It's hard to remember a most memorable scene of the year. There are scenes I admire, but often for intellectual reasons more than emotional ones, such as a certain exhaustively-discussed sequence in Tarantino's war movie. I'd prefer to measure a memorable scene by my physical response. I felt powerful emotions at certain moments in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, but it wasn't my first time watching that movie; it only felt like it. Is there something the matter with me, or with movies? Aren't any new movies sufficiently moving to me? Am I even jaded to seeing classics for the first time? Why am I always thinking "Oh yes, that's very good--Next!"? I worry about this.
And then something happens out of the blue, like THE INVENTION OF LYING with Ricky Gervais. It should be called THE INVENTION OF GOD, but that wouldn't have played in Peoria, so it's disguised as a romantic comedy. In fact, the conventional romantic triangle rather lets down the picture--oh, but what a premise. Gervais invents Heaven in an effective scene with his mom. This event snowballs until he becomes the world's first and only messiah and we arrive at his "Moses" scene where he explains the Man in the Sky to a credulous crowd. It's so funny, I had to press Stop until I could calm down. That doesn't happen every year. (I'd have been helpless in a theatre, which hasn't happened since THE BIG LEBOWSKI.) When movies can still make you laugh, that's real power.
The scene that's haunted me for months is the ending of Kiarostami's CERTIFIED COPY - one of those final scenes (as in LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD or L'ECLISSE) where some of the power of the image comes from the dawning realisation that this will be how the film ends. It's a film I loved, and I thought the resolution or rather lack of one was perfect for it.
My choice would be the final moments of INCEPTION. The last shot might not have had quite the same resonance a few decades back, but so few movies nowadays give you anything of substance to think about, let alone have you leaving the theatre intrigued and with something else to consider.
Shane M. Dallmann:
Short and sweet... INCEPTION featured one of the most diabolically delightful final shots I've had the pleasure of enjoying in recent years.
There have been a number of superb scenes this year—I could almost grab any random scene from the hilarious BLACK DYNAMITE and be done with it—but the one that has stuck with me the longest, and compelled me to think/talk/write about it the most is a fairly innocuous-seeming moment from the early part of CATFISH.
For those of you unfamiliar with the movie, CATFISH is a low-budget first-person-shooter documentary by Areil (Rel) Schulman about his Facebook-based friendship and romantic flirtation with Megan Faccio, an improbably accomplished multimedia artist from a family of young prodigies in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. As the story unfolds, Rel becomes increasingly alarmed by growing doubts that Megan is who or what she claims to be, and he and his filmmaking buddies take their camera on the road to confront Megan in person. This latter half of the movie is as taut a psychological thriller as anything cooked up by Jimmy Sangster, but to get to it we need those early scenes of Rel and Megan instant-messaging and calling each other. One of those scenes, in which Rel speaks to Megan on the phone, became the focal point of controversy when the movie opened.
By the finale, it is fairly clear that Rel’s suspicions had to be inflamed before they started shooting the movie. Indeed, the only way any of this makes sense is if Rel and his cohorts had an inkling of where this was all headed before they filmed that phone call. But, in that phone call, Rel presents himself as fully invested in his virtual relationship with Megan and completely doubt-free. Let’s phrase this another way: those opening scenes were staged for the camera, with the filmmakers misrepresenting themselves solely to establish footage they needed to tell the story.
Critics jumped on this—even those who were otherwise impressed by the film. Rel’s behavior in those early scenes, and his duplicitous stance in that phone call, was like James Frey’s A MILLION LITTLE PIECES or other phony memoirs, they said. An impermissible intrusion of fiction into a non-fiction realm.
If you’ve read my Fictuality article in VIDEO WATCHDOG, you know I admire the crossover of fiction and non-fiction, and moreover I am deeply skeptical of the ability of “pure” documentary to exist in the first place. Every documentary has an element of the staged about it.
The documentary MY KID COULD PAINT THAT has a lot of topical similarity to CATFISH, but instead of being a first-person presentation it is a traditional-style documentary. MY KID COULD PAINT THAT could be cut down and aired on a TV newsprogram and fit right in to that objective journalistic style. And it starts off presenting an unskeptical treatment of its subject, then gradually allows doubt and contrary evidence to creep in—just like CATFISH. Critics didn’t cry foul (in part because MY KID COULD PAINT THAT was lost on a DVD-only release, whereas CATFISH played in multiplexes in Middle America where it made itself an easier target).
Or consider Errol Morris’ landmark THE THIN BLUE LINE. The film begins with one account of Randall Adams’ alleged crime, and then gradually chips away at it to bring in alternate explanations and contrary facts.
In all three of these documentaries, it is essential to their storytelling success that one hypothesis be advanced first, and then challenged and revised as the film progresses. The films that adhere to old-school documentary technique do this without raising any hackles, but CATFISH’s presentation as a sort of videotaped memoir makes that long-standing and venerable technique seem dangerous, new, and illegitimate.
The world of fiction films posing as documentaries is well established. CATFISH is the herald of a new genre of documentaries that pose as fiction films, and the lines are going to get muddier still in the years to come.
Of the new films I saw this year, two films stand out as offering scenes that made me either laugh out loud or shudder at their visionary truth or audacity. One was in Werner Herzog's THE BAD LIEUTENANT - PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS -- the scene where a coked-up Nicolas Cage urges a compatriot to "Shoot him again! His soul hasn't stopped dancing yet!", followed by a subjective view of the felled man's spirit break-dancing around the wreckage of his body until one last bullet nails it down.
The other was in Joe Dante's THE HOLE, as Bruce Dern struggles to finish drawing the jigsaw pieces that will collectively compose a revelatory image, while sitting in a brightly lit room whose lightbulbs are exploding one by one around him, the pops coming closer as they inch him incrementally toward a final darkness. This is a film meant to address childhood fears, which it does on an admirably sustained all-ages level that is effective without being traumatizing. However, in this scene, Dante stages a simultaneously comic and terrifying metaphor for the most fundamental fear of any artist who has reached middle age: that the time to express ourselves is running out. The scene carries extra weight because THE HOLE is Dante's first feature film in six years and still seeking US distribution.
Most memorable sequence from a film released on home video this year? That would be from HOUSE/Hausu, when a piano devours a teenage girl. Words cannot really describe it, so I will leave it at that.