January 26, 2010

Best of 2009: Part 2


The Best Scenes of 2009:
...2009 didn't have many memorable films, but it had some memorable scenes...

1. Tavern tango, Inglourious Basterds. As much as I find myself disgusted by Quentin Tarantino's public persona, I have to admit the guy can write a scene like almost no screenwriter of his generation. In the scene of the year (one of many great ones in this movie; though ultimately I found the parts greater than the sum), QT ratcheted the tension off the charts as curious characters attempted to converse cryptically in multiple languages. The payoff didn't do much for me, but the suspenseful build-up to it was unforgettable. (Read a note from editor Sally Menke about this scene here.)


2. Expedition in the "Hallelujah Mountains", Avatar. In a movie featuring the most photorealistic CGI ever seen on (digital) film, this otherworldly scene was the one that really blew me away - even in 2D. Jake and the other Na'vi warriors jumped across, ran between, and climbed on meticulously designed floating mountains. Only James Cameron could have the audacity to winkingly write a line like "You should see your faces" (by Michelle Rodriguez in an earlier scene) - and then back it up with visuals like this.

3. Kenji's recital, Tokyo Sonata. As I was watching this in the theater in April I knew it would the best final scene of the year. The entire film was perfectly distilled into a mesmerizing rendition of Debussy's "Claire de lune". Kenji, the misunderstood young son in the Sasaki family who had secretively been taking piano lessons, blossoms into an entirely different character in front of our - and his parent's - eyes; it's at once heartbreaking and exhilarating.

4. Sniper exchange in the desert, The Hurt Locker. By this midway point of the film I was already sore and sweating from the nail-biting, armrest-gripping suspense. After a shocking ambush in the Iraqi desert, Sgt. James and Sgt. Sanborn are locked into a horrifying sniper battle, their survival guaranteed only if they find their mark before their opponent. This brief and incomplete clip doesn't convey the full tension of the scene, but it certainly still demonstrates Kathryn Bigelow's directorial mastery.

5. Expectations vs. Reality, (500) Days of Summer. Not necessarily a new cinematic trick, but one done very effectively in a movie that probably had more character than I originally gave it credit for. Regina Spektor's voice annoys me most of the time, but the choice of her song "Hero" here fit the bill perfectly.

6. First Rabbi visit, A Serious Man. Pure Coen genius...

Rabbi Scott: Well, they do need a Gett to remarry in the faith. But this is life. For you too. You can't cut yourself off from the mystical or you'll be-you'll remain-completely lost. You have to see these things as expressions of God's will. You don't have to like it, of course.
Larry Gopnik: The boss isn't always right, but he's always the boss.
Rabbi Scott: Ha-ha-ha! That's right, things aren't so bad. Look at the parking lot, Larry.
[Rabbi Scott gazes out, marveling]
Rabbi Scott: Just look at that parking lot.

7. Troop calculations, In the Loop. This hilarious scene came at the perfect time in the film, well after you had settled into the vicious, often vulgar comedy. For me this really shined because of the sound effects, but on a deeper level it was still a wonderfully droll commentary on military strategy. (Pardon the brief advertisement.)

8. Adrian's concert, (Untitled). As I mentioned in my review of My Kid Could Paint That a couple years ago, I've always had some difficulty admiring modern art. This entire movie was a running joke about contemporary art culture, and an early scene featuring Adam Goldberg's musical group in concert was side-splittingly funny...at least for those of us who aren't so, well, cultured. I couldn't find the exact clip of the performance on its own, but it does lead off (Untitled)'s very funny trailer.

9. The wild rumpus begins, Where the Wild Things Are. Ironically, one of the best CGI-based scenes of the year was the one that kept the computer animation to a minimum. The moment when Max lets himself go both physically and emotionally with the Wild Things was beautifully filmed by Spike Jonze in the hazy light of dusk (or was it dawn?). Here again, while I'm not a huge Karen O fan I can't think of a more appropriate musical choice to back this scene, or the rest of the movie for that matter.

10. Explanation of derivatives, Capitalism: A Love Story. Man, vintage Michael Moore here: ambushing innocent people and then using clever editing, animation, or ironic archival footage and/or music to set up some incredibly stretched argument without taking into consideration any alternative possibility or even providing any rational or logical insight. Makes for great humor sometimes, though.

The Most Forgettable Movies of 2009:
...I know I saw these, but that certainty is fading - fast...

Land of the Lost
Observe and Report
State of Play
Broken Embraces
Cold Souls
The Soloist
Rudo y Cursi
I know there are a few more but, naturally, I can't remember them.

The Worst Movies of 2009:
...it's better not to ask "Why?", but to just move on and try to forget...

The Box
Paper Heart
Terminator Salvation
The Lovely Bones
The Hangover
Friday the 13th
Couples Retreat
New York, I Love You
The Blind Side
The International
The Taking of Pelham 123

...and the worst of all: Knowing

Tomorrow - The Best of 2009: Part 3


  1. Enjoyed this - though your pick for worst of all really smarts - but I forgive you because I love your blog and you left so many comments on my post on Knowing.

    You pick some great scenes. The Louisiane Tavern scene is my very favorite without hesitation. I love how the tension builds and how it goes from carefree fun to suspense and then the bloodbath. I've watched it over and over again on DVD. And I've slow-moed the shootout to see who shoots whom - very interesting. Love the mist of blood in the smoke.

    Also loved the Hurt Locker scene, the Floating Mountains expedition, and the First Rabbi - and I would nominate that actor for Best Supporting Actor. He was perfect.

  2. Hehe, thanks, Hokahey. No hard feelings between us on Knowing - it was probably the best conversation I've had after a bad movie in a long time, and though I felt it was cinematically the worst I saw in 2009 (not by much), I'd almost be tempted to catch up with it and go over all of our points again.

    About the tavern scene, the shootout was inevitable and cleverly done, but really everything I enjoyed in that scene came before the first shot was fired, particularly the acting on display.

    And Rabbi Scott, you've made me research, is Simon Helberg. Probably too little screen time for an Oscar nod, but he stood out in a movie full of memorable characters.

  3. Dan, some great scenes here! I have the 'Claire de Lune' from TOKYO STORY (and great clip there--it's always sublimely beautiful to hear this great piece of music, one of my favorites!) and the AVATAR segment there, but otherwise I have some others:

    the deeply-moving "scrapbook" segment of UP, one of the greatest scenes in all of Pixar.

    the bar/restaurant scene in Denis's 35 SHOTS OF RUM, when non-communication leads to some astounding mutual understanding. Powerful.

    the opening monochrome sequence of Von Trier's ANTI-CHRIST, when the baby falls out the window during the snow with the aural accompaniment of a ravishing Handel aria. It's s stunning sequence, reagardless of what one might think of the rest of the film.

    the field of purple flowers "letter" scene in Jane Campion's BRIGHT STAR, when Fanny reads aloud the contents of a corresponddance from John. It's an exquisite moment.

    the final long scene of the Romanian police procederal POLICE ADJECTIVE. It's quite a brilliant passage.

    I wouldn't have THE LOVELY BONES or THE BOX on any worst lists, but we won't always agree.

  4. Daniel - I agree about the tavern scene. The joy of it is the acting from ALL involved from Kruger to the proprietor and his daughter, the writing, the different tones, and the suspense. The shootout was the frosting on the cake - and I have to say I love a good shootout - and the faster the better; Tarantino didn't ruin the scene by being gratuitous with the shooting. One of my favorite seconds: The the spies arrive and Hammersmark puts on her charm: "Hallo, Ihr Lieben!" Love it.

  5. Sam, wow, what a tremendous comment with some great examples. For what it's worth I considered the Up montage (it was probably #11), but as I implicitly pointed out in my "review" of it last year, it came to me too soon after last year's Oscar winner for Animated Short, "La maison en petits cubes". Now I'm not accusing Up of ripping it off by any means (the timing would be impossible anyway), I was in the unfortunate position of actually finding "La maison" to be more emotionally powerful. Hard to believe for most people, but true for me (here's an updated link to the short).

    35 Shots of Rum - another scene that I considered, exactly as you described! Definitely one of the best of the year.

    I didn't see Antichrist (though your review made me feel like I did), skipped Bright Star (forgive me, I owe it to you as your #1), and have a screener of Police, adjective sitting on my coffee table waiting to be watched.

    And I expected no consensus on the "worst" list, though I actually would have expected arguments around The Hangover before any of the others.

    Hokahey, great point about the speed of the shootout, particularly because that's how it would happen in real life. Or at least that's how it would feel (how would I know?). I really should watch that movie again, as much as I loathe how much Tarantino himself comes through it.

  6. I thought the tavern scene was the weakest part of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. It felt self-indulgent, overlong, and a needless distraction. It was at that point I really kind of turned off about the film.

    My favorite scene of the year was the fourth wall breaking poetry recitation of "Liberation is a Journey" in MUNYURANGABO.

  7. "self-indulgent, overlong, and a needless distraction" - ha, somewhat of a summary of my thoughts on Tarantino in general. But what can I say, I fell for this scene in spite of myself. I felt disgusted after I walked out of the theater, but I can't say it wasn't completely enthralled by some key moments in IB.

    Nice choice from Munyurangabo - I would add the scene when Ngabo finally arrives at his destination, alone, and has to decide if he wants to go through with it.

  8. I love a good "Best Scenes" post.

    I have only seen three of these (Hurt, Avatar, and 500 Days) because I am extraordinarily lazy and my movie watching performance has been embarrassing to say the least.

    But the three you mentioned in those films were also my favorite, with the moment when Worthington's character breaks out of the wires and stuff and starts running in his Avatar body being my 1A.

    I saw A Single Man too (B-), and the scene when he talks to the guy while sitting on the back of his car outside that liquor store in front of the Janet Leigh mural was fantastic. The lighting and pace were impeccable.

    That entire movie felt like it was foreign, like I was reading subtitles that obviously weren't there. Almodovar could have done it, albeit slightly better.

    Okay, I am going to watch a few more and get back to you.

    And we need to hang out more than every quarter.

  9. Thanks, Tony, and yes, let's make an effort in 2010 to meet up more often. What do we live like 2 blocks from each other?

    I rewatched the 500 Days scene again last night and moved it up a big higher. Great scene in what was, imo, only a decent movie.

    Avatar had a handful of outstanding scenes, though I didn't consider the great one that you mention. I would have added the night walk with Neytiri when all of those white things descended on Jake, and maybe the scene after he corrals his flying dragon creature and takes his first flight. Now that I think about it, the final battle scene probably deserves some credit if only because I could actually follow what was going on and where people were spatially located. Most other similar and even simpler scenes in other movies are completely disorienting messes.

    Anyway - I haven't seen A Single Man and I didn't think I was missing much besides Firth's performances, but now this scene and the score mentioned on the other post make me wonder. Love your description of your reaction to it anyway, hehe.


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