Each year, the movie industry can be counted on to provide a fair number of truly superb performances, inspired directorial efforts, exquisite scores, and examples of recognition-worthy craftsmanship. And with the awards season that arrives with the new year, most of those efforts will, indeed, receive plenty of recognition. But what about those moments too fleeting and too category-defying to register with the Academy, the voters and all those other mechanisms for saluting the best of the previous year? Well, this will have to do.
Warning: Here, thar be minor spoilers. Oh Peter Jackson, studio gluttony and Tolkien fatigue. What else but sloppy writing paired with the ever-present need to distend action sequences and pad the movie’s running time explains the climactic Final Battle between Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and Azog the Strangely Fixated on Thorin Oakenshield? Even accepting the possibility that albino orcs have an innate resistance to hypothermia (after all, who knows?), ol’ Azog still shouldn’t be able to bust vertically and bodily through the several inches of ice from a prone, horizontal floating position. Yes, yes … this sounds like the classic instance of the Nerd nitpick, triggering the similarly classic response, “But it’s a movie with elves and wizards!” But one, shut up. Two, the fabric of any fiction, be it crime noir or high fantasy or even just a slightly embellished recounting of a night out on the town, relies on all the mundane realities being kept in place while the crazy stuff happens. Suspended disbelief does require some structural support, after all. But all that aside, this moment squanders the satisfaction gained from watching Thorin use his smarts to defeat his foe—it’s all undone by having an impossible development enabled by lazy writing. Yes, we know any victories by Thorin will be personally pyrrhic, but allow the dwarf his due. —Scott Wold
Nicolas Cage has a track record of being pretty cheesy and hilarious in his last, oh, decade or so of movies. In the very forgettable Left Behind, the real star is a family photo into which Nicolas Cage had been obviously and hilariously photoshopped. Every time the film showed it, I would nudge my friend and say “Look—there it is again!” —Curt Holman
This is not actually one of the scenes we’re talking about, but hey, “Baby!”
Speaking of Distracting props… Bradley Cooper may have turned in yet another amazing performance as the majorly PTSD’d Navy SEAL legend Chris Kyle, but no measure of acting proficiency can sell a stiff, plastic doll that’s supposed to be fussing during a medium shot. Trying to get away with it once is something, but trying it twice after the second child arrives, rightly had the audience I saw it with laughing during an emotionally charged domestic scene. (The chuckles even carried over into the following scene.) Filmmaker Clint Eastwood may be a legend, but no sane director could have seen those dailies and not called for reshoots. —Scott Wold
As the above video shows, the lip synching scene the titular duo (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig) in The Skeleton Twins is a fun to watch, but even though we know Wiig’s character will inevitably succumb to her brother’s invitation, it’s still satisfying—and fun—when she finally gives in.
The opening credits sequence in Guardians does a fantastic job of resetting audience expectations as to tone the fun that should be expected after a surprisingly “heavy” opening. Pratt’s grooving along with Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” is a delight, but his use of a hostile lizard/mammal/alien what’s-it as an impromptu microphone is a real chuckle-trigger. (Watch a somewhat dark video of it here.)
This is not from the film. Trust me. It’s better this way.
Though released in Germany in 2013, David Wnendt’s visceral WTF-de-force has plenty of moments that the viewer won’t forget. Nonetheless, we’re going with the scene where a group of men stand over a pizza and pleasure themselves. Reportedly, the actors were porn stars doing it for real but, in the extreme slo-mo close-ups, the filmmaker used a mix of real and synthetic “toppings.” It’s just so … no. —David Greenberg
This scene could have gone on this list, too, so we’ll use it since the other is a bit spoilery.
Spoiler Alert if you still haven’t seen the film. Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla received a good deal of grief for its coy handling of the movie’s star, teasing viewers over and over with glimpses of the big guy before suddenly pulling the camera away to spend yet more time with actors not named Bryan Cranston. The annoyance of the long tease was somewhat forgiven by the fatality move Godzilla uses to finish off the last Muto toward the end of the film. His patented “atomic breath throat cleansing” drew cheers and applause in theater pretty much everywhere it played.
We put a classic moment of parental-triggering at #1 on last year’s list, but, honestly, this one was worse. The domino effect of “No!” that leads to this moment is itself pretty traumatic—a family’s dog gets in over its head in a rough surf, the wife/mother foolishly swims out to try and save it, which leads the husband/father to try to save her, leaving their toddler sitting stranded on the beach. When the Alien Seductress (Scarlett Johansson) spies an opportunity to “collect” yet another man exhausted by a fruitless attempt to save the father, that somehow is much less horrifying than the shrill cries of the abandoned child, left sitting on the beach, his parents drowned, and with the tide coming in… (See the scene for yourself.)
In their role as wish fulfillment vehicles, superheroes (and villains) seldom die. Even in the grittier age of story-telling in which we live, probably 90% of the comics written and read by current fans involve plenty of spandex, loads of adversity, but also, inevitably, triumph. For that reason, though, the actual death of a main character used to be pretty rare. Ask any long-time collector about the most memorable moment of his or her fandom and, depending on age, you’re very likely to hear about the deaths of Gwen Stacy, Phoenix or Elektra (or even Invisible Kid or one-third of Triplicate Girl). That’s where dystopian alternate timelines like Days of Future Past come in. The film is filled with moments where the hero loses. For the reader/viewer conditioned to seeing the hero succeed despite all odds, there are plenty of shocking moments. As for which death hits the hardest—Iceman decapitated and crushed to powder, Colossus ripped in half, Blink three-way skewered, Bishop blown up like an overloaded fusebox? Well, you decide.
It was such a small moment we couldn’t find a picture of it.
By now, it’s been pretty well established—Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a singular achievement in filmmaking, which the coming awards season will likely acknowledge soon enough. But part of its brilliance is its willingness to allow the moments it captures to stay real. As such, it’s actually filled with scenes that, depending on the viewer’s own experiences, are basically land mines of resonance, of “I’ve been there” or “I’ve felt that.” In one scene, Mason (Ellar Coltrane) hangs out in an abandoned house with some older boys, as they talk and take turns throwing saw blades at things. It’s a supremely boy thing to do, but the viewer, so conditioned by Hollywood, keeps expecting something terrible to happen—some accident, some horrible bullying, something that’s going to drastically alter the course of the movie. But it’s just an evening in an abandoned house. It’s moments like these that signal this is a different kind of movie than what we’ve become accustomed to—that this is just life we’re watching and not some Hollywood version of it.