by Jason Suzuki
Sometimes films you don't particularly like have at least one scene that sticks with you. It could give you a false remembrance that the film was overall pretty good. Conversely, the best films of the year might not have that one moment in particular which stands out, its praise directed more to the work as a whole rather than a set-piece. Here are some of best individual sequences for films released this past year (sums may vary). Overall the films listed below are very good save for the occasional combination of cardio and handheld camerawork. Spoilers for each individual film so use the power of skimming to avoid any unwanted information.
(in reverse alphabetical order)
The Wailing - Dueling Rituals
Na Hong-jin set aside a whole year for the editing of his third film. It shows with the overall pacing which is seamless but this attention to rhythm is immediately seen in one key sequence between the two heavyweights of the supporting cast: Hwang Jun-min as the shaman called in when Kwak Do-won's daughter is showing similar symptoms to the murderers popping up around town and Jun Kunimura as the Japanese man living off in the hills who is at the center of everyone's suspicions. Both performing their own rituals, one private and the other emphasizing theatrics, it becomes unclear who is the cause of Kwak's daughter's convulsions as the back and forth sustains its dizzying effect for an impressive amount of time.
Train to Busan - Fuck Us Moment
Yeon Sang-ho's foray into live action filmmaking, which became one of the biggest Korean blockbusters of this year, is also one of the best modern day zombie films largely due to its heavy emphasis on being a social allegory to the point of melodrama. It does have a great cast of characters, well-done action set-pieces, and avoids certain tropes of the genre, but it features a moment totally unique to its take on the zombie film. Park Myung-Shin plays an older woman separated from her sister by ending up on opposite ends of the train during the hysteria of the survivor's retreat back on the train when a checkpoint has been compromised. She ends up on the side filled with an elite wary of the other survivors. Led by Kim Eui-sung's personification of the selfish, this side of the train refuse to let our core group of survivors in when they make it to their end. Having seen the worst in humanity, and already having lost her sister to it, Park opens the cabin doors so that all pretense for humanity can be dropped and those around her can go ahead and be the monsters they are.
Too Late - The What If
Told as if a collection of five reels which were spliced together out of order, an immensely beautiful moment occurs in the film's fourth reel shown yet the last reel chronologically. A film that fetishizes actual, physical film, Too Late wisely chooses to do everything in camera. Which is why the moment when imagined home videos are projected on a car window during Hawke's dying minutes is so effective. It's an unexpected moment of creativity, in a film filled with it. Too Late makes you believe that anything is still possible in a movie, and that not all ideas have been exhausted. This scene accomplishes that more than any other in the film.
Raiders! - Call to the Boss
The villain of the story of two grown men who decide to finish the shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark that they started when they were kids is not a suit from Paramount or unsupportive wives but Eric Zala's boss at the time of filming. Only heard over phone conversations with Eric who has to ask for more time from work to finish the plane set piece, you would think the man never had a dream from his total lack of understanding of what Zala and Strompolos were trying to accomplish which over the years became so much more than a fan project or a hobby but the barrier they needed to break to prove to themselves that there is a greater calling for them beyond what their day to day had become.
Nina Forever - Threesome
If Nina Forever wanted to be the best allegory it could be it needed to go there, to show its new couple try and include the mangled corpse of the man's dead ex-girlfriend that materializes in the bedroom during sex. It's sexy, disturbing, and ultimately sad in how this ménage a trois occupies a special stage in the Kübler-Ross model for grief.
The Nice Guys - Film Reel Chase
Essentially the coffin chase scene from Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, the scramble for a reel of film is an amazingly well-constructed set piece with many moving parts: while Ryan Gosling bumbles his way to redemption, Russell Crowe is able to achieve it on a more purposeful level.
The Murder Case of Hana and Alice - Ikiru Homage
In Shunji Iwai's animated prequel to Hana and Alice (it's animated so Yu Aoi and Anne Suzuki could reprise their roles in a non-Wet Hot American Summer way), Alice is tasked with tailing who she thinks is the father of a boy who may have been murdered at her school. Instead she is following an old guy who works in the same building and she doesn't do a very good job at it since he ends up having to take her home. Before they even get to a swing set it's clear hat this is an homage to Kurosawa's Ikiru. For the restaurant the old man takes her to the animators used the same shots and location details as the scene in Ikiru when Shimizu takes out a younger coworker. When they finally do get to those swings it somehow adds to your understanding of the original work by adding Alice to it, making it more than the usual type of shallow homage found in modern animation.
Mohican Comes Home - School of Rock/Dueling Pizza Deliveries
Ryuhei Matsuda plays a punk rocker who goes back home to tell his family of his girlfriend's pregnancy but instead must care for his ill father Akira Emoto. On two separate occasions he tries to make his father happy with varying success. Matsuda takes on conducting duties of the band class his father taught but lets his punk spirit take over to the chagrin of Emoto listening from bed over speaker phone. Later Matsuda tries to find the pizza place of his father's memories in a last ditch effort to get him to eat. He gets it down to three potential pizza places and has them all take the ferry to deliver. They delivery guys all end up taking the same ferry and what emerges is a race to deliver first. Okita captures the beauty of these attempts because the relationship between father and son will remain complicated and not even terminal cancer will erase the imperfections.
The Mermaid - Assassination Attempt
This whole sequence, from the repeated poisonings to the actual attempts by the mermaid to assassinate the man responsible for driving her kind out of the waters they call home, is classic Chow. Recalling the best of Wile E. Coyote, the gags of accidental self-harm are stacked high and happen in such quick succession. Also newcomer Jelly Lin is such a good sport to take so many sea urchins to the face.
Men and Chicken - Dinner
Remember the chicken plate is worse than the dog plate. But the owl plate is even worse than that.
Hail, Caesar! - No Dames
Every year we need to see Channing Tatum in a classic Hollywood style musical with varying degrees of homoeroticism. The fact that this moment in Hail, Caesar! feels like it could have been done by Gene Kelly makes up for the fact that this is not Magic Mike XXL.
Emi-Abi - "Make Me Laugh"
Throughout Watanabe's film people are asked to prove themselves by making others laugh. Given that three of the principal characters of the film are manzai comedians, it's as if they are asked to make practical use of their professional skills. And each time they try to be funny in unfunny situations, the fantastic happens.
Dr. Strange - End Credits
No matter if you normally write about less highly budgeted affairs, it seems no one sees themselves above writing about Marvel films, even if they feel they are above the films themselves. A recent look at the scores of these films found fault in the works overall due to their music not being meant to be hummable after a single viewing. To each their own as far as nitpicks of these blockbusters go but almost as in response to these criticisms Dr. Strange had some recognizably good, perhaps hummable, music in its end credits. The real nitpick is that some universe-service interrupts the credits.
Deadpool - Opening Credits
The only truly fourth-wall breaking moment in a film that promised many - having a character talk directly to the audience is now so much a part of the pop-culture lexicon it doesn't count - the opening credits to Deadpool promised an irreverent and actually funny film but unfortunately couldn't live up to it opening sequence. It's weird when the sarcastic opening credits have more of a voice than the rest of the movie. Other than A Hot Chick the film also starred: A British Villain, The Comic Relief, A Moody Teen, A CGI Character, A Gratuitous Cameo, and most presumptuously, the writers were "The Real Heroes Here.
The Conjuring 2 - The Hang Out Scene
(Honorable Hang Outs: Ouija 2, 10 Cloverfield Lane)
James Wan's film expertly recreates the period in which it is set not with just soundtracks choices and wardrobe but through formal techniques like diopter shots and zooms. He also understands that the 70s was a time when not every scene had to be propelling the plot to its conclusion, that character moments were just as important since the internal was the real focus. Give Patrick Wilson a guitar and let him sing "Can't Help Falling in Love." No ghosts appear, there are no jump scares. Wan doesn't even allow anything to give a hint of dread. He gives us great characters and knows that they can be just as charming when not in peril.
Blair Witch - Deep Breaths
Imagine you were presented with the following: A Horrible Way to Die < You're Next < The Guest. Any reasonable person would assume whatever comes after The Guest would be one of the greatest films of all time. Unfortunately Blair Witch was fairly disappointing, especially since it follows Wingard/Barrett's brilliant pastiche The Guest. The original Blair Witch Project's iconic moment was a woman, scared for her life, camera pressed to face. While this film does pay homage to that, there is another moment which should serve as a better equivalent: the last two survivors (foreshadowed by their superior attractiveness), in a rare moment of quiet, are face to face and need to calm down. They get so close that their breathing fogs up the camera lens of the other. In a film full of motion sickness, Wingard is able to successfully use the found footage constriction to nail this particular moment.