When I’m not studying, perusing random crevices of the internet, or listening to music, I love to unwind and watch a movie. Who doesn’t?
Like music, motion pictures have always been a strong passion of mine. I vividly remember the wondrous awe and giddy expectation of walking into the Star Wars prequels as a young boy. When I was fifteen, I’d sometimes ignore my friends’ invites to bonfires or hangouts to stay at home and tear through Quentin Tarantino’s filmography in my basement. Call me old-fashioned or lame, but when I started dating my favorite PG (occasionally PG-13) thing to do with a girl was to pick her up and take her to the local cinema to enjoy a new movie on the big screen. Something about the red curtains, the smell of popcorn, the previews, and the feature film evokes a strange nostalgia in me, like revisiting a childhood home.
Throughout my development, my tastes shifted from Pixar, Lord of the Rings, and Adam Sandler flicks towards a more refined taste (I almost want to throw up saying this) which accompanied my deeper understanding and appreciation of the art.
I laugh at those who say, “Oh, I’m a reader, I don’t watch movies” as they dismiss the art of film as some cheap thrill for plebeian cretins who aren’t intellectual enough to appreciate a book. News to them – while your local Fandango theater likely shows big-budget movies that are nothing more than a Hollywood cash-grab, the world of film is vast and full of some of humanity’s greatest artistic achievements. While this should be obvious, movies and books can in fact co-exist, and loving movies doesn’t make one dumber than a person who reads books.
One of the first movies that opened my eyes to the world of what the medium can artistically accomplish was David Fincher’s Se7en. I remember not only be completely captivated (and horrified) by the story, but the gritty, rainy, gloomy aesthetic really caught my attention and led me to realize that movies contain much more nuance and vision than a script, some actors, and a cheesy Hollywood set.
Throughout my years of watching countless movies, digging through all the classics, exploring every nook and cranny of the world of cinema that time and knowledge permitted me, certain scenes stick out in my mind as the most powerful, most entertaining, most haunting, whatever – the scenes that stick with you long after the closing credits roll.
Disclaimer: spoilers lie ahead. I’ll attempt to keep the amount of scenes per director to one or two, as hard as it may be. Without further adieu, here’s the list of my favorite movie scenes:
David Fincher – Se7en
From the movie that started it all, I introduce to you my favorite scene from David Fincher’s thriller, Se7en. When talking about Se7en, most frantically discuss the gruesome ending to the psychological war between Kevin Spacey’s maniacal serial killer and Brad Pitt’s pugnacious detective. However, between the gore of the seven deadly sins murders and the jaw-dropping ending, we have this moment of glory. In the “What the Fuck” moment of the film, the wanted murderer struts straight into the lion’s den, adorned in fresh blood on pristine white shirt, screaming like the fuckin’ psycho he is. I love this scene so much because it stops you cold in your tracks – you expect the murders, you know the ending is coming, but this scene right here is so gripping because at the time it makes no gotdamn sense – How? Why? Who’s blood is that? The scene asks questions, but doesn’t answer them, fueling the psychological turmoil and impending doom you feel as a viewer. John Doe surrenders, but it leaves your mind doing backflips wondering what the hell is coming next.
The gritty, cold cinematography coupled with Spacey’s blood spattered shirt makes for a more chilling image than any of the murders themselves. Note the symbolism of the red blood on the white shirt – death and purity, brilliantly juxtaposed, foreshadowing the evil that is soon to be revealed. Just last night, while watching youtube videos in preparation for this article, I realized that Heath Ledger’s Joker character in “The Dark Knight” is a reincarnation of Spacey’s John Doe. The brilliance of this character is that he is not after money, immortality, or the joy of inflicting harm, but rather at this moment when he steps into the courthouse with that sinister calm, we realize that this killer doesn’t care about dying or being caught. Everyone is simply playing his twisted game.
The Coen Brothers – The Big Lebowski
A fitting end to the funniest movie of all time, the final scene of the The Big Lebowski capture’s the movie’s greatness and sends viewers off with the best laughter-induced ab workout on film. As a somber send-off to the unsung hero of the movie, Steve Buscemi’s Donny, to two remaining members of the lovable trio pay their final respects to the man who was silenced by death after going out in the most fitting way possible – having a heart attack in an uneventful parking lot brawl. While Walter Sobchack spent the entirety of the movie telling Donny to “shut the fuck up” every time the poor guy humbly opened his mouth, he took it upon himself to give the honors to his deceased pal, and did so by starting off with none other than complimenting his bowling because he hardly had anything nice to say about the guy. And somehow in a eulogy to their lost pal, Walter somehow managed to take the platform to pay homage to his time in Vietnam, once again, where it had nothing to do with the current situation.
The hilarity of moment encapsulates Walter’s lovable teddy-bear Vietnam vet persona, while also exemplifying the outlandish humor of the movie as their friend’s ashes get caught in the wind to pelt good old Jeffrey Lebowski right in the face. The way Lebowski just stands there and takes it as a dead man’s ashes cover his entire body without moving a muscle as Walter is blissfully unaware of his own stupidity, is straight up comedic genius. I was howling in laughter the first few times I saw this scene.
Andrei Tarkovsky – The Mirror (Zerkalo)
When most think of famous sequence shots and long takes, they immediately think of the Goodfellas restaurant scene or the little boy riding his tricycle around the hotel in The Shining. While both are incredible feats of cinematography, Andrei Tarkovsky’s scene in The Mirror holds it’s place here because of the raw beauty and emotion captured in the shot. You don’t have to watch the movie or understand the Russian dialogue to appreciate the scene – from the clocks ticking as it camera spirals through the house, foreboding the subtle grandiosity of the view from under a roof while watching a family stand in front of a burning house in the rain. Note how the rain falling from the ledge of the roof makes you physically feel like you’re there. You can almost smell the rain, the crackle of the fire seems so near and real that you can almost feel the warmth emanating through the groggy wet atmosphere. Tarkovsky’s brilliance here lies in his ability to bring tactile sensation to an image. And his ability to convey the helplessness as the woman watches the fire engulf the house while sitting at the well. Each frame could be a painting framed in a museum. This gorgeously filmed sequence is deeply moving in a way that is unparalleled in film.
David Lynch – Lost Highway
David Lynch’s unique ability to visually capture the subconscious mind on film is why he is one of my favorite directors. No other filmmaker in history possesses the artistic vision to tap into the dream-state (or rather nightmares) like Lynch. While Lost Highway might not be his most acclaimed work, this scene is the epitome of everything Lynch embodies. When we think of horror, we think of quick jump scares, gore and mutilation, as well as unwitting teenagers being slaughtered by an eerie dude in a mask. But nothing has ever come close to shaking me to my core like this scene.
Robert Blake’s Mystery Man is one of the most unsettling characters in cinematic history. When he approaches the protagonist, the music stops, creating a silence that is nothing short of chilling. Just watch the scene for yourself. The Mystery Man is the embodiment of evil, and one of the most genius depictions of psychological terror in a movie.
Stanley Kubrick – Eyes Wide Shut
Choosing a favorite Stanley Kubrick is not an easy task. Kubrick’s maniacal attention to detail and ambitious vision allowed him to create countless iconic moments in his movies. But when it comes down to it, no other scene in Kubrick’s filmography struck me like this scene from Eyes Wide Shut.
Tension slowly simmers throughout the movie until it boils over when Tom Cruise stumbles into a clandestine ritualistic ceremony while simply on a quest for fun night out. Unwittingly, Cruise finds his way into this secret, lavish party completely uninvited. Kubrick’s use of color here is haunting – darkness frames the cathedral-esque room, keeping your eye on the vibrant pink, red and blue in the center, where Cruise’s fate is to be decided. Between the lighting, the sound, the demonic masks, and the brooding terror of not knowing what will happen next, Kubrick’s depiction of the occult taps into nightmares, not unlike David Lynch. These are the types of scenes that stick with you long after the movie is over, not just because they are technically masterful and progress the plot, but rather they are unforgettable because they tap into the deepest of humans fears, which go far beyond haunted houses and being chased by a guy with a knife.
Bryan Singer – The Usual Suspects
What more can be said about the greatest plot-twist in movie history? The Usual Suspects is neither groundbreaking nor innovative, but Singer’s script and Kevin Spacey’s brilliant acting performance execute the beloved mystery genre to perfection.
The way that Spacey nervously recounts his story to the detective throws you off the scent early in the movie, leaving you guessing, who the hell is Keyser Soze? The reveal of Keyser Soze’s true identity is one that progressively builds throughout the scene. From the mug drop to the detective realizing that each piece of Spacey’s story was completely made up from little objects and words in the office room, the viewer’s thoughts jump from – huh? wait? nooo… no fucking way. Could it be? When the camera pans in on Spacey shifting from a gimp to walking normally, the only thing you can say is… damnnnn. Classic in every sense of the word.
If you enjoyed my list, stay tuned for part 2 of this series to see my explanations behind more of my favorite movie scenes of all time.