Inspired by Aren of the Brothers Bergstrom film critic triumvirate, I’ve decided to share several of my favorite moments from the year in film. I’m going to try to avoid overlap with Aren’s list, but in a couple of cases, it’s simply unavoidable. I don’t plan to publish a personal favorites list until sometime between the new year and the Oscars; there’s just too many potentially important films that I’ve yet to see. Barbara, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Miserables, The Color Wheel, Tabu, This is Not a Film, Cosmopolis, and Amour all come to mind. Among these and more, I’m sure there’s quite a few 2012 film moments awaiting my enjoyment. Until then, here’s what’s especially memorable (in no particular order):
(Oh, and I don’t go into much detail, but obviously some *Spoiler Alert* involved here).
“Puny god” from Joss Whedon’s The Avengers
The Avengers is essentially an extravaganza of fan boy moments–a well-crafted collective of uproarious entertainment. In that spirit, I think I’ll take the moment involving my favorite Hulk performance to date. Mark Ruffalo brought the incredible green nerve to life in a way that no one else has, getting the quiet, brooding, potential rage just right. By the time this scene happens–after Loki has given a few of his ungodly annoying speeches–it evoked cheers unlike any I’ve heard at the cineplex this year. I cheered, too.
“Video Killed the Radio Star” from Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz
Because nothing communicates the problem of unfettered desire and infidelity quite like Michelle Williams spinning alone and out of control on the scrambler.
Arrietty and Father Go Borrowing in Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s The Secret World of Arrietty
The first time Arrietty and her father go borrowing together rivaled most any visual/aural experience I had at the theater this year. Experiencing the household–particularly the kitchen–from the perspective of the tiny borrowers was a delightful, enveloping experience in a way that trumps most three-dimensional folly. It was a formal moment that emphasized the film’s encouragement of taking on new worlds of perspective.
Dark Knight in the Daylight in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises
I have several favorite moments from the conclusion to one of my favorite trilogies, but the image of the Dark Knight fighting with the people in broad daylight might just be–in a few ways–the formal embodiment of everything I think Nolan got exactly right in this film as a third act film following up the grim, dishonest ending of The Dark Knight.
Bernie Gets Arrested After Motivational Speech in Richard Linklater’s Bernie
Alright, so I couldn’t find a still from the scene I’m referencing, but, for this film, a real life image seems appropriate. That Linklater has Jack Black’s Bernie Tiede get arrested right after giving a motivational speech about the scoreboard not mattering as long as “you’ve worked hard and done your absolute best” is one of the more inspired choices of the year. The kids look on dumbfounded as the cops come in to arrest Bernie for murder. It’s my favorite example of the film’s darkly comedic irony that is the heart of Bernie: you can do your absolute best in the absolute wrong way.
The Muhktar’s Daughter Arrives in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Something like a narrative turn is hard to come by or decipher in Ceylan’s masterpiece about, well, everything. But if there’s one moment that changes the trajectory of the story, and maybe embodies the film’s suggestion that the children are at stake, it’s when the Muhktar’s daughter shows up–face shining bright with candle light. It’s here that the film’s desirous ruminations for innocence, beauty, and a humane existence find an essential image in the cold, enfolding darkness.
Hollywood Faux Tension in Ben Affleck’s Argo
Confession: this choice also functions as a notice for all of the critics who insist on pouring moral outrage on this film. Affleck isn’t concerned with international politics or a documentary style rendering of the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis. If you want to know what Affleck is up to here–and judge his decisions accordingly–look no further than when John Goodman needs to get to a life-saving phone call but is held up by a Hollywood action scene so humorously fake that Affleck’s film is obviously self-aware of a kind of faux tension it’s going for. Want to know why Affleck didn’t include subtitles? Read the answer with this scene as your background. I promise it’s not to dehumanize the Iranians; within the film’s purview of creating a fake movie to achieve an escape stranger than fiction, Affleck is humanizing the tension involved in the politics of the exfiltration thriller.
A Mastered Pair in Jail in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master
I think we’re all in agreement that the processing scene is the scene from The Master. So I’m going to go a different direction here and say that another great moment was the jail scene that showed master and follower mutually imprisoned side-by-side. The scene–with explosions of insecurity from both characters as a pair together enslaved to unfulfilled desire–is one of the most revealing, and humorous, scenes in the entire film.
Sinister Super 8 Images from Scott Derrickson’s Sinister
Frankly, every time that Super 8 film projector started rolling constitutes a hauntingly memorable moment from 2012. To Derrickson’s credit, though, it’s not the burning car, the chilly poolside, or even the surprising lawnmower that will be foremost in my memory. No, it’ll be the disturbed look on Ellison’s face, as those images roll over his glasses, for his vision is just as distorted as the images set before him.
Joe Meets Joe in the Diner in Rian Johnson’s Looper
For me, this is one of the great sci-fi/time travel moments. Concerned as I am with what it means to be a person who is, by virtue of existing, in the process of becoming, the diner scene where Joe meets his older self is pure cinematic bliss. I think I’ll cheat and give you a second moment from Johnson’s film, summed up as the whispered reassurance that it’s ok, because “mommy is here.”
Silva’s Deranged Entrance in Sam Mendes’s Skyfall
This is another instance where the definitive moment or scene seems to be pretty unanimous. And I’m in agreement: the Shanghai high rise scene is a remarkable display of cinematography. But I’ll go with Silva’s entrance into the film. The whole scene–introducing the villain in an engrossing back-and-forth with Bond–is memorable, but it’s Silva’s walking toward us from a distance that sets the whole tone. His peculiar form of menace is introduced from a place of derangement.
A Threatening Moment in Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet
I’m not going into specific detail about what happens. Just know that the whole film turns on this moment, and it might be the most memorable of the year.
Sam and Suzy Get “Married” in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom
Jason Schwartzman in a priestly stole and pig sun glasses? An offering of scrounged up nickels and dimes? A runaway pair with the new found support of a community? And that wonderful music accompanying their slow-mo exit?! I could’ve gone with the boys’ card game meeting in the tree house. Or I could’ve gone with the battle in the woods. And I most certainly could’ve gone with the kingdom Sam and Suzy set up on the beach. But I’ll settle for this scene of holy matrimony.
Anders is Missing from Oslo in Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31st
The opening of Trier’s film is certainly memorable, as it sets the tone of Anders’s desperate situation, but I think what I’ll most remember happens in the end of the film, after its seemingly inevitable, heartbreaking conclusion, where we see all of the places in Oslo that Anders had been on August 31st–all of the places that felt like dead-ends to him. “I have to get out of Oslo,” he said. And he did.
Calvin Reveals the Truth to Ruby in Jonathan Dayton’s and Valerie Faris’s Ruby Sparks
This film’s tone starts like a cross between Stranger than Fiction and 500 Days of Summer, and then, in quite a shocking scene, Calvin descends into Andrew Detmer-mode (from Josh Trank’s Chronicle). Creator Calvin reveals to manic pixie girl fantasy creation Ruby that he has total power over her, and then proceeds to display that power in increasingly humiliating ways. The phrase, “you’re a genius,” has never been conveyed this darkly.
Christmas Shopping at Walmart in Lauren Greenfield’s The Queen of Versailles
I can’t think of a more defining image in the aftermath of America’s 2008 recession.
Warning: below video features graphic violence.
The Mirror is Turned Inside Out in Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods
All Hell is allowed to break loose when the voyeuristic glass is shattered.
The Dance Competition from David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook
Confession: I got sucked into the film’s climactic scene. I’d call it a guilty pleasure, but I don’t think that’s quite right. The Eagles didn’t win the Super Bowl; they made the playoffs. Pat and Tiffany didn’t win the competition; they averaged a score of 5/10–barely. This isn’t a triumph; it’s two damaged souls finding a small victory after beginning a long road to learn self-restraint (though, they may not even be on the right road yet). In other words, it’s a silver lining moment.
The Entirety of Léos Carax Holy Motors
Just kidding. Kinda. Anyway, how can I not go with the blissful accordions from the Entr’acte?
Scalding Hot Potatoes in Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse
I almost went with the Nietzschean visitor, but nothing bespeaks the harsh bleakness of life quite like the monotony of daily burning your fingers while joylessly eating the same old potatoes.
Andrew Detmer Surrounds Himself with Cameras in Josh Trank’s Chronicle
Found footage is used to memorable effect in this film with the camera functioning both as barrier and as access for lonely outcast Andrew Detmer. In the end of the film, when Andrew crosses the line into super villainy, what he does with every camera in sight is a commentary layered with significance.
Merida and Elinor Learn to Listen in Mark Andrews’s and Brenda Chapman’s Brave
You know what can help solve the problem between an overbearing (pun intended) mom and her ignorantly rushing into independence daughter? Going fishin’.
President and Mrs. President Get Into an Argument in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln
Daniel Day-Lewis provided us with one of the great performances of the year, but Sally Field–playing the President’s embattled wife–was pretty remarkable herself. It’s a surprising credit to Spielberg that his film isn’t filled with memorable moments (think Spielberg Moments). But I think the scene in the First Couple’s bedroom in which the President and his wife get into a heated argument is quite a memorable one. The scene showcases how the film as a whole works: it provides us with insight into the President’s soul–both his gifts and his torments. And it also augments our sense of an unseen, but still ongoing Civil War with emphasis on domestic dispute.
Mocking the Ku Klux Klan in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained
Tarantino likes to balance the brutal violence and vengeance in his films with dark humor, and he might just be at his best in achieving these comic elements in his new blaxploitation spaghetti western, Django Unchained. Undoubtedly, the most memorable of these humorous moments is a scene of spirited mockery of the KKK and the apparently discomforting white bags they wear over their heads. Well played, Mr. Tarantino. Well played.
Samantha the Hairdresser Breathes on Cyril in The Kid with a Bike
Because for an abandoned boy feeling so insecure and alone, the “warm breath” is a salvific sensation.