Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The 20 Best Movie Scenes Meme - Day 1

So, my friend Elizabeth was talking to me about movie scenes, and she came across a meme that was about your favorite movie scenes. Being the kind of person I am, I jumped at it with both feet. Being the person I am, I didn't think it through.

See, I watch a lot of movies. And I have a lot of things that I like about movies. But the problem is that many of my favorite movies don't have iconic scenes. You can see the problem here. Thankfully, I have bunches of other things I can pick. Bunches and bunches. Like I said, I've seen a LOT of movies.

This'll be a week long project, I think. I'll post up five of these a day, with descriptions and bonus scenes if I think they're relevant. This is an eclectic list, and it's not really organized much. One scene isn't necessarily better than any other, aside from one that I'll get around to. If I can find youtube links of the scene, I'll post them, but I wouldn't expect much on that front.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - The Deceit of the Sultan
First off, this is probably one of my favorite films of all time, so it's hard not to just say "watch the whole movie, it's all awesome." But one scene stands out more than others. Early in the movie, though, is the scene that encapsulates the entirety of why the movie is awesome. The Baron Munchausen, in one of his famous adventures, is visiting a Sultan. The Sultan offers him his best wine, which the Baron disparages in favor of wine from the court in Vienna. The Sultan then offers a life-or-death wager. If the Baron can deliver the wine in an hour, he can have as much treasure as the strongest man can carry. If he cannot, he will die.

Fortunately, in the Baron's band of heroes is the fastest man in the world. Who, even though he falls asleep under a tree a hundred miles away on the journey, manages to get the bottle of wine and deliver a love letter for the Baron, winning the bet a split second before the Baron is to be decapitated. And then the Baron allows one of his companions, the strongest man in the world, to stack the Sultan's entire treasure hoard upon his back, walking out with a mountain of gold and jewels. And when the Sultan renegs on his agreement and attacks the Baron, he and his heroes take down the Sultan's guards with aplomb.

And this is all in the first half hour of the movie!

I'm not going to say it's my favorite movie EVER, but it's close.

Heat - Final Showdown
Heat is an all around good movie. Perhaps my favorite gangster/heist movie. It's violent, it's smart, it's tense. But it all finally comes to a head at the end. When the cop who is nearly as corrupt as the criminals (Al Pacino) and the honorable criminal you want to root for (Robert DeNiro) finally collide, it's in an amazing gunfight on the tarmac of an airport, the final confrontation before our "hero" gets away.

With Michael Mann's near-peerless pacing and tension, the cat and mouse game is the final culmination of both characters, portrayed by both actors in the prime of their personas. It's a clash of titans, and as it brings closure to an amazing film, it's hard to know who to root for. And what makes it better is that both men know that neither of them are sure anymore if they're the good guy or not, but they are who they are, and there's only one way the scene can end.

Death Proof - Ship's Mast
The greatest car scene ever. I know that sounds kind of silly, but I think it's true. Stuntwoman Zoë Bell (playing herself) is lying on the hood of a white Dodge Challenger (the car from Vanishing Point, another classic car movie) with nothing more than two belts tied to the door posts. As she clings onto the front of car, exhilarated by the stunt.

That's when Stuntman Mike (a perfect Kurt Russell performance), a psychopath stunt driver with a black Dodge Charger, decides to kill the women in the car, who he has been stalking. What follows is one of the longest, most break-neck, nail-biting car scene ever, with Zoë Bell clinging for dear life on the hood of the car, which is unable to stop as Stuntman Mike's car keeps ramming into them at full speed. It's amazingly shot, it's perfectly pitched, and it's all done with real drivers. Or as Stuntman Mike would say, "real cars crashing into real cars and real dumb people driving em."

Drawing Restraint 9
- Transformation
Nobody's seen this film. Don't feel bad if you haven't. I only saw it through happenstance at my indie theater. It doesn't have a DVD release, so far as I know. It's an incredibly austere art film about whaling made by Bjork and Bjork's husband. It's weird and the ultimate in obscure. But the climax of the film stakes a claim on this list due to sheer uniqueness.

In the film, Bjork and her husband play two characters who have been brought aboard a Japanese whaling ship for some sort of ritual. At first, it's unclear why this is, they seem to be uncomfortable with the ship and strangers to each other. It's only at the end, in this final scene, that it's clear why they're there. They are both led into a room wearing ceremonial robes, but proceed to disrobe and embrace each other tenderly. That's when the ship openes up a valve in the room they're in, and they're flooded with ambergris from the whales that had been hunted that season.

Both characters, suspended in the liquid ambergris, proceed to draw whalebone knives and carve at each other as they embrace and kiss and float in the middle of the room. It's horrifying and tender, as they cut away chunks of flesh from their partners piece by piece, peeling skin and slicing through muscle, blood making fractal designs in the ambergris. But as they cut away each others legs, underneath emerge fins. And when they peel the skin from their partner's back, what's revealed is a blowhole. And from the carnage of their human sacrifice is born two new whales which are released, with thanks, into the ocean.

It's an amazing scene that sadly, is wrapped around the most pretentious film I've ever seen. I can't say that I recommend everyone rush out and see this one, but it's left an indelible impression upon me.

Troy - Hector vs. Achilles (youtube)
This is the fight scene, out of any I've seen, that I chose to be on here. Why? It's not the flashiest, and it's not wrapped around the best movie in the world. But this is exactly what a fight scene should be. The whole movie is built around building these two heroes up, both of which are flawed but both of which are sympathetic. Yet they're on opposing sides, and it finally comes to pass that Achilles calls out Hector, and one of the major battles of ancient lore is played out. And how masterfully it's done.

The key here is the impressive storytelling that's done through the choreography. Achilles is flashy and fluid, moving with an inhuman grace that betrays his devine heritage. In opposition, Hector is of the earth, with aggressive, emotional movements. The choreography is amazing, with beautiful spear stunts and an amazing back and forth. It's the bright point of a solid film, elevated to the great by just giving us two characters fighting that MEANS SOMETHING.

The Protector - Up The Building (youtube)
The Protector is a Tony Jaa vehicle. Tony Jaa, if you don't know, is a muay thai badass who takes dudes down in movies that are so awesome they can barely stand on their own two legs, because those legs are busy kicking you in the face. And that's never more clear than in this one, huge steadicam shot in The Protector. Tony Jaa is after the sacred elephant the bad guys stole, and between him and the answer he seeks is several floors and dozens of bad guys.

What follows? Action bliss.

There is nothing so satisfying as watching your hero cutting dudes up with his awesomeness, it's the kind of thing that turns an action film into a choreographed piece of art, with an actor who knows what they're doing moving perfectly through a complex, involved scene, with all the visual flare and impactful action that they can. This is one of the finest examples of that.

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