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Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014 12:01 am

The 10 best scenes of 2013

Movies are about moments – big moments that erase our cynicism about cinema and remind us of its capacity to dazzle, quiet scenes that succeed in touching our hearts. This happens in a way only possible with a medium that seamlessly combines so many other art forms. There are instants that prompt us to consider things in a different light, encourage us to think about issues from a new perspective and empathize with others in a way we never could have expected.

While sometimes memories of the overall plot of a film or its minute details may escape us, certain scenes stand out like a beacon in a bland cinematic landscape. What follows is a list of the 10 best scenes from the movies this year. While some of the films they’re from might not have been completely successful, during these moments perfection was achieved and they’ve proven powerful enough to stay with this viewer long after the credits have rolled and the lights have come up.

Tom Hanks as Captain Richard Phillips in Captain Phillips.
PHOTO COURTESY COLUMBIA PICTURES

 

1. Captain Phillips
Having just survived the traumatic experience of being held hostage by Somali pirates for six days and being rescued in a violent raid by a group of Navy Seals, Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is taken to an infirmary where he’s finally allowed to let his guard down, letting his fear and relief wash over him. What Hanks does here transcends acting. He fully inhabits the scene, inexplicably being able to portray a sense of shock that’s palpable. Without question, it is the rawest, most human moment captured on film this year.

Megan Charpentier in Mama.
PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSAL PICTURES

 

2. Mama

Three-year-old Victoria is playing tug-of-war with a sheet in her bedroom, giggling and laughing as she pulls the cloth with an unseen opponent. Innocent enough – until, as the contest continues, the sheet begins to slowly rise to the ceiling with the young girl laughing all the while as we gaze in horror, realizing that a supernatural presence has invaded the home. Director Andres Muschietti effectively adheres to the notion that less is more when it comes to horror films. He succeeds in delivering the most chilling cinematic moment of 2013.

A scene from Gravity.
PHOTO COURTESY WARNER BROS. PICTURES

 

3. Gravity

Astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are repairing a satellite in outer space, engaged in this seemingly routine task while floating above Earth with the cosmos in the background. This sounds like nothing special. However, in using cutting edge special effects, director Alfonso Cuaron is able to present this as an unbroken 14-minute scene that captures the grandeur and danger of outer space as it has never been done before. This opening moment sets the bar high where modern cinematic spectacle is concerned and that he is able to sustain the wonder of this moment throughout the film is no small miracle.

4. Frozen
Olaf, a rather naïve and innocent snowman, shares his plans with his new friends Anna, Hans and Sven, regaling them with what he hopes to do once summer comes, which includes visits to the beach, the making of a sandman family and partaking of umbrella drinks in a hammock beneath palm trees. The ironic visuals coupled with Josh Gad’s joyously innocent line readings, as well as the clever song “In Summer” by Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, makes for a wildly comic sequence that produced more belly laughs than any other scene I saw this year.

5. Oldboy
Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) has been locked up for 20 years and he’s out to find out who put him there and why. But first he has to get by 25 heavily armed men guarding the enclave where he was held, dispatching them one at a time with a fury that’s been pent up for two decades. Director Spike Lee takes an old-school approach to this scene, rendering it in one unbroken, two-and-a-half-minute take that proves exhilarating. He eschews rapid editing and lets us marvel at the razor-sharp choreography and split second timing, making for a genuinely pure and exciting moment.

6. American Hustle

Manic, paranoid and more than a bit daft, Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence) has spent far too much time at home with her young son and begins to clean her house in a whirling flurry of motion, lip-synching Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die as she attempts to deal with her depression and fear by escaping into a fantasy world of her own. The energy that Lawrence brings to this scene is invigorating and perfectly sums up her character. Rosalyn is a loose cannon that’s not to be contained by others’ expectations or societal conventions.

7. Out of the Furnace
Having been incarcerated for four years, Russell Baze (Christian Bale) reunites with his former love, Lena Taylor (Zoe Saldana), who’s now involved with the town’s sheriff. Much is left unsaid here, though the regret each of them feel as they realize that their chance for happiness has passed is heartbreaking. The two performers dig deep to convey their despair, yet allow the quietness of this moment play out in order to underscore how hopeless their situation has become.

8. The Spectacular Now

High school hotshot Sutter (Miles Teller) has been asked to sit down for a heart-to-heart talk with his boss, Dan (Bob Odenkirk), who informs him that unless he can start coming to work sober, he’ll have to let him go. The young man isn’t able to promise him that he can do this. And with a handshake, the possibility of this surrogate father saving his protégée is gone. Underplayed and with just the right amount of awkwardness, this scene gives us the sense that we’re eavesdropping on a turning point in Sutter’s life that can never be recaptured.

9. This is the End
With the world literally coming to an end right outside his door, actor James Franco has a major meltdown as he finds that his unwanted houseguest, Danny McBride, has defiled one of his girlie magazines in an unspeakable manner. The back and forth these two engage in is gloriously crude. Each ups the ante on the threats they make towards one another, made all the more absurd given the trivial nature of the offense and the fact that the apocalypse is occurring as they argue. Undeniably crude, yet inspired, I never felt guiltier enjoying something so crass all year.

10. World War Z
Having barely escaped a mob of zombies, UN representative Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) thinks he’s found a bit of solace on the airplane he’s boarded. However, he finds that everyone in the front section of the aircraft has been infected, setting off a series of attacks that results in an in-air explosion that sends passengers and the undead hurtling outside with Lane trying to securely tether himself as the crippled plane hurtles to the ground. Thrilling, frightening and inventive, the visceral rush of this scene topped anything found in the many overwrought superhero films this year.

Other magical moments
Musicians Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), Al Cody (Adam Driver) and their colleague, Jim (Justin Timberlake), conspire to write the rollicking novelty tune “Please Mr. Kennedy” in Inside Llewyn Davis…Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is left hanging from a tree for an entire day and into the night in 12 Years a Slave…Distraught father Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) confronts the police detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) charged with finding his missing daughter in a car on a rainy day in Prisoners…Longtime marrieds Jesse and Celine (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) engage in a fight for the ages in a hotel room that was to be the site of a romantic getaway in Before Midnight…Formula One rivals James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Nikki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) share their conflicting views on racing and life at the conclusion of Rush…Our man (Robert Redford) sets adrift a jar containing a letter he’s written in which he expresses all of his regrets and apologizes for his shortcomings in All is Lost.

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