Sunday, 3 August 2014

Scene(s) on a Sunday (sort of): Encore Awards (Memorable Scenes of 2013)

Yes, I’m still at this. (And it’s AUGUST.)

One of my favourite parts of recapping the (previous) year in film is choosing the moments or scenes in films which I remember most. Memory plays tricks on you. Even for someone as industrious as me who makes notes of everything (everything) I watch, and every scene that moves me, it’s different two five six eight months after to consider which scenes are ultimately most remembered or most effective. I opted to not include my usual short-list of 15 to go along with ultimate top 10 and glancing over my actual top 10 at quick glance there are some peculiarities. For example, only one of my top 5 films makes an appearance with a great scene. There’s also an absence of some larger than life scenes which I suppose could have, and in some realities, should have made a space here. For example, the excellent Tim wrote excellently on why the scene from Frozen was his favourite scene of the year and despite my love for Frozen (and the song) Elsa’s turning moment doesn’t appear on my list. Neither do moving moments from Short Term 12, high tension ones from Gravity or The Grandmaster or The Lone Ranger or Rush or tender ones in Philomena or The Past or Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.

But, let me stop telling you what’s not on the list and tell you what is on the list.

As usual, the list excludes openings and closing which have their own individual best-of lists, and like with all things that appear here it’s incredibly idiosyncratic for better and for worse. It’s not necessarily a scene of the best cinematically proficient scenes of 2013 cinemas, but ones which appear here for reasons of import to the film, importance to the narrative, for a specific actor, because of a specific feeling it elicits or just general greatness. You can't always explain these things, still here are ten paragraphs of me trying to do just that.

#10 Frozen / “For the First Time in Forever (Reprise)”
For a movie I like Frozen falls into one of my least favourite movie conceits – keeping the most interesting characters apart for the majority of the film. It’s a way for the audience to root for them to reunite, but it also robs us of being assured of their mutual love (which Frozen depends on). Frozen still manages to make it work, though, and the film mid-film fractured reunion of Elsa and Anna works excellently. The film is annoyingly low on reprises (I’m still smarting that it doesn’t end in a reprise of “Do You Want to Build A Snow Man”, for example.) but the “For the First in Forever” which sees the sisters singing conflicting thoughts in excellent counterpoint is a great dramatic moment culminating in the final conflict of the ace in Anna’s heart. It’s a great moment, vocally, for the actors but also visually with the effects. It adds some legitimate dramatic stakes to the film without feeling forced.

#9 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug / Meet Smaug
If not me, then who will stump resolutely – and somewhat foolhardily – for The Hobbit films? Still, perceived oversaturation and whatnot it’s hard to ignore the moments here Jackson’s adoration for Middle Earth is at its height and reveals itself in the union of all aspects of the series’ filmmaking. Like the riddles with Gollum in the first (or fourth) film the meeting with Smaug becomes the seismic the film is waiting for. There’s an almost ineffable quality to how everything about the meeting works. The film has been building to it and there's the possibility it will not work, and yet it does, on a visual and on an emotional level. (Also, it continues to baffle how Martin Freeman continues to be at his best in these films when acting against CGI creatures).

#8 Saving Mr Banks / “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”
The appearance of this scene is a great microcosm of the entire list of 10 scenes. As a whole Saving Mr Banks does not quite coalesce to the thing it wants to be, although I appreciate the endeavour and like it nonetheless. It harbours some legitimately excellent moments, though, none more than the sequence where the Sherman Brothers finally settle on a song that Pamela likes. The moment becomes, somewhat inexplicably for me, the most moving scene in the film. And, sure, part of that comes from the Mary Poppins music which might suggest the film isn’t warranting the effect it has, but it’s not just the music but it’s use – the entire film is not a well-oiled machine , but this scene is. When an innocuous moment like Don taking Pamela’s hand for a dance manage to move, it’s not just soundtrack but indicative of the entire film finding its footing at once. It mixes the dramatic with the comedic with the whimsical with the earnest. It doesn’t last forever, but the moment it last for is beautiful.

#7 The Heat / Interrupted Lunch Party
The family meals, a staple of great movie moments. The Heat is not my favourite comedy of 2013 but it does have the most hilarious individual moments and this family luncheon is the peak. Dippold’s script is on fire in the scene. Example:
Gina: “You should never arrest your family.”
Mullins: “Who the fuck are you?”
Peter Mullins: “That's Gina!”
Mullins: “Well, tell Gina I'm gonna strangle her at the table!”
Beth: “Hey, she is my best friend! You touch her, you gotta go through me first.”
Mullins: “Who the fuck are you?! I'll kill you and kill her with your fucking dead body!”
The scene could get by on line-readings only but the entire sequence is made funnier by Bullock watching on silently bemused. The lead-up to my favourite (if, unoriginal) joke of the sequence is precious as one of the Mullins asks her, in his thick accent, “Are you, or are you not, a narc? A fucking narc?! Like Johnny Depp in 21 Jump Street?” Like many jokes, it works better hen you hear it, but it’s a fine example of how in control of itself and its humour is at its strongest moments.

#6 August Osage County / After the Funeral
If August Osage County was a musical, the lunch scene after the funeral would be its “Rose’s Turn” or its “Last Midnight”. It’s the most electric moment of the play as written so that in any iteration of the play, you’d expect it to soar. Wells’ film version does not succeed completely as an adaptation of Lett’s visceral drama, but the moments he gets right are remarkable and the lunch scene works. Ensemble films are at their best when the ensemble gets to interact and from Little Charlie’s awkward entrance and th spilled casserole the scene works. It’s not just the dialogue working or, Wells’ – stay out of the way – direction inadvertently being the best thing for a scene like this, each actor is on-point, from bit-part performers like Mulroney selling the reaction to the family’s crazy, to Lewis’ awkward attempts to get her mother’s attention, to Roberts’ angry resentment. The scene goes on for a bit but it works as a slice of the family’s issues and becomes a highlight of the film. Maybe more in spite of the director than because of him but no less significant because of it.
…go below the jump for the top 5…
….bathroom surprises, melancholy musicians, and a city under siege…

#5 The World’s End / Aliens in the Bathroom
I saw The World’s End early in 2013, but I immediately knew this scene would make my top 10. On one hand, the novelty of the shock factor is difficult to ignore. For me, I’d avoided any previous advertisements so was truly agog when an innocuous visit to the bathroom in a bar turned into a meeting with aliens, but even without the shock factor this is an impressive scene. The actors are selling it, and the writing is deft but it’s Wright’s precise direction most responsible for how the scene manages to toe the line between terrifying, hilarious and just plain bizarre.

#4 The Place Beyond the Pines / The Robbery
I’m cheating somewhat here on account of there being two especially significant robberies in (the first third) of The Place Beyond the Pines and I could conceivably be referring to the first of them where Luke and Robin realise they can get away with robbing a bank or the second one where Luke over commits and sees his plan spiral out of control. In fairness, I’m more drawn to the second, which is less exhilarating than the adrenaline pumping rush of the first but is significant and memorable for the way it spirals, convulsively, out of control. Surprise, surprise I liked the very weird and sprawling The Place Beyond the Pines more than most. I’m not even sure that I’d choose the first third as my favourite part, but it is the most efficiently directed section of the film and the robbery which sees good cop-Avery pursuing criminal-Luke become the turning point on which the rest of the film is built. Cianfrance’s direction is exceptional and the surest sign of his talent.

#3 The Wolf of Wall Street / Quaaludes
An obvious choice, yes. But sometimes, the obvious choice is also an accurate one. Whether you find it funny on its own, part of the film’s indicting of its protagonist, or problematic because it doesn’t seem to indict him this scene is just too outlandishly spectacular for me to resist how well it works and ultimately it comes down to how much DiCaprio is giving in this performance turning a great idea for a scene into a spectacular thing in action.

#2 World War Z / Zombies over the wall
This almost was my #1. On a pure visceral level few film scenes have thrilled me as much in the last few years. I suspect there are more legitimate options for “best” scene in the film, I could perhaps go for the tautly directed walk down the halls of the WHO facility near the film’s end, but this is after-all an idiosyncratic list of my most memorable scenes and I still remember how monumental this moment feels during the film. It’s a highlight moment for the sound effects editing (one of my favourite effects from the film) and the way it exploits the building of tension and the fallout as the zombies do take over the city is such a splendidly directed sequence of chaos. In a thriller film those moments of sustained tension are essential, in World War Z this particular moment – for me – is momentous.

#1 Inside Llewyn Davis / “The Death of Queen Jane”
I kept playing around with positions and this particular scene kept moving around. And, then I watched it again and for all its simplicity its profundity was impossible to ignore. Music is often a conduit for emotional resonance, and yet the debate still looms about whether singing can actually be acting. Of course it can, and is. It’s like I said in my initial review, singing is not just an essential part of Llewyn but Llewyn is not incidentally at his warmest when he sings. At a glance the lyrics of the tale seem divided from Llewyn's plight, and it probably is because the earnest singing becomes a mere set-piece for the excellently glib response of “I don’t see a lot of money here”. You have to look carefully to see the subtle but visible way Isaac’s face just shows us Llewyn’s heart breaking. Which is when I, of course, begin theorising on what this particular song about a caesarean birth has to do with this terrible moment in Llewyn’s life. Like the way that pregnancy is considered as an analogy for the artist giving birth to his art and the dilemma the song sets up - the child lives and the mother dies, or vice versa. And what it means for the road of destruction that Llewyn's artistic voyage seems to be. And, maybe, I'm over-thinking it but it's indicative of the way this scene overrides anything from 2013 for me. It's just a man with a guitar singing and yet it feels like something overwhelming and fantastic and essential.

FURTHER JOURNEYS INTO THE BEST OF 2013: Opening Scenes / Supporting Actor / Supporting Actress / Actor / Sound and Music / Costume, Production Design, Editing, Visual Effects, Makeup / Cinematography / Writing

I'm a bit embarrassed at how low on actressexual celebration this top 10 is, but make of that what you will.


Brittani Burnham said...

That Quaaludes scene was my favorite from any movie last year. I almost started crying. I was laughing that hard.

Alex Withrow said...

Great list. That robbery scene from Pines is sensational. So precise and, as you said, efficient. Proves that you don't need demolished cars and massive explosions to create a tense chase.