Jul 3, 2009

50 Magic Moments (Part 4)

This last part of this list contains some nudity. If that offends you please skip this post. Thanks.

Say Anything: A pen

Say Anything, while often very funny, is also a wonderfully raw film; it feels exactly like first love, that same mix of giddy excitement, disbelief in one’s luck, and searing pain when it goes wrong. So, when Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) is dumped by his girlfriend Diane Court (Ione Skye), there can hardly be a single person who doesn’t feel his pain as he drives around late at night, vowing to become “Power Lloyd”. In the case of the guys in the audience this identification is likely down to the fact that we’re all also in love with Diane. It’s when he gets out of the car that the movie cuts to your heart though as Lloyd, on the phone to his sister in the pouring rain, says “She gave me a pen. I gave her my heart, and she gave me a pen.” If that doesn’t get you choked up then, truly, you have no soul.

Schindler’s List: A real shower

Spielberg’s best drama is perhaps the only one that utterly refuses to give in to its director’s patented sentimentality.  An unblinking, searing, and deeply upsetting Holocaust movie, it set the standard for all that have followed it. When talking about this film the scene that usually gets singled out is that of the little girl in the red coat during the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto, powerful to be sure, but for me another sequence completely dwarfs that one. We are on a train bound for Auschwitz, we know it, the Jews on the train don’t, they are supposed to be Oskar Schindler’s workers, and as the train draws up to the gates of the camp the sense of terror and panic is overwhelming. A long sequence see them herded into the bowels of the camp, made to strip and then to go into the infamous shower room. Even seeing this sequence a second or subsequent time, knowing the outcome, doesn’t dilute the power of the moment that the lights go out, nor that of when they come back on and water, not gas, flows from the shower heads. In a depressing film, in a sequence set in one of the most terrible places on Earth, it is a moment of pure, unvarnished, joy.

The Shining: Blood in an elevator

Stanley Kubrick’s film may not be a favourite of Stephen King’s, but it positively hums with an atmosphere of otherworldly terror. It’s full of surprises, but few so well sprung as this, mainly because very little seems to prompt this shot, it’s just a surreal image from a primal nightmare. Elevator doors open in slow motion and (extremely convincing) blood pours out. It’s the slowness of it, and the way it flows out from the sides, and the length of time that it takes to stop pouring out, all those things add up to create a strange and haunting image.

Short Cuts: Underdressed for the occasion

Julianne Moore is a brave actress, and that’s seldom been better demonstrated than in this scene from Short Cuts. Preparing for a dinner party Moore agues with her husband (Matthew Modine) about what he perceives as a mutual attraction between her and the husband of the couple they are expecting that night. It’s a huge row, full volume, lasting for some five minutes, but when Moore spills wine on her skirt, and removes it to clean, she reveals that she’s not wearing underwear and for several minutes, in full view of the camera, she continues to argue, bottomless. When Director Robert Altman offered her the role he specified that she’d have to do this scene, apparently she said “Not only can I do that, but I’ve got a bonus for you; I’m a natural redhead”.

Show Me Love [a.k.a.: Fucking Amal]: Kissing in the back seat

This is one of the great kisses. It’s very brief, less than ten seconds, but those few seconds are both funny, thanks to the way director Lukas Moodysson has Foreigner’s uber-cheesy anthem I Want To Know What Love Is swell on the soundtrack and very sexual. This is the second kiss between the two girls in the movie. The first is a peck on the lips that comes about because of a dare. This one, however, seems to be all about hunger. Both actresses throw themselves into the moment, seeming to lose themselves in the kiss, only to be as rudely awakened as their characters are by the driver's intervention.

Spider-Man 2 and 3: Ursula
If there was a major complaint to be made about the first two Spider-Man films it was that the love interest provided by Kirsten Dunst’s Mary-Jane Watson was both weak and completely different to the spunky comic book character. Spider-Man 3 didn’t help matters either, being generally rubbish and adding another dull girl in the form of Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard). However, lurking in both sequels is the best girl in the Spider-Man movies; Mageina Tovah as Ursula the smitten daughter of Peter Parker’s landlord. She’s sweet, gorgeous and totally charming. There’s something about Mageina Tovah, she just holds the screen so well and through her Ursula, a character who really shouldn’t be memorable at all, ends up stealing every one of her too few scenes.

Taxi Driver: Phone call

Cinema can evoke all sorts of emotions and reactions in its audience and this moment, perhaps despite or perhaps because of its stunning simplicity, is as strong an evocation of pain and of loneliness as I’ve ever seen in film. I remember being staggered by Taxi Driver when I first saw it, but never more than by this one shot. Travis (Robert DeNiro), having previously taken the beautiful Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) on a disastrous date to a porn movie is one the phone begging for a second chance. As we listen to Travis’ side of the conversation, which is sad and pathetic on its own, Martin Scorsese tracks away from Travis, leaving us looking down an empty hallway. It is a perfect shot, one that says everything about the past present and future of these people in one brief camera move. That’s what cinema should always be like.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974): Sliding door

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, even 35 years after it was made, conjures up an atmosphere of dread unrivalled by most horror films (certainly by its own remake). That despite the fact that the film’s violence is very brief and quite infrequent, and that barely a drop of blood is spilled. For all this seeming restraint what marks TCM out is the fact that all the violence in it seems really to hurt, and never more so than in this vicious moment, which lasts barely a second. Just as we think one of the group of kids we’ve been following is about to escape the house of horrors in which they are a trapped a metal screen door behind him whooshes open, Leatherface appears, smacks the kid over the head with a mallet, drags him through the door and slams it closed. It’s the speed that really disturbs, the nonchalance, the practiced nature of it. It’s a chilling kill in a very scary film.

Toy Story: “You are a TOY”

I always love Buzz Lightyear, but he’s most fun when he actually believes himself to be a Space Ranger, rather than a toy, and this wonderful moment from the first Toy Story (a film from which I could pick almost any moment for this list) contains perhaps Tim Allen’s finest reading as Buzz. When Woody (Tom Hanks) finally gets too exasperated to contain himself any more he explodes at Buzz: “YOU! ARE! A! TOYYYYY! You aren't the real Buzz Lightyear! You're - you're an action figure!  You are a child's plaything!” It’s a testament to the character work that Pixar put in that in the split second before Buzz replies we get to see a thought process, as he decides that Woody can’t be right and tells him: “You are a sad, strange little man, and you have my pity." It’s one of those moments that makes this list for no other reason that that it is joyously, uproariously and endlessly funny.

The Truman Show: Leaving [SPOILERS]

The ending of The Truman Show pulls its audience in two directions, we know what has to happen, that Truman has to leave, enter the outside world that he’s been denied during his first 30 years, and we know that that’s the happy ending, something we want to happen. Yet the movie is so good that you almost end up as one of The Truman Show’s viewers, wanting him not to leave, because you want to keep watching him. In the end this sequence contains one of Peter Weir’s most startling images; Truman walking up a staircase and opening a door in ‘the sky’. It’s a story, and an image, you can’t fail to be moved by.

The Vanishing (’88): Boxed in [HUGE SPOILERS]

The final minutes of George Sluizer’s original version of his thriller about a man with an obsessive need to know what happened to his girlfriend, who vanished three years previous, are some of the most nightmarish ever put to film. When Rex finds the man who kidnapped his girlfriend (a chilling, brilliant Bernard Pierre Donadieu) he is offered the knowledge of what happened, but only by experiencing the exact same thing that happened to her will he ever know. The next time we see Rex he is waking up inside a coffin, already buried, and with the knowledge that he is soon going to die, just as she did. It is the stuff of nightmares. I can’t for the life of me understand why, when he remade the film for the US market, Sluizer allowed the ending to be changed so that the Rex character lives.

Water Lilies: Pulling away

Water Lilies is one of the smartest films I’ve ever seen about being a teenager and first love. Unlike most it appears to be written and directed by someone (Celine Sciamma) who remembers what being this age was actually like – the teenagers, even friends, are often cruel to one another, that love isn’t always reciprocated, and that both of these things are sources of frequent pain. In this standout scene Marie (Pauline Acquart) has been dragged to a club by the (possibly) unknowing object of her affection Floriane (Adele Haenel). Pulling Marie on to the dancefloor Floriane begins to dance rather provocatively with her impassive friend, leaning in closer, closer, until they almost kiss, only to pull away, leaving Floriane dancing with a guy, and Marie, frustrated, seething in the middle of the dancefloor.

Wolf Creek: “That’s not a knife”

Most of the time films referencing other films feels smug, and like the film has run out of ideas, so its borrowing someone else’s, but in this case I’ll let that slide. This Aussie slasher’s nod to Crocodile Dundee is so beautifully timed and delivered, so blackly comic, and followed up by an act so vicious that it feels completely appropriate. Advancing on a cowering victim as she produces a penknife the killer (John Jarrat) quotes Paul Hogan’s character, telling her “That’s not a knife, this is a knife” before using his own to slice off the girl’s fingers in a great shock moment.

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