Sunday, April 29, 2012

My All Time Favorite Movie Scenes

The following is actually a copy of my most popular post ever on before I started this blog dedicated to movie and television.   If you have already read, I apologize but enjoy it if you haven't.  Thanks for reading!
While I think Hollywood has been churning out a whole lot of crap over the past two or three years, I haven’t always believed that was true.  I have been a huge fan of the movies since I first started going to theaters on a regular basis in the early 1980s.  Before having a child, and before other life activities curtailed the opportunities, I went to the movies almost every single weekend, sometimes 2 or 3 times a weekend.  I know, that is a lot of popcorn.  Let’s just say I love movies.  Most of the movies on the list are since 1980.  These are the movies I am most familiar with.  I am sure there are many great moments I have left off.  As it is, I have already extended the list from 10 to 15 because I couldn’t narrow it down.

When someone makes a list of their favorite anything, it is purely subjective.  This list is no different.  In compiling a list of my favorite movie moments, I did not consider the greatness of the movies themselves.  Some of the scenes on this list are long, some are short.  Some are the climatic scenes, some aren’t.  Some are based on the emotions they stirred up in me, and some are just brilliantly conceived and/or executed.  In all cases, I feel the movie makers hit on just the right formula to capture their audiences.

A couple more notes before I get to the list.  I must give a general spoiler alert.  If you haven’t seen any particular film, you may want to just skip that entry and move on to the next one, and let it be enough that the movie was on the list.  In some cases, in due course of explaining my reasons for including a movie, I may reveal some key plot information.  If I ruin anything for anyone, I apologize beforehand.  Also, the names I have given for the scenes are unofficial.  I have tagged them as I have for my own purposes.  Here goes:

15. Brian’s Song – “Brian Dies” – This is the first tear jerker I ever remember seeing.  It requires very little explanation as to why it is on my list.  If the life and death of Brian Piccolo doesn’t bring you to tears, you have to question your own humanity.

14. Saving Private Ryan – “D-Day” – The opening sequence of this terrific World War II film is absolutely brilliant.  It takes a very strong stomach to watch it because it is brutal and graphic, gruesome and realistic.  I can’t imagine any other film capturing the horror of the Allied landing in Normandy any better.  It may portray as much realism as can be watched by the average person but it was filmed with the respect necessary to honor those who fell on those bloody beaches that day.

13. Ferris Buehler’s Day Off – “Twist and Shout” – This is by far the most frivolous entry on my list and I make no apologies.  Who had more fun than Ferris Buehler and when did he have more fun than when he thrust himself onto a parade float to karaoke “Danke Shoen” and “Twist and Shout”?  The crowd choreography is a little silly but that's part of the fun of this sweet scene.  Who didn’t want to sing along with Ferris in this comedy classic?

12. A Few Good Men – “You Can’t Handle the Truth” – With the long history of parodies of this scene, you only need to go back and watch this powerful scene again to appreciate the tension and drama of this terrific movie.  It is maybe Jack Nicholson’s most famous scene as his arrogant Colonel Jessup explodes under Tom Cruise’s Lieutenant Kaffee pressuring questions in this taunt military courtroom drama.   Kaffee has little courtroom experience, little confidence, and little respect.  Jessup really loathes Kaffee but the lawyer prods the volatile colonel into a very dramatic confession.  This movie has a terrific cast and is an underrated film.  Keep an eye on Wolfgang Bodison as Lance Corporal Dawson.  Bodison was unknown at the time but gives an awesome performance.

11. The Cowboys – “The Duke is Dead?” – The best John Wayne westerns were always those that got away from the cookie cutter formulas.  This movie qualifies.  Wayne seldom died in his films, you know, because he was the Duke.  In this western, Wayne hits the trail to take a herd of cattle to market, with only teens and pre-teens as cowhands.  Far fetched premise you say?  It is but it doesn’t matter.  Wayne pushes and prods the youngsters kicking and screaming into manhood and as the end of the trail approaches, cattle rustlers, led by a charmingly evil Bruce Dern, attack the youngsters and their bovine charges.  The young cowherds fight off the bad guys but lose their fearless leader.  It was such a shock because the Duke just doesn’t go out like that.   It is one of my favorite John Wayne movies and its unexpected twist provides reason enough.

10. Good Will Hunting – “No Goodbye” – I think the subtle but touching ending to this movie is ultimately the reason why it won Damon and Affleck the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.  It was fore shadowed earlier in the film when Affleck’s Chuckie quietly rails on Damon’s Will for not taking advantage of his opportunities.  Chuckie tells Will he would love to show up at Will’s house some morning to pick him up for work and just find Will gone.  No goodbyes.  In the end, Will does just that, to the wry satisfaction of his best buddy.  I love this movie and this ending is the whip cream and cherry on top. 

9. The Lord of the Rings:  The Two Towers – “The Battle for Helm’s Deep” – This is my favorite battle scene of all time.  I don’t care it was mostly CGI.  Back then, this type of special effects was still relatively new and wasn’t being overused by every hack film maker.  Peter Jackson is a genius and nowhere is it more obvious in this incredibly detailed battle.  It is climatic scene in the second installment in this legendary trilogy and Jackson is patient with it, drawing out beautifully.  Big fan of the books, the films, and this scene.

8. Big – “Chopsticks” – Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia playing “Chopsticks” with their feet on a giant keyboard on the floor of a toy store – just imagine.  A terrific scene in a movie that showed off Hanks at his sweetest and most innocent as a young teen trapped in the body of an adult.  Sometimes we forget, because of all of his dramatic work over the past twenty years, Hanks goofy, comedic beginnings.  This is the best of Hanks’ pre-Forrest Gump efforts and well worth a revisit.

7. Million Dollar Baby – “Mo Cuishle” – Make sure the tissue box is close at hand for this deathbed scene.  Maggie Fitzgerald (played by the gutsy Hilary Swank) convinces hardened trainer, Frankie (Clint Eastwood), to become her boxing mentor.  The always brilliant Morgan Freeman rounds out this top notch cast.  The character development is steady and patient and it pays off.  Fitzgerald works her way into Frankie’s heart, leading to the tragic, soul wrenching key scene.  No exaggeration – I cried for several minutes after the film ended.  It is a scene I will never forget.

6. Glory – “The Whipping” – This is the Civil War movie that made Denzel Washington a star and the scene that thrust him into super stardom.  Who will ever forget Private Trip stoically, yet rebelliously, glaring over his shoulder as he is whipped on order of Matthew Brodrick’s Colonel Robert Gould Shaw for an army indiscretion?  The sight of Trip’s old scars on his back, from the way of life from which he escaped and was fighting against, is gut wrenching.  The irony of the punishment commanded by Colonel Shaw is not subtle but Washington and Broderick handle the scene beautifully.  Morgan Freeman, Adrian Braugher, and Cary Elwes add their considerable talents to this terrific film about the 54th Massachusetts, the first black regiment recruited in the north during the Civil War. 

5. Apocalypse Now – “I Love the Smell of Napalm” – Robert Duvall’s brief, yet memorable, scene is incredible.  Blaring Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries” from speakers mounted on helicopters, Duvall’s not quite sane Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore leads an aerial attack on a riverside Vietnamese village.  After the attack, Kilgore strides across a smoldering, body strewn battleground, oblivious to any danger.  He squats, waxing philosophically.  He utters the famous, and much parodied line “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.  It smells like…victory.”  In the course of a film over two and a half hours long, this brief appearance garnered Duvall a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and it is most deserving.  Duvall played the not-quite-right Kilgore just right.

4. The Empire Strikes Back – “I Am Your Father” – I have always felt this is the most overrated of the six-episode Stars Wars saga.  Most people think I’m crazy because it is also the most favored.  Sit down and watch it sometime.  The story line is barely advanced.  If it weren’t for one of the biggest, if not the biggest, reveals in Hollywood history, I wonder if it would still be the favorite of so many.  Villainous Darth Vadar’s shocking revelation that he is hero Luke Skywater’s father saves this film.  It has nearly nonstop action and fun but until this incredible scene unfolds, the plot nearly fails.  I’m sure George Lucas set it up that way.  I remember, as a youth, when I first watched the movie, I was like, “No way!” upon seeing this cinematic shocker.

3. Dead Poet’s Society – “Captain, My Captain” – This is my favorite Robin Williams movie.  I know, it is sappy and slow but the last half hour is dramatic and terrific.  When Williams’ John Keating is made the scapegoat for a tragedy that is in no way his fault and he forced to resign his teaching position at a private school, shy, reserved student Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) pays homage to his fallen mentor.  In a touching reference to an earlier scene in which Keating pushes Anderson to emerge from his shell, Anderson strides to the top of his desk to honor his teacher by quoting Walt Whitman.  His “Captain, my captain” stops Keating at the door.  Classmates join Anderson on their desktops, repeating the phrase as the school dean tries to restrain them.  I have watched this movie a dozen times.  I know what is coming.  I tear up in anticipation of the upcoming moment every time.  I’m so attached to this scene, my wife knew it was going to be included on this list.

2. A Time To Kill – “Now Imagine…” – This is a great adaptation of John Grisham’s first, and best, novel.  Matthew McConaughey’s Jake Brigance is hired to defend Carl Lee Haley (Samuel L. Jackson), who, in front of a dozen witnesses, killed the two white men who raped and beat his young daughter.  During the public murder, Haley also shoots and cripples a police officer by accident.  The facts of the case are undisputed, yet Haley pleads with Brigance to get him off.  Set in Mississippi, in a volatile area where the Ku Klux Klan is still active, Brigance must convince a jury of Haley’s white “peers” that a black man was justified in killing two white men in cold blood.  Brigance’s closing argument, which was even more dramatic on film than in print, is shocking, breathtaking, and right on.  This all star cast includes Kevin Spacey, Sandra Bullock, both Sutherlands, Chris Cooper, Oliver Platt, Brenda Fricker, Charles S. Dutton, and Ashley Judd.  I love this movie and I love this powerful scene.  Jackson has the best moment of the movie as he realizes what Brigance’s argument is.  Now that is how an actor shows surprise!

1. The Godfather, Part I – “Do You Renounce Satan” – This scene is so powerful and so perfect.  What a way to end one of the greatest movies ever made.  As Michael Corleone stands in a Catholic church, before an alter, before his God, and swears to renounce Satan, his minions are taking out his enemies throughout New York City.  The scene bounces back and forth from the church, where his family has gathered for his son’s baptism, to the various bloodbaths.  Corleone swears another oath and another rival criminal dies.  The music hauntingly crescendos as the scene builds and builds as more oaths are sworn and more people die.  It is brilliant in all of its violent glory.  I don’t know if another scene will ever be shot to match this one’s absolute brilliance and power. 

I hope everyone enjoys reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.  Feel free to blast away at my choices and feel free to submit your own in the comment section.  Thanks for staying with me.  I know it’s a long one.

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1 comment:

  1. Joel,

    Dead Poets Society. Spot on and one of my favorite films period.

    A few good men. Also spot on.

    The Cowboys: Great movie but not John's best death scene. IMO he saved his best for last in The Shootist where he gives a wordless nod of the head to Ron Howard and then dies after a gun battle with an odd twist. In that same movie the exchange between Wayne and Stewart confirming J.B. Books cancer was powerful.

    The Pianist: The scene where the German Officer finds the starving and hidden Jewish Pianist trying to open a can of food. Riveting in my opinion.

    Crimson Tide: The tension filled scene between Washington and Hackman where they discuss the Lipizzaner Stallions while waiting on COM to fix the radio is excellent.

    The Breakfast Club: The scene where Anthony Micheal Hall's character spells out a written work revealing how each person views themselves and how the group sees one another. Being a child of the 80's that scene said something about my generation.

    What Ever Happened To Baby Jane: Rat's in the cellar/food scene.

    Full Metal Jacket: Gunnery Sgt Emery in the barracks scene. Real as it gets from a real life Marine.

    Misery: Ankle Breaking Scene.

    Jaws: You are going to need a bigger boat scene. Classic

    Black Hawk Down: Everyone loves to talk about Saving Private Ryan. Pretty much every battle scene in this movie is epic. Real as it gets in terms of Hollywood portrayals.

    Shawshank Redemption: Multiple scenes but Get busy dying or get busy living and Morgan Freeman's final parole scene was brilliant.

    Field Of Dreams: Baseball speech by James Earl Jones

    Bull Durham. What I believe in speech given by Crash Davis.