20 of the best individual moments from the past 12 months in movies.
Especially in a year as extremely unremarkable for movies as 2018 was, it’s important to remember that making a completely great movie from start to finish is hard work. It should be a priority when one sets about making their film, don’t get me wrong, but I understand that it’s extremely difficult and a lot of things can go wrong in the process. But even terrible films can spit out moments of perfect greatness. Little self-contained stretches of brilliance, after all, can come from anywhere which is why, for the past several years, I’ve been augmenting my Top 20 Films lists with this supplementary rundown of the best scenes of that year. In 2018, almost half of the films featured on this list are nowhere to be seen on said Top 20 for one reason or another, which should hopefully cement my argument that great scenes are an art in of themselves, unconstrained by the quality of the feature surrounding. Ordered from least to most-spoilery, here are the 20 scenes that most stuck with me from this past year in film.
Searching concludes with a closing 15 minutes so nonsensical, so contrived, and so regressive in their attitudes towards the Internet and new technologies that they irreparably taint almost the entirety of what had been until then one of the finest films of the year. But the first 5 minutes of Aneesh Chaganty’s debut feature still manage to rise above said damage by virtue of operating rather like a self-contained short film. Charting a decade in the life of the Kims entirely through the lens of their computer activity, the opening prologue functions as both a moving time capsule of Internet and technological ephemera – beginning with a Windows XP start-up screen, instant message communication services switching from AIM to Facebook Messenger to Facetime, the evolving layout of YouTube’s user interface, father David being tricked into a screamer Flash game – and a prodigious exercise in non-verbal exposition, letting us in on the Kims’ personalities, preferences, and dynamics through their relationship with pop culture (Margot’s love of Pokemon as introduced by her dad) and their Internet history (David and Pamela each Googling for methods to help cope with Pamela’s cancer). The climax, with Margot continuously moving the “Home” date for her Mom’s hospital stay further back on her calendar before deleting it completely, intertwines that truthful depiction of our modern technological existences with bleacher-playing thriller storytelling in a way the rest of the movie ultimately fails spectacularly to achieve.
Crystal Moselle’s debut narrative feature most comes alive whenever Camille and the girls of the titular Skate Kitchen are sat around shooting the shit about only the kinds of things that groups of young women can talk about unguarded and honestly – sexual experiences, personal dreams, encounters that almost became committed sexual assaults (the last of which is a short scene that gets discussed in such a non-dramatic matter-of-fact way between the almost-victim and her friends that I think it could be revelatory for so many young women had they the chance to see the movie). But my personal favourite of these was the first, when Camille initially goes over to Janay’s house with the other girls and they all discuss tampon usage and etiquette. Again, it’s just so matter-of-fact, never being played for “ew, gross” humour or to bash around some self-congratulatory message about Moselle’s willingness to depict the subject. The other women are talking about it after hearing of Camille credit-carding – bailing in a manner where the board tears a hole in your crotch area – Camille has a bunch of misconceptions about tampons thanks to her conservative mother (that last info is implied because Moselle trusts we’ve been paying attention), and the Skate Kitchen girls educate and riff together in a manner that comes off borderline-unscripted.
Mia’s first few weeks
Initial marketing for Tully lifted the montage that compresses the first few weeks of newborn Mia’s homelife, and the absolutely exhausting effect it has upon Marlo, pretty much wholesale for that magnificent Teaser and it’s not a stretch to see why. Jason Reitman underplays the vast majority of Tully, slowing things down to a crawl and intentionally making scenes like the birth of a child workmanlike and mundane, complimenting Diablo Cody’s screenplay about how such a relentless stream of unremarkable exhaustion can wear down a woman’s psyche to the bone. But for this montage, he compacts that drain into a focussed whirlwind of little things that chip away at a mother’s will to live – the sleepless nights, the diaper changes, the barely-present husband, the problems caused by the other children, the ritualistic lactation, the inadvertent narcolepsy, all one after another – because of how routine it all becomes. That even when speed up, pulsating, injected with some semblance of life, those first few years of motherhood are boring, unsurprising, and maddening, driving even the strongest to a psychotic break. Or, at least, it would if said psychotic break weren’t too much of an effort to even notice happening.
“Can I stand where you’re standing?”
For a movie premised around three university-aged young-adults experiencing the highs and lows and piss of a weekend spent at a British music festival, The Festival contains shockingly few actual jokes related specifically to the experience of a weekend spent at a British music festival. Why make proper use of such a prime comedic premise, after all, when you can instead take extended detours into side-plots about goat-fucking cultists and Noel Fielding very clearly cashing a paycheque? Still, Iain Morris’ latest does have one extremely relatable gag. Nick has been dragged by his friends (and associated hangers-on) to go see an act he’s not particularly interested in when they all get the chance to go stage-side. Not wishing to spoil their fun, Nick lets them go and promises to remain in his spot a fair ways back so they can meet back up later. Soon after, in this big-ass field with lots of room and where the people at Nick’s position are just standing passively, a random guy with no other mates walks up to Nick, taps him on the shoulder and goes, “Oi, mate, can I stand where you’re standing?” When Nick tells the guy no because he’s been there for a while, the guy starts kicking up a fuss and calling him a dickhead. When Nick remains steadfast, the spectators around him take the guy’s side and everyone starts yelling at Nick until he finally moves away… whereupon this guy stands in Nick’s old spot and disinterestedly stares at the stage, a marginal step further forward than he would’ve been otherwise. Later, the gang return to find Nick five rows further back allegedly because this exact same thing kept happening to him over and over again.
Everybody has made the Venom jokes with regards to the moment Grey first allows STEM permission to take total control of his body in order to fight off Serk, one of the men who killed Grey’s wife. But, for me, the snark shouldn’t just have been limited to the fact that we all (correctly) pegged Venom as being total garbage months in advance of its release and that there was something somewhat similar to said movie coming out beforehand. Rather, I feel that snark should also have extended to the fact that Upgrade’s writer-director Leigh Whannell and star Logan Marshall Green do a better job at visualising the sensation of a normal guy having their body hijacked by an ultra-capable murderous being in this one barely two-minute fight sequence than Venom’s director Rueben Fleischer and star Tom Hardy managed in the entirety of their two-hour movie. Whannell utilising the hard-lock camera on Green to simulate the passenger-effect, Green simultaneously in awe of and barely-stable response to STEM’s powers providing some hilarious comedy, and capping off with a properly nasty coup-de-grace of gore, it’s arguably the best fight scene of the year.
We got swerved, bro. The genius in the X-Force fake-out didn’t come from swerving just the kind of comic-book fans who would probably get incredibly pissed that the live-action debut of Zeitgeist involved him getting minced by a woodchipper, but from Deadpool 2 swerving everyone. The entire marketing campaign was built around the idea that Deadpool was going to form his own super-team in order to stop Cable, they cast faces just about recognisable enough to make it seem like Fox was putting together their own budget Avengers and sent them around the talk-show circuit to give interviews about their time on-set, the film introduces each of them in a big ‘getting the team together’ montage, AC/DC soundtracks their parasail towards their prison convoy target… only for each of them (save for Domino) to be picked off one by one in the most Looney Tunes of comedic pratfalls, impeccably timed by director David Leitch who, turns out, has a real knack for physical comedy. The first time I saw Deadpool 2, I figured out exactly what it was doing the moment Shatterstar was shown drifting towards the whirring helicopter blades and my resultant hysterics caused actual physical pain to my sides which took the rest of the day to fully subside. And I now know that wind advisories are very serious business! Deadpool 2, saving lives and splitting sides.
No More Heroes
The Titans have a problem. Jade Wilson, mega director to the superheroic stars, has bluntly burst their dreams of getting their own movie because they’re a bunch of misanthropic jokes nobody wants to see in a movie, not unless they were the last superheroes left. Other cartoon protagonists might have taken such a shutdown as a wake-up call to book their ideas up and become the kind of class acts that inspire millions and deserve a movie. The Teen Titans, however, are not other cartoon protagonists so decide to take Jade at her word and rid the world of every last superhero so she would have no choice but to make a Teen Titans movie – not by killing them all, as Raven initially suggests, but by travelling back through time undoing every superhero origin story. The sequence is funny enough on its own, with Cyborg trapping young Aquaman in a plastic-can ring and the Titans guiding Thomas and Martha Wayne away from Crime Alley in favour of Happy Lane, and the punchline of a world without superheroes is expected but no less hilarious. Other animated movies would stop there, but Teen Titans GO! To the Movies is not other animated movies, so we then get treated to a rapid-fire montage of the Titans fixing their meddling – namely by destroying Krypton and personally draping the pearls over Martha Wayne’s neck before gleefully shoving the Waynes back down Crime Alley to be cut to ribbons by bullets.
Even in the land of horror, where chaos and nightmares are supposed to reign, there are unspoken rules that storytellers are not supposed to break. After all, and as evidenced by the fact that The Nun made three times the amount of money that Hereditary did at the box office, general horror movie audiences want to be scared, not frightened. No matter what they may claim otherwise, you’ve still got to offer them some comforts. Ari Aster looks at such a taboo, mutters “fuck that,” then splatters its brains all over the highway. What works most about the scene long after the initial “no you fucking just didn’t…” shock of it all is how mundane the accident itself is. It’s not influenced by the supernatural (that we know of at the time), it’s not executed as a jump scare, Colin Stetson’s score silences itself and doesn’t return until the next day, and Alex Wolff goes completely catatonic. It’s just an accident, it could happen to anyone, and that’s why we don’t even need to see the results of it for the sensation to hit deep in the bottom of one’s stomach. Of course, that’s also a taboo, so Aster eventually, at precisely the moment his audience thinks they’re going to get an out from visualising it, smash-cuts to the head on the side of the road as Toni Collette’s bone-chilling screams of grief imprint themselves upon one’s soul for all-time.
There are few cuts in 2018 Film more low-key devastating than the one where we cut from N’Jobu, talking to his son Erik (birth name N’Jadaka) as a child, back to Erik who has now returned to his current age. The cut specifically occurs after N’Jobu looks at Erik and tearfully laments what has become of his son as a result of the actions that led to N’Jobu’s death, meant by the father as a lamentation for his own failings but taken by the son as a lamentation for the warmongering ruthless and sadistic killer he has turned into. A boy necessarily hardened by his environment who never found his way back from that brink and who reacts to such revelations not with further emotional openness and soul-searching but instead by burning any and all traces that could remind him of it to the ground. In many ways, Erik’s trip to the ancestral plane is not much different to T’Challa’s earlier on in the film as mirrored by the dialogue surrounding their respective father’s deaths, which of course is the point. T’Chaka and N’Jadaka both committed acts that were unconscionable, one spent his life running away from its consequences and the other has spent the afterlife regretting both the actions and the consequences, and neither thought of the kid blindly caught in the middle of it until it was far too late. Far more so than any of the violent acts he commits throughout the film, Erik’s only semi-justifiable deflection of blame for the actions he has and will take onto Wakanda and the rest of the world, rather than his own violent anger, is Black Panther’s most damning critique of toxic Black masculinity in a film not lacking in that department.
Ready Player One
Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline was basically the best possible version of garbage source material that one could make with Ernest Cline still being involved in some capacity. Partly, that’s because Cline’s insatiable habit of stopping his prose to rattle off a Reddit list of 80s pop culture name-drops is the kind of thing that inherently works better in a visual medium where the references can just exist as a part of the design and moved on from rather than excessively lingered upon. But in its best moments, Spielberg, Cline and co-writer Zak Penn also manage to find a way to engage with said pop culture references in novel and exciting ways, never more so than when the Gunters take on the second of Halliday’s trials set within the halls of the Overlook Hotel. Spielberg intentionally pilfers a sacrosanct grave of classic cinema by turning Stanley Kubrick’s deliberately-paced slow-boil of suspense horror into a greatest hits funhouse of visual touchstones stripped of their prior context, in much the same way that many on the Internet might experience the film for the first time or how a modern studio-funded remake may alter the movie, which is what makes this section a genuine delight rather than an empty series of nostalgia pings. Plus, there’s Haitch bumbling about as the easily-frightened rube with no prior experience of the twins, the woman in the tub, and the elevators of blood.
In the 2004 Wayans comedy White Chicks, there’s a scene where our protagonists, Black men disguised as White women, rap along to a song on the radio, including saying the n-word to the seemingly genuine shock and horror of their WASP-y passengers. When called out, the protagonists insist it’s fine to say the word in rap songs so long as no other Black folks are around, and the scene ends with a car full of White women shouting the n-word at the top of their lungs – that Chris Rock bit about whether White people can say the n-word in a Dr. Dre song but with the sting diluted by White Chicks’ obvious affection for its White chicks. Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You puts its own spin on the gag only, in keeping with the rest of Riley’s film, much more vicious and completely lacking in sentiment. Cash, being one of only two Black people at the party of uber-wealthy Silicon Valley prick-extraordinaire Steve Lift, is pressured into getting up in front of the entire party and rapping for them, like a dancing monkey or a shiny new toy, despite Cash’s insistence that he can’t rap. After an unbearable minute of Cash barely stringing a sentence together and visibly choking, he panics and yells the phrase “n*gga shit” over and over again to a rapturous (call-and-)response, so rapturous the crowd keeps going even after he stops speaking altogether. These people don’t care about Black lives or seeing Black folks as people and especially not Black culture; they just want socially-acceptable reasons to yell the n-word in public and Cash grants them that reason, selling out his culture and race once more to secure his own upward mobility.
Much of the horror in Alex Garland’s sophomore feature is psychological and existential, befitting a movie primarily about the destructive and fundamental changes that depression inflicts upon a person. But just because Annihilation operates heavy on metaphors, doesn’t mean that Garland can’t also deliver tangible horrors when he feels like it as he brutally demonstrates during the night-time bear attack. The entire attack works like the worst kind of nightmare, various individual fears and mysteries meshed together in ways that make a twisted kind of sense when reflected upon after the fact but in the moment are visceral and wrong and OH CHRIST, WHAT THE FUCK IS UP WITH ITS FACE?! Garland strings the tension of the bear merely being in the room as far as he possibly can, where the viewer finds themselves holding their breath just like the characters as we all wonder whether the bear is ambivalent or actively prolonging the emotional torture, which only makes the speed of the action when Anya uses her last strength to distract it all the more shocking and intense. Oh, and of course there are Cass’ bonded screams whenever the bear moves its mouth. How could I possibly forget those inhuman screams? Trick question: I haven’t been able to.
Disney’s Christopher Robin
Many of the tears that Christopher Robin managed to wrest from me prior to the end of Act Two, and there were many tears shed up to that point, came largely from my intense nostalgia towards all things Pooh Bear – the prologue’s line-perfect recreation of the final chapter of The House at Pooh Corner, hearing Jim Cummings’ voice once more emanate from the mouth of the silly old bear, finding all of these characters so vital to my childhood have had their personalities remain unchanged, stuff like that. But Christopher’s apology and making-up to Pooh at their Nowhere spot after he rescues the rest of the Hundred Acre Wood denizens from a Heffalump ‘attack,’ that’s all Christopher Robin. This is a film about depression, let’s make that clear, and the ways in which it can cause one to lose all sense of self and perspective of what matters, at times incapable of feeling joy from even the things that used to so readily amuse as a child after an adult life grinds one into dust. But here, as represented by Pooh and Christopher reuniting at the same spot where the pair were both most happy, is evidence of those purest things being preserved in amber, untainted by the world around them and ready to help the person afflicted regain themselves in comfort. Admitting this fact can be indescribably difficult which is what makes Christopher’s choked “I’m lost…” to Pooh such a personal gut-punch and why my tears quickly turned into uncontrollable sobs.
Birth of a Nation
If you thought the director of Bamboozled was going to make it through a biopic partly about the Ku Klux Klan – specifically the sting operation conducted on the Colorado Springs chapter of The Organisation by a Black rookie detective (Ron Stallworth) and the White detective he ropes in to play the part of Ron Stallworth in person (Flip Zimmerman) – without bringing up The Birth of a Nation, then clearly this must be your first Spike Lee joint. But even if it’s not a surprise when Lee finally turns his aim towards one of the most horrifyingly racist films of all-time, responsible for a resurgence in White Supremacist movements at the time of its release, but is forced to be continuously cited and discussed by new generations of filmmakers, historians and critics because of the technological and narrative advancements it brought to the medium of moviemaking, how he chooses to play the scene is nonetheless stomach-churning. As the Klan celebrate their completed induction ceremony of new members with a screening of the film, the members all hollering and hooting and worshipping in much the same way White people stereotype Black film audiences, Lee cross-cuts to an elderly Civil Rights veteran (played by the legendary Harry Belafonte) recounting to the Black Students Union his first-hand experience of watching the lynching of Jesse Washington in 1916, inspired heavily by Nation’s blockbuster success. Back and forth, lionising and commiserating, film and reality, propaganda and its results, White Power and Black Power.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Back in 2002, Sam Raimi set the gold-standard in movie depictions of the joys of superpower discoveries with the sequence in his first Spider-Man where Peter Parker discovers he can climb on walls and web-swing. That rush of sudden possibilities and revelling in the fun of the unknown, quickly capped off with the grace note of a still-novice Peter slamming face-first into a wall after his first successful swing. 16 years, six Spider-Man movies and countless other superhero movies in general later, we have a new gold-standard. The sequence where Miles Morales finally stops running from his powers and responsibilities, finally stops comparing himself to the various other Spider-People he’s known, and finally stops worrying about disappointing people is one of the most heart-pumping, fist-raising, breath-holding, and downright spectacular in all of the comic book movie genre’s storied history. The sheer thrill that directors Rodney Rothman, Peter Ramsey and Bob Persichetti pump the sequence full of, with kinetic and fearless boarding married to “What’s Up, Danger?”, is unmatched not just by any superhero movie released this year but maybe even any this decade. It feels like a true iconic moment unfolding in real-time, where a character from a movie transitions into being a generational icon and you’re on Ground Zero of that transition, even before Spider-Verse caps it off by finally giving Miles his origin issue.
“The Eagle has landed.”
The silence is what sticks out first. “Of course,” you might think, but even though First Man is a quiet movie save for all the loud setpieces of giant mechanical miracles rattling and roaring their way into (or falling short of with tragic consequences) outer space, the total silence still catches the attention. Damien Chazelle effectively sucking all the pressure and oxygen out of the theatre as well as the landing capsule as we stare across the great plane of the Moon’s surface. The achievement honestly doesn’t register at first, not for us and only somewhat for the astronauts that were the figureheads of that achievement, Neil Armstrong’s famous words as delivered by Ryan Gosling coming off like bungled poetry now that we know he’s a man of extreme seriousness and deep intimacy. But soon the expanse grows, Armstrong separates from Aldrin and NASA’s communications to be alone with his thoughts, and the enormity of the situation slowly comes over him as communicated by the memories of his deceased daughter – a hokey piece of pop psychology from a film otherwise committed to avoiding such, sure, but an effective one nonetheless that firmly puts things into perspective for both Armstrong and us. We aimed to go to the Moon because it was there, now it’s time to go back home because our lives are down there and they’re still significant no matter how small they may appear comparatively.
The actual heist
“What do you think we are? A bunch of pussies?” Ocean’s 8’s big heist is, in many ways, a slightly more complex smash-and-grab that’s only really complicated by post-heist variables and the vain and super-lonely Daphne Kluger not being “a total frickin’ idiot.” Honestly, I wasn’t that bothered by it since director Gary Ross and co-writer Olivia Milch aim for more of the ‘cool stars hanging out’ vibe of the original Rat Pack Ocean’s movie but with swaggering masculine cool substituted for feminine cool, and they achieved that all well and good. Then Lou responds to Daphne’s highlighting of the inconsistencies in how much their heist was supposed to be worth, and how that broke down in terms of individual cuts, with that quote and it’s time to lift the blinders and run the con again with the whole picture unveiled. Again, mechanically, it’s still just a smash-and-grab with a flashier shell-game taking the eyes off the collectively more lucrative prize, but in terms of feel and execution it’s masterful. Daniel Pemberton’s score bringing all his separate themes and leitmotifs together for one climatic song, the utilisation of Yen being a smart way to incorporate past series lore in your soft-reboots without overshadowing your new stars, and, hell, just the reveal that Ocean’s 8 was willing to provide a curveball in its heist plan plastered the biggest smile on my face. I saw this thrice and the two times I saw it with girl friends of mine their smiles at this scene were practically the size of those made by Cheshire cats.
First and foremost, Crazy Rich Asians is a rom-com of the kind that Hollywood used to pump out with clockwork reliability until any movie not guaranteed to make $750 million worldwide was smothered in the crib or outsourced to Netflix. And whilst Asians does explore Asian identity, American-Asian disassociation, and class-based culture-clash, it always ties those moments to all the tropes and trimmings of a good old-fashioned rom-com. In the process, its phenomenal execution of many key scenes ends up mutually elevating both sides of the film’s equation, including this instant all-timer of a rom-com moment. Astrid, having spent much of the movie reeling from the revelation that her husband from a lower-class background, Michael, is cheating on her – which he claims came because of their combined insecurity over her family’s wealth – finally stands up for herself and calls him out in no uncertain terms about their break-up. That they didn’t work out not because of her family’s wealth and not because she didn’t try hard enough to cater to his needs (the latter of which was blatantly false), but because Michael is an insecure coward irrespective of any other factors and her mistake was trying to appease his fragile masculinity. So, she leaves him. Specifically, she leaves him the apartment since she owns 14 others because, in this beautiful kiss-off that inspired spontaneous applause from one group of audience members in one of my screenings: “it’s not my job to make you feel like a man. I can’t make you something you’re not.”
I am on record as loving the Rocky movies and also still really enjoying both Rocky II and Rocky IV despite the former playing its climax at completely the wrong tone (pure underdog catharsis victory instead of sad miserable spectacle) and the latter lacking almost entirely in movie to make proper use of its thematic potential. Creed II, in many respects, is a do-over of both those prior entries and closes out with a final fight second only to the first Creed, juggling a balancing act more precarious than almost anything else the series has tried up to that point. Director Steven Caple, Jr. and writers Sylvester Stallone & Juel Taylor, in having built up sympathies on both sides of the Drago/Creed conflict, effectively get to have their cake and eat it too with this climax. First, you get Adonis finally putting some proper hurt on Viktor, those “Gonna Fly Now” horns kicking in once the young Creed breaks something downstairs in Viktor’s body, as Adonis beats his personal demons once and for all. But then the film switches perspectives to Ivan Drago, sat ringside watching the son he’d groomed to equate love with dominance of others being battered to within an inch of his life but refusing to stay down because of the psychological toll Ivan had impressed upon him, and Ludmilla leaves them both yet again over the impending failure. Suddenly, what was cathartic is now tragic, a father about to lose his son permanently because of toxic masculine pride, which soon turns to something beautifully bittersweet as Ivan throws in the towel and tells Viktor he loves him no matter what. And at long last, the cartoonish low-points of the Rocky saga have been fully redeemed.
Yeah, it is extremely on the nose as… well, to be quite honest, calling it a “metaphor” is being super-liberal with the term, and that’s even by Mamoru Hosada standards. But the finale of Mirai, where Kun and Future Mirai travel back to the Present Day by flying through the entire family history of Kun’s relatives, peering in on the shipwreck that gave his grandfather a limp, the foot race that won the heart of his grandmother, his father’s inability to ride a bike amongst so many others, is supremely affecting and the best ending of the entire year. An ode to all the close-calls and mistakes and happy accidents that shape our collective family trees, inform the people who are a part of them, and how they all, no matter how small or insignificant, in some way led to this very moment of our lives. It’s poetic, it’s visually stunning, it ties Mirai’s episodic structure together in a neat little bow, and it plays so completely to my personal fears and anxieties about life and death and permanence that I am left a wreck every time I see it. In many respects, it’s akin to the Moon landing from First Man only with the grand sweep being used on family history rather than the spectacle of space travel.
Tomorrow: we begin the countdown of My Top 20 Films of 2018 with the first half of the list.
Callum Petch, music train.