Tuesday, 9 March 2010

2009 in Review: 25 Scenes (Ep. 2)

I’ve given you an alphabetical list of fifteen runners up scenes for 2009. The thing with great scenes is that they do not always occur in good films and sometimes vice versa. Some films just happen so organically that there’s never that one scene that stands out perceptibly from the rest as best, and then there are some films though plain have a defining moment that impresses me (case in point #6). So, here are the ten scenes that stood out for me this year. I tried to prevent any film from making repeats, but I couldn’t so one film has two mentions. Remember that I didn’t include beginnings or endings of films since they usually have an advantage to be outrageous or particularly impressive. So, here’s the list. If you haven’t seen the films, don’t read. Spoilers abound! And you'll disagree with some, so don't say you weren't warned...
But before I'll give you a shot from my favourite scene from 2008: A polarising choice I suppose, but who cares?
And now on to 2009...Click on the links for my review.
#10 Coraline: "Escaping the Other World"
You can surmise that Coraline was my favourite animated film of the year. It was one visual spectacle after the other, and there were a number of scenes that were enchanting, but my favourite occurs in the climatic scene where Coraline tricks The Other Mother (or the Beldam) into letting her leave the twisted world. It begins with her trick as she realises she cannot leave unless she bends the rules, and as she throws the Cat into her face and scrambles to that tunnel which is not so enchantingly magical anymore. What makes this so perfect, though, are the cries of Teri Hatcher. Teri Hatcher really outdoes herself here, and her terrifying cries to Coraline “Don’t leave me here. I’ll die without you.” Are the icing on the treat that we’ve been given. Chilling.
#9 Three Blind Mice: "Dinner at a Restaurant"
I know many of you reading have not seen this, through no fault of yours. To reiterate, Three Blind Mice is an Australian film centring on the lives of three Navy men. When one goes MIA the night before their return to sea a series of interesting events occur. The most average of the three is Dean. He seems like the usual, good (if anal) guy and he’s getting married to a typical rich girl with typical parents. Nothing, riveting. The four go out to dinner with Dean’s friend, the ostensible Jester – played by Newton. The scene is already good as the five banter, but after being prodded by the in-laws Dean reveals something that changes the tone of the dinner, and the film. Apparently, his missing friend is not without his reasons for wanting to leave the Navy. Schmitz goes into a brilliant, quasi monologue, which only epitomises the potential horror of the Navy. This works because of Newton’s brilliant dialogue, but moreover because Schmitz really does the words. His frighteningly cold voice and his impassive face with just a tinge of shame make this the most memorable portion of the film.
#8 The Fantastic Mr. Fox: "Petey’s Song"
Petey’s song didn’t make it into my nominees for original song, though it came quite close. The Fantastic Mr. Fox itself exists as scene after hilarious scene but 'Petey’s Song' and the concurrent clips that occur with it stand out as a favourite. First off, the lyrics and execution of the song is exceptional and as that fantastic fox and his allies steal everything from those dangerous farmers it’s difficult to contain a smile. When the songs ends and Bean’s says “You wrote a bad song, Petey. A bad song.” I can’t help but Champion Wes Anderson. It’s a genius moment.
#7 – The Messenger: "Meeting Olivia Petersen"
The Messenger, for all its modesty, accomplishes much. It would have been simple to make the loop of victims’ family seem monotonous, but it ends being dynamic. Of course, none of the families will become as important to the narrative as Samantha Morton’s Olivia and Overman ensures that. Surrounded by the clothes on the line Olivia’s effusive praise of the two soldiers is strange though not quite disturbing and we immediately are drawn to her, more than we’ve been drawn to anyone else before. Even Foster’s Will notices something, the wheels turning in his head – though not strident as yet – and that’s all because of the effective way which this is shot in.
#6 – Inglourious Basterds: "Playing Schnapps with Helen"
I wasn’t too moved by Basterds. You know that. Nevertheless, on and on I could not get this marvellous scene out of my mind. I know it’s more than a copout to say that the entire Chapter Four is one scene – although it does play like on extended take. The film owes much to Tarantino’s idiosyncratic dialogue, but this moves me so much because of Diane Kruger, the shining beacon in Inglourious Basterds as far as I’m concerned. Kruger has the most difficult part to play in Basterds. There’s a line when a soldier says, there’s no Dietrich only Von Hamesmarck. It’s as if Tarantino (the bastard) is extending a challenge to Diane, and she rises to it. She’s probably no Dietrich really, but she radiates with charm and grace and completely sells the character. Carey wasn’t the only star being born this year. (And it's not just because I want to sleep with her...)
#5 Bright Star: "Reciting the Poem"
What can I say of this scene? It radiates with romance and since I love Keats hearing him recited is lovely. It's the atypical way Campion decides to shoot, the frailty of Whishaw next to Cornish. The way his face really looks gaunt and she looks fresh and the chemistry between the two. I don't have much to say of it, but it's lovely.
#4 – Nine: "Take It All"
"Take It All" isn’t my favourite song from Nine, it isn’t even my favourite song from Luisa but I keep coming back to this scene – and it’s not because of the actual number really. Guido Contini is a renowned director, who’s having a meltdown of sorts. Everyone seems to be leaving him and in this number his wife, Luisa, cuts the strings that bind them. Luisa sees a screen test of an actress where Guido – unknowingly, it seems – recreates the moments the two first met. Her quite reaction is a formidable moment of acting and when juxtaposed with the number it’s only more beautiful to watch. She has a way of enunciating that impresses me and the scene pierces. It’s actually, the one time in the film where the speaking scene is more fascinating than the adjacent number.
#3 Avatar: "The Death of Sigourney"
I’m always surprised when people say they were unmoved by Avatar. It’s not the most poignant tale to be told, but there were moments of melancholy and none resonated more than the death of [ ]. It’s easy to overlook just how brilliant Sigourney is whatever your opinion of the origins of the story the major theme of integration in Avatar is not pedantic. Sigourney has always dabbled in genres but she never fails to impress as a dramatist and although they don’t ask too much of her the sadness of her departure from the film is particularly profond.
#2 – Bright Star: "A Walk in the Woods"
What I love about Bright Star is what many people seem to hate. Its pace. I adore how it moves as if Fanny herself is sewing the threads of the narrative, stitch by stitch. Bright Star is packed with beautiful lines written by Ms. Campion which makes me all the more amazed that the best moments of the films don’t even have these lovely lines on show. John and Fanny share that first tentative kiss veiled by the foliage somewhere off in the woods. It’s tender and lovely, and oh so very picturesque. But it doesn’t end there, Toots comes looking for them and after getting up to find her, the two trail behind stopping intermittently each time she looks behind. It’s the sort of moment that seems so unscripted – the naturalness and the delicacy of it all. It’s not particularly important to the narrative and it’s not particularly funny either, but it’s so sweet…and the moment that follows with the wind blowing through Fanny’s room doesn’t hurt, either.
#1: An Education: “Boring”
I’ve sung mellifluous praises to An Education. I cannot deny that I am smitten with it, and this moment is the personification of that. The film tells us of Jenny Mellor, the normal bright school student who is swept off her feet by an older gentleman. After becoming disillusioned as the merits of her schooling Jenny accepts a marriage proposal from her suitor – a Mr. Rochester figure. When the Head Mistress catches wind of it, this scene ensues. It begins with a touch of humour, when Jenny tells the Head Mistress. “We won’t be getting married in a church. David’s Jewish.” I’m not quite sure if she really IS anti-Semitic but I love how Emma Thompson’s character looks caught off guard. It all culminates in what has become the token “Oscar scene” for Carey. It’s pure magic to watch, for me anyways and never loses its poignancy. I would like to add as an aside, that people are claiming that the film backtracks on its “message” when at the end Jenny seems to have forgotten her soliloquy; but I think that the point of it all is that life is like that. Boredom is in the eyes of the beholder, they would say? It only looks boring because Jenny at that moment doesn’t realise that the treasure of finding a good student makes all those pony essays completely bearable (even wonderful) for Ms. Stubbs.
I shall return later with my favourite openings and endings, but I'm tired after this long ass post. What do you think of my choices. More importantly, tell me yours!


Nigel said...

I appreciated the pace in "Bright Star" because it shows that Jane Campion didn't want to shock the audience with ambitious climaxes that desperately try to create effect.

Taking thing slow also allowed this chemistry you laud so much to survive. Sometimes I watch films where chemistry builds up in first few scenes, and then it just dies as soon as the plot is accelerated; And then by the end of the film the romantic leads seem so mechanical.

I think "It's Complicated" suffers from that. (Streep/Martin).

Nigel said...

Taking things*

Luke said...

It's sort of interesting with all the rabid support for Avatar of late that no one is talking about this part, which for me was also one of the best scenes in the epic. Thanks for reminding me about it!

Danny King said...

Nothing else in An Education lives up to the prowess of that scene in my opinion. Some of my favorites from 2009 (in no particular order):

1. Either the opening or closing of Inglourious Basterds. The entire opening sequence in brilliant, but I have to mention the closing simply for the last line of the film.

2. Mo'Nique's closing confession in Precious.

3. The opening scene of Watchmen. The Comedian's beautifully shot death.

4. The first interview between Bridges and Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart.

5. The opening (prologue) of Antichrist.

6. The scene where Clooney fires J.K. Simmons.

7. The scene in The Road where Mortensen tries to show his child (Kodi Smit-McPhee) how to shoot himself. Devastating stuff.

Matt Foster said...

This just reminds me how many films from 2009 I still have to see...

Gotta agree with Take It All from Nine.

And you mentioned the formula-copying scene from Duplicity in your first 2009 Scenes post. That was a favourite of mine too.

Also liked the opening scene from The Hurt Locker, which you mentioned.

Here are some other scenes of note for me:

The plane crash sequence in Knowing. Not a particularly great film, but that crash is gob-smacking.

The final few minutes of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Utterly devastating.

A couple of scenes from Inglourious Basterds have already been discussed. My favourite, though, would have to be the scene in which the cinema burns.

It's cliche to say this, I know, but the montage of Carl & Ellie's life in Up is simply beautiful. Enhanced by the now Oscar-winning score.

I really liked all of A Serious Man, but particularly the last minute or so. Oddly haunting, for some reason.

Castor said...

Excellent top 10 Andrew! That Inglourious Basterds scene is definitely up there in terms of built-up tension. Kruger and Fassbender really light up the screen.

Burning Reels said...

I think there's too many great scenes in Bright Star to choose from!

Can't say I'm really a fan of An Education (largely due to the script and direction) but both Mulligan and Molina (and Hawkins!) made it a worthwhile trip to the kino

I would also add (funny or not) the 'chaos reigns' part from Antichrist - that film was one big anxiety trip!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

nigel it's complicated suffers from way more than that :)

luke i know right? it's the moment where visuals and emotions are boat soaring.

danny that scene in the road is gripping, what an underrated film. (and the antichrist scene is good, even if i don't like the film - but it's an opening...i still have to make that list.

matt glad to see someone agrees on marion. so many good choices there but i'm particularly glad you mention duplicity

castor aaaaaaaah kruger. sigh. i hope she continues in the right direction.

burning reels so glad to see a fan of bright star. antichrist is just one giant mindf*** and that particular moment is when i just said. no way, enough...but i really didn't like it.

Danny King said...

Re: Antichrist

I didn't necessarily love the film, but I think I liked it more than you. Nevertheless, the opening scene is far and away the highlight of the film for me.

Burning Reels said...

Both Bright Star and Antichrist (after a second viewing) are A- and in my top 3 for 2009 - there's a double feature!

I still can't decide if I only really like The Road because of my love for the book - both Mortensen and Duvall in his cameo were excellent but I find it hard to quantify my liking for a film when I head into it with a strong bias - but then of course, that can go the other way sometimes too