Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Encore Awards: Memorable Scenes (Part One)

I’ll soon get around to giving my nominees for best scene of the year – but it’s such a capricious task choosing the best in this category, so I had to make a list of also-rans that impressed me this past decade. Choosing favourite is a difficult thing, sometimes they don’t occur in your favourite movies and sometimes the weirdest moments in a film might impress me. It’s all really quite subjective, but before I get to the top ten finalists – here are fifteen great scenes that didn’t make it to the top of the list.
(I already compiled a list of best endings and best beginnings of 2010, so none of the scenes that appear here are from the bookends of their films. click on the links for reviews, where available)

Now that I think of it, it probably suggests inanity on my part to have Alice in Wonderland a list talking about best scenes and not have other much fêted films here. Nonetheless, my favourite scene in Burton’s latest is one that I’ve spoken of before. It’s notable for Helena Bonham Carter’s delicious macabre ways as she introduces Slade to her new protégé – Um. It’s a classic case of meaning being lost in translation, and for all its silliness it has a light funniness to it which other portions of the film could do with – and because Helena Bonham Carter is so brilliant, that makes this scene just a little bit more special.

My favourite moment for Natalie in Black Swan is that emotional phone call she makes to her mother early in the film, but it’s not the part of the film that stands out for me. As much as I was troubled by the potential nomination for Mila Kunis, Portman responds well to her in the film – even if incidentally. That moment where Nina begins to transform, as she returns home in fervour and her mother is so discomfited asking – “Where’s my sweet girl?”, and Nina responds, “She’s gone.” It seems to be a moment of Aronofsky doing too much, but it works. Hershey is Portman’s best scene partner, and for all of its obviousness that scenes work brilliantly.

Blue Valentine
The way that Blue Valentine is created it thrives on an undulating plot that’s not the typical rise and fall as we see one harrowing moment after another. In that way it’s difficult to single out actual scenes, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the confrontation that occurs when Dean visits Cindy at the hospital. It’s uncomfortable to watch these two people who’ve grown so far apart – both of them frustrated with their situations. And, Cianfrance never adjudges blame to either party so as they argue in that glass room we’re left watching the train wreck occur with empathy for both parties.

There are a number of moments in Easy A that hit just the right note, and I’m immediately moved to consider any scene where Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson or Lisa Kudrow appear on screen. However, at the end of the day Easy A is about a star being born (i.e. Emma Stone) and it makes sense that the most lucid moment of comedy occurs because of her. That fateful party where she and her gay best friend get it on emerges as one of the funniest scenes of the year. Stone works wonderfully with Dan Byrd (so good in Cougar Town) and though the moment in itself is not refreshingly innovative it’s a perfect encapsulation of Easy A building itself on old comedic paradigms and achieving something good.

I think of The Fighter as the ensemble film that wasn’t. The ensemble work well together, but not as good as they could if they had more time to actually work together. So, that moment in the living room where we get all the important players – Alice, George, Micky, Dicky, the sisters – to discuss Micky’s future succeeds on so many levels. For me, Melissa Leo doesn’t exactly thrive in this register (though her “MTV Girl” line is funny). The scene is all Amy for me, but even more than anyone taking credit for being the best it’s brilliant watching them all play off each other – these are the scenes where Russell’s direction is most impressive.

 For Colored Girls tends to be so episodic at times I balk at the idea of choosing individual scenes to fête since everyone is trying hard. When it comes to delivery of the monologues, Loretta Devine with the striking musicality in her voice wins but the most arresting for me (including that harrowing death scene) occurs as the last act begins. Whoopi suffers a bit from a very stilted character, but I do think that her scenes with Thandie Newton (best in show) are brilliant and that moment where the two women meet to deliver their pieces – almost in counterpoint – is excellently done. Potently, theatrical and it’s the moment that best elucidates my belief that For Colored Girls is a musical film with lyrics and no melodies. The contrast between the two women is beautiful to watch, as is the scene itself.

I will continue to applaud Nolan’s vision in Inception even if I don’t really care for it, and on a technical level there a number of scenes to pick from. The thing is, even though Cotillard is playing Mal as memories of Cobb she’s still the one serving up the most significant emotional quotient, and that scene of hers as she loses control of the life she’s living – and ends it – remains as the strongest moment of the narrative. Emotional context is still not his strongpoint, but everything combines in that moment to make some beautiful and terrible to watch – and Marion Cotillard is remarkable, no?

I tend to be indecisive when considering if I perform Olivia Williams or Kim Cattrall in The Ghost Writer (the former is the only one being seriously, fêted). Still, even if I’m uncertain as to whom I prefer it’s difficult to deny the ability Williams has to hold ones attention. Every moment where she and McGregor take up the screen seem to be the film at its highest, but that specific conversation the two have by the fireplace. It seems so incidental, though Williams is carving her character long before we even know it’s necessary. And Polanski (beautifully lacking in any sort of pretentiousness directs it so subtly). It all adds to the greatness of The Ghost Writer.

Choledenko and Blumberg are never afraid to approach the obvious in their attempts to make The Kids Are All Right comedic and though the moment might seem banal I can’t resist that conversation where Jules and Nic confront Laser about his sexuality. There are a number of things I find significant about this scene – the most obvious of which is the fact that Moms are on completely different wavelengths to their children and of course Jules’ explanation of internal and external realisations of sexuality is a perfect setup for her liaison with Paul. And of course, everyone is acting so well. Julianne, so authentic in her laidback persona without ever being clichéd, Annette so ready to underscore her resentment for Clay and Hutcherson (this is probably his best scene) – confused and then affronted. I love his line reading of, “You thought I was gay?” And then the responses – “No! Of course not.” Hilarious.

It’s the oddest thing, The King’s Speech doesn’t seem like the type of film that’d improve on repeat viewings – but it is. There’s that specific scene when Lionel and Bertie end up having their inevitable spat and he turns up with the Queen in tow at Bertie’s house for an important lesson. There’s so much going on there that I appreciate. On the obvious of levels, it’s the perfect encapsulation of the relationship between the two men being the mainstay of the film and then there’s Bonham Carter’s perfectly played Queen who I end up gleaning so much from on repeat viewings. She’s no Constance Trentham when it comes to snobbery, but she’s never quite at ease in the colonial house and her meeting with Mrs. Logue is a perfect example of such, regardless of her inhibitions, though. She’s always the diplomat. It’s the sort of delicate humouring decorating (but not necessarily shrouding) more sensitive issues.

I’ll always bear just the slightest grudge against The King’s Speech for not having enough of Helena Bonham Carter in it, I still prefer the idea of his marriage to his friendship with Logue – but I digress. The mystery of that marriage, though, is never really addressed in the film. Seiberg, however, does a fine job of slipping a nice bit when Firth’s Bertie is at his lowest point. Helena has always struck me as the type of actor who works best when playing against someone else and her chemistry with Firth is palpable. The King’s Speech is so diverting in its lightness that the profundity of the title of King sort of sneaks up on you a bit so that when Bertie himself is faced with all the pressure it’s difficult not to be moved by him – and by the Queen’s coy way of deflecting it.

In its way Mother & Child is made up of very good moments, and very bad ones. Choosing one is a difficult, and Naomi’s elevator scene and Annette’s breakdown come to mind – but they all seem too slight for inclusion which makes me return to that first scene where Lucy and her husband meet the mother of their child to be. Epps seems unnecessarily harsh sometimes in her characterisation – but it’s a nice moment watching Washington’s Lucy deal with the dilemma of being interviewed for a child she wants so terribly. It’s one of the strongest points of her performance, and one of the film’s most eloquent.

Dividing Rabbit Hole into scenes is difficult because Lindsay-Abaire is going for an effortless transition from scene to scene. There are two Dianne Wiest scenes that emerge as brilliant – and the chemistry between her and Kidman is well done. The moment where she tells Becca about dealing with grief is beautifully done, but it’s the lighter moment where she tells her about her friend Mrs. Bailey that I always return to. Remember: Wiest is a notable comedienne – all her three Oscar nominations infer as much. It’s a monologue of sorts, and it’s her moment and it’s one of the ways that Rabbit Hole balances drama with humour so adeptly. The writing, Mitchell’s understated direction, Kidman’s reaction and Wiest’s perfect comedic timing all coalesce for a great moment.

I’ll admit, that for the first half of Scott Pilgrim vs the World my favourite parts are those with the ensemble – where Cera just blends in, but that first big party where we first meet Ramona succeeds because Cera is doing such good work here. Webber, Plaza, Pill all surround him but it’s Wright’s direction and that oafish charm of Cera that sells it – and that first meeting with Winstead – “Am I dreaming?” is a perfect example of the glorious ridiculousness of Scott Pilgrim vs the World.

With its root being the friendship ties between Eduardo and Mark that entire sequence where Zuckerberg’s lawyers uncover Eduardo’s “animal cruelty” is brilliantly played. It’s my favourite moment for Garfield, and it begins perfectly in the board room. Everyone is playing well – Rashida Jones is being her usual winsome self, and the actors playing the lawyers are on point and Fincher is shifting between periods so astutely all backed by Sorkin’s dialogue. And of course there’s that cinch where Eduardo reveals Mark cheating for his final exam, “Oops” – perfect.
I’ll return with my top ten favourite scenes some later in the week, but for now – which of these fifteen impress you most?


Robert said...

Oh god, all of the scenes you picked were so brilliant. I think the most memorable in "Mother and Child" for me was Annette's breakdown.

But since nobody else will probably say this, I'm going to - the scene you picked from "Alice" is great. Helena is just so hilariously wonderful that had it not been for that moment I would not have been able to stand that movie. Haha!

Fitz said...

The hotel scene with Marion Cotillard was second only to the reveal of what happened to Teddy's kids in Shutter Island.

Castor said...

All really great scenes but the one in Blue Valentine is probably the most powerful and most seamlessly acted of the bunch. Absolutely mesmerizing scene (in a watch the trainwreck kind of way).

Anonymous said...

Guess which scene I'm voting for.

I thin what's lovely about the reprisal of the paku paku scene in Scott Pilgrim is the Hooperesque style of framing. Scott and Ramona are at the bottom of the screen, like awkward children, faraway from the party. I just rewatched parts of the film again and its' just as funny and glee-inducing.

And the scene with Becca and her mother was heartwarming, and gets my second vote.

The other movies you mentioned have other scenes I love. The girl fight in The Fighter, Dean and Cindy strolling the streets in Blue Valentine, Laser's one on one moments with Paul in TKAA, Mal stabbing or killing anyone in Inception, Bertie and Lionel working together in TKS and Christy confronting Eduardo in TSN.

MovieNut14 said...

Oh God, YES on that scene from The Social Network. I laughed the hardest from that scene.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

robert thanks for agreeing with me, hbc is so great there. i can't get here line reading of "idiot" out of my head.

fitz what is it with leo and his self destructive wives, eh?

castor that scene in blue valentine is a perfect encapsulation of all the (good) things about the movie. williams and gosling really shine in it.

paolo will scott pilgrim vs the world ever lose its funniness? i assume no. and yes, the framing there is a beaut. one of the scenes you mention there at the bottom makes my top ten, :)

anna you and me both. garfield is SO good there.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Yes yes yes yes yes on the Whoopi-Thandie scene. AMAZING. And also a credit to Tyler Perry's adaptation that he splits a poem so creatively between the two of them and Phylicia Rashad, all while maintaining individual voices for the characters.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

walter no matter what missteps perry makes he has some brilliant ideas at times.