2011: The year’s best movie moments (part 2)

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Most moviegoers can agree on one thing: there were way too many movies this year. If you’re (un)fortunate enough to live in New York, you had the opportunity to see around 600 new features come and go; the rest of us didn’t get that many fewer. That means that anyone who’s been put in a position to make a top 10 (or top 15, or top 20…) had to make some sad cuts. So we thought it appropriate to highlight some of the year’s most memorable individual moments, scenes, and sequences, from movies that may or may not have made our individual year-end lists. Some were from movies we didn’t love; some are from movies we didn’t even like, but all stood out. Which is no small feat considering just how insane the release calendar has become.

We are keeping out credit sequences since we feel it is an artform in itself, but would like to still give a special mention to the opening credits of Young Adult, Super and The Adventures of Tintin.

(RD = Ricky D, SH = Simon Howell, JS = Justine Smith.)

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia – Body placement

It’s strange to describe a film about the incredible dysfunction of the Turkish state as “funny,” but the film is loaded with tragi-comedy. In one of the most telling scenes in the film, after searching day and night for a murdered body, clown cars filled with police officers and bureaucrats chastise and attack the murderer for his lack of “humanity” because he hog-tied his victim before burying him, only to tie him right back up and stuff him into the back of one of their small cars because they forgot to bring body bags. It is uncomfortably hilarious. (JS)

Le Quattro Volte – The fourth time

Michelangelo Frammartino’s second film Le Quattro Volte already made our list of best films back in 2010 when we were fortunate enough to catch an early screening. While the entire film is laden with mysterious but memorable images, Volte’s standout moment comes when the villagers cut down a tree and collectively work together to transport it into town to once again be erected as the focal point of an annual festival. The sequence, referred to as “fourth time,” later continues when the tree is chopped into pieces, its wood sold for use at the local charcoal kiln. (RD)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Evolution at work

2011 was a divisive year; with so many movies that split audiences and critics in half, it’s easy to complain about moments that go unrecognized. If there was one moment in a 2011 movie that united Joe Moviegoer and the most elitist critic alike, however, it’s probably That Moment in Rupert Wyatt’s superlative blockbuster Rise of the Planet of the Apes, in which Caesar (Andy Serkis, still furthering the art of performance capture), already imbued with superior agility and intelligence, finally and definitively turns the tables on his teenaged tormentor by uttering a simple word central to the entire Apes franchise: “No!” Anyone who saw an early showing of this movie with an audience will tell you that this scene acts to civilize even the most untamed of audiences, invoking the kind of hushed oh-shit reactions usually reserved for Breaking Bad cliffhangers. The fact that Wyatt and company knew just how awesome the moment is, and immediately follow it with several seconds of stony silence and reaction shots, is a sign of some remarkably confident filmmaking. (SH)

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Shame – Glass houses / Carey Mulligan Sings

One scene stands out amongst the many great ones in Shame; Brandon (Michael Fassbender) witnesses a couple fucking in broad daylight against a glass window and in a fit of “inspiration,” he brings an attractive co-worker to recreate this scene. She is vulnerable and sexy, but he just can’t seem to perform. The scene is loaded with ambiguity and emotion, and has a troubling and desperate conclusion. (JS)

Despite the technical wonder of the brilliant camera work in Hunger, the film’s stand out moment was a seventeen minute long static shot. With Shame, McQueen repeats the trick somewhat. Carey Mulligan’s musical turn, a slow jazz rendition of “New York, New York,” filmed almost entirely in a single closeup, is the brightest and most exquisite moment of this very dark pic. In those few minutes, the two actors are able to manifest their lifelong relationship without the use of any dialogue. (RD)

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Super – “Do I look good in my costume?”

James Gunn’s Super is not, by any metric of my own, a great movie. Not unlike the narratively similar Kick-Ass, it tries to have it both ways (albeit in a different way); it tries to present a realistic take on the “real-life superhero” idea, complete with a deranged protagonist, only to cave in and opt for an ending bent on redemption. No, for the real show, come for Ellen Page’s sidekick Boltie; she’s compulsively violent, completely ignorant of even the most basic fundaments of society and behavior, and most importantly, she is immensely sexually frustrated. Her adventuring is ultimately revealed to be part of some wider, seriously demented fantasy she probably devised during her long days working in a comic-book shop. Her inappropriate flirting culminates in one of the year’s creepiest sex scenes, and probably the comic highlight of a movie that would have done well to take a page from Boltie and go a little more insane. (SH)

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Super 8 – The Case

The climax in Super 8, for all its special effects, felt like a second hand garage sale purchase from Spielberg’s most manipulative moments. Regardless if you got dusty-eyed in the cinema or rolled your eyes in disappointment, the last reel was saved with The Case, the no-budget zombie film within the film that plays out in its entirety over the closing credits – a short that is so entertaining you’d wished the multi-million-dollar spectacle matched its charm. (RD)
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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Ricki Tarr falls in love

Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John le Carré’s celebrated spy opus is not long on sentiment. It mostly consists of sad spies quietly adrift in a moral morass they’ve grown utterly tired of and defeated by, waiting for their turn to punch out. That’s what makes the flashback sequence in which Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy, with monstrously awful period hair) confesses to his former co-worker, George Smiley (Gary Oldman), just why he went off the grid for so long, while his peers began to assume he has turned on them. In fact, he met a woman “over there,” who turned out to be a Soviet spook quite eager to herself turn against her country and head for greener pastures in the UK. Tarr learning this fact does nothing to diminish the fact that he has grown completely obsessed with her, which winds up as one of the more poignant plot threads in a delightfully chilly film. That the seduction is rendered so evocatively, with echoes of Rear Window in Tarr’s close surveillance of the woman in question, as well as the brief moment of liberation in their daytime joyrides, doesn’t hurt. (SH)

The Tree of Life – Strike him down

Terence Malick’s insanely divisive masterpiece The Tree of Life has a host of moments more frequently discussed by critics and filmgoers – the dinosaur sequence comes to mind – but for my money no individual scene was as powerful as the relatively simple one in the middle of the Texas section of the film, in which one of Brad Pitt’s young sons looks on as he toils away on the family vehicle. The child’s voiceover takes a tone that is never again matched in the film, which generally stays in the realm of the mystical: he’s angry. He as asks God to let the car crush him, to let this man who he’s begun to see as a swaggering hypocrite get struck down while he’s watching. Though it’s fairly fleeting, this scene (along with several others in this portion of the film) fly in the face of Tree of Life as merely a rambling collection of philosophical/religious gobbledygook; at its heart, there’s a very relateable, and simply related, human story of fathers and sons, locked in some measure of both eternal conflict and acceptance. (SH)

The Turin Horse – The opening shot

I am on record several times over as a total non-fan of Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse, which I found to be turgid, pointlessly depressing, and unforgivably long. I’m not afraid to admit, though, that the film’s opening is incredibly striking. Following a brief, voiceover-only anecdote about Nietzche and the abused horse of the film’s title – who may or may not be the horse we spend so much of the film observing. we open with the first of the film’s 30 long takes, in this case focusing squarely on the equine character in motion. With Mihály Víg’s droning score plugging away grimly in the background (as, it turns out, it will wind up doing at various degrees of intensity for most of the next 140-odd minutes), Tarr sets up a compellingly bleak universe that even this frighteningly kinetic beast will never transcend. Shame about the rest of the movie. (SH)

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Twixt – Val Kilmer tries to write

Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt blends kitsch romanticism and vampire fiction in a strange brew, and Val Kilmer stars as a failing writer looking for new inspiration. The film’s best scene comes when, while locked in his hotel room, Kilmer attempts to write a treatment for his new book on vampires. Apparently a lot of it is improvised, but it ranks among the funniest moments of the year, and is a rather tongue-in-cheek look at the creative process. (JS)

We Need to Talk About Kevin – Opening getaway

The opening sequence of Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk about Kevin evocatively sets the scene for the rest of the film. Tilda Swinton is attending a festival in Spain, and engages in a sensual, strangely prescient ocean of tomatoes. All about textures, feelings and the body, we are immediately submerged into her haunted world. (JS)

Young Adult – “You are better now”

Young Adult is basically one woman’s insane journey to regain what she had lost. Charlize Theron’s character is not only manic-depressive but psychopathic in her quest, which as an audience we seem to believe we are the only ones privy. We only get a glimpse into how the “mighty have fallen,” but in one of the most strangely empathetic scenes of the year, Matt (Patton Oswalt) explains why Theron is at her best now, not back in high school. It doesn’t make up for her violent persistence, but suggests a minor, but crucial change in character. (JS)

CLICK HERE TO SEE PART ONE

 

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