Much like Kris Tapley over at In Contention does his list of the 10 best shots of each year, I like to do something similar as well here at The Awards Circuit. The wrinkle for me is that I go with the best/most memorable scenes of the year. It’s also kind of a tie in/companion piece with my article on what films from 2011 will stand the test of time. I couldn’t limit it to just 10, so I included 5 of the 15 runners-up and came up with 15 different scenes that were my personal favorites. 8 of my 10 favorite films of 2011 are on the final cut of the list (all wound up in the piece though when you factor in the honorable mentions), but overall I think these are going to be widely considered some of the best scenes of the year. Of course, I’m eager to read what you all have to say/view as the best of the year as well, so we’ll get to that at the end. For now, let’s get on with it and talk about the best scenes from 2011!
The 15 best moments in 2011’s cinematic offerings:
–Shame (Carey Mulligan singing “New York, New York”): The best scene of the year for me was a simple one. We see Carey Mulligan’s Sissy singing the classic tune in a way I’ve never quite heard it before, while Michael Fassbender’s Brandon silently watches her, likely for the first time. She’s almost pleading to the city to make things work for her, and to an extent her brother Brandon. When she finishes, Fassbender is in tears. It’s the most beautiful and heartbreaking scene of 2011 to me, and I know that I’m hardly alone in thinking this particular scene has a power that’s unmatched.
–The Muppets (The Rainbow Connection returns): A close second was this blast of nostalgia. When Kermit is singing his classic tune and is joined by Miss Piggy and then all of the Muppets, I was moved to tears. I’m still not fully sure why that happened, but I know that it means something. Nostalgia and happiness came together and moved my emotions that fully, which is the mark of an amazing scene, no matter how you slice it. Yes, I have a soft spot for the Muppets, but that was only part of why this worked so well for me.
–Drive (The Elevator Scene): This scene sums up the movie perfectly for me. Beauty, romance, and sudden violence all at once as Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan share a kiss before Gosling’s Driver literally puts a boot in a villain’s face. The opening scene was a close second for me (as were one or two other choices from this terrific work), as it establishes The Driver at his best, but this is just one of the very best scenes of 2011, period.
–50/50 (Joseph Gordon-Levitt breaking down in the car): Without this powerful breakdown by JGL on the eve of his character’s dangerous cancer removal surgery, the film wouldn’t have worked quite like it did. The comedy gave way to life and death drama, but in a way that felt completely organic. It’s such an improbably great flick, and this scene helps to show you why that’s the case. Between his acting and the emotional investment you have in the character at this point, you’re right there with him in the car, as worried as he is.
–Red State (John Goodman’s monologue): Ironically, in a Kevin Smith film that’s highlighted by his direction more than his writing, the best scene is a monologue. John Goodman’s ATF agent Keenan perfectly sums up the mess that he’s just seen between the religious fundamentalists and the government. Simply put: “People just do the strangest things when they believe they’re entitled. But they do even stranger things when they just plain believe”.
–Warrior (The Final Fight): By the time brothers Brendan and Tommy meet in the cage at the climax of this flick, you have so much invested in both of their stories and want things to work out so badly for both that you don’t know who to root for. One is trying to keep his home for his family, and one is trying to keep a promise to a friend…while their father is caught in the middle. It’s surprisingly powerful stuff, and that doesn’t even take into account that the fight is amazingly well choreographed and feels like a real sporting event.
–The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (The opening credits): It’s hard to argue that this isn’t the coolest sequence of 2011…those metallic liquid shapes forming a dragon and just looking badass? The whole movie may have been great, but in a way it never quite beat the opening credits. David Fincher knows how to keep you on the edge of your seat, even when he’s just letting you know who the casting director was.
–We Bought a Zoo (Matt Damon tells his kids how he met his wife/their mom): Not everyone bought into the “up with people” vibe that Cameron Crowe’s latest film had, but this final scene where Damon relives for his children how he first met the woman who would become his wife and their mother. They all miss her terribly, and his power of storytelling literally brings her back before their very eyes, if only for a moment. It’s a very touching scene, and is on par with Crowe’s earlier work, even if the entire film isn’t.
–Moneyball (Working the phones at the Trade Deadline): The film version and the book version of Moneyball are different beasts (though both are terrific and work well together too), but one instance that fits the movie with the book rather well is the scene while Billy Beane and Peter Brand are working the phones to all but trick Major League Baseball into letting them get a player cheap in a trade when he’d otherwise be pricy. Brad Pitt plays Beane as an obsessive the whole way through, but never more than here, especially when he hangs up on people before the conversation is even done. He got the answer he wanted, and we got the scene we wanted, so everyone wins!
–Bellflower (The first date sequence): I’m cheating a bit here because this is a bunch of scenes put together, but they’re some of the most unique and somehow realistic sequences of two weirdos falling in love that I’ve seen in a long time. The film is a pretty surreal one, but it captures a lot of realism within it, if that makes any sense, and this is one very good instance of that. Most of you haven’t seen this flick, but if you get the chance, see it for this scene if for no other reason (but stay for the rest of the movie, you’ll thank me later).
–Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (The details of the 6th message): I have a lot of issues with this flick, but I won’t deny the power of the scene where Thomas Horn reveals to Geoffrey Wright what the final answering machine message that Tom Hanks left was about. I cried, I’ll admit it. This was a hint of what the film could have been like, and even if the film itself can’t live up to that, it’s so good on its own that it makes the cut on this list.
–Bridesmaids (A certain scene involving trying on dresses): Undoubtedly the crudest scene in the movie, but also one of the funniest, this is the scene from Bridesmaids that I’ll remember most. It’s got the women all interacting, it’s got an urgency that’s hilarious, and let’s face it, it’s just one of the funniest scenes of the year hands down. I understand that some found it to be out of place, but I hardly was one of them.
–The Descendants (The final scene on the couch): So much is said without really a word as you watch George Clooney and his children on the couch. They’re watching ‘March of the Penguins’, and as Morgan Freeman narrates that documentary, a feeling of calm washes over both them and you. They’ve been through a lot in this film, and know pretty much all that they have is each other. Despite that, you don’t feel bad for them, and you don’t think Matt King won’t be able to handle his daughters. In short, you finally feel like the King family is going to be alright…
–Margaret (The classroom debates): I’m cheating again, but these scenes only work when put together. Lisa Cohen’s debates on Post 9/11 New York and America with her classmates are an overarching theme in the film, even if they’re not explicitly talked about otherwise. These arguments do a perfect job of setting the time and place in a way that most films otherwise wouldn’t think to do. A lot of things work in this film (though not everything does), but nothing more than the scenes in the classroom.
–Like Crazy (Felicity Jones waits at the airport): As Felicity Jones drops Anton Yelchin off at the airport, they plan to meet again a period of time later. The scene shows her waiting there as the months go by in an instant all around her. It’s a bit of an arty touch for a flick otherwise grounded in realism, but it worked for me. You feel how much they want and need each other, and it almost hurts.
Honorable Mentions: Seeing A Trip to the Moon in Hugo, Ethan Hunt climbing the tallest building in the world in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the first scene of Paris in the 20’s during Midnight in Paris, the creation of the universe in The Tree of Life, the final speech in The Ides of March, everyone coming together in the backyard in Crazy Stupid Love, seeing the film that the kids made during the credits of Super 8, George Valentin and Peppy Miller dancing at the end of The Artist, meeting the Beaver in, well…The Beaver, and the first time we gaze at the extra planet in the sky during Another Earth.
Well…there you have my list, but what about you and yours? Would any of these make the cut? Did I pick the right movies but the wrong scenes? Am I just completely off the mark? Let me know and be sure to make your personal choices known!
–Thoughts? Discuss on the Forum!