mutual trust? – WG
51.) STORIES WE TELL // "The Stinger"
Note: The above clip is a Q&A with Sarah Polley and her cinematographer from The Film Society of Lincoln Center's New Directors / New Films Festival.
Most mid- or post-credits stingers exist as trumped-up fan service, teasing out the inevitable sequel to the current entry in a long-planned blockbuster franchise. More satisfying stingers tend to pay off long-forgotten gags from the film proper, a technique employed cutely with most modern animated features (“Monsters University” had a rather good one). Against all odds, Sarah Polley’s documentary about the search for her biological father went one better by returning to a particular interview subject and revealing that his answers to her may not have been so cut-and-dry after all. It’s a priceless bit on which to end an otherwise deeply emotional journey, not just for its well-timed levity but also its resounding implications regarding Polley’s pursuit of a potentially unknowable truth. – WG
THE COUNTDOWN CONTINUES ON PAGE 5 (#50 – #36)
50.) PACIFIC RIM // "Hong Kong Brawl"
A big slimy alien (Kaiju) is fighting a gargantuan robot (Jaeger) in the sky, and after an extended gravity-disregarding tussle things aren’t looking so well for the humans manipulating the big metal beast. “We’re out of options,” shouts Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam). “There’s one more thing,” his fellow Kaiju-manipulator Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) shouts, and then A HUGE SWORD IS UNFURLED from mid-suit. Forget the logic-testing question of “why didn’t they use that before?” It’s like watching someone play “Super Smash Brothers” and suddenly deploy the most unexpected perfect key-smash combo, which is exactly what this movie has to offer (for better and worse). – VR
49.) GREETINGS FROM TIM BUCKLEY // "Record Shop"
"Greetings For Tim Buckley" was not a good enough film to break out of the special interest market (by which we mean enthusiasts of indie singer-songwriter rock of the 90s and/or the people who run PennBadgley4ever.net) but the movie is not without its bright moments. Among them watching mysterious Jeff Buckley (Badgley) expose himself as a natural talent and musical polymath in the hippest/swooniest way possible. He and Imogen Poots thumb through records in a music shop and Buckley springs into an a cappella mashup of, among others, Johnny Mathis, John Coltrane and Led Zeppelin. As someone who saw Buckley perform a number of times (don't roll your eyes at me, I'm old and this is one of the few things I have!) I can assure your these synaptic musical associations are very genuine. – JH
48.) THE LAST TIME I SAW MACAO // "You Kill Me"
“The Last Time I Saw Macao” is a film of great fluidity. It’s a noir about the aftermath of Portuguese colonialism, but also a Chris Marker-adjacent sensory exploration of one of the world’s strangest in-between places. Yet before it takes its boldest formal steps, blowing up the world before our eyes, it wins us over with an eminently fabulous opening sequence. Cindy Crash is Candy, a casino lounge performer in Macao, as we will come to know her. But first we just see her, a pair of heels walking across a dark floor of sand. As she then lip-syncs to Jane Russell’s “You Kill Me” from Josef von Sternberg’s “Macao,” in front of a loud and dangerous enclosure of tigers, we are entranced. The film that follows obscures much, leaving important characters off-screen and crucial ideas unexplained. Yet this is all we need to care, an image of Candy that will haunt us forever. – DW
47.) BLUE JASMINE // "Park Bench Ending"
The pleasures in “Blue Jasmine” begin with Cate Blanchett's opening blabfest to her reluctant first class compartment neighbor. Her high highs (wooing Peter Sarsgaard) are balanced by her low lows (working as Michael Stuhlbarg's receptionist) and the movie is chock-a-block with quotables and insightful observations.
What you aren't prepared for is the gut-punch finale. Who knew that this whole movie was leading up to become backstory for the disheveled but vaguely elegant crazy person you see living in a public park? “Blue Jasmine” may be Woody Allen's first film with a surprise ending, with the twist being that we see people like Jasmine all the time, but rarely ask to find out how they got there. – JH
46.) FURIOUS 6 // "The Tank"
The constant expansion of the “Fast and Furious” series in terms of stakes and scale is, after its impressively diverse cast, its most pleasure feature, and though it is not even the most outlandish moment in the film, the sudden appearance of a tank in combat with roadsters halfway into the franchise’s latest entry epitomizes how far the films have come. Its appearance cannot help but be taken as a joke, yet Justin Lin handles it with the same logic as everything else, incorporating it into a sequence that is not only coherent in visual terms but illuminates essential aspects of its cast’s character. As opposed to other blockbusters that treat collateral damage as a course of normalcy, the heroes here do everything they can to divert focus away from innocents, and even Michelle Rodriguez’s brainwashed henchwoman blanches at her boss’ callous destruction. The scene’s rousing mini-finale, in which Vin Diesel somehow saves Rodriguez with his car and a willful defiance of physics, is the stand up and cheer moment of 2013. – JC
45.) HER // "Pictures of You"
Note: Our featured scene can be glimpsed at the 1:17 mark of the trailer above.
If you read Spike Jonze’s “Her” as an extended metaphor for a long-distance relationship rather than a work speculative fiction, the mid-film ‘photograph’ montage in which Theodore and Samantha simply pal around together may be the most incisive portrait of two people falling in love every committed to film — in other words the love between a man and his operating system is so believably depicted that even without a physical woman present it feels totally real. And not only real, but infectious: “Her” is sad as hell, but for these ten brief minutes it’s almost impossible not to feel vicariously overjoyed. –CM
44.) INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS // "Hang Me"
Note: The audio recording above is of Dave Van Ronk, not the Oscar Isaac cover that appears in the film.
"Hang me, oh hang me, and I'll be dead and gone. Hang me, oh hang me, and I'll be dead and gone. Wouldn't mind the hangin', but the layin' in the grave so long... poor boy, I been around this world."
Those are the words through which Llewyn Davis introduces himself to us in the first shot of the Coen brothers' latest (and greatest?) film, his performance of Dave Van Ronk's wounded ballad captured in a lingering long-take that tells us everything we need to know about what it's like Inside. This terribly sad opening salvo succeeds beyond its immediate emotional value, as the contrast between Llewyn's earnestness on stage and the petrified scowl he wears everywhere else defines him better than either of those two extremes on their own. – DE
43.) WOLF OF WALL STREET // "Fugazi"
These wolves are animals. Much of Martin Scorsese's hilarious documentary (oh, excuse me satire) about the dehumanizing effects of out-of-control capitalism delights in showcasing Wall Street's uncivilized nature. But before Leonardo DiCaprio's Jordan Belfort can begin to devolve and rule his own den he needs indoctrination.
Matthew McConaughey may only have one real scene in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” but its the most effective of its kind since Alec Baldwin's intro in “Glengarry Glen Ross.” He opens his arms and welcomes DiCaprio to the thumping beat of his chest, explaining his philosophy based on narcotics and onanism. It's scene work, but DiCaprio (who is wonderful in the film) takes a back seat and let's McConaughey take the full spotlight. We'll be picking off quotes from this for years. – JH
42.) A TOUCH OF SIN // "Bloodied Woman"
A woman has killed. Covered in bright red blood, the color that ties together all four stories in Jia Zhangke’s “A Touch of Sin,” she wanders up a mountain road on foot. There is adrenaline, but also shock. Her posture is still tense, still intimately connected with the sharp knife that brought about all that blood only a few minutes before. Cars drive by her on this darkened, dangerous street, perhaps implying a continued degree of danger. Cows, impassive and weirdly wise watch on. The images are beautiful, enigmatic and unforgettable. – DW
41.) DRUG WAR // "Warehouse Bloodbath"
The henchmen of Louis Koo’s manufacturer n “Drug War” are all deaf, all the better to render even the act of communication visually in Johnnie To’s blissfully formal action epic. This comes to the fore in a scene of Koo expressively detailing a cooking accident, but especially in a police raid of his warehouse in which the alarms are visual, not aural, leading to a gorgeous sight of red lights flashing with such urgency that one imagines the sound of klaxons in one’s head. The actual shootout is a marvel, playing to To’s strengths in constantly defining, then upending the established parameters of an area as new gunmen come out from behind walls (or just shoot through them) and a staged retreat pulls officers into narrower corridors where they must improvise protection. So complex and ever-shifting is the sequence that, upon a rewatch, its brevity comes as a surprise; it has enough happening to fill practically an act-long extravaganza yet it over in minutes. – JC
40.) THE BLING RING // "Paris Hilton's House"
“I want to rob.” We do too, Emma Watson, we do too. Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” took teen idiocy and Hollywood decadence to a new level, and no scene better illuminated that than said ring’s big trip to Paris Hilton’s house. Petty crime has never seemed so gleeful, so fun, so easy than it does here, as Watson and pals snatch and grab shoes, dresses, jewels, purses, and lipstick with more style than most of us could ever dream of. The ring celebrates their robbery in the best way possible – by dancing on a pole in Paris’ personal nightclub room – before tumbling down a palatial hillside, hitting up the real club, and toasting to their latest victim. – KE
39.) THE LONE RANGER // "The General Reborn"
Note: The clip above is from the film's terrific opening train sequence, but if you want you can watch a bootleg clip of the finale (dubbed in Italian) here.
Look, I had my issues with Gore Verbinski’s revisionist Western (here’s our review), but once Hans Zimmer’s rousing rendition of the “William Tell” Overture kicked in, Verbinski let loose with his second of the film’s two inventive train-based set pieces and nigh redeemed the whole kit and kaboodle. The Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) and Tonto (Johnny Depp) give chase to the bad guys in their fleeing locomotive with one of their own, and as the railroad tracks improbably intersect and overlap, the action unfolds across multiple planes with a freewheeling energy normally reserved for playsets, not to mention clean action geography and a “Looney Tunes”-worthy sense of timing. The climax alone may not be enough to make up for the bloated silliness which precedes it -- that’s for you to decide -- but in a summer defined by jittery mayhem, let’s not throw this particularly handsome baby out with the bathwater. – WG
38.) V/H/S 2 // "Safe Haven"
It’s tempting to put the horror anthology’s entire third segment, “Safe Haven,” on this list for its brilliant escalation of tension as a group of journalists investigate an Indonesian cult and get more than they bargained for. We’ll focus just on the long-promised ritual that pays it off, wherein Epy Kusnandar’s seriously creepy leader finally makes good on his threats and co-directors Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Huw Evans deliver nightmarish tableau after nightmarish tableau with a rare sense of lucidity afforded by the found-footage format. The horror becomes relentless, gruesome, and -- in a gut punch of an ending -- even darkly funny, making “Safe Haven” the single best portion of any “V/H/S” film to date.
37.) MUSEUM HOURS // "Brueghel Lecture"
It should probably be noted that the guided tour and lecture at the heart of “Museum Hours” — both its centerpiece and thematic axis, in a sense — contains what may in fact be the film’s one fault: the somewhat condescending portrayal of the objecting tourists, a bit of a potshot at those who refuse to see art in any but the most obvious ways. But that minor slip notwithstanding, the sequence contains in miniature everything that makes “Museum Hours” so great: its vivid conception of how best to regard the world around us, its sense of intimacy and candor, and of course its appreciation of great art. – CM
36.) AT BERKELEY // "Student Protest"
One of the best qualities of Frederick Wiseman’s stellar 4-hour documentary “At Berkeley” is that it provides context for political debate without stacking the deck in favor of either side — it’s not so much that it opts out of developing an argument as that it would prefer that you draw conclusions of your own. That’s never more apparent than in the film’s most widely debated sequence, in which a day-long student protest is cross-cut with the faculty’s placating response: whether Wiseman himself sympathizes with the ineffectual youth or the frigid bureaucracy is never made quite clear, and the ambiguity has given rise to some very provocative (and contradictory) readings. – CM
THE COUNTDOWN CONTINUES ON PAGE 6 (#35 – #26)
35.) FRANCES HA // "One for 'Puss in Boots'"
Oh, darling Frances (Greta Gerwig). As the shiftless twentysomething at the heart of Noah Baumbach’s charmer (which she co-wrote), Gerwig is superlative in her portrayal of Frances. When the wannabe modern dancer and perennial screw up decides to do something big and just for her – go to Paris! For the weekend! Totally alone! – it seems to mark a big step forward in her maturation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t pan out that way in practice; instead, Frances finds herself alone, miserable, and confused (sort of the way she was in New York City, really, if you get right down to it). At least there’s Hot Chocolate’s “Every 1’s A Winner” to soundtrack her sadsack weekend – oh, and Gerwig’s unwavering adorableness. – KE
34.) STOKER // "Duet with Uncle Charlie"
Park Chan-wook is one of the few contemporary filmmakers who understands the cinematic value of classical music. His use of Vivaldi in 2003’s “Oldboy” doesn’t force an unearned veneer of elegance onto the twisted neo-noir revenge saga, it calls attention to the elegance of the plotting and the traditional narrative underpinnings that hold the story together. When I learned that Park would be teaming up with the great Philip Glass for the director’s English-language debut, I was as excited as I was unsurprised. Nevertheless, I couldn’t have anticipated how vital Glass’ compositions would be to the movie, one piece in particular textually employed as the centerpiece of the entire thing.
There’s a vaguely incestuous tension between young India Stoker and her uncle Charlie, who’s emerged from hiding after the recent death of her father. A coming-of-age story that takes that turn of phrase to literal extremes, the twilight days of India’s adolescence are dominated by the questions of how much of her is determined by her family and their bloodline. In the film’s best and most indelible sequence, India sits down to thunk out a tune on the grand piano that dominates her living room. The notes come to her through muscle memory, and when her uncle sits down to share the bench and complete the song with his niece, it becomes vividly clear that India’s battle between nature and nurture won’t be taking any prisoners. – DE
33.) THE GREAT BEAUTY // "Modern Art"
Admittedly, there are a LOT of scenes in Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty” that should probably be on this list. The film is just made that way, a modern take on the Dantean episodic structure of “La Dolce Vita.” This particular scene is simultaneously a barbed critique of the inhumanity of Italian high society and a brutal, probing attempt at explaining the mystery of artistic creation. A little girl, overworked by her show parents, is forced to perform at a late-night soirée. She paints, working herself in to a trance of anguished shrieking, throwing colors violently and spontaneously onto an enormous canvass. Yet the result is unexpectedly gorgeous. In this film, however bitter it may seem, there is shocking beauty everywhere. – DW
32.) IRON MAN 3 // "Meet Trevor"
Tony Stark became Iron Man in the aftermath of an attack on the ground in Afghanistan and boasted about privatizing peace in the sequel, so when this installment unveils the true face of its villain the geopolitical rug-pull’s all the more effective. Previously only seen ranting about American imperialism and spewing charismatic jihadist threats, the big reveal is that in the bedroom the Mandarin’s no revenge-obsessed dark-skinned person but just a mediocre British actor hired to impersonate the US’s biggest fears, a smokescreen for the usual corporate mendacity. Sir Ben Kingsley takes obvious relish in pretending he’s lower-class and less talented than he is, but the big joke’s on anyone who was rooting for bombs away on a far-away country in the name of preemptive self defense. – VR
31.) AFTER TILLER // "The Teenager"
“After Tiller” is a film about people, rather than ideas. That’s obvious, perhaps, and more than a little bit cliché but it’s also very significant. The conflict over reproductive rights in the United States is often one of principle, obscuring the actual stories those who decide to have an abortion. Here, they are placed front and center. And in no moment is Martha Shane and Lana Wilson’s film more complex, more emotionally resonant than in the case of a young woman, a teenager, who has arrived at Dr. Susan Robinson’s clinic. By herself in Colorado, she has come for the procedure but seems very unsure of herself. The doctor and her clinic’s principal mental health advisor end up at odds, trying to parse out the ethics of this particular case. It’s a gripping moment, and one which truly captures the nuanced nature of women’s healthcare in a clinic so often besieged by Manichean moral judgment. – DW
30.) CRYSTAL FAIRY // "Stealing the Cactus"
Though it will doubtless unrecognized through the more prestige-oriented awards season, Michael Cera's surprise turn as the wheedling, hyper-privileged hipster at the heart of Sebastian Silva's "Crystal Fairy" may in fact be the acting revelation of the year. Playing a mildly amplified version of the quintessential 'American abroad', Cera here proves quite a natural boor, pottering around the Chilean streets in irritating ignorance of everyone and everything around him. It hardly gets more amusing than when Cera, twitching for a fix like a junkie at the end of a dry spell, spots the grail-like San Pedro cactus in abundant supply — behind the wrought-iron fences of natives who refuse to sell it. "That's the biggest San Pedro cactus I've ever seen", he exclaims to his Chilean peers. "Dude", they retort, "You've seen, like, two of them." – CM
29.) BEYOND THE HILLS // "Meeting on a Train"
In his 2002 debut “Occident,” Cristian Mungiu was right where the arthouse world was at the moment, leavening a fist of gradually intersecting stories with some lightly whimsical deadpan humor; for 2007’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days,” Mungiu copped both DP Oleg Mutu of “The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu” and its faux-verite aesthetic. In “Beyond The Hills,” Mungiu finds his own style, establishing his own version of one scene = one shot with a virtuoso opening bit of staging around real trainyard operations that stop for no medium-budget director. Two women who haven’t seen each other in years are reuniting at a train station, and Mungiu/Mutu follow one from behind as she walks with frantic purpose. Passing locomotives restrict her peripheral vision and hem in the widescreen frame; when the two former friends/lovers spot each other and embrace, space opens up, externalizing the emotional head rush. – VR
28.) THIS IS THE END // "Party at the End of the World"
Before demon c**k and the laziest “Exorcist” parody imaginable, before lazily nostalgic Backstreet Boys cameos and Danny McBride reminding us how loud he can yell, generally before “This Is The End” loses its comic chops while trying to work through some kind of plot, there’s an outstanding party scene. It’s one brief gag after another, letting Michael Cera, Jay Baruchel, Craig D. Robinson et al. (plus Rihanna, because why not) work through their usual personas and be very funny without trying to hit any emotional beats or attenuating the jokes endlessly. All said, Jonah Hill gets the best line when trying to cozy up to Baruchel: “Weed is tight.” Bro vernacular to succinctly state the obvious ftw. – VR
27.) LAURENCE ANYWAYS // "Cinébal"
Xavier Dolan is a consummate stylist since the lush abandon of that paint-inflected sex scene in his first feature, “I Killed My Mother.” In his most recently released film, “Laurence Anyways,” this flair has evolved into something quite extraordinary. The constantly shifting colors and insistent music are never more euphoric than in this particular moment, the “Cinébal.” Fred (Suzanne Clément) enters, floating through the air on the fabulousness of her own emotional resurgence. The crowd is wild, exotically dressed and brimming with an infectious sort of raucous cool. It’s the perfect place for a triumph. – DW
26.) SHORT TERM 12 // "A Close Shave"
In Destin Cretton’s tremendously observed drama set at a California foster care facility, counselors Grace (Brie Larson) and Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) ask Marcus (Keith Stanfield) what he wants to do for his 18th birthday before leaving their custody. Marcus wants nothing more than to shave his head, and they agree on the condition that one of them handles the razor. After his haircut, Marcus sits there and rubs his newly shorn scalp before shakily asking if the welts that used to be there are gone now. That perfect microcosm of pain and hope speaks volumes to the film’s credible, powerful approach toward deep-seated matters of neglect and abuse throughout without resorting to heavy-handed explanations or overwhelming mawkishness, not to mention the remarkable conviction of Stanfield’s performance. – WG
THE COUNTDOWN CONTINUES ON PAGE 7 (SCENES #25 – #11)
25.) THE SPECTACULAR NOW // "A Gift for Prom"
The summation of director James Ponsoldt’s bittersweet balancing act comes quietly, as party-hearty Sutter (Miles Teller) springs a surprise gift on prom date Aimee (Shailene Woodley) before they leave for the dance: a flask all her own. This token is intended to seem considerate, a means by which to maintain their mutual underage drinking habits (as they do that very night at the school), but neither can see how such a gesture only enables Aimee to continue enabling Sutter and his short-sighted personality, which in turn threatens to destroy what they have together. It’s a single moment born of sincerity that unwittingly plants the seeds for further sorrow. – WG
24.) THE WOLF OF WALL STREET // "Plane to Switzerland"
Ah, Switzerland, refuge of the illegitimately rich, where the banks are strongholds impervious to American subpoenas and Wall Street’s lupine tycoons are free to do as they please. DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort feels compelled to syphon his off-the-books earnings to this legendary safe haven after the Feds begin nosing around his operation, but the journey there, as he tells us in voiceover, requires a flight he couldn’t possibly handle sober. Thus: a diet of heavy sedatives, appropriately parceled out and meticulously timed, and an all-night bender that culminates, quite gloriously, with on-plane party before takeoff. After the debauchery that ensues it’s hard to believe they weren’t tossed off the plane altogether. Thank God for First Class. – CM
23.) ENOUGH SAID // "First Date"
Until a somewhat sitcom-like high concept premise intrudes on the drama thirty minutes in, Nichole Holofcener’s “Enough Said” seems content to simply bask in the presence of its actors and the pleasures of their budding romance. Holofcener here gets career-best performances from both Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini, a point quickly proven during the new couple’s first night out — a charming dinner date in which the two tentatively feel one another out. Gandolfini, especially, steals the scene, rolling into punchlines with studied nonchalance. And he is genuinely hilarious: when Dreyfus asks if the music in the restaurant just got louder, he quickly responds, “no, you just got older”, and it’s basically the movie condensed into a line. – CM
22.) POST TENEBRAS LUX // "Headache"
When it comes to the films of Carlos Reygadas, always expect the unexpected.
21.) UPSTREAM COLOR // "The Lives of Others"
If you’ve yet to brave Shane Carruth’s latest brain-boggler, I’ll allow this handy flowchart to suggest the critical cycle at play in his high-concept romance. When our protagonist, Kris (Amy Seimetz), is brainwashed by the Thief (Thiago Martins) with the use of some contaminated worms, he soon empties her bank accounts. Once the equally mysterious Sampler (Andrew Sensenig) encounters Kris, he harvests the Thief’s possessory worm from her body as he has an indeterminate amount of times before from other similarly afflicted individuals. Exploiting a curious psychic connection between the parasite and its former host, the Sampler fashions himself as something of a biological voyeur, observing the intimate experiences, memories and regrets of strangers without actually being present in their lives. Cryptic context aside, the key montage that demonstrates the Sampler’s newfound -- and arguably transgressive -- hobby is an experience not terribly far removed from the act of watching a movie, and the result is one of the year’s most unexpectedly, inexplicably moving movie moments. – WG
20.) THE WORLD'S END // "Bathroom Brawl"
For all Edgar Wright’s hyperactive, Tony Scott-esque editing patterns, his action has always been filmed with admirably steady, long takes, and the sequence in which Simon Pegg’s Gary and co. first stand off with the alien robots who have taken over their hometown is a new example of his mastery of action cinema. Set in a cramped pub toilet, the scene has the advantage of clear boundaries but nevertheless keeps the brawl spatially oriented at all times as the camera does not cut all the time but instead pans from one isolated fight to another as they intersect. When a character goes off-screen as the camera moves, one can reasonably keep sure of where they’ve been oriented in relation to the new position, so that they re-enter from the right angle or one group collides with another we know to be in that part of the room. The fighting is kept appropriately sloppy and unsophisticated, but when someone rips the arm off a machine to beat another with it, or Nick Frost drops the People’s Elbow on a foe’s head, the effect is as exhilarating as the most complex martial arts move. – JC
19.) CAPTAIN PHILLIPS // "The End"
“Captain Phillips” was by and large a critical success, but it seemed like even the film’s fiercest detractors were willing to concede that its final scene was genuinely extraordinary. The unexpected button to what might be Tom Hanks most restrained performance, the concluding moments of Paul Greengrass’ latest docu-thriller (just go with it) find Hanks – playing the role of the eponymous captain – minutes after he’s been rescued from the most stressful day of his life. Alternately heroic and helpless, Phillips has been the centerpiece of a rapidly disintegrating hostage situation, forced to negotiate with the band of Somali pirates who have hijacked the cargo ship he commandeers. Violently freed by Navy sharpshooters and lugged into the medical bay of a military ship, Phillips is suddenly overwhelmed by the collective force of his experience.
Greengrass and Hanks maintain that the scene was improvised, and that the Navy officer attending to the character was played by a real officer who had no idea she’d be sharing a scene with Forrest Gump that day, but the anecdotal movie magic isn’t necessary to appreciate the sight of a man being overwhelmed by suppressed trauma, no longer numb to the horror into which he sailed. Tom Hanks, gasping and desperate, makes it clear that just because Phillips has been rescued doesn’t mean he’s been saved. – DE
18.) SUN DON'T SHINE // "Mermaid Pool"
Amy Seimetz’s “Sun Don’t Shine” is a movie steeped in humidity — that blistering high-noon sun bears down on its characters as if it were halfway to imminent collision, scrubbing everything down en route like sandpaper. And like the hottest summer days, the film feels worn down and sluggish, ambling toward its climax lazily, but by the end the heat’s won out: what is the final scene if not a concession to the swelter of the heatwave, the fever and the head-cold that turns a road movie into a dream? Kate Lyn Sheil gravitates to a marina’s wet-suited mermaids and can’t help but become a sort of one herself, diving into the pool as if it were a refuge. You expect a movie about young lovers on the run from the law to have a spectacular showdown as its finale. But this does one better: it concludes on a fantasy, which is in a way what it was all along. – CM17.) SPRING BREAKERS // “Everytime”Note: Shout out to YouTube users who feel compelled to bastardize (stolen) film footage to make it their own. You just know Harmony Korine is kicking himself for not adding the iris effect himself.
Harmony Korine (via James Franco) repurposes one of the most seemingly banal pop songs of the last 15 years as a tender and downright moving ode to the solidarity that’s forged in the fears of growing up. For a brief moment during an impossibly pink sunset, this insane fantasia of sex, drugs and murder becomes The Sisterhood of the DTF Sweatpants, Korine effectively making it clear that even a movie in which a “High School Musical” star forces James Franco to fellate a loaded gun can have genuine pathos, and maybe even heart. – DE
16.) G.I. JOE: RETALIATION // "Ninja Mountain"
Jon M. Chu, director of the two best “Step Up” films and an unheralded master of on-screen space and movement, seemed an ideal candidate to helm the sequel to “G.I. Joe” — the pairing promised feats of athletic spectacle meticulously choreographed and rendered in unblinking long takes. Alas, largely faked stage fighting proved much trickier to depict clearly than virtuosic dancing, and as a result the bulk of “Retaliation” was, like most blockbusters of its ilk, a total mess. With one exception: a standalone mid-film set piece in which a group of ninjas (!) scale an avalanche-prone mountain (!!) to have mid-air kung-fu fights with our heroes (!!!) found Chu at the height of his powers, throwing directorial caution to the wind and cranking the (literally) off-the-wall acrobatics to eleven. Ninjas, man. – CM
15.) LEVIATHAN // "Falling Asleep"
The fish-eyed view of the world offered by “Leviathan” is made all the more alien by its fleeting human counterpoints — those brief on-board excursions among the ship’s thoroughly waterlogged crew. It’s telling that despite the natural vigor of the footage captured at the bleeding edge of possibility, “Leviathan”’s most memorable sequence is a static long take filmed in the inner reaches of the boat’s lower decks: there we find a lone crewman watching the heightened reality of one of those ‘extreme’ fishing shows on the Discovery Channel, bored senseless and gradually drifting off to sleep. It’s perhaps co-directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel’s boldest move, but the payoff is immeasurable. – CM
14.) INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS // "Chicago Audition"
Llewyn Davis’ (Oscar Isaac) long, miserable trek to Chicago to try out for label executive Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham) is but a precursor to the true agony of that audition. Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography adds a chill to every frame of the Coens’ latest, but the audition scene seems as if it takes place in the lowest circle of hell, below all the fire and torture where there is only entropy and Satan himself waiting to consume anyone within his reach. The scene is completely airless as Grossman refuses to listen to Davis’ album and instead demands an impromptu performance, alone and unprepared to a man who obviously spends the entire song thinking about what he needs to get back to the second the kid stops singing. It’s a new quintessential Coens moment, beautifully but directly shot, unforgiving in its setup and capped off with a merciless punchline, and as infuriating and dubiously talented as Davis can be, it’s impossible not to feel for him at the end of of it. – JC
13.) CALL ME KUCHU // "David's Funeral"
“Call Me Kuchu” plays a bit differently depending upon how much you already know about the struggle of LGBT Ugandans, but the death of David Kato was widely enough publicized that it can’t exactly be considered a spoiler. Here, his murder comes late in the film, after a deeply empathetic portrait of both Kato and his fellow activists. His funeral, then, is the stunning emotional climax. It’s a bit like the emotional release at the end of “How to Survive a Plague,” but in reverse. Directors Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall don’t hide the footage away, but let us sit amongst the mourners as they clash, non-violently, with homophobic protesters who come to attack the legacy of this hero. – DW
12.) THE GRANDMASTER // "Train Fight"
It's hard to delineate the peaks and valleys of a slipstream, but Wong Kar-Wai's liquid take on the biopic form rather obviously and undeniably crescendoes with one of the greatest martial arts scenes ever filmed. While that may be unsurprising for a film about the 20th century's most revered kung fu legend, it's nevertheless somewhat unexpected that the climactic duel – the most harrowing and catastrophically violent of the movie's manifold battles – doesn't feature the eponymous grandmaster. But Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang), the Harry to Ip Man's Sally, certainly fights on his behalf, brawling with the traitorous Ma San along the lip of a snow-covered train platform. Achingly romantic and immaculately choreographed, the thrilling sequence actually benefits from Wong's rather transparent use of CG, the composited train that almost decapitates Gong Er as it speeds by just unreal enough to make the fight less between two people than it is between memory and history. – DE
11.) UPSTREAM COLOR // "In the Bath"
Say what you will of the apparently ‘impenetrable’ story told by “Upstream Color”: however obscure or oblique its narrative seems to get, the film is always perfectly legible emotionally — and never more so than during its most moving sequence, when our heroes find themselves dealing with a rather surprising familial loss. Gravitating from work to one another’s arms as if suddenly forced together, the two quickly flee homeward and barricade themselves in the bathroom against a threat they can only feel. It hardly matters whether in the moment it makes sense. At its best, “Upstream Color” isn’t a film you think through: it’s one you intuit, one you feel. – CM
THE COUNTDOWN CONCLUDES ON PAGE 8 (SCENES #10 – #1)
10.) GRAVITY // "Destruction"
Most of us, I'm sure, are absolutely terrified of floating through outer space with diminishing oxygen reserves and a botched radio connection to Ed Harris. In this regard, Alfonso Cuaron's “Gravity” is a film we can all relate to.
Curaron and his bleeding edge computer technicians found a way to bring the images – no, the sensations – from our nightmares onto the screen in some new ways.
The best scene in the film, we believe, isn't the first space debris attack or floating around the ISS with flares zipping off in every direction. It's when Sandra Bullocks' Dr. Ryan Stone is holding on to the outside of her Soyuz capsule moments after untangling it from the parachute strands. We see the onslaught of orbiting death before she does – and while there is some non-diagetic sound, there aren't explosions. (In space, no one can hear your Foley art.)
The angle is odd (because space!) but above/behind the frightened Bullock ten thousand tons of steel are being smashed into oblivion and she doesn't really know it until she starts to feel the movement around her. It's a holy crap moment and one of the most strangely frightening images seen in quite some time. – JH
9.) SOMETHING IN THE AIR // "House Party"
The sense of stagnation that eats at the soul of a failed revolution in “Something in the Air” takes on its most abstract and haunting qualities in a scene late in the film in which many of the young characters gather for a party at a palatial country home. The scene starts out divested of the politics that hung over the film to that point, as teens and young adults drift around and mingle and search for significant others, but the bluesy yowl of Captain Beefheart gives way to the rumbling psych-jazz of Soft Machine as night falls over roaring bonfires and the mood starts to turn sour like a bad trip. Eventually, the fires spread to the house and kill a major character, its consumptive destruction a literalization of the brilliant implosion of the radicals’ devotion to their causes. Assayas adds a metatextual element to this visualized loss of purpose in the sequence’s similarity to one in his earlier “Cold Water,” the director implicating himself in a cycle of derivativeness and stalled growth. “Something of the Air” has been criticized for its supposedly too-kind view of its characters’ futile revolt, but this scene alone negates any tone of nostalgia from winning out over its tragic and critical view of that youth. – JC
8.) THE ACT OF KILLING // "Hack Attack"
Note: The scene above is from earlier in the film. This is for the best.
“The Act of Killing” is a complex, monumental work of history. It is also a deeply human, understanding film. This is perhaps the intersection upon which it builds so much of its success, the meeting of revolutionary importance and the intimate manifestations of guilt. If there’s one moment in which this becomes the most clear it is the hacking fit that Anwar, the film’s principal subject, has on the roof where he and his colleagues once murdered countless innocents. It’s visceral and horrifying, but also evocative of something greater. This is the dry heave of history itself. – DW
7.) THE WIND RISES // "Earthquake"
The complex interplay of wistful dreaming and foreboding melancholy that hangs over Miyazaki Hayao’s potentially final feature is rent apart by the Kanto Earthquake of 1923, an event that occurs at a crucial stage in young wannabe engineer Jiro’s life and dictates the emotional and romantic path of the rest of the film. Yet the sequence unto itself is a vital component of the film: even the brutal combat of “Princess Mononoke” pales in comparison to the sense of total devastation Miyazaki’s animation team conjures. As Jiro surveys the impact of the quake, with its ripped earth, toppled buildings and raging fires, though, the implication of a coming future would be obvious even without the young man’s vision of bombers flying over the natural disaster. As much as Jiro justifies his willingness to produce machines of war to pursue his dream, his perception of the earthquake demonstrates that he knows all too well and has not truly made peace with the costs of his inspiration. – JC
6.) SPRING BREAKERS // "Look at My S**t!"
He’s got shorts in every f**king color. He’s got designer tee shirts. He’s got gold bullets. In Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers,” James Franco’s Alien has it all – along with an extremely unhealthy disregard for basic gun safety, which he shows his new lady loves exactly after he shows off his many material goods. A tight string of dread runs through Korine’s booze- and neon-splashed feature, but there’s never a moment more tense than when Alien performs oral sex on his own gun (and, yes, that includes scenes where people actually get shot, that’s just how good this scene is) to impress the eponymous spring breakers. Sure, the campaign to get Franco some awards season recognition might seem insane – until you watch stuff like this and remember just how much Franco put on the table for his best role to date. – KE
5.) LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE // "Voicemails from Grandma"
Abbas Kiarostami offers what may be his single most tragic scene early in “Like Someone in Love.” Dispatched to the client who will shape the course of the rest of the film, the young student/prostitute Akiko (Rin Takanashi) listens to voicemails left by her grandmother who is visiting and wants to see her. Unable to break her assignment, Akiko asks the cab driver to at least ride around the station where the old woman stands, waiting for her last chance to see her granddaughter before her train departs. Kiarostami crafts a sequence in which the sound of the grandmother’s increasingly resigned, dejected voicemails and the image of an increasingly distraught Akiko form a relay race of misery, each grabbing the baton from the other to drag the scene to new depths of sorrow. “Like Someone in Love” is one of the master’s most cryptic films (which is saying something), but rarely has he provided so concrete and tactile a moment. Then again, it’s so horrifying and hard to take that the rest of the film, dense and disquieting as it may be, is almost a relief for taking place in the abstract. – JC
4.) 12 YEARS A SLAVE // "Public Hanging"
Note: In the video above, Steve McQueen discusses the hanging scene described below.
Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” just may be the year’s most stirring, disturbing, and upsetting film, and there’s no single scene that so perfectly illuminates the horrors within it than a wrenching one-shot that shows Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Solomon Northup breathlessly hanging from a noosed branch. McQueen’s long takes have consistently been a part of his stylistic toolbox, but the heartbreaking hanging of “12 Years” just might be his most effective yet. As Solomon struggles, digging his toes into the mud, slowly choking at the end that nefarious rope, the rest of the plantation spins on behind him. Life is full of tiny heartbreaks and tremendous tragedies, and as Solomon steadily weakens and life literally goes on behind him, it soon becomes impossible for even the audience to breathe. – KE
3.) BEFORE MIDNIGHT // "I Don't Think I Love You Anymore"
Few movie couples have ever been as close to our hearts as fated lovers Celine and Jesse, so it’s profoundly discomforting to see them go for the throat. If 2004’s “Before Sunset” faded to black with a movie-script ending, “Before Midnight” explores the decidedly rockier terrain of life after the closing credits. Responsible for three kids split over two continents and more disagreements than either of them could hope to count, nine years of domestic partnership have certainly taught Celine and Jesse that the compulsion to share your life with another person comes with every manner of drawbacks and complications. The third installment of Richard Linklater’s seminal romantic trilogy finds its two bickering avatars absconding to Greece for a vacation with their kids, where it’s immediately made clear that – when it comes to parenthood – practice doesn’t make perfect.
When Celine and Jesse are gifted a night alone, they walk along the beautiful ruins of the Peloponnese, their conversation sweet and sentimental but also heavily scabbed. When they finally make it to their destination for the evening, a somewhat nondescript hotel room by the water, old tensions break forth into new mutiny and their love story pivots to become less “Journey to Italy” and more “Contempt”. If the transition is inevitable, that doesn’t make it any less shocking or hard to watch. Are we watching a sex scene or an argument? Is this a healthy conversation, or the implosion of one the cinema’s most enviable relationships? And why do we feel as though the answer will have such personal consequences for us?
The ensuing sequence, which runs nearly 30 minutes, is so organic and evenhanded that it’s easy to overlook the precision of the dialogue. Sympathies are won, lost and regained, the scene blossoming into a domestic war of attrition in which every inch of ground is fought for with the intimate artillery of resentment. Viewers are still trying to pick up the pieces. Forget “300”, these two are all you need. – DE
2.) INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS // "Driving by Akron"
In a movie made up of dozens of perfect scenes, this one resonates because it is just a half-obscured image rolling past a car window.
Llewyn Davis, cinema's newest and perhaps greatest self-fulfilling loser, has just bombed out with the “Before the Law” figure at the Gate of Horn. He's cold, tired, penniless, disliked and has nothing except his stupid, articulate pride. (I mean, he's also talented as hell, but he realizes that isn't going to get him anywhere.)
But he has an out. In Akron, he just learned, he has a child – a child! - and perhaps a woman who would welcome him into a readymade family. (“Inside Llewyn Davis” is striking, upon reflection, in just how little of a backstory it gives us.) In the cold automobile, shivering in moonlight, Davis looks down at the warm lighting grid of Akron from the elevation of the highway. It beckons him back to Earth, to a normal life, to the bosom of humanity. All he needs to do is turn the wheel. – JH
1.) THE WOLF OF WALL STREET // "Lemmons"
Note: The photo above is not from the scene in question. But trust us, you'll know it when you see it.
It would be accurate (if a touch reductive) to classify Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” as a white-collar “Caligula” for the 20th century and beyond, and the 71-year-old director drops a heavy gauntlet of debauchery by opening the film with a scene in which one of the world’s most famous movie stars (Leonardo DiCaprio) snorts cocaine out of a stripper’s rectum. I mean, where do you go from there? If that’s our starting point, how does a breathless three-hour film about Jordan Belfort, capitalism’s worst nightmare, keep finding ways to make us marvel at the iniquities of its “hero”? The answer, as it apparently is to most of life’s questions, is a potent strain of quaaludes referred to as “lemmons.”
The scene effectively serves as the climax of the film. Belfort and his best pal Donnie (Jonah Hill), at the height of their wealth and the noose closing tight, pop their prized pills and enjoy an episode of “Family Matters” as they wait for the drugs to kick in. But they don’t. So they take some more pills. And then some more. Maybe the pills, which are long-expired, have lost their potency? …Or maybe not.
By the time DiCaprio is struggling to pack his body through the passenger door of his absurd car like a disoriented Jacques Tati playing a live-action game of Qwop, you know you’re watching the funniest scene of the year. By the time a second drug is urgently mixed into the equation, you know you’re watching one of the greatest scenes of Scorsese’s career. The lemmons sequence isn’t just a genius bit of physical comedy, it also sublimely captures the ridiculous despair required for this degree of excess, and breathes new life into the uniquely pathetic brand of brotherly love that allowed Jordan and Donnie to afford to be such phenomenal failures. – DE