Sunday, 30 March 2014

My Favorite Movie Scenes

I often get asked the question of what my favorite movie is. I often identify 2001 as one of my favorites, but finding a second or third is pretty much impossible, and I've had a ton of possible candidates: Contact, The Big Lebowski, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and a ton of others. However, I can provide a list of some of my personal favorite scenes from a variety of different movies.

The "Mystery Man" scene from Lost Highway

I've expressed my admiration for David Lynch several times, and previously discussed this movie at length. It is a great movie and one that often stands out to me as one of Lynch's best (along with Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr.), but this particular scene is one that I especially remember. Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) is attending a party with his wife when he encounters this strange character known simply as the "Mystery Man" (Robert Blake). It becomes clear that there's something not quite right about the Mystery Man, with his unnerving appearance and his insistence that he has met our protagonist before, and is in fact at his house right this moment.

Of course, there is a really good makeup job done on the Mystery Man to make him seem otherworldly. We have the inhumanely pale face, the lack of eyebrows, the insanely big grin. The sound mixing also does a really good job to set the scene, with the party music quickly fading out and the scene going into complete silence as the Mystery Man enters, and it is only broken when he speaks. At the end of the scene, the music starts up again and things seem to go back to normal, but after this encounter neither the audience nor Fred are in any way relieved.

"OVER THE LINE" from The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski is filled to the brim with hilarious moments, but somehow this one has a tendency to stand out. It starts off with the Dude (Jeff Bridges) and Walter (John Goodman) getting into an argument after the latter brings his ex-wife's dog into the bowling alley. Things get heated quickly and Walter cuts off the argument when he sees another bowler named Smokey accidentally go slightly over the line on the alley and asks that he mark it zero. When Smokey refuses, Walter draws a gun and forces Smokey to comply with the rules.

It's hard to say precisely what makes this scene work so well. In part the humor probably has to do with the way Walter acts. He yells about how nobody seems to want to follow the rules while holding a loaded gun (ignoring the Dude's efforts to talk him down). There is also the fact that Walter's attitude keeps changing abruptly. He goes from yelling at Smokey for being over the line to trying to calmly explain the rules, to pulling out a loaded gun, and then goes right back to acting calm as soon as Smokey listens. Part of the fun in Walter's character is how he keeps acting as though he's the only reasonable and calm person around when he is constantly getting mad and overreacting to situations, like pulling out a gun over a bowling dispute.

The Philosophical Discussion with a Talking Bomb from Dark Star

Houston, we have a problem. One of our bombs is fully armed and ready to detonate but we can't release it, and it won't disarm itself. What do we do? Teach is philosophy of course?

I remember this moment became especially amusing the second time I saw Dark Star, mainly because I'd just finished a philosophy class in High School and written an extensive essay comparing the concepts of rationalism and empiricism, which are discussed in-depth here (the bomb even quotes Descartes: "I think, therefore I am." Of course, the real humor comes from the situation the characters are in, and the fact that Doolittle is trying to teach these philosophical concepts to an artificially intelligent bomb, which is intrigued but doesn't seem to fully understand.

The Marriage From The African Queen

Outside of having one of the greatest quotes of all time ("By the authority granted to me by his Imperial Majestey Kaiser Wilhelm the Second I pronounce you man and wife - proceed with the execution."), this scene does a pretty solid job of helping to show just how much the characters have grown over the course of the film.

Hepburn and Bogart started out being minor acquaintances, the latter simply being a guy who often passed by the former's mission. However, they go through a lot when World War I forces them together, and have become exceptionally close as they work together to survive in the African wilderness with only a tiny boat for shelter.

The Opening of Once Upon a Time in the West

Talk about a scene that goes on longer than it has to. The very first scene of the movie is ten minutes of absolutely nothing happening, with almost no dialogue. Weirdly, though, it's the perfect way to start. The lack of dialogue or action allows us to observe the environment, and the way the film makes use of diagetic sound (the creaky windmill, the fly buzzing around) really brings the environment to life and in fact makes it all the more shocking when our hero finally shows up, abruptly ending the tranquility of the scene by gunning the three men we've been following up to this point.

The Showdown From The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

This is another great example of Leone's fine work. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly has quite possibly one of the best showdowns in any Western, perhaps even rivaling that of Once Upon a Time in the West. The three-way Mexican standoff is a great way to finally bring the characters together. The shots are timed so well, getting across the strain Tuco and Angel Eyes are no doubt feeling. 

Naturally, since this is a Leone film, we have a tense score by Ennio Morricone that really builds up the suspense. The cuts between each of the three men, the close up shots of their eyes, all of it creates a sense of anticipation for when one of them finally draws.

The Docking Sequence From 2001: A Space Odyssey

It's hard to pinpoint a specific moment from 2001 that I could call my favorite, but this one stands out. There is something about the way it's done. The Blue Danube in particular goes really well with the shots of the sort of technology we may one day develop for space travel. As always the visuals are incredible, and even if the scene is slow paced without much happening, it all comes together in such a way as to keep you wanting more.

So there you have it. Some of my personal favorite moments from movies. I'm sure these are not the only ones, and I could probably find a few more, but this is a pretty good selection. Do you have any movie scenes you really like? You can share them in the comments.

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