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The Best Movie Scenes & Moments Of 2012

by The Playlist Staff
December 12, 2012 4:13 PM
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The Crash - “The Grey”
In one of the year’s most underrated films, Joe Carnahan unforgettably renders Ottway’s (Liam Neeson) shattering descent into unforgiving terrain. The plane crash that decimates the crew of oil workers heading home, leaving Ottway and six freezing, unprepared men (Frank Grillo, Ben Bray, Dallas Roberts, Nonso Anozie, Dermot Mulroney and Joe Anderson) at the mercy of the elements and the wildlife, is appropriately sudden and disorienting. Less typical is Carnahan’s choice to stay on Neeson as he holds on for dear life and then rockets out of the plane and loses consciousness as deafening winds take hold. It’s a moment of cinematic wonder, a petrifying transition and an attempt to place us under Ottway’s skin and invest in Neeson’s survival. It works.

The Hotel Room Fight - "Haywire"
You know it’s going to go down a little differently when Mallory Kane (MMA champ Gina Carano), dressed to the nines, delicately slips off her high heels. Betrayed and about to have the life snatched out of her by Michael Fassbender’s operative, Mallory isn’t going down without a fight. What follows is a brutal throwdown in the confines of an upscale hotel room. Director Steven Soderbergh clearly has no interest in dipping even a toe into the Paul Greengrass school of covering close quarters action, shooting Carano and Fassbender throwing one another around with no music and minimal cuts (nevermind close-ups). He isolates the sounds of their struggle – there’s no score, only grunts, groans and shattered glass. Carano is all knees and elbows while Fassbender throws his weight around. It feels real and we commend Fassbender for going up against a champion fighter and making it look like he has the upper hand, however briefly.

Monsieur Merde - "Holy Motors"
Picking a highlight of Leos Carax's extraordinary, gloriously odd episodic puzzle piece "Holy Motors" is a near-impossible task -- we've already named a couple in our music moments piece. But for this writer at least, it comes down to the section where lead Denis Lavant reprises his role as "Monsieur Merde," from Carax's segment of the 2008 anthology picture "Tokyo!." Merde is a grotesque, grunting, wordless creature clad in a natty green suit, and once Lavant's Oscar transforms into him, he lollops through a graveyard, eating flowers and attacking passers-by, until he falls in love with, and kidnaps, a supermodel (a wonderfully game Eva Mendes), and takes her back to his sewer layer, where he proceeds to display his full-on erection for her. It's a wonderfully funny sequence, the feral, satyr-like Merde is one of Lavant's best performances-within-the-performance, but there's a curious tenderness and romanticism to it as well. Close runner-up, the musical moments aside, is probably the motion capture sequence. Or the bonkers ending. Or the beautifully drawn dialogue between a father and daughter. Or...

Frederic Bourdin Mimics Michael Jackson - “The Imposter”
Director Bart Layton fashioned one of the best documentaries of the year with this film about... well, the less said the better, especially if you haven’t seen it yet and know nothing about it. Trust us, keep it that way, and go in as ignorant as possible before watching. One of the final scenes, in which we see con man Frederic Bourdin dance like Michael Jackson, is haunting, sly and filled with more levels than a skyscraper. It’s the kind of blissful, seemingly out of nowhere moment, a happy accident of archival footage, that comes to only the luckiest and most perceptive of documentarians. And it's done without any dialogue or narration.

The Penultimate Legal Decision - “In The Family”
It takes a lot of brass to conceive a scene that nears the twenty minute mark and make it no less than the penultimate one in a movie. But Patrick Wang’s “In The Family” had that distinction from the get-go: the director shot scenes in single long takes, delivered a three hour cut, and when festivals turned their backs on his baby, he took it on the road himself. Of course, we might call that “stubborn” if the film wasn’t at all competent, but thankfully ‘Family’ is a hugely touching, sensitive film without a false note in its makeup. Following a homosexual (Joey) after he loses his partner in a car accident, the real narrative begins when his son Chip -- his partner’s blood, though both raised the boy since infancy -- is lawfully handed over to his aunt. Joey loses the respect he thought he had, and when he pursues legal action for custody, he’s turned down by every lawyer he comes into contact with. Eventually he meets a compassionate attorney that agrees to fight with him, and it all leads to a vocal showdown in an office between Joey, his former sister-in-law (of sorts), and their respective legal teams. There’s no shouting, violence, or melodrama of any kind -- the conversation is calm and the characters make their plea with emotion, but nothing is forced. Despite its calm nature, the scene is utterly gripping; calling it a scene is even a disservice because, with its own arcs and twists, it seems more like its own short film within a greater body of work. A truly magnificent segment, incredibly paced and a guaranteed tear-jerker.

The Hammer Scene - "Kill List"
Ben Wheatley has wrapped two films since making his sophomore feature, "Kill List," which hit theaters in the U.S. way back in January, having rolled out at festivals in 2011. But we'd be surprised if anything in either "Sightseers" or "A Field In England," or anything the director ever makes again, will be quite as traumatic or powerful as the kitchen-based torture scene in "Kill List." Hitmen Jay (Neil Maskell) and Gal (Michael Smiley) are tasked with taking out three people, the second of whom, The Librarian (Mark Kempner), turns out to be a child pornographer. Enraged, they burst into his home and proceed to brutally torture the man with a cigarette until they get the info. And once they get it, Jay goes to work with a hammer. It's about as unwatchable and disturbing a piece of violence as we've ever seen on screen, but it's not the (extremely) graphic nature alone that makes it so. It's the way that Gal, clearly uncomfortable with the lengths his colleague and friend is going, sits quietly listening in the next room. And it's the way that, as his death approaches, The Librarian becomes calm and grateful towards Jay, telling him that he's "glad [he] met [him]," and thanking him as his hand is nearly severed with the hammer. But there's something else about it that's particularly chilling, suggesting however bad the horrors are that we're witnessing, something much worse is on the way...

The Kentucky Fried Chicken Blow-Job - “Killer Joe”
Matthew McConaughey had a banner 2012. “Magic Mike,” “Bernie,” “The Paperboy” and “Mud” (which will arrive in 2013) all attest to this fact.  And while his “Magic Mike” performance is stellar, perhaps none of his 2012 turns are as unhinged and go-for-broke as his titular role of Joe, a contract killer, who also happens to be a police detective in William Friedkin’s twisted comeback directorial effort. Written by Tracy Letts, the corrosively pitch black comedy "Killer Joe" centers on a trailer trash family that hires Joe to murder their mother to get the insurance money. Suffice to say the plan goes awry, but Joe, a certifiable sociopath still does the deed. And when he wants his money, he brings a psychotic angel of death hellfire wrath on this duplicitous family. One rather disgusting and unnerving scene of sadomasochistic torture involves Joe forcing Gina Gershon’s conniving step-mom -- who is planning a double cross of her own -- to give a blowjob to a greasy Kentucky Fried Chicken wing. She gags and sucks on the fleshy piece of meat as Joe grinds it into her face with his crotch getting more and more sexually aroused. In its quivering/fucked up feverish climax, Joe gets off, Thomas Haden Church vomits and the spectators and audience are aghast and shocked. What the fuck did all just witness? It's nasty, dirty and you'll want to take a shower after, but everyone plays the scene full throttle and it’s an unforgettable stain on the memory.

Ray Liotta Has A Hard Time - “Killing Them Softly”
One of the best things about the wonderfully cynical and hilarious "Killing The Softly" is the use of sound. For the brutal scene in which Ray Liotta is interrogated, then beaten, for a crime he didn’t commit, writer/director Andrew Dominik and his sound crew conjured a visceral, distinctive audio soundscape, looping synthesized distortions with simple sound recordings (trains in the distance, a squeegee across a windshield, etc). This stylish effect is beautifully cinematic, putting the audience in the shoes of Liotta’s unlucky bastard. When the time comes to take him out for good later in the film, the style is amped up to another degree, adding a super slow motion sequence that looks like something out of “The Matrix,” with a brilliant use of sound. Sure, we’ve seen this kind of slow motion stuff before, but it looks beautiful and adds another hammer strike to the film’s darkly funny, none-too subtle political parables. All that style adds up to something in “Killing Them Softly,” a film that’s already receding into obscurity way too fast. [Check out this feature on the sound in the beating scene, courtesy of the New York Times]

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  • Mateus Selle Denardin | December 18, 2012 12:01 AMReply

    My favorite scene of 2012:¿

  • loudrockmusic | December 15, 2012 5:50 AMReply

    I could never watch that movie with Melissa Leo. As much as I like her, it sounds like something I couldn't stomach. That picture alone distresses me.

  • Art | December 13, 2012 1:12 PMReply

    Oh, I just remembered: The sequence in Rust and Bone where Schoenaerts' character climbs up the illegal boxing ladder while Cotillard starts working as his manager, all set to Springsteen's "State Trooper" remixed by Trentemoeller. Was this in your Best Of Musical Moments? It has a very Scorsese feel to it.

  • asiandude | December 13, 2012 12:10 PMReply

    What about the Brazino scene @ Amazing Spider-man? The way Emma Stone says those word - BRAZINO! Or the "No Diggity" part in Pitch Perfect? Or the Elmo vs. Cookie Monster in 5-year engagement? THE PEEING SCENE IN PAPERBOY?

  • Rodrigo | December 13, 2012 1:15 PM

    Guys, stop trying to make fetch a thing.

  • Katie Walsh | December 13, 2012 12:21 PM

    Guys, stop trying to make Amazing Spiderman happen. Just stop.

    Check out our Best Music Moments for my take on the No Diggity in Pitch Perfect. Those other two... just nope.

  • Alan | December 13, 2012 5:19 AMReply

    Was I the only person who thought that the kid's performance in Looper was kinda silly?

  • Christopher Bell | December 15, 2012 12:26 AM

    Well, it's hard to say if someone would work better than him, but I do think they could've got a kid with a broodier presence. And if anything is making me feel silly, it's talking this way about a child.

  • Alan | December 13, 2012 9:43 PM

    I am not sure that the kid was 'miscast', necessarily: who would you possibly cast to make that subplot work? Then again, I always think that the "kid is evil 'cause he furrows his brow" archetype is nearly impossible to pull off, and is almost always silly.

  • Alan | December 13, 2012 9:21 PM

    I am not sure that the kid was 'miscast', necessarily: who would you possibly cast to make that subplot work? Then again, I always think that the "kid is evil 'cause he furrows his brow" archetype is nearly impossible to pull off, and is almost always silly.

  • Christopher Bell | December 13, 2012 1:12 PM

    I'm with you. Thought he was miscast.

  • maggie | December 13, 2012 12:34 PM

    you are not alone

  • lane | December 12, 2012 9:12 PMReply

    in an effort to look severely uncool, I'm throwing the best animated sequence of the year in here: the Circus in Madagascar 3. The first two films in the franchise are pure garbage, this one is top shelf Dreamworks. The film is getting shafted because of the first two, and its focus on pure entertainment and gags. No way the climax of Frankenweenie beats this scene. With pop-echoes of Fantasia and Dumbo's liberation through animation, this scene would have made Walt prouder than any Disney film released this year. I agree, Fireworks isn't the perfect choice, but hey, it's Dreamworks.

  • MMJ | December 13, 2012 8:40 PM

    "Madagascar 3" was better than it had any right to be. However, my favorite bit of animation this year was the final confrontation with the witch in "Paranorman." The effects and the lighting were just fantastic.

  • Alan | December 13, 2012 4:49 AM

    I gave up on the franchise after the second one, in which they took a gag from the first film (the old lady isn't as frail as she looks) and made a frickin' film about it. And it isn't just a stupid kids film, but it is downright disturbing, too, with an extended fight sequence between the lion and the old lady that reaches Raging Bull levels of punishment. But I might give the third one a go after your recommendation.

  • lee | December 12, 2012 8:17 PMReply

    The Looper scene is incredible. One of my favorite and memorable scenes was Selina Kyle in the cafe fooling the bad guys, shooting some of them.

  • justin | December 12, 2012 7:37 PMReply

    care to comment on why so many of your best movie scenes are so gruesome and violent? i can think of some powerful moving scenes that were not so difficult to watch, purely for their blood, torture and pain and fighting. i do like the list overall and agree that those are some powerful scenes- if i could though i'd swap some i'd love to add the subway singalong from "the deep blue sea" or the underwear dance from "moonrise kingdom".

  • justin | December 14, 2012 10:56 PM

    thanks mark. but care to comment on why so many of the scenes are so violent, or based around violence?

  • Mark Zhuravsky | December 13, 2012 12:24 AM

    Actually, the subway singalong made it into last year's feature. Here you are:

  • Art | December 12, 2012 7:07 PMReply

    How about the opening sequence in POST TENEBRAS LUX with Reygadas' child walking among dogs while a storm is coming or *spoiler* the first appearance of the devil as a small kid watches him enter his parents' bedroom? The sense of dread and man vs. nature conflict shown throughout the film resonates heavily in those two sequences. That scene in MOONRISE KINGDOM where Jason Schartzman's character asks Suzy a couple of times if she really wants to get married and she answers both times without hesitating "yes" while chewing gum, making Schartzman angry and demanding the couple take a minute by themselves to think it over still cracks me up. Perfect reminder of the juvenile and sweet nature of the leads' relationship. Lastly, the scene in COSMOPOLIS where Erick Packer (Robert Pattison) gets shot at by an unknown assailant from a deteriorating building. Packer, flushed with a new sense of fatality, begins to joyfully strut to the building, playing with his gun and whispering into it "Nancy Babich", a word that triggered his ex-security guard's and ultimately killed him. Packer has seen death, and he's not afraid of it.

  • fry | December 12, 2012 6:38 PMReply

    Great job on this article people. Fascinating read.

  • DHE | December 12, 2012 6:31 PMReply

    The Campfire scene in the Grey was pretty intense, as was the first fight scene between Bane and Batman in the Dark Knight Rises. The lack of music help the atmosphere on the latter

  • Mark | December 12, 2012 4:52 PMReply

    Avengers and batman but no Spider-Man, what about the scene where he crawls all over the lizard in the school, or when he makes a web in the sewers, or swings along the cranes

  • mike | December 13, 2012 5:40 PM

    How about when the lizard finds out that the camera is a property of Peter Parker? that's more like it. A silly scene for a silly movie.

  • Christopher Bell | December 12, 2012 5:08 PM

    Watch different movies.

  • hank | December 12, 2012 4:48 PMReply

    did you just refer to Osama Bin Laden as "the world's greatest man"?

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