2017 Year in Film: Favorite Scenes
Day two of our 2017 Year in Film is all about those moments that stick with you long after you've left the theater. Even disappointments can often have that one scene that catches you off guard or moves you unexpectedly, a hallmark of film's power as an artistic medium.
Without further ado, here are ten of my favorite scenes from movies in 2017
(It goes without saying that there are spoilers to be found here)
An act of cannibalism - Raw
Raw is the sort of film that exists to shock you. I was unable to attend a promotional screening of the film early in the year, but was told after the fact that those in attendance were provided with barf bags. You know, just in case. From a second-hand view, it sounded like little more than a stunt, but upon seeing Julia Ducournau’s film many months later, I began to understand where they were going with it. RAW is often a tough film to watch, one predicated on putting its lead character through all manner of terrible situations until it fundamentally changes her outlook on life in a number of ways. It all turns on one pivotal scene, where Justine’s sister has a bit of a digital accident with an extremely sharp pair of scissors, leading Justine to decide to have a little meal. It’s shocking and repulsive, the sort of moment that makes you want to look away, but there’s also a strange sense of calm that comes from it, managing to reshape what to expect from the rest of the film going forward. Of all the movies that are tough to recommend to people knowing its content, Raw is one of the most challenging, but its daring makes it quite the experience.
The stairwell fight - Atomic Blonde
Single take (or disguised single take, at least) fights in confined quarters have become almost required in action movies these days after the runaway success of OLDBOY and the Marvel Netflix shows. Atomic Blonde may be David Leitch’s first feature length directorial gig, but after a career as a stuntman and work on John Wick, the defining action series of the age, it’s not a surprise that there are some jaw-dropping sequences to be found in late 80s Berlin. The central fight sequence takes place in a winding stairwell, as Lorraine attempts to escort an asset out of East Berlin, only to be ambushed by USSR operatives. The ensuing fight is choreographed as one shot (though there are some pretty clear moments used to hide edits if you’re looking out for them), as the camera whips around from perspective to perspective as more goons come from out of the woodwork to take her down. It’s a remarkably brutal ballet, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the particular brutality of John Wick, but something about Theron is so magnetic that it kicks everything up a notch. I don’t always go for movies that rely solely on action, but thanks to Theron’s screen presence and a wonderful sense of style, Atomic Blonde is something special.
“Love My Way” - Call Me By Your Name
“Love My Way,” the 1982 new wave hit from The Psychedelic Furs, shows up twice in Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. And in both cases, Armie Hammer’s Oliver drops everything he’s doing and starts dancing like a loon, entirely unaware of the outside world while he moves in concert to the music. It’s the second time “Love My Way” comes up, when Oliver and Elio have taken a trip to Bergamo in a last ditch attempt to enjoy their time together before Oliver has to return to the US, that Call Me By Your Name is at its best. They come upon a group of strangers playing the song out of a car, and Oliver doesn’t even think twice before he runs over and starts dancing. It’s one final moment of uninhibited freedom and comfort that Oliver and Elio can share before life and the real world ends this magical summer and the magical relationship that came with it.
A trip to the ice cream stand - The Florida Project
Much of The Florida Project relies on the immediacy of its location, the way these kids are confined to a seedy motel in Orlando just outside the paradise that is Disney World, and the relative simplicity of their lives so close to the happiest place on Earth. When we first encounter Moonie and her friends, they mostly keep themselves to the motel and its immediate area, but soon they venture out to a local ice cream stand, where they beg strangers for enough money to get a cone they can share. The highway they follow to get to the ice cream stand has all manner of absurd, kitschy architecture, from a gift shop featuring a giant Merlin-like wizard rising out of the facade to a huge tent shaped like an orange. It’s the sort of place that was clearly and specifically designed with tourists in mind, and Sean Baker keenly juxtaposes how illusory it all feels with the reality that people actually live there too, as easy as it may be to forget.
Prison demands - Logan Lucky
In lieu of writing some contemporaneous ode to the humor and joy of Steven Soderberg’s return to the screen, I present an excerpt for one of the funniest scenes in any film in 2017. Without further ado, we take you to a prison in the midst of a riot, with the prisoners having presented their demands to the Warden (delightfully played by Dwight Yoakam)
Warden Burns: As warden, I can approve buying a copy of A Dance With Dragons for the prison library to go up on the Game of Thrones shelf. Now, the only problem is that The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring have yet to be published so those aren’t available. Well, I can’t do anything about what I can’t control.
Prisoner Naaman: That is total bullshit! George R.R. Martin was supposed to deliver The Winds of Winter to his publisher over two years ago!
Warden: I know that was the original deadline. That’s what it says here. But I’m reading to you from the Wikipedia page. It also says that Martin had a grueling promotion schedule or something, and it’s interfered with his writing schedule. He’s failed to complete The Winds of Winter
Prisoner: That don’t make no sense. Those two guys who transferred in from Federal last month knew about all the new stuff with the hot chick and her dragons.
Warden: No, I’m telling you, I believe those two inmates had that information from watching the TV series. Again, I’m reading to you. The series has jumped ahead. It’s no longer following the books.
“Bellbottoms” - Baby Driver
The whole conceit of Baby Driver syncs the actions of its cast to the film’s soundtrack, and director Edgar Wright wastes no time getting down to business. The opening of the film is a breathless six minute car chase set to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms,” the song main character Baby (Ansel Elgort) is listening to on his iPod. Every moment is in beat with the music, from Baby turning his windshield wipers off and on to drumming on the side of the car while he watches his cohorts (Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm and Eliza Gonzalez) rob a bank across the street. Once they return, perfectly timed to the song increasing its tempo, Baby careens through the streets of Atlanta, showing a preternatural control of his car as he evades all manner of police pursuit. As is always the case with an Edgar Wright film, the editing is super tight and top notch, the camera always framing the action perfectly and cleanly. Baby Driver has been a passion project of Wright’s for some time, and its opening sequence proves just how much he was aching to make a movie like this.
Vegas shootout - Blade Runner 2049
The entire sequence of Blade Runner 2049 set in Las Vegas is arguably worth a shout out, from the dusty, orange haze hiding decrepit statues of times long past to the initial confrontation between Ryan Gosling’s Agent K and Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard, but the climax of the sequence is where Villeneuve and Roger Deakins truly shine. The shootout in a formerly garish casino is a nightmare of light and sound, as holograms of Elvis and Frank Sinatra flicker in and out of view, blaring old standards for the few seconds they have power. The entire sequence is a punishing piece of sound design (that Blade Runner pistol firing sound is ever so satisfying), an assault on the ears you won’t see bested this side of Dunkirk. Confusion reigns, with Deckard using his knowledge of the environment to outflank the younger, newer model. It’s a tense, bewildering cacophony of beauty, and one of the stronger examples of why \Blade Runner 2049 is one of the most beautiful movies of 2017.
Flash versus Superman - Justice League
Justice League is a pretty bad movie, and the prospect of the newly formed group of heroes having to fight a just-resurrected Superman to calm him down while leaving the one thing they’re trying to protect WIDE FUCKING OPEN for Steppenwolf to take off screen while they’re bickering is monumentally stupid, but it does harbor one of the better moments in any superhero movie in 2017. Speedsters on screen have been well-established through ultra slow motion since the breakout Quicksilver scene in X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Zack Snyder’s introduction of The Flash into cinema follows the same template. During the fight with Superman, Flash zooms around his back for a sneak attack, only to see Superman turn his head and follow his movements with a sneer on his face, the ultimate “oh fuck” moment for the weakest member of the team. It’s a big fanboy moment (and led to quite the cheer at my promo screening) and it’s one of the few cases where Snyder’s extreme love for slow motion pays off mightily.
Changing the dressing - Stronger
The strength of this scene rests entirely on David Gordon Green’s perfect camera placement. It’s a good ways into Stronger, his biopic about Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, to see the havoc that was wreaked upon his lower body by the misfortune of being near the finish line when the bombs exploded. But where a lesser director might have made the stumps that were once Jeff Bauman’s legs the front and center attraction, a grisly reminder of what he’ll have to live with for the rest of his life. But Bauman doesn’t want to reckon with this quite yet, so the focus is literally on his face and that of his on again off again girlfriend, as his attending nurse changes his bandages. But his legs are caught in the frame as well, hazy and out of focus in the background, like a dream he can’t let come true. It’s a masterfully framed shot, and points to Stronger’s tendency to eschew exploitation.
Holdo’s Sacrifice - Star Wars: The Last Jedi
There are more than a few striking images in Rian Johnson’s entry in the Star Wars franchise, but none marry the spectacle with an emotional core quite like Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo’s last ditch effort to sacrifice herself and save the crippled resistance escape pods being torn apart by a massive First Order dreadnought. As the fire of the resistance flickers and nearly dies, Holdo stays behind for one final last ditch effort to save her comrades, slowly turning the ship to face her pursuers and jumping to lightspeed directly through the largest ship with a white, soundless flash. The aftermath has an undeniable poetry to it, a quiet, almost serene survey of the carnage with this bigger-than-a-star-destroyer behemoth cleaved in two surrounded by debris. It is somber and solemn, the ultimate sacrifice made for the resistance to give the stragglers a chance to live and fight again. It’s also the par excellence example of how Rian Johnson crafted The Last Jedi to be the most impressively directed entry in the series
Tomorrow things shift from the specific to the general, as we spend the rest of the week talking about films as a whole instead of their impressive parts. Join us for a look a five surprises and five disappointments from 2017.