Friday, 15 March 2013

Encore Awards (2012 in Review): Memorable Scenes, Take One

I am nothing if not intrepid; so on I go making my final rounds of the best of 2012. One of my favourite parts of my year in review is counting down the scenes of the year which stuck with me the most. There are some films which exist with a compactness that makes it difficult to extract single scenes as more memorable than the rest, sometimes great scenes exist in less great film. And sometimes seemingly innocuous scenes just stick out for me. The films that made me laugh, think, cry, wonder long after the credits had rolled – here are the first fifteen. I hesitate to use the word best, but I will say impressive. I covered my favourite 2012 openings and will consider endings before this year in review is complete - for now the scenes that neither close nor open.

Bachelorette / Wedding morning
Many films in 2012 depended on heightened tension as things drew to a close and the stakes of Headland’s Bachelorette seem particularly small-scale. Still, it’s a great credit her writing, direction and acting team that manoeuvring through drugged up Katie, late Gena, panicking bride Becky and on-the-verge-of-a-breakdown Regan the film confidently nails the confusion and tension and also finds time for great humorous bits, necessary comeuppances and emotional connections throughout. The two cab rides that end the scene are comedic highpoints in different ways.

The Cabin in the Woods / Into a Wall
We already know that the cards are stacked against the group in the cabin and still with that foreknowledge we feel moved to root for their escape, and even consider it a possibility. Curt revs up his motorcycle ready to do the heroic deed, to find help, and the gruesome bizarreness of the invisible force-field blocking him is the final indication the characters and the audience need to realise that not only is something not right here, the calamity is massive.

Cloud Atlas / Breaking Dishes
Rufus and Robert spend painfully little time together and yet their romance is arguably the strongest of the film. That dreamscape they escape to with wild abandon breaking everything round them is as visually arresting as it is moving when the unreality is revealed, as it dovetails with significant moments in the other eras (the moment of lovemaking between Sonmi and Chang is a fine parallel) it’s an ideal of how good the film is at using its technical faculties to buoy its emotional pull. Enough of this old-age nonsense, the scene suggests, let's destroy the world.

Cloud Atlas / “I will not be subjected to this criminal abuse.”
Broadbent’s own line-reading of this line is great in its way, but it is in Neo Seoul when fabricant Yoona-939 stands up and declares that she will not be subjected to this criminal abuse. It’s a great moment in tying the strands together, Broadbent’s own experiences, the film version of it with Hanks as Cavendish and then the fabricants seeing the moment played on a loop.

Damsels in Distress / Suicide Centre
You probably think we’re frivolous, empty-headed, perfume-obsessed college co-eds. You’re probably right. I often feel empty headed – But we’re also trying to make a difference in people’s lives. And one way to do that is to prevent them from killing themselves…. Have you ever heard the expression, ‘Prevention is nine-tenths the cure?’ Well, in the case of suicide, it’s actually ten-tenths.

Frankenweenie / Monsters Rising
As Frankenweenie hurtles towards its close things get especially wacky when those stop-motion ghouls begin roaming the streets of the town headed for the town-fair. The moment works as a straight-up horror interlude but is also enhanced by the hilarity of the situation, gorgeous photography and the ace sound design.

The Impossible / “Lucas!”
The fall-out from disaster building up to the eventual reunion is drawn out but worth it for the empathically poignant reunion of the brothers with their father. The build-up of missed connections as Lucas, Simon and Tomas and Henry navigate around the same space just an inch from each other doesn’t feel disingenuous but zeroes in on the film’s incessant focus on the “anything can happen” overtones of the film. McGregor’s shell-shocked repetition of his son’s name is worth all the feelings. That the happy moment cuts to Karl Schweber still looking for his family emphasises the randomness of it all.

Lincoln / “I’m detaining you!”
Even as in nominating Sally for my ballot I consider the scene immediately before this as her highpoint the film itself soars highest for me in the ball scene immediately after. I’ve been curmudgeonly resentful of the towering praise for Jones work in the film, but he’s aptly churlish and sardonic here and plays so excellently against Field forever a master of the dramatics. “Oh! Oh, I’m detaining you, and more importantly, the people behind you. How the people love my husband, they flock to see him, by their thousands on public days. They will never love you the way they love him. How difficult it must be for you to know that. And yet how important to remember it.

Looper / Toppling House
Another massacre almost featured here, but no scene in the film is as viscerally thrilling for me as the realisation of Cid’s power. It’s a great use of slow motion visuals, and also effectively makes use of the film’s understated visual effects. It’s that “things just got real” moment in the film and catapults us into the final act with aplomb.

The Master / Questions and Answers
The processing scene of the film stands out as its most successful moment, for me. For all my issues with the film, The Master triumphs when it puts Phoenix and Hoffman opposite each other from their first meeting aboard the ship to the final goodbye the connection between the two is the best of the film and the tense, emotional processing scene manages to evoke all the peculiarity of the film without losing passion in its development.

Les Misérables / Lovely Ladies into a Dream I Dreamed
On its own I’m fond of but not overzealous about Anne’s “I Dreamed a Dream”. What turns the scene from good to great is the way Nicholson trims the edges wisely changing order of songs to up the dramatic quotient. Having “Lovely Ladies” shrewdly directed like something out of a horror tale by Hooper the stakes are not only higher for Fantine’s solo but the desolation is more pronounced. Also, heeeey Frances Ruffelle.

The Paperboy / Orgasm in Jail
I knew I’d have a scene from Daniels’ pulp drama here but I kept vacillating on which – there was the infamous urination scene, the “good vibes” car conversation and the dance in the rain and it’s only incidental that the one I settled on had the least of Efron in it (he’s great in the film). I choose the orgasm in jail, though, because it so skilfully encapsulates the film – mindboggling and ridiculous and its garishness but like Jack who stands staring, transfixed but disgusted, we cannot look away.

Silver Linings Playbook / I’m not ashamed!
I debated on including this one considering my issues with the film but again and again I kept returning to this scene. The nature of a scene being memorable comes both from its inherent goodness and its placement in the film and Pat’s early breakdown in the middle of the morning attacks his issues with a sensitivity and candour which I wish the entire film could have used. It’s the “aha” moment re Cooper’s performance, yes but it’s also a fine moment for De Niro and Weaver.

Tabu / Murder then Birth
Carlota Cotta’s Young Ventura gives my favourite performance of the film and as Tabu moves to its tragic conclusion – a getaway, a murder and then into labour – it depends as much on Gomes excellent direction as well as the wealth of emotion playing across Cotta’s face. The film’s “Paradise” section, a vignette of memories without sounds depends on the wordless transference of emotion and as Ventura sits outside the house sobbing it’s difficult not to be moved.

Take This Waltz / Video Killed the Radio Star
The sheer joy of the scrambler scene (and the eponymous “Take this Waltz” some time later) make up for all the inconsistencies of Polley’s Take This Waltz. In addition to the song becoming a much appreciated earworm for the year, the nostalgia, charm and sadness amidst the happiness so perfectly nails the film’s best features.

Other considered scenes: Racing for a Plane from Argo; The Kid’s first Strip from Magic Mike, Chapel Showdown from Moonrise Kingdom and Blackout from Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

My top ten scenes featuring nine scenes will be revealed in a few days. Care to guess what’s on it? Which scenes stood out for you in 2012? Which of my runners up impressed you most?

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