A bit of a rarity the other night; I was watching a bit of telly and randomly channel surfed for a little while. Not a usual activity for me, normally I record specific shows I want to watch on my Sky+ or get my hands on a DVD box set, but I had been on the beeb’s interactive checking out some stuff and just lazily clicked around once I bored of the interactive.
Anyway, I came across ‘Children of Men’ in it’s closing 20 minutes on ITV. ‘Children of Men’ was one of those films I instantly fell in love with when I first watched it – I was blown away by some of the stunning cinematography in the movie and one scene in particular; the car chase in the woods, really made an impact on me.
So – here I am again, this time on my return trek across the Penines, blogging out my thoughts to make the crowded, horrible journey more bearable. letting my mind wander and think about ‘Children of Men’, which then got me thinking about ‘those’ scenes. You know the ones – those that leap out of the screen and burn their way onto your memory because of an iconic image, an awesome tracking shot, a powerful emotional reaction, or a big twist surprise. Here’s a list of my personal all time greats.
Note – I’ve sourced YouTube vids and popped them in, but 3G is a bit inconsistent on the train so I’ll check later on the laptop to ensure all has uploaded OK.
1. A Better Tomorrow – the restaurant shoot out
Most would probably refer to the famous tracking shot from Woo’s Hardboiled as the real stunner, but for me the one that really sits in my memory is the restaurant Shootout from A Better Tomorrow. Why? because it’s the original; the scene that launched a genre/cinematic style (Heroic bloodshed/Gun fu) and had a profound effect on a number of American directors, such as Quentin Tarantino, Roberto Rodriguez, and the Wachowski Brothers.
It was, in fact, reference to this film in particular (and The Killer) in a Quentin Tarantino interview around the time of Reservoir Dogs that drove me to check these movies out and my subsequent interest in Eastern cinema.
When I first saw this scene it really made an impression on me. Chow Yun Fat is one cool killer; one man, driven by revenge for his partner in crime, calmly dispatching his partner’s betrayers with a couple of 9mms and a long overcoat in that now legendary double pistol gunplay. It’s balletic and bombastic and I love it. I had never seen anything like it before and the first time I saw it is engrained firmly on my memory.
2. Children of Men – the burning car ambush in the woods
I was utterly blown away by this scene the very first time I saw it. It made such an impact I ranted and raved about this film to Big Al mostly on the basis of this tracking shot scene. (And the later one too.)
This scene is burnt into my memory as violently as the roadblock car is burnt in the scene itself.
The tracking shot was not only an ambitious act of cinematography (a bit of Director’s Directing) but the absolute right decision; this scene is truly scary, and I was right in the thick of it; entirely immersed as if I was in the car has the terrifying experience unfolds. My heart quikened, I became panic stricken & tense, and I was shocked & frightened as the motorcyclist kills Julianne Moore.
It’s rare that I feel so absorbed in a scene that I live it so vividly with the characters. That’s a great achievement for a filmmaker and a great viewing experience for me.
3. Saving Private Ryan – Omaha Beach landing
Say what you will about Saving Private Ryan (I know it’s considered over-rated, two dimensional and over-sentimental by some quarters) I defy anybody not to feel the full-force emotional impact of the opening Omaha Beach landing segment and not remember it forever.
From those first moments of tension on the landing craft to the sheer grab-you-by-the-ears-and-drag-you-through bombastic action it’s certainly a scene to remember. It’s chaotic, terrifying, bloody, brutal, and nauseating – a real triumph in memorable cinema that truly made a significant impact on me and I’ve never forgotten it since.
4. Reservoir Dogs – Stuck in the Middle With You
I loved this film when I first saw it. It was probably the film that transformed me into the ‘serious’ movie buff I am today and was part of my first steps away from the action/adventure movies I was mostly watching up to that point.
I saw Reservoir Dogs for the first time a couple of years after it’s initial release when I was maybe 15 or so (Films took forever to come to VHS in the UK at that time). Admittedly, at that age, I think I was mostly won over by the suits & shades style and the naughty banter but the film has really stood the test of time and a recent re-watch showed that this scene still has as much impact now as it did then – as brutal as it ever was.
I love the long, casual take of Mr Blonde sauntering out to his car to collect the gasoline, with Stealer’s Wheel disappearing into the distance as it plays in the warehouse. It really tells you something about the pathology of the character; the way he strolls outside, without second thought or remorse for the brutal act he has just committed, or regarding the even more brutal act he intends to commit. He cares little than someone may see him with a gun holstered at his side and blood spatter on his shirt; he knows that no one really gives a f**k nowadays, nobody wants to get involved.
The twist moment is beautifully executed as well – the audience is built up to expect a horrific burning but is delivered Mr Blonde’s death at the gun of Mr Orange; a moment of surprise that transforms into enlightenment as I realised there really is a ‘rat in the house’. Great stuff.
5. The Usual Suspects – when the leg straightens
This is another iconic moment on my list that there isn’t much I can say that hasn’t been said already. There is a reason why this has become such a legendary scene – because of the widely accepted impact it had on viewers such as myself.
I just think it was a creative twist that was so well guarded from the viewer until the moment the film wanted you to have that revelatory moment. There’s something brilliant about us sharing the realisation with inspector Kusan and the cinematic unfolding of the real truth behind Keyser Soze’s identity, culminating wonderfully with Kevin Spacey’s visual queues; the leg straightens, the hand flexes, the shoulders widen and the cigarette is lit with an assured confidence not seen in Verbal. It’s a genuine twist that even I, a shrewd and accomplished film viewer (I like to think!), didn’t see coming.
The reveal makes us question and reflect upon the story that has unfolded infront of us in a fabulous manner that gave the film such longevity for me as I ruminated on the impact of this new information and, of course, led to a short-term second viewing.
Simply marvellous film making and a hugely worthy addition to my list of all time big impact scenes.
6. The Lion King – the death of Mufasa
I am not ashamed, as a grown man, to admit that this moment was close to the saddest cinematic moment ever for me.
Disney movies have always been a guilty pleasure of mine and The Lion King is in my opinion the height of the Disney animated movies brand (I’m not including Pixar – that’s in a bracket all of it’s own). It’s got everything you’d want from an animated Disney movie – action, adventure, humour, scary villain, and great tunes.
This scene was one hell of a powerful movie moment. It’s the ‘Bambi’s Mum’ of my generation. The moment when Simba goes to his still, lifeless Father and snuggles under the limp paw cuts deep – I defy anyone not to blub at that heart-breaking sight.
7. Little Miss Sunshine – the routine’s debut
It’s rare that the comedy of a film would make me howl with laughter but Little Miss Sunshine succeeds in spades. I fell in love with the film immensely when I first saw it and it has illicited numerous re-watches over the years since it’s release.
The key laugh-out-loud moment; when Olive reveals her prepared routine, choreographed by her mischievous Grandfather as an inappropriate striptease, to the sledgehammer subtle soundtrack of ‘Superfreak’. After the calamitous events of the movie (TheFather’s business failing, the Uncle’s emotional turmoil, the Grandfather’s death, the Brother’s realisation that his dreams can never come true, and the Mother desperately trying to hold them together) the scene is a wonderfully cathartic experience for the character, and subsequently me, as we journey through the initial outrageous, stunned moment of a gasp into the release of the laughter – because, you know, no matter how bad it gets we can still find the simple pleasures from each other.
8. Serenity – I am a leaf on the wind, watch how I…*ugh*
I am a Browncoat. This film made me soooo happy it was scary unbelievable how excited i became about news of it’s release and was one of the rare instances when my expectation levels were met and satisfied entirely.
I didn’t like one thing though, from a sentimental perspective, and it was Wash’s death scene. It lives on with me as one of ‘those’ scenes because I was unimaginably emotionally invested in these characters and the death of any of them was going to be a significant viewing experience for me.
Joss Whedon is rarely one to bow to popular demand or convention, and played one of his favourite tricks upon the audience by showing that no one is protected if it has dramatic wealth for the story he wishes to tell and helps explore the humanity of his characters. He toyed with my expectations as a viewer because, following the earlier death of Shepherd Book, my guard was down and I did not expect further tradegy of that nature.
It’s such a suprising moment; his death occurs immediately after he skilfully flies the Serenity to safety and saves the lives of the entire crew. It blew my mind and will stay with me as a pure ‘mouth-wide-open’ cinematic experience.
9. The Empire Strikes Back – Luke, I am you father…
What can I say about this scene that hasn’t been already? If ever there was a movie moment to enter the cultural zeitgeist it’s this one – you’d be hard pressed to find anyone over the age of, say, 20, that couldn’t quote the epic line; “Luke, I am your Father”. Even my wife knew it and had never seen the original trilogy when we first started going out (I sorted that out quickly of course – she bloody loves Ewoks!)
The biggest crime of the new trilogy is that it steals the power of this scene away from the audience – any child today watching the saga episode 1 through 6 is going to be well aware that Luke’s Father is Darth Vader before this iconic moment arrives; I can’t image a sadder thing than children being deprived of the power of this scene – it’s the ultimate movie twist of all twists. Suffice to say – my daughter will be shown the original trilogy first!
Thanks for reading my list. There are so many other scenes I know I should write about but my train is rolling in to my stop (Finally!) so I’m going to stop at these 9. If I had a bit more time I would have included a scene from Goodfellas, The Matrix, Shaun of the Dead and Fight Club. See if you can guess which ones?
Also, let me know below about any of ‘those’ scenes that had an impact on you the way these had an impact on me.