Moviebuffstuffsite is three years old this week! To celebrate, I’ll be counting down some of my personal favourite moments in cinema. I’ve put them in order of when the films were released, because it was too hard to rank them.
THIS LIST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SOME OF THE FILMS DISCUSSED
CONTEXT WILL BE PROVIDED FOR THE SCENES WHEN NECESSARY, BUT IF THE SCENE DISCUSSED IS SELF-EXPLANATORY ENOUGH, I’LL JUST DESCRIBE WHAT HAPPENS, AND SAY WHY IT’S GREAT.
The Ending (City Lights, 1931)
CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: The film has revolved around Charlie Chaplin’s “Tramp” character attempting to raise money so he can help a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill), with whom he has fallen in love, afford an operation that will restore her sight. Through a series of escapades, he eventually manages to get her the money – but how will she react when she realises her benefactor is not a rich man, like she had thought?
THE SCENE: The Tramp comes across the girl, no longer blind, but back selling flowers on the street as she always does. Not yet recognising him, the girl kindly offers the Tramp a fresh flower, which he accepts. As she gives it to him, she recognises the feel of his hand, and realises who he is. After a tense moment, during which we are not certain how she will react, she pulls his hand to her chest, and we fade to black as a smile comes over the Tramp’s face.
WHY IT’S GREAT: This is one of the most perfect endings in all of cinema. The Tramp, and the audience, are terrified of how the girl may react when she learns the truth of his situation – will she still love him? Will she be disappointed? So when she pulls his hand to her, it’s a relief to both the character and the viewer, and packs an emotional punch. The range of emotions Chaplin communicates with his facial expressions – fear, uncertainty, hope, and finally, joy – is some of his absolute best work.
La Marseillaise (Casablanca, 1942)
THE SCENE: Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid) leads the crowd at Rick Blaine’s (Humphrey Bogart) bar in a rousing performance of the French national anthem La Marseillaise, in defiance of the Nazi officers present.
WHY IT’S GREAT: This is actually a key moment for Rick as a character – the “go ahead” nod he gives Victor as he starts encouraging the patrons at the bar to join him marks the first time that he really picks a side, after having strived to remain neutral up to then.
“I’m Ready For My Closeup” (Sunset Boulevard, 1950)
CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: Faded silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) is convinced that her fans are still awaiting her big-screen comeback, and has been attempting to use struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) to write the film that will do this for her. However, when Joe tries to leave her, Norma kills him.
THE SCENE: The next day, Norma’s home is filled with cops and reporters, who have discovered what happened to Joe. By this stage, Norma has suffered a complete mental breakdown, and convinces herself that the reporters are cameramen and that she is actually on the set of her imaginary comeback film. Her servant Max (Erik Von Stronheim), who has been enabling her delusions all this time, plays along, and calls “Action!” as Norma dramatically descends the staircase, declaring “Alright, Mr. DeMille – I’m ready for my close-up!”
WHY IT’S GREAT: For all her narcissism and obsession with the past, it’s hard not to pity Norma Desmond – she truly believes that there’s a devoted audience out there, clamouring for her return to the movies, and her actions in the movie all stem from her desire to mount a triumphant return that will never be. After she is driven over the edge, and kills Joe, there’s no turning back for her – she simply descends further into her fantasy, resulting in the haunting final image of her advancing towards the camera, staring at the audience as she makes a dramatic speech to a film crew that isn’t there.
Terry’s Speech In The Car (On The Waterfront, 1954)
CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: Dockworker Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando), was once a promising boxer until his brother Charley (Rod Steiger), under the instructions of gangster Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), told him to throw the fight which could have made his career.
THE SCENE: Charley needs to keep Terry from testifying against Friendly in order to save his brother’s life. However, as they argue, Terry angrily reminds Charley of how he betrayed him all those years ago in a monologue that has become one of cinema’s most famous speeches.
WHY IT’S GREAT: “I could’a had class! I could’a been a contender! I could’ve been somebody…instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it!”. The whole speech on its own is already powerful, but its Marlon Brando’s heartbreaking, Oscar-winning performance that makes this one of the most moving scenes in cinema history.
“Well, Nobody’s Perfect” (Some Like It Hot, 1959)
CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: After witnessing a mob hit, two male musicians – Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) – disguise themselves as women, and hitch a ride with an all-girl band to escape to safety. Jerry/Daphne becomes the object of millionaire Osgood Fielding’s (Joe E. Brown) affections.
THE SCENE: As the characters flee their pursuers, “Daphne” tries to explain to Osgood why “she” cannot marry him. “I’m not a natural blonde!” he says. “I smoke!” “I have a terrible past!” “I can never have children!”. But when Osgood responds to each with some variation on “I don’t care”, Jerry gives up, rips off his wig, and admits “I’m a man!” Unfazed, Osgood replies, “Well, nobody’s perfect!” as the film fades to black.
WHY IT’S GREAT: Unexpected, hilarious, iconic, ingenious…all these words can be used to describe Some Like It Hot‘s brilliant ending. The last response anyone expects from Osgood upon learning the “woman” he has been wooing is really a man is for him to simply shrug it off, but that’s the genius of it – the deadpan line delivery, the perfect expression on Jack Lemmon’s face as we fade to black…it’s a flawless conclusion to Billy Wilder’s comic masterpiece.
The Stargate (2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968)
THE SCENE: Astronaut Dave Bowman is pulled into a vortex called a “Star Gate”, experiencing a number of strange things which culminate in him becoming a “Star-Child”, who gazes upon the Earth.
WHY IT’S GREAT: The last act of Stanley Kubrick’s science-fiction masterpiece is some of the trippiest stuff ever committed to celluloid – through stunning visuals and sound design, we are taken on a surreal journey with Dave as he hurtles through the Stargate, rapidly ages, and finally becomes the “Star-Child” – perhaps representing the next phase of human evolution, given the film’s overall themes. It’s open to many interpretations, but one thing’s for sure: it’s pure cinema.
Baptism Murders (The Godfather, 1972)
THE SCENE: The baptism of Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) newborn daughter is intercut with scenes of the Corleone family’s assassins carrying out the murders of other New York dons.
WHY IT’S GREAT: It’s pretty clear what the point of this (controversial) sequence is – to contrast the religious atmosphere of the baptism with the shocking violence of the Corleone family’s business. Michael tells the priest that he renounces Satan, even though his people are carrying out mob hits as he speaks. The brilliant editing and strong storytelling make this another great scene in a film that already has many.
“You Talkin’ To Me?” (Taxi Driver, 1976)
THE SCENE: Mentally unstable taxi driver Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) practices his “tough-guy” act in front of a mirror, drawing a gun out from under his sleeve, and repeating the phrase “you talkin’ to me?” to his reflection.
WHY IT’S GREAT: This is another scene whose greatness is partly down to the actor performing in it. The camera focuses on De Niro the whole time, as he delivers that iconic line, and threatens the imaginary person standing in front of him. Famously improvised by De Niro, the scene is a fascinating peak into Travis’ psyche – he hasn’t quite gone over the edge here, but he’s close.
“I Am Your Father” (Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980)
CONEXT TO THE SCENE: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has come to Cloud City to rescue his allies from Darth Vader (James Earl Jones and David Prowse) and his forces. This leads to a confrontation between Luke and Vader.
THE SCENE: Vader corners Luke, telling him to join his side. He tells Luke that “Obi-Wan never told you the truth about your father”. Luke says his mentor told him enough – he told him that Vader killed him. But then Vader drops a bombshell – “No” he says. “I am your father”.
WHY IT’S GREAT: This twist is a classic example of how to brilliantly subvert expectations in a big-screen blockbuster. The revelation that Darth Vader is in fact Anakin Skywalker rather than his killer, as we were told by Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first movie, serves as not only a shock for Luke and the audience, but also adds a new layer of emotional heft to the story – the seemingly black-and-white “good vs evil” story becomes clouded as Luke becomes determined to find the good left in his father, and Vader struggles between his loyalty to the empire and his unwillingness to actually kill his son.
“Funny, how?” (Goodfellas, 1990)
THE SCENE: After Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) shares a humorous story, his fellow mobster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) tells him he’s a “funny guy”. Tommy appears to take offence at this, getting angrier and angrier – until he laughs it off, revealing he was just messing around.
WHY IT’S GREAT: What starts as a scene about a guy sharing a funny story over a dinner table becomes something much more tense and stressful, as the unpredictable Tommy appears to take Henry’s compliment the wrong way – “Funny, how?” he asks. “Funny like a clown? Like I amuse you?”. When he eventually reveals he’s just trying to freak Henry out, it comes as a relief – though Henry and the viewers are already pretty shaken.
Welcome To Jurassic Park (Jurassic Park, 1993)
THE SCENE: John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) reveals to his guests that he has bred real-life dinosaurs on the park he has created.
WHY IT’S GREAT: Giant CGI creatures are commonplace in blockbusters these days, but for audiences in 1993, the sight of these digitally-created dinosaurs was something to behold. And even today, the scene retains its power – the reveal of the Brachiosaurus is brilliantly done, the awed reactions of the characters are fun to watch, and the special effects have held up surprisingly well.
Cuban Pete (The Mask, 1994)
CONTEXT: Shy bank clerk Stanley Ipkiss (Jim Carrey), has discovered a mysterious mask that turns him into what is essentially a superhero with the powers and personality of a cartoon character. His antics lead to him being wanted by the police, who corner him outside a park.
THE SCENE: Surrounded by a squad of police officers, Stanley’s alter-ego (dubbed “The Mask”) devises an absurd and unusual way to get out of the situation – he launches into a song-and-dance performance of the song Cuban Pete, and even manages to coerce all the cops to join him as he dances.
WHY IT’S GREAT: I mean, I couldn’t not include a scene from my favourite movie (which celebrated its 25th anniversary on Monday), now could I? This is one scene that never fails to put a smile on my face. It’s unexpected, brilliantly absurd, and hilarious no matter how many times I watch it. The icing on the cake is when all the present cops start cheerfully dancing along to the character’s performance, while the exasperated Lt. Kellaway tries to snap them out of their trance.
Andy’s Escape (The Shawshank Redemption, 1994)
THE SCENE: Having spent 19 years digging a hole in the wall of his cell at Shawshank State Penitentiary, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) finally puts his escape plan into action, finally making his way to freedom.
WHY IT’S GREAT: OK, so maybe it’s a bit of a cheat that a film which takes such an unflinching look at life in prison has an uplifting ending in which the protagonist escapes…but it’s damn near impossible not to get the feels when Andy, after trudging his way through “500 yards of shit”, finally makes it to freedom after all the years he’s spent in Shawshank.
Ezekiel 25:17 (Pulp Fiction, 1994)
THE SCENE: Hitman Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) recites his favourite Bible verse to a man before killing him.
WHY IT’S GREAT: Simply put, this is all down to Samuel L. Jackson’s line delivery. He can make almost anything sound badass, and honestly, who wouldn’t want the last thing they ever heard to be him declaring “…and you shall know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee!”?
Batman Interrogates The Joker (The Dark Knight, 2008)
CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: The Joker (Heath Ledger) has been terrorising Gotham City, and his men have now kidnapped District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).
THE SCENE: Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) interrogates the captured Joker to find out where Dent has been taken. But The Joker is a difficult man to break.
WHY IT’S GREAT: This scene gives us one of the greatest hero-villain dynamics since Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter. Bale does a very good job as the caped crusader, but this scene – much like the whole film – really belongs to Ledger. Unpredictable, scary and weirdly mesmerising, his Joker is a fascinating creation. We watch as he argues that the people of Gotham’s morals are “a bad joke…dropped at the first sign of trouble”, and that he is “not a monster…just ahead of the curve”. And as he gradually tests Batman’s patience, the hero is driven dangerously close to breaking his one rule – to not kill anyone – and thereby, proving The Joker’s twisted worldview right. He ultimately doesn’t, but this scene brilliantly shows how The Joker can get inside people’s heads, even someone like Batman.
Carl & Ellie’s Life Together (Up, 2009)
THE SCENE: A wordless montage of protagonist Carl Fredricksen’s life with his wife Ellie. We see their wedding day, their attempts to start a family, and the many setbacks they encounter in their efforts to raise money to fulfil their shared dream of seeing Paradise Falls in South America – but just when Carl finally manages to obtain the tickets, Ellie falls ill and dies soon after.
WHY IT’S GREAT: Up is a great film throughout, but this sequence is like a masterpiece short film on its own. Through visuals alone, we witness the highs and lows of the couple’s married life, whether it’s the morning routine of Ellie helping Carl with his tie, or Carl comforting her after they discover they can’t have children. And in the montage’s final minutes, we watch as Ellie dies just as Carl had come close to realising the dream they’ve shared since childhood. Pixar have given us their fair share of emotional scenes, but this is easily their most heartbreaking – and one of the most moving sequences in cinema. And let’s not forget Michael Giacchino’s Oscar-winning score, which complements the visuals perfectly.
Opening Scene (Inglourious Basterds, 2009)
THE SCENE: In France in 1941, French dairy farmer Pierrier La Padite (Denis Ménochet) and his family are sheltering a Jewish family in their home. One day, they are visited by Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), a German SS officer whose knack for locating Jewish people in hiding has earned him the nickname “the Jew Hunter”. Acting friendly and cheerful on the surface, Landa discusses his reputation, and gradually confirms that he knows La Padite is hiding “enemies of the state” in his home, threatening to harm his family unless he co-operates.
WHY IT’S GREAT: Inglourious Basterds is full of nail-bitingly suspenseful scenes, and its opening is a perfect example. It’s slow-burning, lasting nearly 20 minutes, but the longer it goes on, the greater the tension becomes. La Padite (and the audience) can see that Landa’s calm, polite demeanour is an act, and that he suspects the farmer’s family knows more about the missing Dreyfuss family than they are letting on, but the calculating Landa keeps up his facade nonetheless – creating a sense of tension that is close to unbearable for both the viewer and the character of La Padite. This tension continues to build, until Landa eventually manipulates La Padite into giving up the family’s location, and killing them all except the eldest daughter, who escapes. The scene works as well as it does because of Tarantino’s excellent dialogue and Waltz’s brilliant, deservedly Oscar-winning performance.
“So Long, Partner” (Toy Story 3, 2010)
THE SCENE: Andy (John Morris) passes his childhood toys on to young Bonnie (Emily Hahn) before he departs for college. He and Bonnie play with the toys one last time before he leaves. As Bonnie goes inside briefly, Woody (Tom Hanks) watches as Andy’s car drives away into the distance, marking the end of an era for him and the rest of the toys.
WHY IT’S GREAT: This is no longer the ending to the Toy Story franchise as a whole (though thankfully, Toy Story 4 managed to produce another satisfying, fitting conclusion), but it is the ending to the story that provided the emotional arc for the first three – Woody’s devotion to his owner Andy. The prospect of Andy getting older and eventually departing for college was brought up in Toy Story 2, but becomes reality in Toy Story 3, and watching Andy play with his beloved childhood toys one last time before getting into his car and driving away is as moving as the opening scene in Up. Woody’s line, “So long, partner” is the perfect, bittersweet way to close off the movie.
The Avengers Assemble (The Avengers, 2012)
CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), have been brought together by the organisation SHIELD to defend Earth against an alien attack led by Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), though for much of the movie, they’ve struggled to work together.
THE SCENE: Finally putting aside their differences, the team reunites in New York to face Loki’s army. As they finally begin working as a true team, we are shown a 360 degree shot of them standing united, ready to take on this threat together.
WHY IT’S GREAT: Given all the characters involved, an Avengers movie was a risky proposition. Even after Marvel released five solo movies (from 2008’s Iron Man to 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger) in order to establish the main characters and their backstories before they all came together, there was no guarantee that they could pull it off. And yet, they did – and in this moment, where the team finally stands together after having been at odds for much of the film, fans finally got to see the sight they had dreamed of: their favourite superheroes sharing the spotlight on the big screen.
Peter Quill Dancing (Guardians Of The Galaxy, 2014)
CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: Intergalactic outlaw Peter Quill, or “Star-Lord” (Chris Pratt) has been sent by his employer/father-figure Yondu Udanta (Michael Rooker) to steal a mysterious, valuable orb from a tomb on a desolate, destroyed planet.
THE SCENE: As Quill makes his way across the planet’s destroyed surface, an ominous mood is built up. But when Quill actually enters the tomb, he puts in earphones, switches on his Walkman cassette tape, and starts dancing to Redbone’s Come And Get Your Love as he makes his way to the orb.
WHY IT’S GREAT: This scene is a perfect way to begin the movie for so many reasons. After a pretty depressing prologue which shows us how a young Quill lost his mother, this sequence is where director James Gunn firmly establishes the irreverent, hilarious tone of the rest of the film. It also serves as a perfect introduction to the character of Peter Quill – from his attachment to his cassette tape to his somewhat immature personality, and Chris Pratt sells it all perfectly. If there were any doubts about how Marvel would be able to handle such an obscure, quirky comic on the big screen, they were put to rest as soon as Quill started dancing.
Church Fight (Kingsman: The Secret Service, 2015)
CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a spy for the British agency “Kingsman”, attends a meeting at a Hate Church group in Kentucky, searching for information on the plans of the sinister Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). Unbeknownst to him, Valentine has ensured that everyone present there has one of his special SIM cards which, when activated, will send out a signal that will drive them and everyone near them into a homocidal rage.
THE SCENE: Valentine activates the SIM cards, and everyone at the meeting (including Harry) goes crazy, brutally attacking each other in over-the-top, extremely violent ways. Due to his spy training, Harry manages to come out on top, emerging as the sole survivor.
WHY IT’S GREAT: This is one of my favourite action scenes of the decade. Unfolding at a frenetic pace, and filled with some of the craziest and most hilariously exaggerated violence seen on screen in the last few years, it’s a brilliantly directed and edited piece of action filmmaking that certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, but still serves as a standout moment in this highly entertaining spy spoof.
Another Day Of Sun (La La Land, 2016)
THE SCENE: We open on a scene of L.A traffic jam. Suddenly, the people waiting in their cars break out into song, each singing about their ambitions, and the reasons they moved here in the first place.
WHY IT’S GREAT: Right off the bat, La La Land makes it clear what we’re in for: a joyous, full-hearted modern spin on the classic musicals of Hollywood’s golden age. Set to Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s catchy original song Another Day Of Sun, the scene transforms what began as a scene of traffic jam into a full-blown song-and-dance number (edited to appear like a single shot) full of life, bright colours and impressive choreography. When I saw this scene for the first time in the cinema, I already knew I was going to love this movie.
Darth Vader Attacks (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, 2016)
CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: The rebels have received the empire’s plans for their “Death Star” weapon, and are trying to escape with them.
THE SCENE: As the rebels try to escape their ship when it is intercepted by imperial forces, they find themselves trapped when the door gets stuck. Then, the lights go off, and a familiar sound of heavy breathing is heard. A red lightsaber ignites in the hallway, revealing Darth Vader, who tears mercilessly through the rebel forces as he advances towards them.
WHY IT’S GREAT: Watching this scene in the theatre for the first time was just an incredible experience. I was excited to see how Darth Vader would be used in Rogue One, but I was more or less expecting it to just be a glorified cameo – nothing too major. And for much of the runtime, it seemed I was right – but then, in its final moments, the movie delivered what may be the most badass scene in the whole franchise. In this short, but oh-so-awesome sequence, we watch the greatest movie villain of all time reaffirm that title by tearing his way through rebel forces, deflecting their blasts with his lightsaber and taking no prisoners. Instantly, all memories of his infamous cry of “noooooo!” from the end of Revenge Of The Sith are washed away – when the Imperial March kicks in towards the end of the scene, it feels like the movie sending a message of “you don’t mess with Darth Vader!”.
The Snap (Avengers: Infinity War, 2018)
CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: The titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) has been relentlessly searching for the six “Infinity Stones”, with which he can wipe out half of all life in existence – thereby, brining “balance” to the universe, as he sees it. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) tries to kill Thanos just as he gets the final stone – but he does not succeed.
THE SCENE: Thanos snaps his fingers, activating the stones, and teleports away. Immediately, half of all living creatures in the universe turn to dust. This includes some of the film’s heroes: Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan); T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman); Groot (Vin Diesel); Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie); Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen); Mantis (Pom Klementieff); Drax (Dave Bautista); Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt); Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch); and finally, Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland).
WHY IT’S GREAT: There was never any doubt after Infinity War was released that the heroes who turned to dust in this scene would be revived in Avengers: Endgame, and indeed they were – but even with that knowledge, this was still a pretty ballsy way to end a gigantic superhero blockbuster. I knew going in that we’d be saying goodbye to some characters, but my expectation was that the film would end with the Avengers still standing strong, and ready for their final confrontation with Thanos, in spite of a few casualties. It never occurred to me that the final moments would see them watching in horror as their teammates and loved ones vanished before their eyes, while the survivors stand around, barely able to comprehend their defeat. With no music, we watch as Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) sees his longtime companion Groot disappear; as Wanda Maximoff turns to dust while she mourns her lost love, Vision (Paul Bettany); as young Peter Parker begs to be saved before he succumbs to the effects of the snap and fades away. By the time the credits roll, the characters have experienced the greatest defeat of their lives – and one that has completely changed the world they live in by the time the next one takes place.
Avengers Assemble Once More (Avengers: Endgame, 2019)
CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: Five years after Thanos erased half the universe’s population, the remaining Avengers discover a way to reverse his actions. Immediately after Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), uses the recovered Infinity Stones to bring back those who were lost, the team are suddenly attacked once more by their nemesis.
THE SCENE: Just when all seems hopeless, the heroes who died in the snap, but were just revived by Hulk, arrive to assist the team. Once all the reinforcements have arrived, Captain America (Chris Evans) calls out “Avengers…assemble!” and leads them in a charge against Thanos’ army.
WHY IT’S GREAT: This is the moment the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, from the first Iron Man in 2008 to this one in 2019, had been building up to up to that point. In this scene, every surviving Avenger – be it Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man or Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord – is standing united, alongside supporting characters like Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Taika Waititi), and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Alan Silvestri’s brilliant score plays triumphantly as more heroes arrive to help, heightening the emotional heft of the scene. And then, we reach the film’s coolest moment: Chris Evans’ Captain America summons the hammer Mjiolnir to his hand, says the line “Avengers Assemble” (a phrase commonly used in the comics, but never actually said in the films up to that point), and the army of superheroes charges towards their enemies while the Avengers theme music plays. Epic, emotional, thrilling and satisfying – this is how you pay off 11 years of blockbuster storytelling.