So hopefully tomorrow I’ll be putting out my ‘Top 20 of 2020’ list to round out the year. In terms of films, there’s been some great stuff put out this year, and before dropping that I want to take a look back at what I consider to be the 10 scenes of the year that coloured me the most impressed, moved, or awestruck. I have quite a sizeable shortlist and narrowing them down to even 10 was difficult enough.
As always, there are films I haven’t seen (either because I have no interest or haven’t gotten to them yet) so any notable absences may just be because I haven’t caught them yet, or because I didn’t love them as much as you might. I kept this strictly to film considering I haven’t actually watched much new TV this year and I wouldn’t want the Schitt’s Creek finale to take up all 10 spots of the list. Because it probably would.
I’ll just get right down to it. Here are my ten favourite scenes from films that I saw this year. Some may contain spoilers, but I’ll warn for those when I get to them, so just be on the look out in case you haven’t seen any of the films listed.
10. Birds of Prey – Amusement Park Sequence
Talk about a cool third-act fight sequence to kick off this list! I’m not going into too much plot detail really because that’s not what the sequence really focuses on. Let’s be honest, it’s just a stage for these badass women to obliterate their enemies while coming together as a team for the first time. It’s stylishly shot, the camera movements weaving in and out of the area focusing on the different fighters while they try to protect Cassandra from those wanting to capture her. Plus the thing being set to Barracuda by Heart just gives everything a more electric feel. And then you get Mary Elizabeth Winstead going down a tunnel slide while simultaneously dispatching a henchman which makes for a really cool shot. The whole thing really plays into Harley Quinn’s theatricality and the whimsy with which she approaches her everyday life. It maintains the sprawling comedy and action of the rest of the film and I honestly love the idea of having big fight scenes set in places you wouldn’t expect. I saw this film in February and it’s stuck with me ever since, so I think it deserves a place on my list.
9. Black Bear – The Final Take
Okay definitely no spoilers for this one. I couldn’t even if I wanted to, I don’t understand most of what happened in this film. What I will say to contextualise this is that they’re making a movie at some point in the film and the scene in question is the final take before they wrap production. Aubrey Plaza is at the height of her powers, channelling Gena Rowlands in Opening Night, something that bodes very well for me as I adore that performance. She’s electrifying and the tensions running throughout the entire film spill out through her performance, both Plaza’s and her character’s. It’s a beautifully raw sequence and one that continues to haunt me and contributes my love for Plaza’s performance and how controlled and unhinged it feels at the same time. This film itself is more than worth a watch and this scene captures its whole energy in a fantastic way.
8. The Invisible Man – Opening
I could’ve honestly picked a handful of scenes from this movie (the restaurant scene, the hallway scene, the attic scene, etc) but the opening is the one that I was the most impressed with. Using very limited amounts of dialogue, director Leigh Whannell sets up Cecilia’s entire circumstances in a handful of minutes, exposing us to the language of the film while setting up some key foreshadowing for later plot developments. It’s stunning, economical work to start the film with, all contained in Moss’ dedicated performance. Her physicality and expression have long been a strength Moss uses in her work, but The Invisible Man utilises that power so effectively as the tension soars and tightens around the audience. It’s a beautiful opening and probably my pick for Opening Scene of the Year if I was doing such a list but you’ll have to settle for its inclusion here.
7. The Assistant – The Complaint
Slight spoilery content for this one. The Assistant is one of the best films of the year and the scene between Julia Garner and Matthew Macfadyen absolutely sizzles with the rest of the film’s tension. Coming about 25 minutes before the end of the film, Jane (Garner) approaches the head of HR with her suspicions and concerns about her boss’ misconduct with a much-younger girl. The scene begins exactly how you want it to: Jane raises her voice about something she thinks is going wrong and something she’s worrying about after dropping a new assistant at a hotel, subsidised by her boss. The scene very quickly becomes sickening as Wilcock (Macfadyen) deftly belittles Jane and dismisses her concerns, attempting to demean and even gaslight her by using her own words to try and paint a very different picture about her concerns. It’s terrific storytelling and the scene is written so sharply and honestly by Kitty Green that it’s very hard to watch. Garner and Macfadyen sell the hell out of this scene. Garner’s innocuous line delivery and Macfadyen’s blasé confidence in condescending her fill the scene with anxiety that isn’t released until Jane defeatedly leaves his office and doesn’t even let up then. A magical scene and one of the year’s best.
6. Minari – At The Hospital
There’s a lot of fantastic stuff in Minari and I could easily name a number of scenes as the best of the movie, but my favourite has to be everything that happens at the hospital. The conflict here is between Jacob and Monica, a husband and wife who have differing views about how to progress with the life they are building for their family. The sequence feels very much like two scenes, split by a cut-back to the grandmother, but I like them as one extended scene because they fit so well together. I won’t go into any further detail, but the writing and acting on display here is absolutely excellent. Steven Yeun and Han Ye-ri are exceptional together and the discussions they have are blocked and executed masterfully. It’s so simple but does everything that it needs to do and more so. The layers of the dialogue and the delivery show why both actors deserve Oscar nominations and why the film as a whole succeeds so well.
5. Babyteeth – The Beach
Definite Spoilers Here: Babyteeth is a fantastic movie that features a lot of great moments, but the highlight of the entire thing comes at the very end of the film, just when you think you’ve been punched in the gut enough times. Eliza Scanlen and Ben Mendelsohn sell this moment in a beautiful way. Okay if you ignored the last spoiler warning this is your last chance to duck out if you haven’t seen it yet! The scene is basically a flashback to before Milla (Scanlen) succumbs to her illness and takes a trip to the beach with her parents and boyfriend. The scene is a beautiful coda to the film and shares an especially heart-rending moment between Milla and Henry (Mendelsohn) where she asks him to look after her boyfriend when she passes. It’s a gorgeous look at moments within a family and there’s nothing here that’s anything less than completely genuine. Well-shot and beautifully performed, the beach scene stands out in my mind as the scene from the film. Between this and Little Women, whenever Eliza Scanlen is on a beach, you know it’s going to be a great scene.
4. Promising Young Woman – Ending
Definitely no spoilers here, but just know that this film has one of the most divisive endings of the year, but one that I think absolutely works. It’s highly subversive, packs a huge punch, and reinforces the themes that had been building over the course of the rest of the film, it’s absolutely genius. Carey Mulligan gets huge credit for making this moment work so well as everything she does across the entire runtime contributes to how well this moment is sold. I really shouldn’t say any more for risk of spoilers, but just know that you’re not ready for how this film ends. I wasn’t.
3. Another Round – Ending
Slight spoilers! This is the ending of the year and one of the most energetic, cathartic scenes I can remember seeing. Mads Mikkelsen’s unleashed performance sells every iota of this scene and everything that has happened before it, however subdued and nuanced it might have been, serves to lead up to this one very special moment which releases the film’s reservations and lets loose in a stunning finale that stands out as easily the best scene in the film and elevates the material. It quite literally made me raise my rating by half a star just because I loved it so much. Lovely character work and wonderfully filmed, it’s the ending to end all endings. It’s just not quite my favourite scene of the year.
2. Sound of Metal – Joe and Ruben’s Final Scene
Spoilers again! This scene is…phenomenal. The scene itself is terrific, but what I adore here are the performances by Riz Ahmed and Paul Raci, who both deserve attention this awards season. Ruben (Ahmed) comes to Joe (Raci) and informs him of the surgery he had, Joe weighing in on whether that was right choice. The scene turns on its head a couple of times here, thanks to the gorgeous writing and the performances. Raci is particularly outstanding here as he balances Joe’s fondness of Ruben with his dedication to the rest of his community. It’s a stunning scene that should justly launch him to an Oscar nomination if there were any hope in this cruel world. Ahmed is also fantastic here, channelling Ruben’s desperation with the heaviness of asking Joe for money. Joe points out that he behaves like an addict and that is subtly delivered in Ahmed’s performance. It’s just a masterclass of acting and writing and it’s a good thing that the whole film is on this kind of level and makes it one of the best of the year.
1. Never Rarely Sometimes Always – The Title Scene
No spoilers here, but this scene is exceptional. The context is that Autumn is being asked a series of questions by a counselor prior to her abortion being performed. The answers Autumn gives are in the title of the film and it’s no wonder this is what the film is named after. It’s a spellbinding scene that sees Hittman linger her camera on Autumn, bringing out the best of Sidney Flanigan’s beautiful performance (also one of the best of the year) and the patient rhythms of the script. The revelations the questions bring out only deepen the emotions that are being explored in the scene and we watch Autumn through every second of her pain as she’s sensitively asked about her life. It’s heartbreaking work and definitely my favourite scene in the film and the one scene I saw this year that had a profound effect on me and has stuck to me like glue since it all those months ago. Truly devastating work that should be seen and studied.
So there are my 10 Favourite Scenes of the year, not a straight look at my Top 10 but these films do feature very heavily in that list, so make sure you have a look at that when I post it to see where these films stack up against each other.
Any scenes you think I missed? Let me know!
As always, take care of yourselves and stay safe!