Even bad or marginal films can offer stand-alone scenes that stand out. Here are my ten favorites from last year:
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1. Up -- Married Life Montage:
Four of the most memorable and moving minutes you'll ever see. Most montages and flashbacks of this sort focus on what David Zucker lampooned so well in the "Naked Gun" films: the run-on-the-beach type of stuff. Director Pete Docter not only captured the harsh realities of life with a miscarriage and the tragedy of growing old, but also the small everyday moments that later become the most poignant. Docter's real accomplishment, though, was in setting the early bar so high with these heartrending few minutes and then living up to them for the next 90.
2. Inglourious Basterds -- Once Upon a Time... In Nazi-Occupied France: After "Death Proof" I worried that one our great directors had started to buy into his own fanboy press that he could do no wrong. But the "Basterds" opening scene with "The Jew Hunter," SS Officer Hans Landa (Christopher Waltz -- who must win the Oscar), psychologically destroying a French farmer, not only unnerved me completely but eased all my fears regarding Mr. Tarantino.
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3. Watchmen -- Death of the Comedian:
Brutal macho carnage set to Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable." An extraordinary moment of poetic violence in a movie destined to be more appreciated in the years to come.
4. The Hangover -- End Credit Photographs:
I was on the floor. An absolutely brilliant payoff to the first classic raunchy comedy since "American Pie
" way back in 1999. Unfortunately, because this was such a monster hit, the Hollywood copycats are sure to get everything wrong in their attempt to recapture the lightening. "The Hangover's" success had nothing to do with raunch and everything to do with laughs that built one upon the other, a meticulous structure, and a 100 minute runtime that moved like Patton's army.
5. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen -- End Credits:
Seeing this punishing, dreadful, 9 hour, soulless piece of dreck come to an end made me weep with joy like Papillon after a stretch in solitary. I get that Michael Bay's sequel to a much better movie was the anti-Avatar --
a pro-military, action-adventure with the Obama administration as the bad guys, but please Mr. Bay, don't do me any more favors.
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6. Bruno -- Richard Bey Show:
Now that he has a pretty serious flop on his hands, maybe some smart producer can get Sacha Baron Cohen under control and force him to tone down the off-putting raunch. You remove the pointless, fetishistic sex from Bruno
and you've got a hands-down brilliant short film. Bruno and "Gayby" on "The Richard Bey Show" was an epic piece of social satire deflating more sacred cows than I could count.
7. Crazy Heart -- Closing Scene:
One of those quiet but still startling dénouements where nothing ends up as you expect but still as it should be.
8. Star Trek -- Birth of Captain Kirk:
J.J. Abrams' opened his reboot with a mythological wowser. Too bad the whole thing would eventually devolve into a shaky-cammed, unfocussed mess starring an absurdly dull villain.
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9. Hurt Locker -- Sniper Duel:
With an actual story and less military-bashing, Katherine Bigelow might have enjoyed the box-office comeback she deserves as opposed to the one she's currently enjoying only within the small, cloistered critical community. But as a series of stand-alone scenes, Bigelow proves herself a second-to-none director of men and action and slow-winding tension. The sniper duel might be her finest moment since the cast of Aliens walked into a shit-kicker bar
10. Terminator: Salvation -- Giant Robot Chase:
One of the best action scenes of the franchise. An exhilerating chase involving a crumbling bridge and a Thing That Just Won't Stop. When the tower of the Terminator releases the two motorcycles on its human prey you can feel the whole movie kick into gear -- McG gets it! And then he doesn't...