The Year in Review begins with a list of the best individual scenes of 2015.
This is not a countdown, these entries are not ranked. Unlike with whole films, it’s damn near impossible to rate individual scenes against each other. Some are minor moments that resonate greater than they may first appear to, others are huge crescendos that act as the perfect payoffs to what came before, some are individual films in and of themselves, and others are endings so strong that they stick with the viewer for days on end. So this list isn’t even going to attempt any sort of ranking. These are simply the 20 individual film scenes that stood out to me the most in 2015, presented in any random order for your consideration.
There WILL be MAJOR SPOILERS throughout this list, including multiple film endings. Proceed with caution.
Nelly has been thoroughly humiliated. She begins the film with an American soldier demanding that she remove the bandages hiding her disfigurement to check that she’s not a wanted woman, and it only gets worse from there. She has reconstructive surgery that leaves her unrecognisable even to herself, her husband Johnny has no idea who she is yet ropes her into a scheme to defraud her of her own money, is belittled by him constantly for not looking or acting anything like the woman he believes he knew, with her constant clues as to her true identity being studiously ignored, and, finally, discovering that Johnny sold her out to the Nazis in the first place, divorcing her just before she was dragged away whilst he watched.
She gives him the return he’s so clearly envisioned in his head, but any love she may have had for him is long gone. But her defiant act of rebellion does not come from the gun that Lene gave her earlier in the film. It instead comes through one simple, unmistakeable act that makes it as plain as day to Johnny who the woman he has been forcing to be his wife really is. Christian Petzold keeps the staging and direction to the bare minimum, focussing solely on Nelly and Johnny, cutting between the two as Johnny slowly recognises exactly what he’s done and as she (metaphorically) stabs the knife in deeper and deeper. And then, once she’s done, the two stare wordlessly at each other before she disappears into the background and the film ends. Further words aren’t necessary, “fuck you” has already been screamed loud enough.
“I need you to sign this.”
Kate Macer, even after everything that Sicario has put her through, still thinks that she can do some good. Even after cocky, contemptuous men have constantly belittled her, used her, beaten and shouted her down, Kate still thinks that she can exert some control, that she can still bring everybody to justice and do the right thing. Unfortunately, Kate’s playing a rigged game where those who try to do genuine good are either corrupted or killed. Thus, when Alejandro turns up and insists Kate sign a document insisting that their highly illegal operation was done by the book, it becomes a question of whether Kate is committed enough to her principles to give her life for them. The fact that the outcome of this standoff is not immediately clear is a testament to how brilliant Sicario is at crafting tension, ditto when Kate aims her gun at Alejandro as he walks away. Kate would never fire the shot, she knows it deep down, but she needs that moment of power. She needs to feel like she has some semblance of control and power; the alternative is too despairing to consider.
Riley first sees the new house
Inside Out is a movie packed wall-to-wall with amazing scenes – the revisiting of Riley’s ice-skating memory, The Memory Dump, Dreamland Productions, “take her to the moon for me”, everything to do with the ending – but the reason why the film’s biggest scenes hit as hard as they do is because the film took the time beforehand to pay attention to the little details that resonate with universal truth. Riley’s first viewing of the new house is one such moment, capturing the nervous excitement of seeing a new place for the first time as it gives way to crushing disappointment when she actually gets to look at it. It’s not just crummy compared to her wildly exaggerated fantasies, it’s crummy by any standards with a drab and miserable colour scheme and a dead rat in the corner. Yet, with a little imagination of where her stuff could go, maybe the house is still salvageable, maybe it can still feel like home.
The Money Spot
Magic Mike XXL
The big finale of Magic Mike XXL breaks almost every rule of what one is supposed to consider is “good” filmmaking. It does a terrible job at establishing scene geography, it often seems to break the rules of reality in order to set-up its various scenarios, it has basically no thematic point or character arc conclusion for any of its cast, and those that it does have one for it overindulges on instead of moving on, and it has no real denouement instead practically cutting straight to credits after it’s done. And it is perfect because of every single one of those reasons. XXL exists purely to satisfy, purely to entertain, purely to deliver the goods, and every single rule violation in the final showcase specifically occurs to entertain and to deliver those goods. In doing so, in spending so long indulging in this sequence of giving paying customers exactly what they want and deserve, it also ends up as one of the most joyously celebratory portrayals of sexuality and sexual desires I have ever seen put to film, living proof that female and non-heterosexual desires are worthy of this kind of glorious joyous indulgence.
Also, what Joe Manganiello does with that harness caused me to become probably the most turned on I have ever been in a cinema screen in my whole life holy shit.
Charlie Brown tries to kick the football
The Peanuts Movie
The success of The Peanuts Movie, the reason why it works near-totally, is because it feels like Peanuts. The existential anxiety, the cynical optimism, the frankness about the uncaring nature of reality. If the film were packed wall-to-wall with mentions of Schroder’s love of Beethoven, Sally calling Linus her “sweet baboo,” of Lucy offering psychiatric help for five cents whilst Vince Guaraldi’s iconic score looped in the background for all eternity, but didn’t get that feel of Peanuts, then the whole thing would have been for naught. Thank God, then, that the film absolutely got that feel, including many scenes and exchanges that seem ripped straight from Schulz’s strips. And thank God a second time for the film’s first mid-credits stinger, counteracting the excessively sappy and un-Peanuts ending (that nonetheless worked for me) with Charlie Brown’s latest attempt to kick the football. He may be “kind, compassionate, brave, and funny” but that doesn’t mean that the world is going to give him any free rides or breaks.
Jobs v. Wozniak, Round 3
By 1998, it appears that Steve Jobs has mellowed out. He’s cracking jokes with his staff members, he’s less militaristic when it comes to deadlines and schedules, and he’s not threatening to sink the careers of his underlings on stage if they can’t perform the impossible. Perhaps the years have moulded Jobs into a better, more caring, more introspective man. Then Woz once again asks Jobs to do the right thing and just acknowledge the Apple 2 team during the Mac launch, and the facade, that was already crumbling as the time to launch drew nearer, could not be torn down faster. There are no niceties anymore, Jobs goes straight for the jugular in the smuggest, most self-satisfied way imaginable, pulling up facts and statistics to defend his decision to not do the right thing, to not acknowledge that something he wasn’t involved in was good, to acknowledge that Woz is not a B-tier player, as he forces everyone in the auditorium with him to stay right where they are and watch him destroy his relationship with his former best friend and have it clearly not bother him in the slightest just because he can.
Sorkin’s script for Steve Jobs is one of the finest film scripts he has ever written, and his absolute contempt for the man that brought Apple back from the brink of insolvency is never more apparent than it is here, giving Fassbender’s Jobs more than enough rope to hang himself with whilst Rogen’s Wozniak manages the tricky balance of feeling like a character (in the tired, desperate pleading and the Ringo Starr-John Lennon metaphor that brilliantly caps off his arc) whilst simultaneously being Sorkin’s mouthpiece. It’s electrifying viewing, which even the oft-restless Danny Boyle seems to realise, stripping the scene of the kinetic stylistic quirks that frequently bog down the rest of movie and filming the scene the only way that’s right: near-static cameras chronicling the complete collapse of a professional and personal relationship in as close to a public forum as Jobs would allow.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Picking one scene from Fury Road to label as “The Best” is near-impossible, damn near every scene is a masterwork in some way and the film’s relentless pacing causes most of it to blur together into one brilliant sequence. And I could have gone for any of the film’s proudly feminist scenes, any of the film’s magnificent chases, any of the film’s quiet moments of reflection. But, no. I went for the GIF you see to your right for the simple reason that it is the point of the film where, every single time I watch, I proceed to cackle like a hyena in pure giddy joy. It’s the moment where the realisation of just how perfect this film is overtakes me, and I have no response other than cackling in glee, the sheer beautiful madness on screen capable of provoking no other reaction.
Back to where we started
Carol is a film all about restrained emotion. Carol and Therese dancing around each other’s true feelings, taking great care in what they say and how they act, both as they attempt to tease out the nature of their relationship and because 1950s America is not exactly a time that’s accepting to non-heterosexual relationships. Therefore, every touch matters, every glance matters, when Carol invites Therese to her home it feels like a momentous leap forward. But there’s only so long that one can suppress their feelings, and eventually somebody is going to make that great leap. And so we return to the conversation we glimpsed only at a distance at the beginning of the film, where the relationship now seems hopeless, a missed opportunity destroyed by outside forces, and where Carol’s simple three word declaration feels like a dagger straight to the heart. I have sobbed twice at the movies this year, this scene was one of those times.
There’s no release. The set-up of the scene – Edith Cushing in the bath, throwing a ball back and forth with her dog whilst a ghost ever so slowly closes in on her in plain sight – supposedly dictates a release, a moment where the film yells “BOO!” to release the tension and cap off the scene. del Toro, however, refuses that release, instead choosing to end the scene on an ellipsis, dragging out the scene for what feels like an eternity and giving the audience a chilling close-up of the ghost that haunts Allerdale Hall, before it disappears. There’s no scare, no true release, just an unfinished notice that something is very, very wrong here as the camera ever so slowly recedes back down the hallway. Who needs a release when you have atmosphere as thick as this?
Much of Tangerine is loud and obnoxious. That’s part of its charm, but it does mean that its sweet heart can be lost for some in the noise and the chaos, which is why the ending of the film is so disarming yet so memorable, as Alexandra comforts Sin-Dee after the latter is doused in urine and insulted by some disgusting white guys. Their friendship, which seemed dead in the water just a few minutes earlier, is beautifully reaffirmed as Alexandra helps clean Sin-Dee’s wig, lends Sin-Dee her own wig, and comforts her as they wait for the washer to finish, all in the same exasperated best friend manner that she’s been treating Sin-Dee with throughout the rest of the movie. Mya Taylor had been the film’s MVP up to this point, anyway, but it’s this sequence that reveals exactly how strong her work here is, the compassion and love that she has for her friend creating a scene that pulls back the curtain on the rest of the film to reveal just how large its giant heart really is.
“I want you to walk through the door…”
Mary Elizabeth Winstead spends much of Faults as a sort of ghost. As Claire, her typically magnetic screen presence is intentionally downplayed, making Claire hard to get a true read on. Of course, this is entirely the point, to fool the viewer and, more importantly, Ansel Roth into believing that he’s the one in control, that he’s making some progress in breaking the cult’s spell over Claire, and that her attempts in getting him to understand are seemingly futile. Ansel, however, is never in control. He hasn’t been in control for a long time, and when that fact becomes clear as day, when the bathroom door closes and seemingly locks on its own accord, he breaks down.
Then Claire strikes. She sits down in front of Ansel and demands that he confront his past failures and own up to them. She speaks softly yet firmly, ensuring that he actually puts the work in without pushing him too far. Whenever he deflects, the softness disappears. When he refuses to acknowledge his role in the suicide of a young girl he exploited on his failed TV show in a desperate bid for ratings, she slaps him across the face and it was at that point that I found myself incapable of looking away from the screen and holding my breath in pure anticipation for what might come next. If actors and actresses became stars based solely on talent, Mary Elizabeth Winstead would be one of the most famous people on the planet by now, and this scene acts as Exhibits A through Z as to why that should be the case.
“When I’m Gone”
Pitch Perfect 2
It’s been a good year for fans of Anna Kendrick singing. First Into the Woods crossed the Atlantic, then the ending to The Voices (a film that we’ll be coming to shortly) suddenly had her covering some O’Jays, the mostly-disappointing The Last Five Years at least gave her a couple of decent songs to belt out, and then it all culminated in the vastly-improved Pitch Perfect 2 whose focus on the friendship that the women of the Barden Bellas share pays off in a quiet and surprisingly moving reprise of “When I’m Gone” from the first film. That song never stuck with me in the original go-around the same way that it seemingly did everyone else, but its deployment here genuinely caused my heart to swell in warmth, the perfect capper to an honest scene about confronting the anxieties of post-college life. In all honesty, it’s nowhere near one of the best scenes of the year, but it is one that resonates most with me and where I am in my life right now – staring down graduation like it’s the barrel of a gun, terrified that the few friends I have finally made will disappear shortly thereafter.
Kingsman: The Secret Service
The thing about John Woo that has always fascinated me is how, in his best films (The Killer and Hard Boiled), he always seems to be on the verge of making a point about violence – the dehumanising effects of it, the horrific collateral damage that often occurs from it, the self-perpetuating cycle of violence – yet nearly always ends up undercutting said point by making the violence, to use the proper technical term, Totally Fucking Sweet. Matthew Vaughn seems to want to make some semblance of a point about violence during the already-iconic Church sequence in Kingsman, most likely about the horrifying nature of total anarchic violence for violence’s sake. However, Matthew Vaughn is one of the best action filmmakers working today – which is simultaneously deservedly high praise and a sad indictment of the current quality of action cinema – and Matthew Vaughn loves to have fun, regardless of whether it is appropriate to have any fun. Cue the absolute best individual action sequence of the whole year, backed by one of the best needle-drops of the whole year.
Lisa enters Jerry’s apartment
The Voices has to maintain such an immensely difficult balancing act – part horror, part pitch-black comedy, part affecting look at mental illness, part surprisingly-sweet romance – that I continue to be amazed that the film never falls flat on its face from the weight of it all. Credit that to Michael R. Perry’s surprisingly even-handed script, which imbues all of the characters with a degree of understanding and relatable sympathy, and Marjane Satrapi’s assured direction, that is capable of flitting between the tones with ease and can balance the various perspectives with such skill that many scenes derive their complicated tension from these conflicting viewpoints. No better are these facets shown off than when Lisa surprises Jerry at his apartment, only to discover the rundown, rotting hovel that Jerry doesn’t want to acknowledge, complete with Fiona’s severed head on the living room table. The perspective is Lisa’s, as we get a stark reminder of how Jerry appears to those who aren’t in his headspace, but the tragedy comes from the fact that we know Jerry in a way that Lisa would never be able to understand, as everything proceeds to go to Hell.
The couple ceremony
When The Lobster is on fire, it’s one of the best films of the whole year, an absolutely scathing indictment of modern romance and our obsession with coupling, best exemplified during the couple ceremony between Limping Man and Nosebleed Woman. They’ve known each other for twi days which, in the mate-or-die world of The Lobster, is practically a lifetime and the couple are now beginning the process that will lead to them spending the rest of their lives together. Their love is deemed perfect purely because they share one characteristic – sudden nosebleed onsets – although that itself is a lie, with Limping Man faking the nosebleeds constantly out of self-preserving desperation. Nevertheless, the couple will now spend the rest of their lives together. However, as the Hotel Manager informs the crowd of onlookers, should problems arise in their relationship, then the pair shall be assigned children since “that usually sorts things out”.
Of course, the real best moment comes a few days after, when David bumps into the couple whilst out with Heartless Woman. The couple now have a young daughter, who David proceeds to kick in the shin.
Rey embraces her destiny
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
I am an easy mark for sequences where well-written (or even just well-sketched) female characters take matters into their own hands and wrap up shit on their own terms – there’s a reason why I like to refer to the Star Wars series as “The Continuing Adventures of Princess Leia and ‘God, I Have to Deal with These Assholes Again?’” after all. So when it became clear that Rey was going to be the true hero of The Force Awakens, it was only a matter of time until the film would present me with an image to mark the f*ck out over. And I don’t care that it’s an easy lay-up, because the moment where Rey finally stands her ground and activates Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber for the first time, ready to do battle with whiney-teenage-boy incarnate Kylo Ren, was the moment where I got what I assume was the same feeling from Star Wars that millions of people got when they were children (since I’ve never been majorly into Star Wars). That moment where the pure magic and power of this wonderfully optimistic space opera washed over me, intersecting with an awesomely defiant female-power image.
For five minutes, Tomorrowland is breathtakingly wonderful. Casey’s first taste of the world on the other side of that pin is a gorgeous, magical vision of the future. Jetpacks, rail-less monorails, pristine surfaces, holograms, flying cars, the optimistic sense that anything is possible. Brad Bird presents all of this one unbroken take, guiding us through the world in a carefully controlled manner that still feels boundlessly excited about what it has to show us, whilst Michael Giacchino’s retro-family movie score conjures up that nostalgic wonderment that used to be a mainstay of Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment films. Of course, it’s all a lie, nothing more than a meticulously crafted advertisement for a world that not only cannot live up to the taster but fails to come within the same ballpark in terms of quality. But for those five minutes, it really does feel like anything is possible.
The Good Dinosaur
More animated films need to understand that you don’t need dialogue to sell every big moment and that not every big moment needs to be delivered in the biggest of ways. The parts of The Good Dinosaur that stick out the most are the ones where dialogue is minimal to non-existent, partly because most of the dialogue just isn’t very good anyway (it’s one of the things that holds the film back from legitimate greatness) but also because Pixar understand that you can say more with a subtle facial expression and a simple action than a hundred lines of mediocre dialogue. It’s why the midpoint of the movie, as Arlo talks to Spot about family, hits like a bus-shaped brick wall travelling at 200MPH. More is communicated about Spot by the way he mournfully and wordlessly pushes over and covers up the sticks that represent his family than most animated features manage for their characters in 95 minutes of film. Combine that with the fact that I still, two years on, have not truly managed to move on from the death of my Granddad, and you probably understand why I was sat in the cinema screen bawling my eyes out.
“Climbing Uphill” (first half)
The Last Five Years
Most of The Last Five Years just doesn’t work – such is the nature of a film that uses wall-to-wall singing, and anachronic order, and almost never presents sequences of how Jamie and Cathy’s relationship works outside of the broad ‘we’re totes in mad love!’ and ‘we hate each other and this relationship is not working!’ moments. But when it does, when the songs actually hold up and the characters get time to breathe and Richard LaGravenese takes advantage of the fact that he’s making a goddamn movie, it creates moments that have genuinely stuck with me. The first half of “Climbing Uphill” is one such number as Cathy traipses from failed audition to failed audition, simultaneously filled with contempt for the whole entire process (“Why am I working so hard?/These are the people who cast Russell Crowe in a musical”) and anxious self-loathing for seemingly never being good enough (“Why did I pick these shoes?/Why did I pick this song?/Why did I pick this career?”). Rattled off at 100MPH, couched in the same melody as the audition song she’s used a hundred times over, bitingly funny, and relatably honest, delivered perfectly by Anna Kendrick. If the rest of the film were this insightful, The Last Five Years could have been something huge.
“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”
Kate cannot start again. Despite the ultimatum she gave Geoff, she cannot start again. The spectre of Katya won’t leave, the kind of spectre where you don’t notice it at first, but once its presence has been pointed out you can’t stop noticing. It hangs around everywhere, in the smell of perfume in a room, in the conversations with what you thought was your devoted husband, in the nagging sense that the last 45 years have been nothing more than settling and that you were the one he was settling for. And then you peel back, further and further, discovering that not only were you not the first love, you may not even be his second, because he may never have moved on to begin with. Insisting that you both are going to start again is just as much a pep talk for yourself as it is an order to him, and it’s painfully unconvincing to you.
Thus, it is not a question of if Kate is going to let the happy facade slip to the gathered friends and family who are utterly unaware of the fact that the marriage is crumbling at all, let alone the rate of the thing, but when. So the final dance, to the song the pair supposedly fell in love to 45 years ago, is transfixing, but not for the reasons everyone at the dance intends for it to be. When is Kate going to break? And as Andrew Haigh drags the shot out, the camera focussed near-exclusively on Charlotte Rampling’s outstandingly subtle performance, the tension becomes absolutely unbearable. When the moment finally comes, it is seismic, the release that the film has been building towards since frame one, and absolutely devastating. And then the film ends. Much like with Phoenix, there is no need to depict any aftermath, the sentiment could not be clearer.
Tomorrow, we begin the countdown of my Top 20 Films of 2015.