One of the major columns we pride ourselves for making unique at Film Misery is Master Moments, and I rather hope our team continues to find new and creative columns to further dissect gems or foibles of the past and present. Our segments detailing inspiring moments in classics of cinema, or indeed moments revolutionary to the medium, have often been compelled towards works of the distant past. This year’s salient examples include Alex’s pieces on Ivan’s Childhood, Justin’s pieces on There Will Be Blood and Young Frankenstein, Hilary Kissinger’s piece on The Graduate, G Clark’s pieces on Five Easy Pieces and The Turin Horse, or my own piece on Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Of course even if some moments haven’t yet reverberated through history, they very well could as time goes by. As such I have ten moments, in alphabetical order, that I felt to be amongst the year’s most masterfully constructed, or else their most compelling and thought-provoking touchstones. Boiling down a year’s moments is a relatively fussier task than simply composing a list of ten films, not to belittle the immense task of all our Top 10 lists. There were moments that had to be trimmed out, but should be mentioned nonetheless.
The final shot of Post Mortem may be a relatively simple construction, but it perfectly cements the feeling of eternal destruction Augustus Pinochet’s rise meant to Chile. Maya’s personal moment at the end of Zero Dark Thirty has yielded many different impressions in the Top 10s of myself and Justin. Though not a single moment, Heathcliffe’s emotional turmoils at the end of Wuthering Heights cemented the cruel nature of love Arnold’s film endeavored to instill. Another disturbing moment of physical action comes from The Snowtown Murders, when main character Jamie takes up his cruel mentor’s murderous tortures in an attempt to give mercy to a character who previously wronged him.
Plenty other moments begged inclusion for fun kicks. The moment from Silver Linings Playbook that everyone here at the site slights for forcing the stakes is one I affectionately fall for because of how egregiously forced it is. The Barton Bella’s emotional finale from Pitch Perfect is a miracle climax in a year when many an action spectacle has fallen flat on its face. The action spectacle that hysterically works or all the reasons it shouldn’t is the much talked about fake-out final battle in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2. But one of the sweetest moments I winced at leaving out was from I Wish, when the train passes and we wonder for a long and beautiful moment if the world has indeed halted.
Alas, ten seemed like the number to cut it off at, so let’s go!
Film Misery’s Master
Moments of 2012
G Clark and I actually agree on something, that being the fulfilling cinematic experience Ben Affleck’s latest turned out to be. That’s stated in many overt ways by the terrifying siege on the U.S. embassy, as well as the intense escape from Tehran’s airport. But if there’s a moment that pushes home the film’s humane themes, as well as the proto-cinematic subtext of its fake film within a film, it’s by crucial juxtaposition of the possibly humorous reading of Argo’s script on top of the dire conditions inside our overtaken embassy. As the hostages there are prodded cruelly with a faked execution, we feel the aggression Iran feels towards America, and the powerful feeling of inevitable despair that consumed Americans at the time. It transports you into that intensely politic moment, and makes you feel the emotional turmoil of a no-win scenario.
Michael Haneke has always been one to throw some rather peculiar and seemingly insignificant moments into his films, but ones which brim with significance upon further viewings. Though many have called upon Jean-Louis Trintignant’s epic battle with the dove as that moment in Amour, what sticks with me is a much shorter, simpler moment. As Anne’s condition further deteriorates, we cut away from everything a series of landscape paintings, with two small shadowy figures alone in the vast landscape. It’s the perfect visual metaphor, in my opinion, for the journey towards the end this couple is taking in the insurmountable valley than is their apartment. Much as everyone tries to find a more “realistic” solution, like putting Anne in a home, this is a journey they must go through together, to the bitter end.
Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina was both a realization of his potential, but also that he has some way to go towards mastering those skills. That led to some difficult choices along the last two-thirds of the film, but the peak of the film’s unique craft came at the climax of its first act. On the night that Count Vronsky is set to engage young Kitty, his allure towards Anna leads him to cockily ask of her a dance. A moment she not-so-reluctantly seizes as time seems to stand still around them, but yet is given motion by their inadvertent courtship. As their devilishly seductive exchange burns on, we notice it doesn’t seem nearly close to concluding. The vigorous editing of the scene, highlighting the shocked faces of everyone in the ballroom, bring it to a terrifying halt, as Anna rushes to face herself in the mirror, and sees a train come roaring towards her. It’s a breathtaking sequence that the film tries to retrieve, but sadly doesn’t match.
There are upwards of 10 cinematic set-pieces in Leos Carax’s moonstruck trek across Paris, with astonishing performer Denis Lavant playing disappointed father, elderly beggar lady, and a pornographic xenomorph, but the moment that leaps off the screen and pulses through my veins most is the midway intermission, when Lavant’s Oscar, stripped down to just his wife beater and accordion, at first plays alone, but then finds himself joined by a parade of musicians. The tune that escalates to an invigorating anthem is a cover of R.L. Burnside’s “Let My Baby Ride”, a song that by itself isn’t all that extraordinary. Yet how Carax chooses to transform it makes it not only a moment of extreme emotional release from Oscar’s devotion to his odd performance jobs, but an optimistic statement that you can revive any material with a touch of unique creativity.
Much of Julia Loktev’s film isn’t in precise moments, but subtle mood adjustments across a vast expanse, both geographically and emotionally. One mood adjustment, however, is so immediate and jarring that it stands out distinctly in memory, and divides the film definitively in two. After some time enjoying each others’ company while traveling throughout scenic Georgia (the country, not the state), the band of three come across another group of travelers. As the tour guide tries to explain their situation, Gael Garcia Bernal asks what’s the matter. The devastation of the moment comes not from gun the opposing travelers raise at him, but what he does immediately in response. It’s the slightest act that could so easily be glossed over, but that he, and certainly Hani Furstenberg’s character, will not let go for the rest of their journey. You really want me to be more specific, but how dare I spoil such a distinct cinematic provocation?
“Meandering” is a word that’s been tossed around a lot in relation to The Master, and it’s fitting to define a film with plenty excuses to stimulate on a piercing level. Many call to Freddie’s first processing as the film’s emotional high note, a revelation that the film’s has a plan behind its chaos. But as the film soldiers forth in search of purpose, we find ourselves tried as Freddie is put to the test. In search of “healing” himself of his awkward behaviors, Lancaster Dodd puts Freddie through a series of repetitive tasks that frustrate him increasingly, but also garner his further vigor and sarcasm. It’s a scene that goes on, with Freddie searching for the right answers, but none of the results seem to change him, or inform Dodd of his affliction. Even when Dodd says they’re done, Freddie can’t shake the need to please Hoffman’s character. It’s perfectly telling of the give and take relationship these two characters share, while also showing the universal misunderstanding to Freddie’s post-war sense of confusion.
An fascinating work of construction that greater emphasizes the intellect of the director than the film, Oslo, August 31st is the story of a recovering drug addict who feels increasingly that he has no stake in the world anymore… yet we’re shown him nonetheless. He is given significance by the camera’s concern for him, but the most fascinating moment of the film has him placing significance onto others. While in a cafe, he loses himself in the conversations of others, who seem to fulfilling lives, or at least wishes for them. He eventually focuses in on a girl reading off a list of things she hopes to achieve in her life. They range from accessible to the more fantastic, but Anders sees in her a promise that he doesn’t feel in himself. Better than any drug he’s taken is moment he gets to be innocuous in the lives of others. But it doesn’t last, and eventually sours his spirit.
Not Ordering Takeout, The Raid Redemption
I originally wasn’t much taken with Gareth Evans’ Indonesian martial arts film, but upon revisiting it post-Dredd, I found myself digging the manic energy of the film. Perhaps an optimistic change in mood. Anyways, memorably action sequences aplenty litter the film’s quick-witted runtime, and the climactic tag-team certainly gets your blood pumping. But if there’s a moment I respect for respectful storytelling, it’s when Mad Dog holds Jaka at gunpoint, ready to kill, but he doesn’t. He lures him into a room where can have his bloodlust satisfied in the visceral manner of hand-to-hand combat. Sick as it is, you’re actually rooting for Mad Dog in this moment, because by all rights of combat and mercy, he deserves to kill Jaka in the most brutal way possible, because he granted Jaka the chance to earn his life back. It was a fight won to begin with.
Breaking Through Ice, Rust and Bone
Jacques Audiard is brilliant at constructing emotional sequences that highlight the growth a character goes through in a film. A Prophet was perhaps his strongest such display, but Rust and Bone had no shortage of emotional exchanges, going so far as to give Marion Cotillard her groove back to the excelsior note of Katy Perry’s “Firework”. The moment that brings all the film’s strengths out comes at the very end. Matthias Schoenaerts’ Ali is reunited with his son, enjoying a happy day together in his vain attempt to make amends. But young Sam’s life is put in danger at the most hilarious and expected of moment, and the terror and hopelessness mounts as Ali makes a physical sacrifice for the sake of his son. It’s a damn near heartbreaking moment, emphasized by the most bravura moment in Schoenaert’s deeply energized performance, amongst the year’s best.
Impressions Through a Window, Take This Waltz
And my oh my, speaking of performances matched wonderfully by a director’s stylistic inventiveness, few films this year had so many separate moments of delirium-inducing cinegraphic moodiness. Which rollercoaster scene do we go for? The first or the deeply resonant and bittersweet last? Neither, though both enhance the film on its journey. No, it’s a moment of reconciliation that stays with me in relation to Take This Waltz, rather than of guilty betrayal. Margot and Lou are on opposite sides of the same window, the former listening to tunes on the inside, the latter to crickets outdoors. As they reconcile after a disagreement, we tragically feel that they are separated not in space, but in mindset. Lou is in the unaltered world of the real, and Margot is stuck in her music-adjusted fantasies. Twas doomed already, even though they didn’t know it yet.