Our Favorite Movie Moments
As with last week’s assortment of our favorite TV moments, it’s damn near impossible to limit oneself to picking a single, definitive movie moment that is memorable or favorite above all others. And this is a vastly subjective and personal list, as a memorable scene for some may be the scene before the memorable scene for others. These scenes are all from good (most, fantastic) movies, and most would agree to their objective value. But what you’ll see below rises above the objective for us, hitting that subjective sweet spot, emotionally resonating in a way that reminds us all why we simply love movies as much as we do.
And, of course, now that we’ve shown you ours, be sure to stop off in the comments and show us yours.
Amelie — Like all of you, I am in love with Amelie. When she grabs the blind man by the elbow and surges across the street describing the unfolding world to him, my heart simply melts. I like to think of it as a beautiful, little distillate of life, a reminder of the magical, mysterious and unexpected that’s embedded in our days. Our lives startle by in such a hurry, and it’s comforting to think of an unseen guardian whispering light into us throughout, and then delicately dropping us off at our next stop of transit, all of it over just a moment too soon. —Michael Murray
The Big Lebowski — The Big Lebowski is one of those movies that I didn’t get and didn’t like the first time I saw it. I was too young and not yet fully aware of the Coen brothers’ output to really appreciate what they were doing, but once I got it, I got it, and I’ve loved everything about it since. That said, the sudden death and subsequent aftermath of Donny’s death always got me, though at first I just saw the sadness of the moment. Now, appreciating the film as it was meant to be, I get that Walter’s eulogy for Donny, with The Dude watching in the background, is one of the most perfect scenes ever filmed. It contains every emotion every movie ever has aspired to achieve, and it captures them in less than three minutes of screen time. Awkward comedy, sincere remorse, tying up of loose ends, bringing the narrative full circle, and character development (when else would we have learned Donny was a surfer?) are all present in the movie’s penultimate scene. Like I said, it’s movie perfection. The only thing missing is Donny’s signature line: “Phone’s ringing, Dude.” —Rob Payne
Billy Elliot — Call me a softie if you’d like, but in 2000, I returned to see Billy Elliot in theaters four or five times, in part because of this scene, which tore my heart out every. single. time. The one thing greater than romantic love is parental love, and this scene epitomizes everything I want to be in a father: The ability to swallow your pride and go against something you believe in more than anything in the world in order to ensure your son has a chance at a better life, even if it’s not the life you envisioned for him. This right here is what it means to be a good parent. “He’s a kid. He’s a fucking little kid. Give the boy a fucking chance.” — Dustin Rowles
A Clockwork Orange — As a kid of about eight or nine, I discovered a VHS copy of A Clockwork Orange in the back of our videotape storage thingy, hidden among my father’s porn stash (the original target of my rummaging). Curious, I popped the tape in and proceeded to have my kiddy mind blown — looking for an “adult” movie, I had just found my first adult move. Nothing made sense about this opening sequence, with its freaky music, blunt credits, terrifying Malcolm McDowell one-eyelashed stare, confusing imagery and even more confusing dialogue. But I immediately knew I was seeing something new and, for the first time, I realized what movies could really be and do. “Oh bliss! Bliss and heaven! Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh.” I was viddying sinny for the first time. —Seth Freilich
The Empire Strikes Back — When you have watched the original Star Wars movies as many times as I have and adored them for as long as I have, you notice the less famous moments and smaller details, thus gaining a deeper appreciation for the care that went into crafting the fully realized world of that galaxy far, far away. I like the way that Admiral Ackbar silently slumps into his chair when the Executor crashes into the Death Star, that worried glance that Lobot shoots at Lando when Vader exceeds the prior agreement, and how John Williams perfectly synced so many of the onscreen visual beats in A New Hope with the score. My favorite overlooked moment of this sort in my favorite movie ever is the quiet farewell between Luke and Han on Hoth; the unspoken pause speaks all the volumes that we need about their bond. In a blockbuster’s galaxy of loud explosions, subtle human moments that are not overwritten are not only present but also underrated, precious, and give this story the texture it needs to transcend the noise. Certainly I could have gone with the obvious, iconic, pop-culture-earthquake “No, I am your father!” that shook my five-year-old worldview to its core, but for my personal favorite that my own aging revealed, I instead have to go with that quiet moment. —C. Robert Dimitri
(We had a clip for you, but Fox snagged it off the YouTubes right quick. Sorry about that.)
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial — Of all of Steven Spielberg’s films, none is more Romantic than 1982’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. It perfectly encapsulates the filmmaker’s fascination with what it means to grow up, from his use of J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” (which he’d revisit in Hook) in one scene to his specific framing of children versus adults in most others — aside from the mother, most grown-ups are seen from the waste-down (Elliott’s point of view), and you never see one’s face until E.T. is dying. It is the children who are so open to believing in E.T. They want to protect him, not dissect him. It’s a pureness of spirit that most humans lose at some point as they age but spend the rest of life trying to gain back. That’s why as Elliott, Michael and friends bust E.T. out and take him to the forest and his family, adult viewers are likely to cry as well as smile. The thrill of the chase — complete with bicycles flying through the air — combined with the touching story show why Spielberg owned the late 1970s and much of the ’80s. The technology is no longer cutting-edge, but the sentiment is no less magical today than 30 years ago. It’s timeless, in fact, and beautiful. —Sarah Carlson
Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind — I rewatched this movie just last night to be certain that my love for it wasn’t some rosy-colored memory. That I wasn’t omitting some overly twee details or false, insincere notes. But no, I wasn’t misremembering, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is the kind of film that sticks. It burrows into your heart and stays there. And while I love all of Gondry’s visual tricks, Carey’s wry, hangdog asides and Kaufman’s snappy script, it’s, perhaps, the simplest moment of the film that stands out as my favorite. When Joel reaches the end of his treatment, when his very last shared memory with Clementine is literally crumbling around him, she leans in and whispers, “Meet me, in Montauk.” Given the non-linear structure of the narrative, we now know what draws Joel and Clementine back together at the start of the film. It’s this seed here, this kernel of an idea. And so Clementine’s words become so much more than an instruction. This is Joel’s subconscious pleading to hold on when reason dictates it’s time to let go. And as the camera swings in, slightly out of focus, on their profiles, we are both privy to and shut out of this achingly intimate moment. This film is, at the very broken, eccentric heart of it, perhaps the most authentic love story ever told. —Joanna Robinson
Jaws — It took me less than five seconds to think of my choice for this. Jaws is perhaps my favorite movie, and it is also, in many respects, an absolutely perfect film. It’s one that I can pick up at any moment and once again be mesmerized until the end. The three leads — Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw — are each totally captivating in radically different ways, a testament to the film’s writing and direction as well as to their performances. Ironically, the finest scene showcasing the three playing off each other is the one that features no sharks, no action, no shouting or yelling or even any legitimate tension, unless you count the gutwrenching terror brought about by Quint’s telling the story of the USS Indiannapolis. No, the best scene in Jaws, and easily one of the best in cinematic history, is the scene that finds the three men in the belly of Quint’s boat, showing off their scars, telling tales both tall and true, drunk on booze and anxiety and fear and joy, and culminating in their rousing, brilliant rendition of “Show Me The Way To Go Home.” It’s about 10 or 15 minutes of absolutely gorgeous film making — no effects, no music, nothing except three actors capturing a moment as perfectly as it can be captured. Alas, the full scene can’t be found online, but these two clips make up the bulk of it. As for the song, you’ll have to sing it yourself. —TK
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou — I’ve started my paragraph on this scene at least six different times, and each time it feels like I have to explain why I find it perfect, or why it means something special to me. But honestly, that’s all this is ever going to boil down to: I found this scene perfect and think it’s beautiful and it will always make me catch my breath. It’s partly because of the music, partly because of the acting, and partly because of everything that led up to it. It’s comfortable with living in that space between sad and hopeful, and it feels completely honest. I love it. And if you don’t, that’s ok too. —Genevieve Burgess
No Country for Old Men — The Coen Brothers really went to town with Anton Chigurh, who plays the role of Death personified. Chigurh lives by his own deterministic code and regards himself as an agent of fate. While he is often content to use his cattle gun to get the job done, there are times when he allows his victims to live or die depending on a coin toss. During this scene, Chigurh explains to the gasoline store attendant that his life has always been on the coin and he just didn’t know it. In fact, that coin had been traveling 22 years in a predetermined toss just so that the man could select his own fate. Of course, the man isn’t really free to choose because Chigurh is demanding that the man blindly make a random call. After the man calls “heads” and wins the toss, Chigurh honors his code and tells the man to keep his “lucky quarter” even while admit-ting (quite humorously) that it’s “just a coin.” What I really love about this scene though is the use of the candy wrapper to add tension. Like the coin, Chigurh merely crumples it and lets the uncrinkling happen on its own to great effect. —Agent Bedhead
Planes, Trains and Automobiles — This was incredibly fucking difficult. I really fucking wanted to pick a fucking John Hughes scene, especially John Candy, because I fucking love John Fucking Candy. But instead, I chose one of my favorite fucking scenes from Fucking Planes Fucking Trains and Fucking Automobiles. What makes the fucking scene so fucking wonderful is that Steve Fucking Martin isn’t known for dropping fucking “fucks.” Plus, you’ve got the fucking benefit of Edie Fucking McClurg also dropping a fucking f-bomb. Anyone can fucking swear, hell, fucking Tarantino’s made a fucking career out of doing just fucking that. But it’s so fucking gleefully fucking angry, a glorious fucking swearfilled tirade out of the middle of fucking nowhere. Plus, it’s kind of like fucking hearing your fucking first-grade fucking teacher just dropping fucks wily-nilly during fucking naptime. It’s so fucking amazing that they later adapted the entire fucking scene into a fucking movie called “Snakes on a Motherfucking Plane.” FUCK YEAH. —Brian Prisco
Rushmore — There are hundreds, thousands, of great moments that have mattered to me, and whatever I wind up picking today might not be one I’d pick tomorrow, or a year from now, or when I’m going through some kind of monumental life change that always makes you reassess what it is you love. I love a million moments, differently and the same. With that caveat, I’d have to go with a moment that I first experienced when I was 16, and one that’s continued to move me for different reasons over the years. It’s the final seconds of Rushmore, Wes Anderson’s second film, in which young Max reunites his disparate band of friends and family in a show of compassion and burgeoning maturity to demonstrate the way he’s handling himself after having his heart broken by Miss Cross, a teacher at his school. He’s managed to stage a war play that incorporates everything he’s learned, the chief lesson being that first love is really first loss, and Max’s eccentric but relatable journey through pubescent turmoil struck a deep chord with me when I saw the film. I was only a year older than Max, if still a few years away of learning what it is to really love someone (and, of course, to really lose them). Anderson’s stylistic flair is on display throughout the film without weighing it down, and the final moments of the film see Max cue up a bittersweet 1970s British pop ballad (this is still Anderson, after all) as he leads Miss Cross out on the floor for one final dance. The image gracefully switches to slow-motion as the supporting characters spin by, and the man with the guitar sings, “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger.” Then the curtains close. It’s a beautifully rendered moment that says yes, things absolutely sucked for a while, but they’re going to get better, if for no other reason than that they just have to. I’ve come back to the film over the years, increasingly able to see Max for the often sad control freak that he is, but I’m never not moved by those final images. This is just one of those movies I take with me, and the ending is why. —Daniel Carlson
Secretary — In one way or another I’ve always suffered. I didn’t know why exactly. But I do know that I’m not so scared of suffering now. I feel more than I’ve ever felt and I’ve found someone to feel with. To play with. To love in a way that feels right for me. I hope he knows that I can see that he suffers too. And that I want to love him.
To some, Secretary remains the Maggie Gyllenhaal S&M movie. But, with this one scene, it solidifies itself as a celebration of love of all kinds. Weird love. And that makes it so special. As Lee Holloway sits in Mr. Grey’s chair, her hands firmly planted against his desk, it is so easy to fall into the realm of judgment. “Why is she doing this? Why is he making her do this? Should I be offended as a woman? I think I might be.” But as it goes on (and on and on), between her father’s sweet support and Lee’s words above, the movie scoffs at our judgment. Because who are we to decide how love is supposed to be? We’ve all dated — perhaps even fallen for — someone who we were made to feel was not right for us. But, if it works for you, fuck everyone else. That’s what I love about this moment. Love is love, however outside the norm it is, or how uncomfortable it makes someone else. And if we like it like that, that’s all that matters. —Courtney Enlow
(Here, too, we find ourselves lacking a clip for you. Seriously, shouldn’t we be at that stage where any movie clip is readily available and just itching to get embedded? The fair use only benefits everyone. …But, lest we forget, Hollywood hates us all.)
Uncle Buck — I can’t think of a kid who wouldn’t want John Candy to take care of him while his parents were away. I mean, dude drives a cool car, makes giant birthday pancakes, scares the fuck out of a two-timing boyfriend and puts the nasty old, uptight school principal in her place loudly enough to change a waiting boy’s dread to joy. There are so many great moments in Uncle Buck that it’s hard to pick just one, but this whole sequence — set off by great music and Candy’s physical antics — is perfection. Wild thing indeed. —Cindy Davis