Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My Top 10 Favorite Movie Moments

Moments ... some of the movies we re-watch the most are based entirely on moments. The scenes that make us respect the art of film making, the emotional moments that make us “feel”, and the excitement that transforms a film into an experience. Being a big movie guy, I can think of hundreds, maybe even thousands of memorable moments that always bring me back to the films I enjoy. Heck, even a bad movie can have its select moments that stick with me. This is a list of my own personal favorite movie moments that I can just never forget, and just love to experience time and time again.

“I Knew it ... he’s the One” from “The Matrix” (1999) 

I always looked at this film as the grand finally of the 90’s, and its aged fairly well with me. Of course “The Matrix” pioneered new ground breaking visual effects and unforgettable action scenes, but the stand out moment for me is when the films lead hero Neo discovers who he is, excepts what he’s become, and how his allies finally see him in a new perspective. Now this happens twice in the film, and for me, it’s the first scene just after Neo rescues his companions from the helicopter crash that really hits all the right notes. The shots, the angles, the music ... just everything building up to this characters epiphany is sensational. It’s a moment where I really felt myself cheering for the hero, and it’s always really satisfying to see a characters journey come to a satisfying close. I also love how after the dust settles in this moment, Neo’s mentor subtly reminds him about the difference between “learning the path ... and walking the path.” It’s just a great little scene that masterfully combined wisdom with adrenaline fueled action.    

“The Show Must Go On” from “Moulin Rouge” (2001)

When it comes to musicals, “Moulin Rouge” is one of the biggest, operatic musicals I’ve ever seen, with grand scale song numbers, and sensational visuals. The big stand out song for me is “The Show Must Go On”, which is obviously another big spectacle that’s beautifully shot, beautifully edited, and sung wonderfully, but there’s just enough substance at the center of this song that thrills me. At this moment in the musical, the female lead is forced to make a very difficult decision that will hurt someone she loves, but it needs to be done in order to prevent something even worse from happening. There’s something about the struggle of moving forward, and facing difficult situations that’s captured fairly well in this song, which is actually kind of inspiring. Also, I just love the way the music builds, and builds in song. It actually starts on a very somber note, and while it accelerates in melody, it still keeps that same tone hovering overhead. It’s powerful, it’s beautiful, it’s a big visual spectacle, and it’s personally my favorite song number I ever seen in a movie.  

“Closing Statement” from “To Kill A Mockingbird” (1962) 

This is one of those perfect films that’s just built on great characters, excellent weighting and several stand out moments. For me, the highlight that just gives me chills is when the character Atticus Finch delivers a big closing speech during a court case. When a colored man is on trial for crimes he didn’t commit, a racially in-sensitive town demands his head. However, the soft spoken Atticus Finch (who’s played brilliantly by Gregory Peck) comes to his defense and delivers one heck of an elegant speech to the court revolving around race, prejudice and the very definition of justice. While this isn’t exactly a “motivational” speech and more like a plea for innocence, this monologue is still very inspiring, powerful, and I always think of it as the definitive mic drop of speeches. It’s a moment where I felt the weight and power of every word spoken. It was well acted, well paced and will make you stand up in his support.

“Battling their Fate/ Darth Vader see’s the Light” from “Star Wars 6: Return of the Jedi” (1983) 

For me, this is the moment that just elevated “Star Wars” into one of my favorite franchises and “Return of the Jedi” as my favorite in the whole series. It’s this final three way confrontation between Luke Skywalker, The Emperor and Darth Vader that just hits all the right notes. It goes much deeper than a hero defeating a typical villain, this is Luke Skywalker battling his fate and concurring his own demons while also trying to save his father from himself. There’s also lots of visual symbolism that just adds to the quality of the scene. I love that image of Luke when he’s hiding, and half of his face is in shadows, while the other half is in the light, illustrating how he’s at the cross roads of destiny and needs to determine which path to take. The final light saber dual is very subtle and easily the best of the series because it trades over the top fighting choreography for a more human approach. There’s a hauntingly somber musical score that brings this conflict to life on a grand scale. Then the final scene in which Darth Vader sacrifices himself to save his son is one of my favorite moments in motion picture history. With zero dialog and no facial expressions you can just feel the turmoil going on in this character as he makes his choice to willingly give his life in order to save his son, and it just ends this series on such a perfect high note.

“A Vision of Hope” from “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014)

This is yet another scene from an action packed comic book movie, but it feels like something that belongs in a bigger Oscar winning picture. Now “X-Men Days of Future Past” is one of those summer blockbusters that’s full of big action spectacles, a crazy plot involving time travel, alternate realities and is mostly built on entertainment. However, there’s one select moment that instantly stood out to me as one of the most powerful and beautiful things I’ve experienced in a super hero film. Just when our hero’s lose everything and our lead hero Professor X feels the weight and pain of the whole world on his shoulder, he’s granted a vision from his older self who begins to council him. This scene is just beautifully shot, and the performances from both actors are fantastic. Best of all is seeing this older man guide his younger self, and teach him why it’s important to bare pain, and how to grow in great strength through the most human of powers, which is none other than hope. Searching for hope during the darkest of times is a message that’s always stood out to me, and it’s captured beautifully in this moment. While the movie as a whole is a typical summer action romp done very well, I think this little scene alone is deserving of its own Oscar.  

“Evening Flight” from “How to Train Your Dragon” (2010) 

Only a year after “Avatar” hit theaters, I never thought another movie could provide a flight scene as spectacular as the one in that film, but then “How to Train Your Dragon” came out and completely knocked “Avatar” out of the park. This is an animated fantasy movie that revolves around a boy who’s teaching a pet dragon obedience, as well as learning how to fly him. Mid way through the film, we come to a scene when the boy masters his flying and shares it with another close friend. This is one of those cases where it’s all about the experience, and being submersed in a lot of atmosphere and visual beauty. When these characters go flying through the sky or through a cannon, you feel like your right there on the back of that dragon. The 3D flying sequences in this film are true spectacles, and the scenes themselves are just beautiful to look at. Not only is the cinematography breathtaking but the lighting is especially good, ranging from warm sun sets to cool nights full of glittering stars. Best of all, this is a moment where our two main human characters really connect to a monstrous animal that all the other characters have been terrified off. With such a warm connection made between the characters, it makes this flight feel all the more powerful, rather than just an impressive looking spectacle. “How to Train Your Dragon” is obviously one of my favorite movies of all time with lots of credible things to offer, and this flight scene alone might just be my favorite moment from any animated movie I’ve ever seen.  

“Discovering the Value of Human Life” from “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991) 

One of the stand out emotional moments for any film is when the hero makes a noble sacrifice by either giving up something personal or their own lives from something of great importance. There are lots of memorable ones, but the one that always sticks with me is the ending from “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” when Arnold Schwarzenegger’s terminator gives his life for the good of man kind’s future. In the beginning, the T-800 had only one mission in life, and that was to mercilessly assassinate anyone that was a threat to his future. Then in this land mark sequel, he not only becomes a hero, he also goes on a journey observing the human condition and discovers the value of life. His sacrifice at the end is a very human decision, and not a part of his programming. Plus, his good bye to his comrades is just perfect, it’s not overly poetic or syrupy, all it needs is that one moments when the terminator looks at his closest human friend and quietly says “I know now why you cry ... and is something that I cannot do”. The music is subtle, yet effective, the closing line carries lots of substance without being preachy, and it just leaves me with chills. When the credits start rolling, I’m always left in a little trance, like ... wow, what a powerful little ending to a great movie. 

“Merry Christmas George Bailey” from “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) 

Okay, who doesn’t watch this movie every year during the holiday season? Even though this is a movie that has very little to do with the holiday, it’s the message about the beauty of life that’s just so powerful and keeps bringing us back every year. This is the story of one man’s life and how it affects the life of others, which is already just as heartwarming, as it is influential and thought provoking. However, the moment that always sticks with me is the ending, when our hero accepts his life and all the beauty that comes with it. I think the best part of this ending that just ties it all together is when Georges brother gives him a toast and claims that he’s “The Luckiest Guy on Earth”. This statement is aimed at a man who never went on to fame, fortune and just had a quiet life with a terrific family. It further highlights how beautiful the little things are which everyone else takes for granted. It’s a moment that I try to capture so often in real life, to be surrounded by family, loved ones and to just take that second to respect how precious the gift of life really is.

“The Under Dog Rises” from “Rocky” (1976) 

This classic sports drama is the story of a small time Boxer who takes a shot at the heavy weight title. It’s a very simple story, even predictable, but it’s done so well, and is chalk full of terrific moments. The overall theme of the movie is rising up to the challenge, and building yourself up to accomplish the impossible. The moment that just sums that up in one unforgettable image is during the training montage when Rocky runs up the stairs of the Philadelphia art museum, turns to a rising sun and raises his hands up in triumph. Obviously it’s symbolic of his status, going from the top to the bottom, and every day you can see people in Philadelphia running up those same steps and raising their arms up in the air just to capture that same triumphant feeling that Rocky demonstrated to us. It’s one of those select moments that always springs into my subconscious whenever I accomplish something that seemed impossible. The song “Gonna Fly Now” is the perfect musical fit to go along with this moment, which could have easily been my favorite movie scene, had it not been for the next one.  

Before I reveal my #1 favorite, here are some Honorable Mentions –
“Together again in Death” from “Titanic” (1997)
·         “What we Leave Behind” from “Star Trek Generations” (1994)
·         “Last Cry for Freedom” from “Braveheart” (1995)
·         “The Story of Her Life” from “When Marnie Was There” (2015)
·         “There’s No Place Like Home” from “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)
·         “Perseus finds His Destiny” from “Clash of the Titans” (1981) 

“Taking a Leap of Faith” from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989) 

The Indiana Jones movies have always been about big action spectacles and no shortage of high stake adventure. However, at the close of the trilogy, we are given one select moment that’s so simple, yet so profound that it’s always stood out to me as arguably my all time favorite movie moment. While Indian’s father is dying after getting shot by a villain, our hero ventures through the dangerous catacombs to find the Holy Grail which will save his father. As he approaches his destination, he finds himself at the edge of a bottomless cannon with no visible way of getting across. With time running short, Indiana makes a daring leap of faith, and through his actions finds an invisible bridge that takes him safely to the other side. Not only is this scene beautifully shot and acted, but it’s always stood out to me as something with moral subtext. First off all, I think a lot of people can relate to this on either a spiritual or personal level. We’ve all had those moments in life when we encounter these invisible roads where we don’t know what direction we should take. It’s at moments like this when we just need to take one big brave step forward, and solely based on our collected faith that in the end ... we’ll arrive at that destination which first seemed impossible to reach. It’s a scene that’s inspired me, challenged me, and it’s always been my favorite select movie moment.

               The End

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