— by Renard N. Bansale —
Definite spoilers below
One of my favorite film sites, the B+ Movie Blog, has an annual tradition I greatly appreciate: On the Saturday before the annual Academy Awards, he publishes articles on his five favorite moments from each Best Picture nominee (see here). I love that tradition because he 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 La La Land vs. Moonlight in 2016). Instead of breathing in that toxic air, the B+ Movie Blog reminds readers in the final twenty-four hours before Oscar Sunday to recognize what great cinema the previous year had given us. In addition, he has inspired me to rank my favorite scenes from the new releases I watch. This final end-of-2018 list honors those cinematic moments that left me gaping in awe, regardless of whether the movies themselves appear in my previous year-end lists (see here and here) or not.
Now, as some readers may have noticed with last year’s list, I hold to a peculiar rule—no beginnings, no endings. Beginnings and endings already intend to create a significant impression on audiences, so including either type puts any other moment outside of them at a disadvantage.
Still, since I have started including opposing lists at the start of my end-of-2018 lists, here are my favorites of both types:
Renard’s Top 5 Beginnings of 2018 in Cinema:
1.) Thursday Morning, December 16, 2004 (American Animals)
2.) Prologue: The Boy Samurai & the Headless Ancestor / ”Taiko Drumming” (Isle of Dogs)
3.) An Overly Friendly Welcome at Sullivan County Community College (Three Identical Strangers)
4.) Max Meets Annie / ”Don’t Stop Me Now” (Game Night)
5.) Beau’s Rocket (A Quiet Place) ***Related articles here***
Honorable Mention Beginnings: Right Where We Left Off (Incredibles 2)
Renard’s Top 5 Endings of 2018 in Cinema:
1.) A Beautiful Day (You Were Never Really Here)
2.) “Let’s Talk About Your Future” (Sicario: Day of the Soldado)
3.) The Humor of Knowing All Along (Green Book)
4.) Ashes & the House of the Setting Sun (Avengers: Infinity War)
5.) “Happy Birthday, Aunt Lucy” (Paddington 2)
Honorable Mention Endings: Locked, Loaded, & Dialed Up to Eleven (A Quiet Place)
With those revealed, onward to the main list, prefaced with some…
Honorable Mention Scenes: (in alphabetical order by film, then by scene name)
- Annihilation (Annihilation)
- Willy Pete (Annihilation)
- Funeral Service for Melissa Headley (Beast)
- Busan Casino Fight (Black Panther)
- A Vegetarian King’s Amusement (Black Panther)
- Count at the Federal Reserve (Den of Thieves)
- Dad & Crew Talk to Daughter’s Date (Den of Thieves)
- “Pinched Up” (Den of Thieves)
- Meet Billy (Forever My Girl)
- “…Idiot” (Forever My Girl)
- Jack-Jack vs. Raccoon (Incredibles 2)
- “With All Courage, Loyalty, & Friendship” (Isle of Dogs)
- A Jungle in Prison (Paddington 2)
- Pop-Up Book (Paddington 2)
- Descent Into the Lake (You Were Never Really Here)
- “Just a Hired Gun” (You Were Never Really Here)
…and of course, a few painful but necessary cuts…
Just Missed My Top 10: (in alphabetical order by film)
- “His Insides Were Moving” (Annihilation)
- The Quiet Siege on Em’s House (Assassination Nation)
- Kai & Lu’s Overnight Hangout (Lu Over the Wall)
- “It Is as It Should Be” (Pad Man)
- “I’ve Never Been to Me” (You Were Never Really Here)
Spoiler alert: Half of this list centers on music. Oh man, this will be good!
10.) “You Can’t Hurry Love” (Bad Times at the El Royale)
Between Bad Times at the El Royale and Widows, Tony Award-winning stage actress Cynthia Erivo had quite the cinematic coming-out party in 2018, and I pick the scene of Ms. Erivo singing, for diversion purposes, the classic Motown tune “You Can’t Hurry Love” in her hotel room as her defining moment for the year.
A neo-noir thriller whose somewhat tedious whole is less than the sum of its many impressive moments, Bad Times at the El Royale by Drew Goddard does not skimp on the tension it generates among its ensemble cast’s individual subplots. Ms. Erivo plays struggling soul singer Darlene Sweet, who intends to find a singing residency in Reno. Unfortunately for her, a briefcase of stolen cash is hidden underneath her room’s floorboards, placed there by the slain brother (Nick Offerman) of Donald “Dock” O’Kelly (Jeff Bridges), who is staying at the hotel disguised as Catholic priest Fr. Daniel Flynn. Agreeing to split the money, Bridges tasks her to sing the Motown classic, removing the floorboards out of sight between the room’s double beds to the beat of her tune.
That was a smart move, for standing on the other side of the two-way mirror to the secret corridor connecting all the rooms, unbeknownst to them, is the armed Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson). Seeking to rescue sister Rose (Cailee Spaeny, in one of her four 2018 outings) from the Manson-esque cult of Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth), Summerspring is ready to shoot anyone who might get in her way. That includes an innocent-looking Black woman who is…suspiciously singing alone in her room to a rather deliberate tempo. Ms. Summerspring stands in the corridor for most of the song, eyeing Ms. Sweet while scanning the rest of the room for anything out of the ordinary.
Once Ms. Summerspring decides to return to the lobby…
…I remember to breathe once again in the auditorium. Wow! What tension! What a way to start off this list!
9.) A Strong Dose of “Linglish” (Pad Man)
This is most inspiring speech in broken English you will ever hear.
Despite having never made my top ten lists these past few years, I have regarded a few of the Indian cinema offerings that pass by Seattle as some of the most thoroughly satisfying works of entertainment I have ever experienced. 2016’s Dangal, for example, is the Indian wrestling equivalent of the 1956 George Stevens epic Giant in terms of familial scope, albeit with more of a feminine slant rather than a racial one. 2017’s Jagga Jasoos (Detective Jagga), despite its imperfections, is an utterly rousing and musical detective adventure.
2018’s Pad Man, meanwhile, is a dramedy with a much-needed message in India today. Adapted from a short story from producer Twinkle Khanna that was inspired by social activist Arunachalam Muruganantham, Pad Man stars Akshay Kumar as Lakshmikant “Laxmi” Chauhan, a devoted husband frustrated by how his wife Gayatri (Radhika Apte) must, as most women of their culture do, sequester herself during her menstrual periods. Laxmi’s journey from his handmade prototype pads all the way to his trip to New York City does not take up more than a few years, maximum, yet it contains more than a lifetime of trial, error, rejection, and learning. When he finally succeeds in supplying a successful pad for Pari Walla (Sonam Kapoor), an educated city woman and eventual investor in Laxmi’s venture, his joy overwhelms the screen.
That abounding joy carries over to Laxmi’s speech at UNICEF, where he starts by asking his provided translator to sit down after his first few sentences. For about nine minutes, Laxmi uses his limited grasp of English to basically recap the story we have seen thus far as well as his life mission and philosophy…and it is incredible. You understand everything he says while also recognizing that, barring everything he has learned, he is still the same humble and dedicated man we met at the start of Pad Man. If someone were to chronologically list all the best public speeches in cinema, I guarantee that Laxmi’s UNICEF speech in Pad Man will remain at the front of that list for quite some time.
8.) Pass the Egg (Game Night)
I liken the egg chase long take in Game Night (read Ben Escobar’s review here) to the truck scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Both are, upon further reflection, excessive setpieces in the grand scheme of their respective stories. The filmmakers could have found simpler solutions to keep their movies going. Yet, because they decided to thoroughly use the spaces and props of these narrative junctures, these scenes elevate their films as a result.
If Mark Perez already had this chase in his fabulous original screenplay, then God bless him for it. If directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein came up with the long take idea, then I absolve them at once of 2015’s Vacation. Finally, if d.p. Barry Peterson came up with the long take idea, then he deserves far more than the comedies he has been shooting for much of his career. All in all, what a brilliant way to give audiences a broad final tour of the location where the main ensemble’s relationships shift a bit and jokes reach their well-brewed punchlines. That is how you do a game night! (Relive the scene here.)
7.) “Cop’s Home Freestyle” (Blindspotting)
Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal incorporate a handful of exhilarating scenes in Blindspotting—the used hair dryers pitch, the bullet regurgitation nightmare, the boat pitch, the Scorpion Bowl, and ”Say it!” among them. Yet I point to the slightly inaccurate marketing of Blindspotting as the tie-breaker that puts the film’s showstopper of a freestyle on this list. By suggesting a different feature from what audiences received, the audiences spend much of the plot growing accustomed to its nature as a buddy comedy in a land that seems to shun it for being so. They may have, as a result, forgotten those trailer snippets with Diggs rapping directly to the camera. Audiences arrive at the movie’s final workday scene, already exhausted by the relationship rifts that have set in and perhaps ready for the movie to finish. Then, when Diggs and later Casal realize whose house they are at and who is in the basement at that moment, the film drops this on its audiences—the blistering culmination of Diggs’ frustrations, regrets, and anger, both towards the corruption in institutions meant to protect all Americans as well as in himself, especially during those last three days of parole that comprise Blindspotting’s storyline. Arriving in the closing minutes of a humble yet timely story overflowing with peaks, “Cop’s Home Freestyle” is the highest peak of them all and is both first and last in the long list of reasons to watch Blindspotting as soon as possible.
6.) “The Wind Makes It Interesting!” (The Equalizer 2)
Since I do not include either beginnings or endings in this list, it makes sense that several of the scenes in this list are climactic: They take place late in their respective films’ runtimes, with the rest of the story building up to them beforehand. Yet as much as I was enjoying The Equalizer 2 more than its predecessor well into its runtime, I was not expecting to feast my eyes and ears on the twelve-minute-plus climactic seaside showdown of Denzel Washington vs. Pedro Pascal and his crew in a hurricane. This entire sequence somehow emulates both the showdowns found a classic western like High Noon as well as a boss bottle from a great action video game series like Metal Gear (hence my strong recommendation to director Jordan Vogt-Roberts to watch and study this sequence for his upcoming Metal Gear Solid adaptation). Trust me, this final showdown almost single-handedly landed The Equalizer 2 onto my Underrated list. (Relive this scene: part 1, part 2, part 3)
I feel confident in declaring that my top five favorite scenes from 2018 will rank among the 2010s’ most iconic moments in cinema, if not more. Fasten your seatbelts.
Or rather, put on your bathing suits…
5.) Olas (Roma)
“Olas” significa “waves” en Español, por cierto.
The waning months of 1970 and the first half of 1971 have clearly not gone well for Cleodegaria “Cleo” Gutiérrez (Yalitza Aparicio): The parents of the family she serves (Marina de Tavira y Fernando Grediaga) are divorcing, her boyfriend Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) has abandoned her and has probably committed a few murders during violent protests, all culminating in the delivery of her stillborn baby girl. The mother and the kids invite Cleo on a trip to the beaches of Tuxpan in an attempt to cheer her up and, as revealed by the mother mid-holiday, to allow their father to pack up his belongings on his own. On the last day, as the mother prepares the car for their return trip, the two eldest kids ask if they can wade just one last time into the water.
“No la quería…¡Pobrecita!” “Todo va a estar bien, Cleo…Todo va a estar bien…”
4.) “Shallow” (A Star Is Born)
“Tell me something, girl…”
“Tell me something, boy…”
There are some scenes where all I can say is—scratch that—all anyone can say is “Come on.” From the very moment we saw that initial trailer, everyone sensed that “Shallow” from A Star Is Born was composed to become, not just the defining movie song, but one of the defining songs of 2018 in general. Lady Gaga’s pipes and acting ability, meshed firmly with Bradley Cooper’s versatile talents both in front of and behind the camera, framed and lit by d.p. Matthew Libatique, cut by Jay Cassidy, and mixed by a stellar sound crew—all these efforts produce a sublime scene of recognition, of attraction, of conveying flaws that required fixing and the emotional vulnerability involved in fixing them. This is the moment when A Star Is Born lifts off the ground with a ferocious and fiery roar and never looks back.
(Watch the “Shallow” music video here.)
3.) Royal Doulton China Bowl (Mary Poppins Returns)
If there was a segment of cinema that defined the word “miracle” in 2018, it would be the Royal Doulton China Bowl sequence in Mary Poppins Returns.
This is, without a doubt in my mind, the Mouse House’s greatest artistic achievement of 2018 and, in light of this and this, the world owes an enormous thanks to both producer-director-choreographer Rob Marshall and animation supervisor Jim Capobianco. All of it—the integration of Mary, Jack, and the kids in the animated world, the China bowl-accurate sound effects, the character designs, “The Royal Doulton Music Hall” song, realizing who the wolf, badger, and weasel are—again, perfect elements in a perfect sequence. “A Cover Is Not the Book” is such a grand, glorious, and playful number (with a Miranda rap verse!) that Disney should have submitted it for the Best Original Song Oscar. This entire sequence should have won Mary Poppins Returns all the visual effects accolades in the industry.
I most dearly hope that the western hemisphere, much less the world, will never abandon hand-drawn animation. Long live the pencil!
2.) Interrogation (Where Is Kyra?)
It is easy to enjoy yet heavily criticize a popular superhero or animated blockbuster. It is easy to respect yet doze off to arthouse and independent fare. I try to live as my own cinephile, taking each film as I encounter them and re-watching them to confirm my appreciation for them. One thing is for sure: If I fall in love with a film, I fall in love with the film. It is something beyond mere fandom. It compels me to thank God for the people who put them together.
And I fell in love with Where Is Kyra?
And this scene…what a scene.
To start, it is yet another climactic scene: Kyra Johnson (the magnificent Michelle Pfeiffer) is at the end of her rope. Not only is she close to eviction, but the authorities have caught the scent on her desperate scheme of impersonating her late mother (Suzanne Shepherd) in order to survive on her meager retirement checks. Now they want to question her, so she has but one option left—impersonate her late mother one last time for questioning at home, with struggling neighbor and concerned lover Doug (Kiefer Sutherland) donning the scrubs from his retirement home job as her supposed caretaker.
This interrogation scene, while dark and quiet, is so unbelievably electric in its dramatic tension that it could power an entire city for the entire duration. What a brilliant touch to have Suzanne Shepherd sit in for a shot as Kyra prepares her disguise. Perhaps the scene’s truest brilliance lies in the audience’s investment in Kyra and Doug. We have spent an hour-and-a-half hoping that they will somehow pick themselves up for good, even now in this most dire moment. It all does come to an end, of course, and in a manner that matches up to the best downfalls found in noir. Still, what a way to go out!
1.) “The Last Song” (The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl)
The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl is a weird anime feature. Its director, Masaaki Yuasa, has quite the eccentric vision. Because of that, he managed to execute the most glorious scene I had the pleasure of witnessing in all of 2018 in cinema.
What is this? How infatuated must a college student like “Don Underwear” (Ryuji Akiyama) become to both one, vow to not change his underwear until he reunites with the destined love he met at last year’s school festival; two, write the book and compose the songs for a “guerilla musical” to seek her attention; and three, convince the entire school’s theatre troupe to perform it with you, risking trouble with the School Festival Executive Head (Hiroshi Kamiya) and his security personnel? My goodness are all of these college kids hardcore romantics.
Perhaps the craziest and most amazing aspect of this scene is its utter implausibility in how all the characters just know what lyrics and notes to sing. I mean, there is improvisation and “winging it”…and then there is this. When the original lead actress gets detained by school security, the movie’s co-protagonist dubbed “Otome” (Kana Hanazawa) fills in at the last moment and learns the book and songs in minutes flat! When the movie’s other co-protagonist, Otome’s male classmate dubbed “Senpai” (Gen Hoshino), crashes “The Final Song” and conveys his feelings for Otome, the guerilla musical somehow has music already tailored to his lyrics! And still the surprises keep coming! Not only was the dressed-up Executive Head the “woman” Don Underwear fell in love with the previous year, but now the female director helming the musical confesses that she has fallen in love with the Don over the course of putting the musical together.
If I had to single one the best moment of this whole scene, I would pick when Don Underwear and the Executive Head lean in for a kiss. What a genius move for Yuasa to take the audience into each man’s mind to show they both are begging for the music to interrupt them.
Honestly, I could go on for hours about this glorious scene in The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl and how it shot the anime feature straight into my top five for 2018. It has left me and continues to leave me smiling from ear to ear. I sincerely hope that all ten of these moments and more from 2018 cinema will continue to live on in the minds of its viewers for generations to come.
One more time…
Godspeed and Farewell, Cinema of 2018!
Welcome, Cinema of 2019!
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 graduated from JPCatholic in 2016 with a B.S. in Communications Media (Emphasis in Screenwriting) and is currently pursuing his M.A. in Theology online at the Augustine Institute.
For more movie reviews by Renard, click here.