— by Renard N. Bansale —
Definite spoilers below
One of my go-to film websites is the B+ Movie Blog, and he has an annual tradition I greatly appreciate: On the Saturday before the annual Academy Awards, he writes articles on his five favorite moments in each Best Picture nominee. I love that tradition because it cuts through all the awards competition and petty dislike fans of certain nominees show towards other competing nominees and their fans (e.g., Gravity vs. 12 Years a Slave in 2013, Birdman vs. Boyhood vs. Selma in 2014, and especially La La Land vs. Moonlight in 2016). Instead of succumbing to that toxic air, the B+ Movie Blog reminds readers the day before the Oscars each year that the awards season serves to recognize what great cinema the previous year had given us.
The B+ Movie Blog’s articles have inspired me to rank my favorite scenes from the new releases I watch. This penultimate end-of-2017 list honors the very best of the cinematic moments that left me gaping in awe at the big screen, regardless of whether the movies themselves made my top ten list for 2017 or not.
Again, let us preface my main list with some…
Honorable Mentions: (in alphabetical order by film)
- Tenement Tower & Car Chase Long Take (Atomic Blonde)
- Unplugged (“That was interesting…”) (Breathe)
- “Dave…I don’t think you should ever have children.” (David Lynch: The Art Life)
- Beepers vs. Internet (Duckweed)
- “We are fathers who drink to the deaths of our children.” (Frantz)
- A Brazilian Wax Costs a Finger (i.e., Birth of a Cannibal) (Grave (Raw))
- “Choose Life 2017” (T2 Trainspotting)
- No Man’s Land (Wonder Woman) (review here)
…and, as expected, a few painful but necessary cuts…
Just Missed My Top 10: (in alphabetical order by film)
- Terry’s Affair (The Big Sick)
- Visiting Nagasaki (Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary)
- Calling Mom’s Co-Worker (Columbus)
- The Zhengtai Gang Test (Duckweed)
- Buttered Mushroom Omelette (“Kiss me, my girl, before I’m sick.”) (Phantom Thread) (review here)
- “Execute” (i.e., “The Holdo Maneuver”) (Star Wars: Episode VIII—The Last Jedi) (review here)
Onward to the list, starting with…
10.) Soda for a Pedophile (The Florida Project)
A king must always defend his subjects. A father must defend his children. Bobby Hicks from Sean Baker’s The Florida Project became my favorite film character of 2017 for simultaneously embodying both adages through the rugged sensitivity of Willem Dafoe’s stellar yet understated performance.
There is plenty to appreciate about Bobby’s inconvenient opportunity to rise as the motel’s protector. Any parental figure watching the movie can relate at once to subtle yet immediate concern on Bobby’s face as he spots an elderly stranger (Carl Bradfield) approaching Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince) and her fellow motel kids as they play. We can feel the distance between Bobby, perched on a ladder as he repaints the motel’s tacky exterior, and the unfolding hunt of a predator, made worse when Bobby knocks over his paint bucket, creating a ghastly, pastel pink blot on the cement and splashing and startling a passing guest.
Once he rushes over to the kids, though, Bobby demonstrates his wisdom as the motel’s guardian. He does not chase away the implied pedophile, but caters to the pedophile’s stammered alibi—a sudden thirst for a soda. Similar to the burger scene towards the start of Pulp Fiction, writer-director Sean Baker creates such a beautiful shift in dominance in this scene. Once Baker has Bobby break the subterfuge and cast the predator out of his domain, you are cheering for Bobby and how he handled that situation like a proper manager-king. Most PSAs wish they could be as engaging as this heroic scene from The Florida Project.
9.) An Exchange of Texts (Personal Shopper)
In Personal Shopper, French writer-director Olivier Assayas’ off-kilter psychological thriller, Kristen Stewart plays Maureen Cartwright, a personal shopper for a European female celebrity. Maureen’s strong connection to the spirit world sets the stage for a handful of eerie moments involving supernatural entities. This includes perhaps 2017’s most cryptic sequence: Maureen travels from Paris to London to pick up dresses from her boss. This seems normal enough, except throughout the entire trip, Maureen corresponds via text message with an unknown number. Could it be a stalker of some kind, someone viewers may or may not have seen in the film already? Could it even be…Maureen’s late twin brother, communicating with her from beyond the grave? Such questions tickle my mind throughout this intense text message exchange.
Any film purist who believes that only phone conversations can mirror the drama of face-to-face dialogue…well, they are still correct, but this nail-biting sequence from Personal Shopper makes a great case for how text messaging could generate suspense. I will forever hold any future texting scene against the standard set by Personal Shopper.
8.) Peter Meets Liz’s Father (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
Yup, right with you there, Peter.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has struggled with handling dramatic reveals in the past, which is why this break-into-act-three sequence in Spider-Man: Homecoming continues to impress me. Everyone in the audience on opening weekend was with Peter Parker (Tom Holland) when that door opens and Peter finds himself face to face with his nemesis. As it turns out, Adrien Toomes/Vulture (Michael Keaton) is not there holding Liz (Laura Harrier) and whoever her parents are hostage, like in some old-school, cliched superhero scenario, but rather because he is Liz’s father. Add to that Toomes’ gradual realization of who he has in his car, some well-timed traffic lights, the dad-to-daughter’s-date talk to end all others, and Tom Holland’s stunned and subdued attitude throughout, and the result is one of 2017’s and one of the superhero subgenre’s most uncomfortable and tense seven minutes.
I close this entry by stating the following with utmost confidence: Logan wishes it had seven minutes as great as what director Jon Gunn and co. accomplish here.
7.) Knocking Into the Past (Wind River)
Other than Aaron Sorkin, Taylor Sheridan is the name that comes to mind when I think of the great “pure” screenwriters of the 2010s. It amuses me, then, how both made their theatrical feature directorial debuts in 2017. (Note: Sheridan’s Vile (2011) went straight to home entertainment.) Re-watching Sorkin’s Molly’s Game and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread convinced me to push Wind River (along with number one down below) off my top ten list. The omission was unfortunate specifically because of this brilliant moment in Sheridan’s bleak neo-Western murder procedural, set in the titular Wyoming Native American reservation.
With Jeremy Renner (in one of 2017’s best male lead performances) en route and tribal police led by Graham Greene (also the judge in Molly’s Game) and oil drill site security looking on, Elizabeth Olsen knocks on the trailer door where the male victim’s roommate is taking an early afternoon nap. Cut to…a shirtless Jon Bernthal, brushing his teeth in the trailer’s steam-filled bathroom, reacting to the knock. He walks over to the door and opens it to find…not Ms. Olsen, but rather Kelsey Chow as…the female victim. And…it is night behind her. What is going on?
At then it hits us…in a stroke of genius, Taylor Sheridan and editor Gary D. Roach have brought us back to the last night of these two characters’ lives, and all without the traditional fuzzy crossfade or some abrupt sound cut. The flashback plays out, clarifying what viewers up to that point did not know, until abruptly cutting back to Elizabeth Olsen knocking on the door days later, unaware of the danger now surrounding her and the tribal police. Now the audience knows everything and, more importantly, is ready for the coming gunfight. That is visual storytelling done well.
6.) Adjacent Stalls (T2 Trainspotting)
Knowing the betrayal that ends 1996’s Trainspotting, I looked forward to how, in T2 Trainspotting, Mark Renton (Ewen McGregor) and Francis “Franco” Begbie (Robert Carlyle) would confront each other after twenty years.
Frustrated one evening that a stash of Viagra he came across seems ineffective, Begbie passes the time by attending the same club where, unbeknownst to him, Renton is also present. Renton goes into a restroom stall to text and call in private. Begbie, getting more impatient by the second over the pills, also heads for the restroom and enters the stall right next to Renton’s to take more. Begbie fumbles the pills and it falls and slides under the partition between their stalls. Renton, rather than sliding the pills back at once, recognizes the brand and makes a snide remark as an angry Begbie shouts for the pills back. Renton passes them back and goes back to texting, while Begbie swallows a pill.
Both pause…then turn towards each other through the wall, each realizing…I know that voice…
I just love how director Danny Boyle and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle approached this scene, with gorgeous dark blue neon lighting and a wide angle of both stalls. This visual setup looks so much like a scene out of a silent comedy, especially with how the actors play out the slow realization of who is on the other side of the partition. If you condensed “Peter Meets Liz’s Father” from seven minutes to two minutes, “Adjacent Stalls” would be the result.
(Relive the scene here.)
5.) FULL-BLOWN FRENZY/WAR ZONE (mother!)
Talk about a concentrated assault on the senses, in a movie that makes little poetic sense, much less anywhere else (the theological sense in particular).
From her struggle to coordinate bathroom use for the onslaught of guests to when she and Javier Bardem barricade themselves in his study, Jennifer Lawrence endures close to fifteen minutes of unadulterated chaos. Unruly guests tear apart furniture, set up makeshift shrines, and throw punches. Manic rituals invade every room and a giddy Kristen Wiig summarily executes hooded prisoners generating from a cage. Then the police, SWAT units, and fully-armed soldiers storm the ruined shell of a secluded palace, turning it into a treacherous battlefield. Throughout all this, Jennifer Lawrence’s birth pangs and rage skyrocket beyond comprehension.
What did it take for writer-director Darren Aronofsky, production designer Philip Messina, and set decorators Larry Dias and Martine Giguère-Kazemirchuk to pull off this sequence in mother!? Whatever the narrative intentions and spiritual mindset Aronofsky and co. possessed when crafting this project, those fifteen minutes will remain impressive from a technical standpoint alone. If anyone had to pack all the violence and conflict of world history into fifteen minutes, this sequence in mother! would undoubtedly be a close approximation.
4.) The Pie (A Ghost Story)
On the surface, this scene from A Ghost Story consists of a five-minute static shot of a sniffling Rooney Mara, digging into an unsliced pie by herself, with the ghost of her late husband (Casey Affleck) stationed just a few steps away. A deeper delve reveals that in this static shot lies raw grief, its instability, its tendency to cause irrational decisions, and even the potential for producing an amusing image despite the circumstances. Writer-director David Lowery executes a moment that, by itself, could very well define the word “grief” in cinema in 2017.
(Relive the scene here.)
3.) Packard’s Retort (Kong: Skull Island)
If there is one moment that solidifies my affinity for Kong: Skull Island, it is hands down that biting exchange towards the end between war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and the bloodthirsty Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Packard and his men are seconds away from defeating the mighty beast with explosives when Weaver and mercenary tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) confront them.
Packard arms his detonator…and then Weaver yells, “Stop!” Eyes peer over to her as she says, “The world is bigger than this.”
Now…on paper and on screen, Weaver’s generic, pandering, and cliched line makes me scoff. It is the kind of line that grates my ears, strangles an on-screen exchange, and can undo an admiration for a movie.
And then Packard snaps back. (Those who have seen Kong: Skull Island know what he says, in a way only Samuel L. Jackson can deliver.) I remember bursting out in laughter at his line, which is a stark contrast to the polite exchange Packard and Weaver had when they met earlier in the film. Packard hurls such a succinct yet deeply-cutting response to Brie Larson’s cringe-worthy line (and, in my mind, to any cliched platitude spoken on film) that it almost gives the cringe purpose. That takes skill.
After that scene, no one can ever convince me that Kong: Skull Island does not belong in my top five for 2017.
(Relive the moment here.)
2.) ”See you around, kid.” (Star Wars: Episode VIII—The Last Jedi)
First, I apologize for leaving out “Execute” (i.e., “The Holdo Maneuver”), whose short duration did not convince me enough to include it in my top ten.
At this point in Episode VIII—The Last Jedi, I admit that I started to feel its 152 minutes. I prepared myself for a lackluster ending to an otherwise-glorious Star Wars saga entry—writer-director Rian Johnson reaching back into his sleeves and finding nothing there. Much to my relief and astonishment, he pulls out “magnificent” and “everything you expected or theorized is wrong.”
Since Episode 8 ended up as 2017’s highest grossing release, both domestically and worldwide, I assume that readers know how this scene proceeds, so I will just gush over some highlights: The chills of Luke’s slow entrance. That last bit of tenderness between brother and sister (Requiescat in pace, Carrie Fisher). That shudder when the gargantuan walkers start firing at the Jedi master—the red soil beneath the white salt making it appear as though Luke met his end in an explosion of blood. The impressed riot in the theater when Luke brushes off his shoulder. The rising suspicion when Luke takes out the blue lightsaber that Kylo (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) had split in two just minutes before and again when he takes steps without revealing the red salt underneath his feet. The slow thrust of Kylo’s laser sword into where Luke’s chest should be. Luke bidding a cheeky adieu to his former protégé, before catching his breath at last on his remote island hideaway…Finally, Luke gazing at the sunset under the swell of John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra, the slow relief, and lastly, the wind blowing away the cloak of a one-time farm boy who has seen a lifetime of love and loss, of victory and defeat, now at peace with the Force.
But alas, not my number one favorite scene of 2017.
1.) Reacquaintance in the Shed (Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni (In This Corner of the World))
It broke my heart to leave writer-director Sunao Katabuchi’s easy-going yet emotionally-rich World War II anime In This Corner of the World just outside my top ten for 2017 in the end. I resisted breaking my streak of including at least one animated release in my annual list. Even though I knew, right when it landed just inside my top ten after I first saw it last August, that it was in danger of falling out, I hoped that no movie could take its place in my rankings. I held out hope because…well, because In This Corner of the World contained my favorite scene in all of cinema in 2017. (Then again, Sing Street contained my favorite scene of 2016 and it did not end up making that year’s top ten list either, so…I suppose it fits the trend so far.)
“Talk to him tonight; there may not be another time.”
These are the words young Japanese navy civilian Shūsaku Hojo (Yoshimasa Hosoya, dubbed by Todd Haberkorn) adds when he tells his young wife Suzu (née Urano) (Non, dubbed by Laura Post) to bring a bed stove to the shed, where Tetsu Mizuhara (Daisuke Ono, dubbed by Michael Chapman), a navy sailor and Suzu’s childhood friend, is staying for the night. When Suzu heads out with the bed stove and reaches the shed door, she hears Shūsaku behind her locking the door to the house. There is a nuanced irony here with Suzu not realizing what Shūsaku is doing—leaving her and Tetsu alone, giving indirect permission to the possibility of “one thing leading to another” between them. Why? Because Shūsaku knows the high death rates on Japanese warships and he can sense Suzu’s lingering childhood crush on Tetsu throughout the whole evening. After all, Shūsaku and Suzu built their marriage more out of duty than romance.
With both pairs of legs and the bed stove underneath the blanket, Tetsu reminds Suzu of when she painted for him a splendid seascape with rabbit-shaped waves for their school assignments several years ago. The painting, submitted in Tetsu’s name, won an award at a local contest, even though he never put a single stroke on it. Tetsu admires how “ordinary” Suzu is and how skilled she is with drawing. His hand cups her hair…then her arm. He pulls her closer. His head touches hers. He sniffs her hair. He starts to behave like any sailor alone with a comfort woman. They start to lean in for a kiss…
Then she stops. Her frustrations flow out, causing Tetsu to freeze. How she had been waiting for Tetsu to romance her ever since their school days. How she, now married to a man she had met even before Tetsu, cannot and should not go along with this.
“Do you love your husband?” … “Yes.”
Then…a relieved Tetsu sighs: “You’re still so ordinary,” he says with a chuckle.
They reminisce on better times for the rest of the night, his head on her lap. Once dawn breaks, Suzu sees Tetsu out and they bid farewell as friends, even though he might end up dead soon. And as it turns out, Shūsaku made the wrong prediction: At the end of the war, Tetsu survives the sinking of his cruiser and he and Suzu even pass each other without them knowing.
2017 was the year when our culture reexamined power in a sexual relationship, and it made me so happy to witness a scene where marriage and chastity are put to the test and re-emerge safe and secure for once, even in interesting times.
A most quiet and intimate scene, yes, but nevertheless, “Reacquaintance in the Shed” from In This Corner of the World is my favorite scene in all of 2017 in cinema.
One more time…
Godspeed and Farewell, Cinema of 2017!
Welcome, Cinema of 2018!
Renard N. Bansale once aspired to become an astronaut, before he found his passion in film discussion, criticism, conducting script-reading sessions of feature-film screenplays, and annual Oscar tracking. Hailing from Seattle, WA, Renard is currently pursuing his M.A. in Biblical Theology (Catechetical track) at JPCatholic after graduating from the school in 2016 with a B.S. in Communications Media (Emphasis in Screenwriting).
For more movie reviews by Renard, click here.