While my final Top 10 list is still awaiting the viewing of some key films–namely Silence–here are the scenes from 2016 films that stood out for me. In no particular order:
Sing Street – The prom dream dance sequence. It’s pure teenage fantasy joy as Cosmo imagines his life as a 1950s prom dance, where the girl swings through the door and falls in love with him, his bickering parents come together, and the bullies in his life put smiles on their faces and dance along to the choreography while Cosmo and his band play their best song. A happy moment in a happysad film.
Rams – Gummi carrying his brother to the hospital using a front loader. Two estranged brothers who never speak to each other are brought to a point of reconciliation through a blight that kills off their herds of sheep. But there’s a hint of genuine care in this scene as Gummi, carries his drunken brother to the hospital using a front loader, dumping him at the entrance, then driving away.
Hell or High Water – “Do you know what that makes me? A Comanche!” In a film filled with interesting scenes and conversations, a tangential confrontation between Ben Foster and a large Native American man at a casino table concludes with this line of dialogue that both surprised and delighted me.
Love & Friendship – The introduction of Sir James Martin; the 10 (or 12) commandments discussion. Tom Bennett is a scene stealer and my pick for best supporting actor of the year with his portrayal of the very silly James Martin, whose understanding of the 12 Commandments is ripe for both deep philosophical conversations about ethics as well as laughs.
Midnight Special – “I like worrying about you.” Michael Shannon’s father speaking this line to his son is the strongest moment in a film about the connection between parent and child.
The Fits – Dancing on the overpass. Royalty Hightower’s Toni is usually fairly silent and stoic, but when she dances by herself on a walkway over a highway, there’s a faint glimmer of a smile, the revelation of pure joy as her body and soul move as one.
The Witness – The reenactment of the murder. In his investigation into the death of his sister and wrestling with his own grief, Bill Genovese hires an actress to portray the final moments of Kitty Genovese’s murder in a New York neighborhood. What sounds like it could be bizarre or twisted is a profound moment of catharsis, and I found myself suddenly weeping.
Hail, Caesar! – The roundtable of clergy talking about theology and film. This scene pretty much depicts all my passions in life–a conversation about film and theology, mixed with humor and philosophy. Is Jesus God or the son of God? Yes…and no. (Honorable mention: “Would that it were so simple.”)
Manchester by the Sea – The final conversation between Randi and Lee. It’s the saddest scene of any film this year.
Moonlight – Little asking Juan what “that word” means. In a beautiful film about coming into one’s own identity, the typically silent Little asks his newfound mentor Juan about the word “f**got,” and what it means. Their honest dialogue is just one of many strong scenes in a profound, vulnerable film.
Doctor Strange – Tumbling through the multiverse. There are few films where I would advocate a 3D theatrical viewing, but this particular scene, with its parallels to 2001: A Space Odyssey, is best experienced in an immersive environment. It’s hard to describe what happens in this moment, apart from being a visual punch to the face, in the best way possible.
Cameraperson – Bosnian kids chopping with an ax. In such a powerful, affecting film about the human condition and bearing witness to both life and death, this brief scene where two children play with a hatchet as cinematographer/director Kirsten Johnson looks on with quiet horror might be one of the most ordinary tense scenes I’ve seen in film.
Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party – The mother/daughter conversation in the car. Elizabeth Laidlaw’s performance as a mother and wife coming to a point of awareness and decision is deeply moving, and one of the best performances of the year. In this film about an evangelical community and the tacit sexual tensions and questions they wrestle through, Laidlaw speaking with her daughter about not being ashamed of her body stands out as significant.
The Edge of Seventeen – “Why is that baby here?” When Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) comes to a new low point in her 17-year-old existence, she turns to her cynical teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), who graciously picks her up from a date gone wrong and brings her to his home, where she discovers that he’s married and a father. It’s a moment of revelation for Nadine, who begins to become aware of the others around her; it’s also a moment of ordinary-yet-sacrificial care from Bruner in this unlikely mentorship.
La La Land – The opening dance and closing dance numbers. Bookending this delightful romantic musical are two dance sequences, strikingly different in tone and construction, yet both marvelously communicating the emotion and passion of their respective moments.
What was your favorite scene from a 2016 film? Share in the comments.