And now we get the duel side. When I think of great movie moments, I think of the line from Barton Fink “Can you make us laugh? Can you make us cry? Can you make us want to jump out and sing?” and I think there’s a lot of that and more in the following movie scenes. And somehow even when I did claim in the Worst Moments list that bad movie moments feel like an eternity, I don’t find the opposite to be true in moments of pure ecstasy in movies for me: the duration remains as is, but something about the leftover bliss from the moment feels timeless and weightless to me.
Maybe I’m just a weirdo. Anyway, let’s move right along. Just to note, I kind of tried to avoid as many movies that are going to be in my top 150 of the decade as possible (and that this list could have easily been longer), but honestly… sometimes you just gotta give it up and walk away.
The Best Movie Moments of the 2010s
(And one again… SPOILERS! but this time for good movie moments)
First Flight – How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
You never forget your first, do you? Even with improved resources for each subsequent movie neither the franchise or Dreamworks Animation ever came back to the emotional heights of the breezy first half of this test flight or the adrenaline rush of that return to control where Toothless and Hiccup zip into the rocks cutting through the wind with us there alongside John Powell’s wonderfully sweeping score cue.
We’ll All Burn Together – Toy Story 3 (2010)
I don’t even know what to say about this moment and the way that this movie stands besides Up as the ultimate Pixar “make you fucking cry!” movie that hasn’t already been said. All I can note is that it was a tough call between this scene and the curtain call Andy gives each character when he gives the toys away and I think I responded a lot more to the way that this uses infernal imagery and a sense of hopelessness to deliver a moment where the characters still decide that they’re a family together at the end of it all and the miraculous deus ex machina that relieves us of that sense of doom at the moment where it is most unbearable. Is it much for the grand finale of what was (originally) a trilogy? I don’t think so. I think it turned Toy Story 3 into opera.
“I See the Light” – Tangled (2010)
Not the best SONG in Tangled, just the best scene and frankly the one that convinced me to play ball for a while with Walt Disney Animation Studios’ turn to CG animation before they betrayed me with shit like Big Hero 6 and Ralph Breaks the Internet. The way that the warm and complex lighting plays around with the 2D/3D balance without losing track of how it’s supposed to be the source of all the visual romance sold me hard on the potentials of Disney sticking to this practice.
Arms Around Me – The Artist (2011)
Not that Jean DuJardin didn’t give an excellent performance in this weirdly forgotten Best Picture winner (sure, Hazanavicius has went on to suck but I still dig this movie and the first OSS 117 film), but it’s amazing that the world watched Bérénice Bejo deliver a one-man-show of sensuality with just a jacket sleeve and her arms and eyes exploring around and we decided to give her nothing.
The Case – Super 8 (2011)
I don’t know if it was easy for you guys to lose track of the fact that Super 8‘s whole inciting incident is kids in midwest trying to make their own home movie but I spent most of the mostly fine monster movie (it’s the only J.J. Abrams picture that I think I’d rewatch on a whim, simply because I’m a sucker for even cod-Spielbergians) hoping to Hell we’ll get to see the final product. Thankfully during the credits, my wish was granted. And it has all the sort of genuine charm you’d expect from watching a bunch of kids trying to make some backyard genre picture with enough polish from being in a real production that it doesn’t feel like you’re condescending to your neighbor’s kid for the sake of their encouragement.
“The Star-Spangled Man” – Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Even in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies (of which the arrow scene and opening credits of Vol. 2 are a close second and third), I don’t think there was ever a moment in Marvel Cinematic Universe since this film that had me so firmly on its wavelength. The musical number by Alan Menken, the eagerness to indulge and parody old-timey wartime patriotism, to parody the concept of the superhero itself as just a concept used for propaganda, and just the fact the old photography look of the moment feels more distinct than the cod-realism that the rest of the Earth-bound MCU (including this movie’s sequels, sadly) felt chained to. It’s the single most playful moment in the whole brand and I wish more of it had moments like this.
Post-Coitus Clean-Up – Weekend (2011)
Sadly could not find the clip on YouTube (which probably has more than a little bit to do with how it’s immediately after a sex scene) but even for someone as prudish as I am who doesn’t care much for explicit sex on-screen (I expect the hangup’s the result of a pretty conservative Muslim upbringing, but on the bright side, it also means that Lubitsch and code-era screwball innuendos work WONDERS on me), there’s something wonderfully refreshing about a movie that is able to deliver a sex-positive sequence that also is candid about the fact that sex involves bodily fluids and sure, that’s gonna have to get cleaned up after we’ve all had fun. It’s one of many moments in this masterpiece (that I’m fearing is getting forgotten by everyone except the queer community) that mixes the erotic with the human.
“You’re gonna die… that’s what’s happening.” – The Grey (2011)
I’m not saying anything that anyone else in the world didn’t already know but The Grey gets a whole lot of its profundity from how soon Liam Neeson dived into a movie about mortality and accepting it after becoming a tragic widower in real life. Giving Neeson a moment where he has to watch a man die and talk him through the process in a way that is calming and serene is a hell of a thing to witness in that process, largely added by the yin-yang of the chilly threatening atmosphere of the entire movie and Neeson’s warm roast of a voice. I can’t imagine what went through his mind to do this scene, but the result is spiritually beautiful.
“Pony” – Magic Mike (2012)
Probably the most popular scene of the movie (I don’t know of anyone who discusses the movie at this point without mentioning the Ginuwine track), but it makes my list for a reason that I don’t think enough people mention: the back and forth with Cody Horn watching Channing Tatum show off his incredible dance moves, where Horn has the most neutral face you could possible have and thereby sort of acting as a continuous cleanse regarding our response to watching a sizzling striptease. Steven Soderbergh is always full of little experiments in cutting like this and the fact that he took a chance at doing so with his stripper movie is like Christmas in July for me. I think I saw this movie in July when it came out too…
“Let It Go” – Frozen (2013)
Yes, I get it. It’s overplayed by this point, especially if you’re the doomed parent of a child born around the year 2013 but… it works so fucking well. It is arguably the best song of either Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez’s career to begin with, containing the most evocative lyrics a Disney film has been blessed with since the master Howard Ashman died. It takes the fact that this movie is basically just Tangled on ice and rolls with that answer to blue lighting hard and it also has the most interesting character animation for Elsa (given that it’s the only time she does get to feel three-dimensional as a human with her own wants, weird for a crypto-antagonist but given the way the movie develops… this was the best way to be weird). It’s just all around big and wonderful in a way that earns your child screaming to play it over and over again like Ilsa from Hell.
“Caravan” – Whiplash (2014)
Try as hard as I might to pretend otherwise, my least favorite Damien Chazelle film has his single best sequence and keeps it at the very end so we’re stuck on the high of its existence (even La La Land tries to have its version of this sequence, but it gets closer to this height with the Freed Homage Finale or “Another Day of Sun” sequence). It’s the moment that Chazelle’s aesthetic finally breaks out of its limited shot scales and actively breaks away from the familiar rhythms in the cutting to turn this performance into a physically active piece of cinema, turning us all around the instrumentation, the notation, the sweats, even when the second half of this sequence (the drum solo itself) starts reverting back to the old ways. It’s an ambitious translation of camera movements and transitions to the untamable swing of jazz.
Prison Riot – The Raid 2 (2014)
Honestly, pick any fucking setpiece from either Raid movie. I was very close to going with either the car chase or the kitchen fight, but I think this won out for me simply on the brutal chaos of it all: listening to the sounds of people breaking apart and watching the carnage all get lost in the gray mud so that it’s just violent white noise – with the camera trying to catch everything at once and having to settle for “big moment” after “big moment” – not only ends up working as ambitious spectacle but also gives more credence towards the movie’s unexpected theme about how the fighting just becomes exhausting and unstoppable once it gets to a certain line. But also, fuck it, I’ll add the Kitchen Fight here so y’all can watch the bloody version of this type of “I’m tired of killing” moment.
The Story of Creation – Noah (2014)
The most I’ve ever been moved by a Darren Aronofsky film. It’s basically like if Guy Maddin had to adapt the universe sequence from The Tree of Life, delivering visual profundities with Russell Crowe’s grizzled narration at high speed chunks – that continuous slow motion kaleidoscope of death via silhouette particularly wows me – all for the sake of ending at the angry pessimism that this incarnation of Noah embodies after the movie tries to show us the wonders of the universe coming into birth. It’s the most complex and ambitious moment that Aronofsky has ever performed and I wish we’d see more of this side of his sloppy gung-ho style rather than mother!
“Diamonds” – Girlhood (2014)
Gorgeously rendered in cool blues, giving itself a visual arc from a single close-up to a four-shot medium, dancing around to feel as involved with this newfound sense of community as our young protagonist, and honestly this scene and the K Mart scene in American Honey convinced me for two years that Rihanna was the greatest ever (until I relistened to the involved songs without the visuals). Just as beautiful as spectacle as it as beautiful as empowering portrayal of found sisterhood. I would have never ever guessed that Céline Sciamma had it in her to outdo this movie but y’know what? We’ll get to that later.
Chase in the Chicago Skies – Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Here’s a thing about Jupiter Ascending that I really love: I think it’s the one movie where the Wachowskis actually found a way to mix between the overflowing fantasy and the mundane. And I think this is the moment that really visually indicates this, not just because it features basically an intense spaceship chase against some of the most loving photography regarding Chicago in the nighttime. It’s the selection of camera movements and refusal to retain one scale per shot – the way the z-axis exists, but our orientation to it is never the same because we have our two protagonists swinging at different angles while spinning around to avoid the alien assassins – that really sells that level of dedication to me: Jupiter Ascending‘s Chicago chase was basically trying to adapt the boundless of animation (or, be for fucking real, animé in particular knowing the Wachowskis’ tastes) to live-action photography and choreography, refusing to allow physics to constrain that (and why should they since it’s an effects-heavy spectacle?) It’s a brand-new vocabulary for action cinema that I didn’t see anywhere else this decade except (the animated) Incredibles 2 and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. I feel like it is a severe crime of mine that I didn’t see this movie in 3D given the physical sweep of this scene alone – I tried though, to the point of leaving the theater I originally bought tickets for and going to another one only to learn they had no 3D screenings that night either – but that’s nothing compared to the way you fools slept on this movie.
Dueling Rituals – The Wailing (2016)
Assaultive at a primal level, throwing us between fiery and loud blasts of sound and dancing to a deafeningly quiet and slow piece even before the actual aggression between the two enactors of these ritual begins and we start watching blood shed. It is truly understandable why any child who has to experience this would find it upsetting – possessed or not – and the fact that the movie uses cutting and noise to get us just as erratic and unnerved by it (to the point that her chilling screams are basically drowned out by everything else going on) crowns Na Hong-jin as a master of tension between three different scenes going on at once.
New Messages – Personal Shopper (2016)
Shamefully another scene that I can’t get off of YouTube, but suffice it to say that watching Kristen Stewart receive unknown texts from a ghost and try to make sense of it all gave me more tension than anything else. Just watching three dots bump up and waiting for the results got me holding my breath.
Triangle Land – World of Tomorrow: Episode 2 – The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts (2017)
The sequence I can say the least about as it is amongst one of the best surprises of a year that I otherwise really didn’t care much for. All I can say is that it was totally affecting in a way that I did not expect even a master like Don Hertzfeldt was capable of.
Helicopter Chase – Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)
Be for real, how the fuck was the scene where Tom Cruise pilots a fucking helicopter (and operates the helicopter’s cameras!!!) in the middle of a chase through mountainous terrain not going to fucking be on this list? What do you think, I’m clinically dead?!
The Birth of a Nation – BlacKkKlansman (2018)
Spike Lee is up there with Martin Scorsese as one of the great film students turned filmmakers and I think his knowledge of film history is frankly more present in his work than Scorsese’s movies. And yet I think the pinnacle of it all is where he utilizes one of the major innovations of D.W. Griffith – the cross-cut between two events – and alongside the help of Harry Belafonte’s long hardened delivery of an account regarding Jesse Washington’s horrifying lynching, indicts Griffith’s notorious The Birth of a Nation the first major narrative movie (at least for anybody who forgets Cabiria exists) for emboldening the sort of heinous violence that black people would suffer for the century and change since. And it’s such an angry and pointed usage of cinema as weapon against itself that I don’t just think it’s possibly the best scene of the decade, it may even be the best piece of film criticism of the decade.
“The Eagle Has Landed” – First Man (2018)/Apollo 11 (2019)
Shamefully the First Man version is the only one available on YouTube, but if you have an opportunity to see Apollo 11 (I think it’s on Hulu), I greatly encourage it (it’s also better than First Man). Side by side, these two scenes portray the exact same historical event as thrilling incidents from entirely different perspectives: First Man gives us that view inside of the shuttle hoping that we don’t crash as it begins shaking and vibrating and Justin Hurwitz’s score swells while Apollo 11 basically gives us the distance to watch this dot with hypnotic statistical rhythm for us to wait and see that we don’t witness some awful tragedy. And that’s just wild given that we know the outcome from the beginning, but I suppose making us hold our breath for moments that we already know will work is one of the best things to experience with documentaries or historical dramas.
“Pump Up the Jam” – Synonyms (2019)
Sadly yet another scene where I can’t find the clip on YouTube (which is a shame because I know I had it linked for my 2019 Wrap-Up list so I guess that was taken down now) but suffice it to say that it a brilliant utilization of how camera levels can take the same moment and make them blow up in a moment of ecstatic clarity. It’s like a jump in escalation without taking time to rise and the way that the sequence trusts to catch up the sudden dancing heads and arms after being brought to that height. It brought a big smile out of my face, I must say.
Vivaldi – Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
I feel like I’ve already given away the game by naming the composer, but the final extended shot of Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a moment that utilizes one of the most overplayed pieces of classical music around effectively as underscore for a dramatically devastating singular moment that only needs a zoom and one very dedicated bit of acting to leave us a wreck. Especially in the context of the film, so like… if you haven’t seen the movie yet, don’t watch this fucking clip. Go straight to Hulu and watch the whole fucking thing.
Cartagena Chase – Gemini Man (2019)
The single moment that convinced me that high frame rate was worth a damn and shamefully the YouTube clip can’t deliver it through 3D or 120 frames per second, but I like to hope that it still delivers enough of what made this sequence so present and threatening and zipping to earn this spot over the Fast Five cartoon safe chase scene or anything from John Wick 3: Parabellum.
“Macarena” – Richard Jewell (2019)
I get that Clint Eastwood has lost favor with critics, but I’m damned if I can see why. I think he’s shown capable of plenty of surprises and one of them is how human-oriented this concert scene – which again no YouTube clip available – before the tragic event is: surveying faces smiling, having a good time, to the rhythm of one of the most obnoxiously familiar songs of the 1990s. It’s relaxed and unhurried and a reminder of how many living stories were saved by the future actions of our protagonist.