The Best Movie Moments of 2012

It has been a while. Thanks to some malware and three busy schedules, Three Brothers Film has been inactive for the past two months. But we’re back! Since we’re approaching the end of the year and the critics groups’ yearly roundups are already underway, I thought it’d be appropriate to discuss some of my favourite movie moments from the past year. Keep in mind that there are some notable films I still have yet to see: LincolnZero Dark ThirtyDjango Unchained and Les Misérables.

Here are 20 of the best movie moments of 2012 (mild spoilers about all the films involved):

The Plane Crash from The Grey (dir. Joe Carnahan):

The first of two plane crash scenes on this list, this early scene from The Grey sets off the whole film in horrifying fashion. We’re sitting comfortably on the plane listening as the characters talk their blue-collar talk, and then suddenly there’s some turbulence, the pilot’s cabin door swings open and the music cuts out. All we’re left with is the sheer panic of being on a plane as it careens out of control in the midst of a blizzard. The sound of the hull ripping apart does enough to convey the terror the moment, and the scene as a whole expertly establishes the uncompromising nature of the entire film.

Staying Overnight at Eel Marsh House in The Woman in Black (dir. James Watkins):

In a year where lots of horror films failed to connect, the old-fashioned The Woman in Black succeeded partially due to its embracing of genre conventions. When lawyer Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) decides to stay overnight in the secluded Eel Marsh House in order to sort out the estate’s legal affairs, what occurs is one of the scariest sustained sequences in years, where the constant pitter-patter of footsteps upstairs leads Kipps down the long hallway to the creepy nursery more times than the viewer can take. It’s a scene of constant buildup and unbearable tension that goes on far longer than should be possible.

The Caesarian Surgery in Prometheus(dir. Ridley Scott):

People were wondering whether Ridley Scott would try to recreate his classic chestburster scene in this prequel to Alien, but instead Scott chose to do something equally horrifying and uncomfortable. When Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) discovers that an alien fetus is growing inside her body, she enters a med-pod and programs it to cut open her abdomen and remove the foreign body. The surgery that incurs expertly weaves together body horror and abortion scares into one disgusting, exhilarating scene.

The Dance on the Beach in Moonrise Kingdom (dir. Wes Anderson):

Wes Anderson’s 1960s Moonrise Kingdom is a heartwarming tale of young romance, and nothing escapsulates the awkward ideal of young love better than Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) stripping to their underwear and sharing a dance on the beach to the tune of Francoise Hardy’s “Le temps de l’amour.” It’s all the love and idealism and nostalgia and style of Anderson in one compact, moving scene.

Bane Hijacking the Plane in The Dark Knight Rises (dir. Christopher Nolan):

Talk about starting the film off with a bang. Three hooded prisoners are escorted onto a CIA plane and questioned at gunpoint; only one of the prisoners isn’t so much a prisoner as a nightmarish hulking genius in a skeletal mask. Not only does the scene introduce us to the iron will of Bane, but also the kind of methodical, brazen, gargantuan action The Dark Knight Rises will deliver over its 165 minute running time. Hans Zimmer’s pounding score only goes to heighten this terrific opening that tops Nolan’s own introduction to the Joker in The Dark Knight.

Bane vs. Batman in the Sewers in The Dark Knight Rises (dir. Christopher Nolan):

Some people didn’t appreciate the stripped down slugfest between Bane and Batman that marks the first turning point of the film. I loved how primal it seemed. Until this scene, Nolan had filmed all of Batman’s action scenes in a chaotic fashion that put us in the perspective of the criminal bewildered by Batman’s seemingly supernatural abilities. But these theatrics don’t work on Bane, and knowing this, Nolan holds the camera steady, allowing us to see just how physically overmatched Batman is. It’s a harrowing sight seeing Bane break our hero over his knee, and shows us just how imposing a villain Bane is.

Jafar Panahi Leaves his Apartment in This is Not a Film (dir. Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb):

Until this point in the “film,” we’ve spent the entirety of the running time with Jafar Panahi under house arrest in his apartment. We know it’s Fireworks Wednesday and it’s abundantly clear that Panahi’s not legally allowed to leave his residence. So when at the end of the film Panahi finally risks it to take his camera out into the streets beneath his apartment, we see the fireworks burning chaotically in the streets — an image that perfectly encapsulates the political climate that made possible Panahi’s imprisonment and the world that he’s missing out on.

Norman Confronts Aggie the Witch in ParaNorman (dir. Chris Butler and Sam Fell):

An extremely beautiful scene. After Aggie the witch has wreaked havoc upon the small New England town of Blithe Hollow and uncovered the townsfolk’s raging hypocrisy, Norman confronts the witch in a ghostly hollow and admonishes her to forgive the town for the atrocities it committed against her. Not only does this scene boast beautiful stop-motion animation, with soft green tones filling out the forest clearing and the magical sky, but it also underlines the film’s strong, uncompromising message regarding bullying and how bullying can make monsters of the victims. It’s a beautiful, touching scene, and a reminder of just how poignant children’s entertainment can be.

Freddie’s Processing in The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson):

When Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) wakes up drunk on Lancaster Dodd’s (Philip Seymour Hoffman) boat, Lancaster subjects him to the intense processing that he subjects to all initiates of the Cause. What follows is an extremely intimate examination/interrogation that lays bare Freddie’s soul — the best-acted scene of the year. This is a scene that demonstrates the power of the close-up.

The Embassy Raid in Argo (dir. Ben Affleck):

Openings of great films tell you in five minutes what the rest of the film will be about. This is the case with Argo as Ben Affleck expertly lays out the raiding of the American embassy in Tehran in the opening minutes of the film, effectively demonstrating how straightforward and unembellished the rest of his film will be. Everything is portrayed in such clear, unadorned detail and it’s enormously effective, proving that all you need to compel an audience is something compelling to show on screen — not filmmaker theatrics.

The Crash Landing in Flight (dir. Robert Zemeckis):

The second plane crash scene on this list shows just how effective a technically masterful director can be when he wants to. Denzel Washington’s icy control as he pulls off a daring maneuver to slow the plane’s rabid descent contrasts with the chaos of the plane diving into oblivion. It’s a great performance wrapped up within a terrifying scene that’ll have you tense the next time turbulence occurs when you’re on a plane.

The Talk in the Hospital Stairwell in Flight (dir. Robert Zemeckis):

If I had to pick a best scene of 2012, this would probably be it. Whip (Denzel Washington) is in the hospital after the crash and he sneaks off to have a cigarette in the stairwell where he meets Nicole (Kelly Reilly) and a Gaunt Young Man (James Badge Dale). I can’t quite articulate what makes this scene so great or why the Gaunt Young Man is such a memorable character and his words are so poignant. All I know is that beyond serving to introduce the very flawed Whip and Nicole to each other, this scene is a demonstration of the beautiful, painful realities of life. It’s honest and quiet and subtle and profound in a way that so many Hollywood movies aren’t. James Badge Dale steals the film and this is the only scene he appears in. He’s this year’s most fascinating character without a proper name — a part that wrote itself.

The Shanghai Skyscraper Fight in Skyfall (dir. Sam Mendes):

The most beautiful scene of the year. When James Bond heads to Shanghai to find an assassin who had previously bested him, he scales a towering skyscraper and enters a room filled with reflective surfaces. Roger Deakins’ gorgeous cinematography is the highlight of the film and this is his greatest achievement within it. The mirrors destroy any spatial sense the viewer has of the scene, ratcheting the tension up. Watching Bond do battle with the assassin in silhouette as neon lights flash in the background in one unbroken take is the most gorgeous, brutal shot of the year.

Silva’s Entrance in Skyfall (dir. Sam Mendes):

James Bond has been captured and tied to a chair in a large hall filled with computers. An elevator descends and a figure appears and begins to tell a story to Bond. We know this is the big villain, teased for the first third of the film and we recognize the cadence of the Academy Award winning actor Javier Bardem. The shot holds, out of focus, as Silva walks across the room and recites the tale of rats on his grandmother’s island. The shot doesn’t cut. All we’re left with is Bardem walking slowly into focus telling us a grisly tale about two rats: Bond and himself.

The Dance Competition in Silver Linings Playbook (dir. David O. Russell):

Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) has entered a dance competition and she needs a partner. Pat (Bradley Cooper) has reluctantly offered to be Tiffany’s partner is return for her getting a letter to his estranged wife. This amateur dance competition serves as the film’s climax. The sight of Cooper and Lawrence grooving to the White Stripes and tap-dancing like Gene Kelly is exhilarating enough, but what’s most exhilarating is realizing just how invested you’ve become in the film by this point. The film has you completely in its grasp and the dance’s end result makes you feel everything you could ever hope a great movie would make you feel.

The Entr’acte in Holy Motors (dir. Leos Carax):

Leos Carax’s Holy Motors is chalk-full of bizarre, incongruous scenes as Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) travels across the city acting out different scenes as different characters. However, it’s the film’s midpoint break that is the most bizarre and exhilarating. M. Oscar walks through an empty church holding an accordion and starts to play a solitary tune, R. L. Burnside's "Let My Baby Ride." As his song progresses, he’s joined by other musicians who start to play along with him. The camera stays before him as he marches onward and the song becomes the coolest accordion song you’ve ever heard and the best random musical sequence in decades.

The Boat Sinking in Life of Pi (dir. Ang Lee):

Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is full of gorgeous imagery, but none shares the emotional power of Pi (Suraj Sharma) floating underwater staring in horror as the Japanese freighter carrying his family sinks beneath the ocean’s waves. The scene has some obvious cinematic reference points, namely the Titanic sinking in James Cameron’s masterpiece, but the way it conveys both the panic of a shipwreck and the emotional gut-punch of losing your family and your existence in one frenzied moment is masterful.

Anders Attempting Suicide in Oslo, August 31st (dir. Joachim Trier):

This early scene in Joachim Trier’s melancholy chronicle of one day in the life of the recovering drug addict Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) is wrenching and lets you know exactly what kind of film you’re in for. After waking up next to a one-night stand, Anders leaves the apartment and walks to the river. He fills his pockets with rocks, picks up a very large stone and hops into the river, hoping to end his existence. He sinks and we wait as the bubbles float to the surface. Eventually he resurfaces, gasping for air, panicked and depressed, and we realize that he didn’t go through with it not because he wants to live, but because he is too much of a coward to.

Cyril Falls from the Tree in The Kid with a Bike (dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne):

Cyril is a troubled child. After coming across the man and boy whom he had assaulted during a robbery, Cyril flees up a tree to protect himself. The boy throws rocks at Cyril and one strikes him on the hand, causing him to fall from his high vantage point and hit the ground. The boy runs over and sees that Cyril isn’t moving. He’s horrified at what his actions have done. We’re convinced Cyril’s dead. He’s not, but that doesn’t diminish how devastating this scene is, which is done in such an unadorned fashion that the banality of this possible tragedy becomes painfully effective.

Riddles in the Dark in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (dir. Peter Jackson):

Peter Jackson’s energetic, bloated prequel to The Lord of the Rings has many peaks (and a few lulls), but none are as mesmerizing as when Bilbo (Martin Freeman) comes to after falling down a hole in the Misty Mountains and ends up in a deadly game of riddles with Gollum (Andy Serkis). The mere reappearance of Gollum is welcome, but it’s the impeccable motion capture animation and Gollum’s moving desperation at losing his precious that make this scene the film’s most memorable.

What are your favourite movie moments of 2012?