Jun 11, 2009

50 Magic Moments (Part 2)

Here’s Part Two of the list. There will be SPOILERS for many of these films; I will indicate clips and comments that contain spoilers.

5 X 2: Dance

5 X 2 is a grim and often depressing film. The story of an unravelling marriage, told from the aftermath of divorce backwards to an idyllic first meeting. This sequence is one of the few moments of levity in the film as, after dinner, wife Valeria Bruni Tedeschi dances with her husband Stephane Freiss’ brother. It’s not key to the story, but the scene, helped by a brilliant choice of song, is intoxicating and not a little sexy.

Funny Face: Basal Metabolism

Another dance scene, but this one has an utterly different mood to the one above. Funny Face is a lightweight musical romance starring a slightly awkwardly paired Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. Astaire is as brilliant a dancer at 57 as he ever was, but Hepburn steals the show with this exuberant jazz dance. Director Stanley Donen insisted that Hepburn, otherwise clad entirely in form fitting black to accentuate her lithe frame, wear white socks. This clever choice draws focus to her amazing footwork. This is a joyous scene, easily the standout in a film that doesn’t quite work.

Ghostbusters: “Listen…”

Picking one moment from Ghostbusters is so hard. Do you go with the amazing pre-credits scare, Venkman’s test subject spitting his gum out, the Stay Puft man, Bill Murray warning of “Cats and dogs living together”? I’ve gone for something much smaller, but one that makes me snort with laughter every time I hear it. Exploring the library early in the film Ray gets all the Ghostbusters to stop in their tracks saying, “Listen, you smell something?” It’s such a wonderful piece of complete nonsense.

Gremlins: Father Christmas

Gremlins is a perversely wonderful Christmas movie. It’s a film that places us in a town so quintessentially American as apple pie that it feels like we should be watching It’s a Wonderful Life, and then proceeds to let a thousand little monsters rip it to shreds, at Christmas. Then, of course, there’s this scene, in which Phoebe Cates character relates the most tragic Christmas story ever told in movies. It's to Cates' credit that she doesn’t overplay it, because the dialogue could easily be comic, but she makes it a sad and moving moment.

INLAND EMPIRE: “Some heavy shit”
David Lynch has created some breathtaking cinematic moments in his career, and INLAND EMPIRE contains a fair few of them. This, thanks to Laura Dern’s incendiary performance, is the most impactful of them. It’s unclear by this point just who Dern is playing, but we find her in what seems to be a psychiatrists office describing a time that she was sexually assaulted, and fought back extremely effectively, only to be asked by the Police what had happened. She says "He's reaping what he's been sowing, that's what." They said 'Fucker been sowing some pretty heavy shit'." It’s one of the most striking and memorable lines I’ve heard, and drew gasps both times I saw the film at the cinema. This line alone should have won Dern the Oscar.


I should warn you that the clip above is hugely extreme, disturbing and NSFW.

This list is not, by any means, composed entirely of nice moments, but this one from IRREVERSIBLE is easily the most disturbing. Gaspar Noe’s backwards revenge thriller starts with one of the most disorienting sequences ever filmed, a nightmarish odyssey through a gay club called Rectum, searching for a man called Tenia, who the protagonist believes raped and beat his wife. The fact that we, in this scene, watch as a man’s face is reduced to a pulp through a beating with a fire extinguisher is bad enough, but it’s made worse by the fact that we later discover that this is not Tenia, but some innocent man.

Junebug: “Just the way you are”
Amy Adams’ performance in this fine film won her her first Academy Award nomination. As Ashley she is nothing less than a ray of sunshine, and she plays every line with a perfectly judged, slightly forced, happiness. She clearly loves her family, and especially her husband, and that’s shown beautifully in this one lovely line. When he gets frustrated Ashley tells her husband “God loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to let you stay that way”. It’s a perfectly in character mix of unconditional love for her husband and real concern for him, because he’s clearly depressed, but it’s also a line that is as funny as it is heartwarming.

Last Action Hero: “Not to be”

John McTiernan’s much underrated satire of action blockbusters had the misfortune of opening opposite Jurassic Park, and thus becoming a major commercial disappointment, it didn’t deserve that fate. Last Action Hero is hilarious, and the action scenes are also well executed, while Arnold Schwarzenegger gives a very fine tongue in cheek performance in the lead. In a standout fantasy sequence young movie fan Danny Madigan, bored in his English class, imagines Hamlet with his action hero Jack Slater (The Governator), in the form of a trailer. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and Hamlet is taking out the trash” goes the voiceover. The best moment, though, is when Arnie intones the famous line “To be, or not to be?” takes a drag of his cigar and finishes the line with “Not to be” and shoots someone. Even the stiffest Shakespeare purist must think that’s funny.

The Last Picture Show: Creaking

The Last Picture Show is a bittersweet film, and the most caustic story in the film is perhaps that of the affair between young Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and his basketball coach’s wife Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman, in an Oscar winning performance). Their first sex scene is excruciating in many ways. Ruth folding her clothes so carefully, Sonny’s disappointment with the sex, Ruth’s tears. The thing that really encapsulates the sadness of the scene though is a tiny and simple one, the creaking of the bed frame. It cuts through the scene like a knife, almost suggesting Ruth’s tears before she cries, and it’s genuinely moving. Apologies for the fact that the clip is from a commentary track, it's all I could find.

Lawn Dogs: "It's not my chest I want to show you"
At the heart of Lawn Dogs lies a beautifully realised and very unusual friendship between two misfits; 10 year old Devon (Mischa Barton) and 22 year old Trent (Sam Rockwell). In this lovely scene they talk in a field and Trent shows Devon the scars from when he was shot. Then Devon begins to unbutton the front of her dress, Trent turns away, and to his back Devon says “It’s not my chest I want to show you, stupid”, and reveals that she actually wants to show him a long scar of her own, from heart surgery. It’s the simplicity and love with which Barton delivers that line, as much as the physical bond between the two friends in this moment, that makes this one of my magic moments.

Magnolia : The date

Magnolia is, in a lot of ways, a film about the search for connection, and that’s never better expressed than with the story of the two lonely souls at the centre of this scene; fundamentally decent Jim – a cop who has become a laughing stock because he lost his gun, and beautiful fuck up Claudia – a drug addict who Jim impulsively asks out when called to her apartment on a noise complaint. The awkwardness of their date is beautifully observed by writer/director Puaul Thomas Anderson and actors John C. Reilly and Melora Walters. This scene is the centre of the web that Anderson weaves, and Walter’s line “Now that you’ve met me would you object to never seeing me again”, taken almost verbatim from an Aimee Mann song, was the first thing Anderson wrote for the project. For me though the great moment in this scene is Rielly’s beautiful reaction to the question “you want to kiss me Jim?” His instant and heartfelt “Yes” sums up the spirit of both his character and this scene in one moment.

The Man With Two Brains: Little girl

The Man With Two Brains is endlessly hilarious, and I could have picked any number of moments from it, but this unexpected gag is perhaps my favourite. It’s the ending that really slays me, Steve Martin’s condescending tone as he shouts after a four year old “It’s not sub-dural, it’s epidural” and the hint of triumph in his voice never fails to have me creased up, helpless with laughter.

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