You might wonder why I watch as many films as I do; yesterday I achieved the personal milestone of getting to 200 films seen for the first time in a cinema in a calendar year. While some are re-releases, the vast majority are new films, but obviously they can’t all be great. Sometimes it’s just a single performance that make them worth watching, or it may be that the film isn’t quite the sum of its intricately composed parts, so for the second time I’m honouring the moments in films which stood out most for me. Consequently this is a somewhat different list to the top 40 films of the year which will appear (hopefully) tomorrow.
Last year when I did this I had real trouble tracking down scenes from a lot of the films. This year seems to be slightly easier, and I’ve got either the clip I wanted or another decent clip from the same film. I’ve excluded re-releases (otherwise this list would be just full of old clips, from Lawrence Of Arabia to Gremlins, and while that would entertain both of us it’s not really the point), and I’ve also stuck to a one clip per film rule; I will talk through some other highlights in the descriptions though.
One final, very important disclaimer: while this is normally somewhere between a PG and a 12A blog, a few of the scenes contain swearing, violence, gory moments or all of the above. If you’re of a delicate disposition, clips 27, 25, 20, 17, 16, 8 and 5 may not be for you. I hope you enjoy the rest.
What made Argo so effective was the balance between comedy and drama, with the tension ratcheted up expertly in the last third. Before that, Ben Affleck moved quietly and efficiently through his own film, playing as both comedic and dramatic straight man to a range of excellent performances around him. Here we see the key to getting that balance just right, as Alan Arkin lays out just how ludicrous Baffleck’s plan is.
29. Jack Reacher
A very late addition to the list, and the crying shame is there’s not more of him in it, because every time Werner Herzog appears in the film, he walks off with it, even despite the unnecessary milky eye he’s been given. This is his first appearance; as the film’s only out this week, no English clip yet of this that I could find, so behold the strange sight of Herzog dubbing over himself in German.
28. The Artist
It’s not a thorough and faithful dissection of what made black and white films as good as their more modern counterparts, but what it does do is successfully evoke the best elements of the films of that era, and understands what made them so compelling. It’s not afraid to have a little fun with itself either, so here’s the nightmare scene when Jean Dujardin’s George Valentin discovers there might be more to the world around him than meets the eye. Er, I mean ear.
The likes of Let The Right One In and the Millennium trilogy have put Scandanavian film making back on the map in the past few years, so it was no surprise that this adaptation of the Jo Nesbo thriller had no trouble finding an audience. Dark laughs and tense action combined well, no more so than in this scene where we first see what lengths Roger will go to in the name of self preservation.
26. The Raid
The Raid is a great film, but for me had two slight flaws: it’s so stripped down that there’s not enough left to engage with in any of the characters, and by the final stretch the fights have become a little too drawn out and repetitive. You can still enjoy them in isolation, as this hallway set fight easily proves.
25. Killer Joe
I have to confess that watching this next scene in isolation is much tougher than watching it in the context of the movie. Director William Friedkin has described it as a twisted fairy tale, with the young princess looking for her Prince Charming, without in this case realising he’s a ruthless, amoral killer. The most talked about scene in the film, this is where Joe gets busy with some fried chicken. I’m not sure The Colonel will be grateful for the product placement. (This is probably the toughest scene to watch on the list; don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
24. Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present
2012 has been a superb year for documentaries, and it’s a shame that they still seem to suffer from distribution difficulties and attracting audiences. When they’re as good as this one, it’s even more painful. The documentary details the performance artist’s efforts to be the centrepiece of a retrospective of her own work, and some of those who sat opposite her were moved to tears; this clip gives a flavour of that experience. For me the pivotal moment in the film was when Marina’s former partner and collaborator Ulay takes the opposite chair; the keen eyed will also notice James Franco popping up late on in the film.
23. Sound Of My Voice
Sound Of My Voice managed to make it into about two cinemas in London in the middle of the Olympics, so the majority of people missed out on the second Brit Marling film in around six months to feature a central performance from her coupled to some sci-fi high concepts. For my money, this one worked a lot better than Another Earth, much of which was down to the performances. In this clip, director Zal Batmanglij dissects the key scene from the middle of the movie, where Marling’s Maggie is starting to exert her will on the members of the cult that have sprung up around her.
22. Shadow Dancer
I still think Andrea Riseborough is one of the most undervalued actresses in this country, and Clive Owen would have a similar claim to make about his own acting. Shadow Dancer is a masterclass from the pair of them, helping to keep the viewer guessing to the eventual outcome right to the end. Here Owen’s handler is desperately trying to convince Riseborough to pull out before the heat gets too much for both of them.
In the battle of this year’s tower block epics, Dredd just shaded it, with better characterisations, some solid action sequences and an 18 certificate that ultimately didn’t do the chance of a sequel any favours. Hopefully this will find new life on home formats as it’s leagues ahead of the Stallone attempt in quality.
Rian Johnson finally lived up to the potential he’d shown in Brick and The Brothers Bloom with this ideas-packed time travel crime drama / love story / tragedy / oh now it isn’t because of all the time travel / lots of other things probably. There’s an internal logic at play which just about hangs together, even if this isn’t how you think time travel works, but for all we know travelling in time causes you to speak Portuguese until flowers grow out of your head, so the logic works for me. Here that logic is put to use in what could be the most brutal scene of the whole film.
19. Berberian Sound Studio
So you make a horror movie about horror movies, and within that movie you have a horror movie being made, but the horror comes from the insanity of making the horror movie, and you never directly see any of the movie being made. So Berberian Sound Studio treads that famous old fine line between genius and insanity, but we do get one look at the film, in these fantastic opening credits, which feel so authentic you can practically see the blood run.
18. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
Yes, 73% of people who saw this still wake up in the middle of the night singing “DA-DA-DADADADADA-DA-DA-CIRCUS! DA-DA-DADADADADA-DA-DA-AFRO!” but the two moments that made me laugh the most – in among a considerable amount of moments that made me laugh – both involved King Julien’s sidekick Mort. One’s clever, one’s pretty stupid, both appealed to me.
Given the intense media and fan scrutiny around Skyfall, you could feasibly imagine going into Skyfall and not getting any surprises. I’d read enough about the film that nothing that happened in the last hour was a huge surprise, but maybe that made this scene even more powerful for being so unexpected. Just when you thought Javier Bardem couldn’t get any more creepy…
Saw this at a Fright Night all-nighter, and it served to make everything else a little climactic, as it turned out to be the best horror movie of the year. It’s screwed up in the head from the start, but in the way that horror films tend to be funny-ha-ha, with a little funny-peculiar thrown in. This is the first point in the movie when it crosses the line to being genuinely disturbing in the real world rather than in Pauline’s dreams. I’ll warn you before you hit play, it’s basically the dissection of a dead bird, so if that’s going to freak you out, move right along. Also, in that case don’t ever rent this because the end of the film will proper give you nightmares.
15. Safety Not Guaranteed
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Safety Not Guaranteed, which has the cards funny, kooky and sweet, and is carrying pretty much a full house and a straight flush worth of them. That’s all embodied in this scene, where journalistic intern Darius first approaches maybe time-traveller Kenneth after her boss Jeff botched their first approach. There’s just something about the way that Aubrey Plaza puts the can back on the shelf without breaking eye contact that gets me every time.
14. The Dark Knight Rises
I actually saw this scene for the first time in 2011 as it was attached to IMAX showings of Mission :Impossible: Ghost Protocol: I’ve Forgotten Where The Colon Goes Again. (A similar scene from Star Trek Into Darkness Without Any Colons played in IMAXs in December this year, but won’t be troubling next year’s top 30. I’m hopeful something from that film will.) Aidan Gillen is great, but hadn’t yet reached recognition levels with me when I saw this; thankfully a good chunk of Game Of Thrones and Shadow Dancer has put that right. This scene’s also notable for being yet another Nolan reference to Bond films, in this case Licence To Kill; it’s almost like he wants to make one.
13. Moonrise Kingdom
If you were looking for a single scene that summed up the innocent heart and delightful soul of Moonrise Kingdom, you’d probably pick the “kids on the beach” scene. Instead I’ve gone for this scene with Bob Balaban which shows just how perfectly honed every possible element of the film is, from the scene framing to the script and the performances.
12. Holy Motors
Every long cinematic event needs an intermission. So here’s the one from Holy Motors, an accordion-based cover of R.L. Burnside’s Let My Baby Ride. Pure joy.
11. Silver Linings Playbook
I didn’t rate Silver Linings as a film in totality, but I did rate some of the performances, not least Jennifer Lawrence’s award worthy turn as the bolshy Tiffany. Her best scene is likely the one where she hands Robert De Niro and the rest of the cast their ass on a silver platter, acting everyone else off screen and expect to see that playing at awards ceremonies in a couple of months, but for now here’s something more subtle and subdued from earlier in the film.
10. The Cabin In The Woods
I could have gone with a whole stack of scenes here, from what is the funniest two hours Joss Whedon’s ever put on screen (and yes, I am including The Avengers in that). In the end, it was a toss up between a handful, but if you’ve not seen the film then most of my later choices will ruin the surprise, and you should still keep that for yourself. So I’ve gone with a woman attempting to French kiss a mounted head. Tasty.
Calling Chronicle found footage almost feels like a bit of an insult; it takes the video camera perspective, marries it to something equivalent to a superhero origin story, and then runs with it in a way that feels organic and not a little dangerous. The most uplifting scene in the film is this one, when the characters start to realise the full extent of their powers, but the scene where Andrew is fine tuning his gifts on a live spider is also pretty powerful.
8. Rust And Bone
If I had to pick one scene of the year that somehow didn’t lose its power despite being entirely predictable if kind individuals who write reviews and run movie websites had blown the gaff and given away the early twist, then this would be it. Actually, given that extraordinarily specific set of criteria, not sure what else would qualify there. Jacques Audiard packs a whole set of scenes with raw power, and pretty much anything with whales or fighting in it would also be worthy of attention.
7. Life Of Pi
Initially I was looking for the boat sinking scene, which is a masterpiece of effective editing and special effects, but most of the scenes available online actually occur once Pi and Richard Parker are alone together on the boat. So here’s the two of them getting to know each other a little better.
Whenever you listen to the actual music charts these days, they tempt, taunt and tease you with the possibility of what could be number one this week, even when it’s the star of the latest reality singing show and no-one else has released anything all year. If I were to do the same, then I’d be saying that my last chart of the year update in November had this at the top, and now the only two 10/10 films I’ve seen since can dethrone it. So will Life Of Pi, The Master or Shame be the top film of the year tomorrow? Shame’s been top ever since January, and this (despite Carey Mulligan’s best efforts) was the standout scene.
5. 21 Jump Street
The out-and-out comedy that I laughed longest and hardest at all year was also one of the most surprising. Based on the personnel involved, this should have had no right to be as funny as it was, and it’s packed full of laughs from beginning to end. I’ve put aside Korean Jesus and Robin Hood on the freeway and gone for this, where Channing Tatum proves his gifts at comedy (his literal crashing of orchestra practice was another highlight).
4. The Avengers
Hulk smash. That is all.
3. The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson, how I love thee. I actually enjoyed this more than There Will Be Blood, and of all the character interactions it was the first interrogation scene between Lancaster and Freddie that really caught the attention. Couldn’t find the whole scene, but there’s a small chunk of it at the end of this sequence.
2. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
It was the scene we were all waiting for (for seemingly longer than it takes hairy midgets to throw gold into a volcano), but it was worth the wait. It was the first scene filmed, apparently, which makes it all the more impressive that Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman found their stride so quickly, and the Gollum / Bilbo scene takes its place as an instant classic.
1. The Muppets
So to the number 1, and it’s a scene from a film that America selfishly kept to themselves in 2011, only letting us see it in February this year. The biggest joke might be lost on those who aren’t fans of The Big Bang Theory, but since Mrs Evangelist seems to think I’m an even bigger nerd than any of the characters in that series, it’s not surprise that (a) we’re both BBT fans, and (b) we both squealed in delight when we saw this in the cinema. This is the music video rather than the direct scene, but it’s pretty much the same and the Oscar that this song picked up was thoroughly deserved. I also had tears in my eyes during “Pictures In My Head” but I am just a sentimental old softie. Sniff.