2016: The Defining Scenes

2016 was a very hit and miss year, but within it there were certainly some memorable moments. Although not a countdown list, these are what I feel are the scenes that defined this year, full as they are with big action, heartfelt emotion, belly laughs and in one or two sickening violence:

Batman V Superman

The Opening Scene

I know, I know. An actual scene from one of 2016s biggest disappointments is in my list (in fact two of them make the cut) but despite what flaws are present in all of Zack Snyder’s films it can’t be denied that he can be extremely effective in constructing beautiful action scenes. This one is a doozy. Dropping us into the events that closed off Man of Steel as we see the destruction from the viewpoint of Affleck’s Bruce Wayne. A ballsy opening, both a thrilling action scene and a clever retcon of a scene that originally resulted in large scale complaints. Audiences moaned that the ending of MoS was filled with too much carnage, against the very notion of Superman’s mantra. But in opening with a look at the real consequences of that event, and one that affects the entire film, BvS marked itself out as an almost post-modern blockbuster. One that directly referenced its own flaws within the film itself. A pity the rest of BvS became a sea of morbid greyness with barely a smile in sight.


The Car Chase

It was clear from this very first, manic and mental, scene that Deadpool was fully committed to its cause. Rife as it is with brutal violence, witty dialogue and Ryan Reynolds’ delightfully energetic performance, it grabs you by the ears and says follow me or fuck off. There is no middle ground. The cheaper budget than some of its bigger budgeted comic book movie brethren is evident at times but that only adds to its charm. One of the most purely enjoyable scenes of the year!

Captain America: Civil War

Airport Fight

I promise there will be other films apart from comic book ones in this list. But how can you not include possibly one of the finest action scenes in any comic book film to date! A breathlessly nimble and beautifully constructed sequence that feels like its stepped literally out of the pages of a graphic novel. Especially with the typical splash page style image of the two sides charging at each other. What works so well about it is that every character gets his/her moment. Whether that be Spidey’s delicious quips, Black Panther’s kick ass fight style or Ant-Man’s Giant reveal! It is a scene you just get lost in. I was close to putting the three-way fight from the end here, for its sheer emotional intensity, but this just trumps it with humour, wit and some of the best action choreography of the last few years. Infinity War has got some big shoes to fill.


First Glimpse of the Alien Egg

Let’s move away from all the action to something a little more cerebral. In its opening act Arrival has steadily and effectively built up the tension to the reveal of the Alien ships. Small glimpses on TV here and there, but it saves the full reveal for what is one of the most beautifully shot scenes in a film rife with them. Amy Adams’s linguist genius is bantering with Jeremy Renner’s sardonic engineer when she notices something on the horizon. Framed by a sea of encroaching cloud that almost looks like a tidal wave, a giant monochrome egg haunts the sky. It is an oddly captivating image, coupled with Johann Johannson’s ominous throbbing score. You feel uneasy and excited at the same time, probably akin to how you would feel in real life should such an event occur. A truly amazing scene.


Sing Street

The High School Dance

In a film that encapsulates true joy, this is the standout. The Sing Street band have been practising throughout for the big moment, but for lead singer Connor it represents to him the possibility of everything working itself out. The woman he pines for to fall in love with him, his warring parents to reunite and his browbeaten brother to become the man he dreams of being. It is all a pipe dream of course, life is not as simple as the films he idolises. One of the numerous great things about this film is how it balances potent themes with consummate ease. Connor envisages all this happiness in this phenomenal scene. Framed in the High School dances he loves, it is a dream sequence of pure joy and heart, wrapped up in one of the many terrifically catchy songs that permeate the film.

Hell or High Water

Motel Room Scene

Hell or High Water is chock full of memorable moments. The numerous bank robberies, the final breathless shoot-out or any scene featuring Jeff Bridges’s droll wizened Sheriff. Here in fact is one of his finest scenes. A quiet calm scene featuring him and his Mexican Deputy played by Gill Birmingham (the beating heart of the film), it portrays nothing more than two men holed up in a motel room whilst waiting for the titular bank robbers to show themselves. It is in the warm interplay and witty script by Taylor Sheridan that makes it sing. Bridges is quite frankly horribly racist to his darker skinned partner, but thanks to Birmingham’s tired and rich responses it never feels harsh. Only encapsulates the strong heartfelt bond between them, making the later scenes ever more powerful.

The scene isn’t available but here is another classic moment that showcases the films dry humour:

Batman V Superman

Batman Vs Warehouse Goons

I told you there was another scene that will feature. This one probably showcases the most full on brutal Batman fight in any of the films. Throughout the film Affleck’s Batman is markedly different in that he has embraced a more vicious angry side, never more present than in this breathtaking and finely choreographed fight scene. After the somewhat anticlimatic nature of the BvS fight, it is a welcome dose of hardcore action. Clearly inspired by the Arkham games it may be there is no denying the fierceness and intensity of it. The Batman films have always struggled in building up the level of fear that his character should instil in people but in this instance you feel the sheer ferocity of a man who has dedicated his life to fighting the scum of Gotham.

The Hateful Eight

Samuel L Jackson’s Monologue

Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight is full with phenomenally adept writing and character work. In fact it is very much action light overall, content as it is to build tension through the racial boundaries prevalent in its post-Civil War setting. None more noticeable than in this standout scene delivered with fiery menace by Sam Jackson. Shown through flashback we see how Jackson’s bounty hunter came into contact with Bruce Dern’s beloved son. Charged with potent reversals of the slavery movement it is brutal, punishing stuff and marks Jackson’s character out as truly Hateful! The fact we still love him is testament to his skill as a performer and QT’s rich dialogue. That it all culminates in the first instance of what is soon to be a very violent encounter between the Eight gives the scene a remarkable payoff.

10 Cloverfield Lane

The Dinner Table Scene

A surprising hit early this year, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a masterful genre exercise in tension and character work. John Goodman is especially brilliant as the unstable and potentially murderous conspiracy nut. You may say the last scenes are the most memorable with the leftfield but effective turn into sci-fi horror, and they are well judged and thrilling. But it is the material in the bunker that is rife with fear. None more so than this early scene of attempted domestic normality. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle pokes at Goodman’s irritable nature in order to steal his keys and get to expected salvation. The nervousness is palpable and culminates in a violent act of desperation. It is one of many terrific scenes in what is one of 2016s best.


One-Take Fight

It is tempting to select the final euphoric fight in Ryan Coogler’s soaring Creed as the highlight. Yes it is a triumphant crowd pleasing moment but it is a fight earlier in the film that truly encapsulates why this film works so well. Marrying the technologically astute with a classic comeback fight, it centres on one unbroken take. We enter as a roaring crowd eggs on the competitors and Coogler’s wandering camera flies in and out of the action in the ring and the reactions of the baying audience. It is dizzingly audacious but without calling attention to itself. A confident shot from a confident director. It makes the prospect of his Black Panther film all the more salivating.

Doctor Strange

Entering other Dimensions

Doctor Strange was very much a large gamble for Marvel, entering into a world of alternate dimensions and trippy visuals. It was very much a tough sell to an audience that predominately doesn’t like to be challenged. Thanks to stellar reviews, an on form Cumberbatch and a solid marketing campaign it has now become Marvel’s most successful origin film. The scene that best encapsulates the sheer ballsiness of Scott Derrickson’s film comes early on as Stephen Strange is thrust into numerous dimensions by Tilda Swinton’s terrifically drawn Ancient One. We witness some truly far out images of odd worlds, escher-like shots of hands made of hands, and probably the best use of 3D in a long while. You, and Strange, come out the end shaken, exhilarated and desperate to see more.

Jason Bourne

Athens Set-Piece

It was a somewhat unnecessary return for Bourne this year, the story and script lacking the immense thrills that the original trilogy contained, barring this drawn out and well structured set-piece. Hunted by Tommy Lee Jones’s CIA team, Bourne attempts to get him and Julia Stiles’s Nicky out of a city in the midst of a large scale riot. Paul Greengrass once again proves himself the master of kinetic highly charged action scenes. The camera is jittery but unlike the copycats in its wake the geography of the fights is always clear. The scene builds and builds as Vincent Cassel’s determined Asset hunts them down. Culminating in a not entirely shocking but still emotional death, it and the Vegas set carnage that closes the film gives Jason Bourne the honour of best action of the Summer movie season.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The entire third act

It is hard to say much as this film has only just opened and you need to experience this for yourself but suffice to say it is action on a scale we’ve never seen from the franchise before. A massive air, space and ground assault that is chock full of crowd pleasing moments. Heavily re-shot meaning a lot of what was seen in the trailers does not feature it is breathless, snappily edited and hugely emotional stuff. Plus there is a final Darth Vader moment of such awesomeness that it will instantly go down as one of his and the sagas best scenes. Go out and see this film now.

The Nice Guys

The Party

This extended sequence showcases everything that makes Shane Black’s The Nice Guys sing. Dynamic interplay from two playful central performances, insanely witty dialogue and a wonderful mix of comedy/drama. The party scene centres around the discovery of a brutalised body, resulting in a wonderfully OTT response from Ryan Gosling. You have the lovingly detailed set design that truly transports you back to the 70s that propels it. A highpoint for a film filled to the brim with pure unadulterated enjoyment.

A brief glimpse below of a scene you really need to see fully:

A Bigger Splash

Ralph Fiennes Dancing up a Storm

Passing by almost unnoticed back in the Spring was the hugely underrated A Bigger Splash. A vibrant Holiday novel of a film, rammed with beautiful locales, complex characters, charged erotica and a healthy dollop of unexpected violence. The highlight most definitely is Ralph Fiennes’s wickedly perverse music producer, who drops into the film like atomic bomb of audacious unpredictability. His key scene being a delightful dance scene, full of embarrassing moves and sheer happiness. In a year of political strife and general misery it is a vital scene, one to get you smiling from ear to ear.

The clip isn’t available so here’s a featurette with brief snippets of said scene.

X-Men: Apocalypse

Quicksilver Saves the Day

In amongst the cheesy costuming of the main villain, the lacklustre story and wonky effects of Bryan Singer’s disappointing X-Men: Apocalypse, one scene stood tall. After an attack from Oscar Issac’s Power Rangers dressed villain the familiar X-Mansion goes kablooey with all the students still inside. Helpfully or conveniently speedster Quicksilver arrives, and to the sound of Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (are made of me), rescues everyone in a series of stunningly rendered slo-mo shots. Taking 6 months to film it is a witty, wonderful scene, with its sheer exuberance providing a nice break from the rest of the films downbeatness.

A Monster Calls

The Second Story

This is a bit of a cheat as the film isn’t out until January, but after seeing it at the LFF earlier this year and being incredibly moved by it I had to include something from it. I wanted to go with the immensely emotional final scenes but rather than give the game away I’ll stick with a moment that comes midway through the film. In trying to help Connor with his grief, the magical tree that comes alive to see him, tells of three stories. The second of these finds Connor himself taking part. To tell you more would rob you of the scenes power but it is a raw and vital moment in conveying the anger and pain that Connor is feeling. The way it connects to the main story is hugely effective and edited together in a way that makes you gasp. I urge everyone to see this incredible and mournful ode to grief come January.


The Rock can sing!!

Disney had a banner year, with the potent messages of tolerance in Zootopia and the empowering story of the not-a-princess Moana, it was exciting to see. It is in the latter where one of their key scenes of the year is found. Stumbling upon the demi-god Maui, young Moana is then subject to a arrogant egocentric song delivered with adept skill by Dwayne Johnson. It helps that the music and lyrics from Lin-Manuel Miranda are hugely catchy, but the director team of Musker/Clements ably keep up with playful images of Maui’s tattoos becoming actual moving characters. It is one of many charming grace notes in a film that sadly did not capture pop culture as much as it should have done.


The Escape

Room is not an easy watch, but it is a rewarding one. Filled with moments of such clear eyed emotional power ably delivered by two of this years best performances. No scene is more effective than the escape of Jack (Jacob Tremblay) from the clutches of the nameless monster who has caged him and his mum for years. Pretending to be dead, it is wracked with tension as Jack almost misses his moment to flee. His shy, nervous, overwhelming reaction to the world he has never been introduced to before is incredibly upsetting. Culminating in the reunion of him and his mum it will be a stone cold human being who doesn’t find themselves dripping in tears.

I could go on forever, and there are certainly a few moments that I will have missed, but these are the key scenes that made 2016 a sterling year for film. Now not all of these will feature on my year end Best of, especially BvS, and there are also a few on my fave list that do not show up here, mainly because there are perhaps too many great scenes to just pick one (Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Captain Fantastic are two examples). Look for my Top 25 in the coming weeks!

Also if I had to pick one TV moment that defined 2016 it would be the opening sequence in the Game of Thrones season 6 finale. One of the most finely constructed, edited, acted and executed scenes in television history, and that says a lot after The Battle of the Bastards!

Raise a glass to 2016….

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