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Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017 12:08 am

The 10 best film scenes of 2016

Alden Ehrenreich and Ralph Fiennes in Hail Caesar.
PHOTO COURTESY Universal Pictures

 

Movies are about moments – big moments that erase our cynicism about cinema and remind us of its capacity to dazzle as well as touch us. This happens in a way only possible with a medium that seamlessly combines so many other art forms. There are instances that prompt us to consider things in a different light, encourage us to think about issues from a different perspective and empathize with others in a way we could never expect.

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 in 2016. While some of the films they’re from might not have been completely successful, during these moments perfection was achieved. The scenes have proven powerful enough to stay with this viewer long after the credits have rolled and the lights have come up.

Hail, Caesar –
Good-natured cowboy actor Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) has inexplicably been assigned to play a role in a drawing room comedy. Nervous and unsure, his first scene proves to be a disaster when he fails to deliver the line of dialogue, “Would that it were so simple?,” to the satisfaction of his English director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes). The ensuing tutoring lesson in which the frustrated filmmaker attempts to teach the eager-to-please actor how to say the line “trippingly” is a hilarious example of quickly escalating frustration, as the actors with conflicting styles play off one another beautifully.

Hell or High Water – Having relentlessly pursued a pair of bank robbers across East Texas, losing his partner in the process, newly retired Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) visits a rundown ranch owned by Toby Howard (Chris Pine), the man he suspects was behind the heists. Verbal parrying between the two ensues in which what isn’t said has more import than what is said, concluding with an indication between the two that they will meet again at a later date to perhaps put to rest the things that continue to haunt them both. The sense of unease and uncertainty between these two is a perfect representation of how so many of us are feeling today.

Indignation – Freshman Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) has been called to Dean Caudwell’s (Tracy Letts) office where he is to hear what he thinks will be a simple welcome. Things quickly deteriorate between the two as the young man goes on the defensive when the question of religion and his beliefs are brought up, while Caudwell becomes more and more condescending, projecting upon Messner what his thoughts and intentions are, frustrating the student and driving him towards a regrettable act. This 10-minute scene masterfully escalates with the two performers going at each other like boxers in a ring, each drawing blood with their words and posture.

The Lobster – David (Colin Farrell) and the Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) are on the run from a cultish group and they’ve taken refuge in a diner. Having been recently blinded by a jealous rival, the woman is adrift. David, thinking that it would help to develop a bond between them that would serve as a solid foundation for their love, retires to the restroom to blind himself. We return to see the woman waiting…and waiting…and waiting for his return. The final shot of this haunting film enables the viewer to share in the woman’s uncertainty, leaving us to question David’s devotion, her ultimate fate and the movie’s overall theme.

Love & Friendship – Having had his fiancé and her mother flee his manor, Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) has tracked them down to the Vernon Estate where he stumbles in unannounced, met by Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale), who, obviously embarrassed, introduces him to their hosts. What ensues is an ever-escalating scene of hilarity as Martin stumbles and stammers his way through the introduction, trying to impress the Vernons by speaking of things he knows nothing of.

Markees Christmas as Morris Gentry in Morris from America.
PHOTO COURTESY A24

Morris From America – Having run off to follow a girl he’s fallen for, young Morris (Markees Christmas) is being driven home by his single father Curtis (Craig Robinson). The dad regales the young man with the story of how he met and courted his mother and in the process the boy comes to realize not only how much they both have in common but also how much his father loves him. This moment is wonderfully acted and touching in the subtlest manner.

The Nice Guys – Suspecting he’s being pursued, private eye Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) tracks down the worst detective in the world, Holland March (Ryan Gosling), finding him on a toilet in a bathroom stall, reading and smoking, while trying to brandish a gun. This is probably the best bit of physical comedy on screen this year as Gosling fumbles about trying to keep the door of the stall open with his foot, accidentally dropping the cigarette into his pants and then trying to stamp it out, all the while trying to look threatening with the gun.
Weiner – Having invited documentarians Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg to chronicle what he hopes will be his professional resurrection by being elected mayor of New York, embattled politician Anthony Weiner is brought low once more when his habit of inappropriate texting rears its ugly head. In an uncanny, candid moment, Kreigman asks Weiner why he agreed to let them document every excruciating moment of the unfolding scandal. The blank stare and rueful shaking of his head perfectly sum up how powerless this man is when confronted with his own self-destructive tendencies.

The Witch – Having seen her family killed via means that defy rational explanation, the troubled teenage girl Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) willingly gives herself over to the unseen forces that have been dogging her, walking off into the woods to embrace her dark fate. This simple quiet moment eerily captures the sense of evil that has been surrounding all involved and underscores director Robert Eggers’ ability to create a powerful, foreboding atmosphere.

Zootopia –
Eager to track down a lead, police bunny Judy Hopps is forced to go to the Zootopia’s Department of Motor Vehicles where she must contend with long lines and a glacially slow, easily distracted sloth, who takes an agonizingly long time to simply print out and give her a document. The exasperated expressions the Disney animators provide Hopps with and the drawn-out pacing of this scene generate comic gold as well as an easily relatable moment for drivers everywhere.

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