With the awards season ebbing towards us we ought to pay some respect to the films gone by in 2016 before they get swept away. More specifically, then, with an array of cinematic moments to choose from I plucked these 7 indelible scenes from 7 very different movies, which have all left their mark on me in various ways. By no means my favorite moments, or my favorite movies (though some are), but certainly deserve their pin in the 2016 map. In no particular order…
Catwalk (The Neon Demon)
So much to choose from in Nicolas Winding Refn’s thoroughly messy whole, a sum of a few stunning parts – technically and in content. Do I opt for the mountain cat in the hotel room? The necrophilic embrace? The knife-driven oral sex nightmare? The vomiting up the eyeball? Bathing in blood? At the center somewhere of the drawn out, obnoxiously executed neo-noir effort is the notion of supermodels exceeding their peak and being replaced by younger, more natural girls. The catwalk audition sequence is perhaps the least schizophrenic and colorful of the movie, but is way ahead with pure, simple meaning. Jesse is a sight of beauty to behold, and Sarah is just too damn old. The scene, shot meticulously and slowly, eyes and expressions tell the story, with bright crossing dull in an architecture of whites and the like.
Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy Fight (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies)
One does find it easier to believe that not everyone has read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice than one would believe that they haven’t imagined or envisaged that the stubborn lovebirds at the center of the story have a good old-fashioned scuffle. In the ridiculously grand, flesh-eating, tongue-in-cheek version of the classic novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy actually do go head-to-head. Elizabeth kicks him full force before hurling books at him, and that is only the start of it as she grabs the fire poker. Some standard martial arts ensues, you know, she gets leg-swept, he gets round-housed. There’s also a bit of swift button removing on Darcy’s waistcoat from Elizabeth, before he slashes back at her revealing yet more cleavage – you see, there is still then some of the sexually driven tension from the book. When the bedlam dies down, Mr. Darcy leaves, giving his best wishes in true Jane Austen fashion. Splendid.
Mephisto Waltz (Victoria)
When Victoria meets and then proceeds in hanging out with a bunch of unknown lads you can’t help feel there may be danger ahead. The entire film is a remarkable achievement for following through with this, while still remaining gripping and fairly unpredictable. Victoria’s attachment to one of the boys, Sonne, certainly carries some mutual attraction, and one scene between them is one of the more sedated but poignant of the movie. Stopping off at the cafe where she works, Victoria is challenged by Sonne to have a crack on the piano. She does so, and unbeknown to him, she plays Mephisto Waltz by Franz Liszt expertly and beautifully. Victoria claims she always wanted be a pianist until she was knocked back. Sonne is rightly impressed by her talent and dreams, as are we watching, a lovely, character-building scene in a movie rife with rapid action sequences and dark narrative passages.
Would That It Were So Simple (Hail, Caesar!)
Up-and-coming actor Tobey has already in quick succession called his director “Mr. Laurence” three times, and thus corrected with “Laurentz” each time. Later, calling him Mr. Laurentz, Toby is told to use “Laurence” which confuses the poor kid: “We can use Christian names, my good dear boy, Laurence is fine.” Laurence Laurentz. Of course. What follows is a simply hilarious exchange between the two of them regarding the pronunciation of one basic line, to which the hapless actor is asked to repeat it exactly as Laurentz is about to. Sounds so simple. Laurentz delivers the line with such professional ease, whereas Tobey misreads the emphasis: “My dear boy, why do you say that? Why do you say, twuuuuuh?” exclaims the director with ample disgust. The short scene soon builds much more hilarity, when Laurentz expresses the line with his hand gesture, to which Tobey mimics in return only to get a rapid hand slap “Keep your head still.” or when he asks him to say “Would that it’were so simple. Trippingly.” the boy responds “Would that it twuuuuuuh, so simple. Trippingly.” “Don’t say trippingly. Say the line trippingly.”. By the time you’re watching the over-lapping repetition of their respective takes on the line you’ll be watching through tears of laughter.
Reality On The Outside (10 Cloverfield Lane)
Through the edge-of-your-seat guessing games, the scissor melting, the girl in the photo not who we all thought, the uncomfortable dinners, the doomed woman smashing her head against the vault glass, the human urge to simply know the reality whether the world is under attack or that your captive is a nutbag. The marvel of 10 Cloverfield Lane is that it plays yo-yo with your own expectations and suspicions throughout. When the courageous heroine Michelle, home-made shower-curtain safety-suit-clad, finally breaks free from the clutches of the disturbed Howard and his apocalyptic-prepped bunker, she is apprehensive about her new freedom in the outside world. Fearing Howard was indeed right, she she sees birds freely flocking above her – the whole dynamic of her semi-brainwashing turns on its head. A helicopter-sound prompts her to leap atop a car to reveal what she can see, those noises become more surreal and louder – that is no helicopter, but an alien spacecraft. Michelle now believes with her own eyes, this is just too much to take as she exclaims “Oh come on!”.
Escape To Victory (Mustang)
Mustang’s tough-and-tumble subject matter is handled beautifully through vivid lighting and hopeful little faces. A merciful distraction from the confinements of the sisters comes through not just a form of escape but also a moment of genuine humor. Football-fan Lale refuses to be forbidden to see Trabzonspor’s current big game. The girls come together and make it happen, sneaking out, though they sadly miss the all-girls bus that would take them there, the kind truck driver Yasin is persuaded to help. The girls are overwhelmed, overjoyed by the sporting spectacle, moments of pure young euphoria ensue. However, just as the men in the family and local village come together to watch too, their aunt shockingly sees the girls in the crowd on the television. In a panic, the female relatives also join forces to firstly cut the power to the house – but then hilariously the entire village it seems.
Caleb’s Possession (The Witch)
It does not look good for poor Thomasin, her big sister credibility thrown almost entirely out of the window in a matter of moments, firstly her baby brother disappears completely in from of her eyes, then bares witness to Caleb’s vanishing, later returning suffering cold sweats and demonic possession. It’s a horrifying enough state of affairs for her own parents who now cast the accusative net also on their daughter – while Caleb is being ripped apart by pure evil, the twin siblings lash out at Thomasin who they claim to be the witch. It’s a terrifying pandemonium, shot in an enclosed, dark room that’s supposed to be full of joyful family memories, but instead full to the brim with fear and panic. And as an audience member you feel the dreaded delirium. Of course we’ve seen possessed children before on film, but the urgent, relentless bedlam and horror here is too powerful and affecting to forget.
Edited writing originally featured over at Write out of L.A. earlier this year.