Some movies are remembered for their great performances or their great ideas. Some are best remembered as a completed a whole, a piece of art that doesn't quite come together until every frame has unspooled on screen. But more often than not it's the moments we remember most; those special, singular places in time where everything comes together on screen for a few brief seconds or minutes to create something so indelible, so perfect, you'll carry it with you for the rest of your life. In that moment you're on top of the world or at your lowest of lows. In that moment, if only for a moment, a filmmaker has done something which captures who you are, or what makes you laugh, what makes you feel, or what makes you think. 2009 had more than its share of those special, irreplaceable moments on film. These are the ones we'll remember most.
WARNING! Epic spoilers follow.
The Hangover | Alan's Wolf Pack
It's the last thing Alan, Phil, and Stu remember before waking up amongst the refuse of their lost night in Vegas. Alan stands there, possibly crazy but also a little bit sad. Alan always seems crazy and The Hangover is filled with genius, memorable moments in which Zach Galifianakis says the unthinkable. But there on the rooftop looking out over the lights of the strip, Alan's finest moment happens as he inducts his new friends into his one man Wolf Pack while slipping them enough drugs to make sure they have the time of their lives. Remember his immortal words: "Wait a second, could it be? And now I know for sure, I just added two more guys to my wolf pack. Four of us wolves, running around the desert together in Las Vegas, looking for strippers and cocaine." Strippers and cocaine? Who needs them when you're have a friend like Alan.
Join Alan's wolf pack. Watch him toast his friends below:
(500) Days Of Summer | You Make My Dreams Come True
Never has the male feeling of romantic conquest been captured better than it is in (500) Days of Summer. Tom has been desperately in love with Summer for months and last night they finally slept together. He shrugs on his worn clothes and walks out of her apartment, a grin on his face. He spots his reflection in a car window and sees not himself, but Han Solo giving him the seal of approval. Everyone he passes on the street seems to be ready to toss out a high five as the world gives him a knowing head nod and Tom breaks into a celebratory dance number surrounded by random passersby who join in because, of course, Tom is suddenly just that cool. The flowers are brighter, there's music in the air, and the birds are of the animated, blue variety with a love for choreographed dancing. It's a perfect moment of imagination, a moment built to explain a heart-bursting, happy feeling which really can't be explained any other way. For that one singular minute Tom's on top of the world and so are we.
You can watch the start of Tom's (500) Days of Summer dance sequence below. It's a carefully edited excerpt of the actual scene, with key moments missing. In particular the brilliant Han Solo reflection is gone, that's a surprise saved for the next time you watch (500) Days of Summer in its entirety.
Where the Wild Things Are | Snow Fort
For some unexplained reason, building a fort solves most childhood problems. It's just a fact. Frustrated? Pillow fort. Lonely? Couch cushion fort. Upset about your mother seeing someone new? Snow fort. For most directors, it would be enough to show Max building a snow fort. The audience, the adults, would think, hey, I remember doing that, but rather than present the fort as just another activity for children, Spike Jonze uses his camera to flawlessly show why the fort matters. The camera is lowered, aimed on Max's level. He's not just killing time, he's creating his own universe, one where he's bold enough to start wars with the older kids. Inside that fort, he's Alexander The Great, he's Genghis Khan, he's a Sherpa warrior fending off the elements and fighting off larger foes with wintry cannonballs. So, when it all comes crashing down, when the invading Barbarian teenager crushes through and tears stream down Max's face, we know more was destroyed than just a makeshift, childish shanty. Hope, safety, innocence, all shattered in broken icicles, but that's the great thing about children, they wake up the next day determined to build again. Maybe this time with a few ogres and a couple thousand trees.
Get a glimpse of Max's snow fort in the Where the Wild Things Are trailer embedded below. You'll see it at around the 1:33 mark.
Up | Life Is A Waltz
Life is a waltz. Carl and Ellie dance it together in the first few minutes of Pixar's Up. Their entire life unfolds on screen in only a few moments, without words. The music plays as two kids meet, and grow up. The waltz plays on as they fall in love, get married, and plan a life together. They stare at the clouds and dream of something bigger than themselves. They comfort each other through disappointments and setbacks. Ellie cries alone in the garden and Carl revitalizes her by planning an adventure. It's an adventure which never happens. The years pass and our couple grows old, still in love, still dancing life's waltz together. Carl wears tie after tie, they work day after day, growing grayer and grayer. At night they sit by the window and hold hands until Carl remembers their adventure. But he's too late, he's alone, and suddenly the waltz has ended. There's never a word spoken, but we know everything there is to know about Carl Frederickson, and we ache for him. That simple waltz is Up, it makes the movie more than a silly adventure between a cranky old man and some Asian kid and turns it into the culmination of a life, a dream, and an eternal love. It's ok to cry, the waltz plays on.
Watch part of Carl and Ellie's waltz together, below.
I Love You, Man | Jammin'
Dudes love other dudes. It's hard to admit sometimes how much a best dude friend means, how it's so hard to express such love without sacrificing your dudeness, how you wish you could go for a hug but know you should go for a high-five or handshake. I Love You, Man dealt with these issues by using two of the most likeable dudes in the business and great writing that really understands dudes and their relationships. And the jammin' scene, which had the boys rocking out to Rush, playing instruments, singing and adoring their womenless womb, encompasses not only the loving relationship between the two leads but also the reason why the movies works so well. Sometimes dudes just love each other, and it's not that kind of love (not that there's anything wrong with that). It's just love. It's love that allows you to be something you sometimes can't be with your wife or girlfriend. Add that to the fact that the scene gave birth to the classic "slappin' da bass" line that would come in the next scene, and you've got a formula for what makes this true "bromance" work. Dude.
See the aftermath of Peter and Syndey's jam session below:
Watchmen | The Times They Are A Changin'
Director Zack Snyder's talent for slow motion has never been put to better use than it is in the opening credits of Watchmen. As the haunting voice of Bob Dylan sings and invites us to "Come gather round people, wherever you roam" the movies credits float inside the history of the Watchmen's world. Each scene centers around the taking of a picture and we slide through time from one pivotal moment to the next, as in this alternate world superheroes become reality and slowly begin to change the course of history. Two genertions of superheroes rise and fall before our eyes, while the world spins out of control towards nuclear destruction. Wars are fought, and heroes grow old. It's all captured in pictures as Dylan keeps singing, "The times they are a changing." It's haunting and beautiful, and absolutely pivotal to understanding the movie that's to follow. It's a history lesson disguised as art, a knowing nod to fan's of the comic and Watchmen's finest moment.
Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen, and keep your eyes wide the chance won't come again. Here's Watchmen's awe-inspiring opening credits sequence:
Avatar | I See You
Avatar saves the best for last. The battle is over, Eywah has spoken, and all the humans have retreated. All, that is, but the ruthless and battle-scared Col. Miles Quartich, determined beyond the call of duty to kill Jake Sully. Loaded into the AMP suit that fortifies him with all the strength that human technology can offer, Quaritch makes his way to the remote lab trailer where Jake's crippled human body lays helpless. As Quartich prepares to shoot the trailer Neytiri, Jake's true love, bounds out of the forest astride the panther-like Thanator. Neytiri and the Thanator fight Quaritch long enough for Jake to arrive in his avatar body, and the true final battle begins. Human ambition and technology pitted against Na'vi skill, Quaritch's relentless adherence to higher command against Jake's realization that a culture beyond his own might be what truly matters. Thanks to Neytiri, Jake wins, but not without a cost—the avatar machinery keeping his human body alive is broken, and Jake struggles to breathe in the toxic Pandoran air as his avatar body goes unconscious. Neytiri leaps inside the trailer shouting "My Jake!" seeing for the first time the human form of the man she has fallen in love with. She saves his life by putting the oxygen mask on his face, and breathless, whispers to him "I see you." For the first time Jake seems to truly understand what the ancient Na'vi greeting means.
The best way to catch this scene is with a pair of 3D glasses in a movie theater. Until you get around to it, check out the trailer:
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans | His Soul's Still Dancing!
By the time addict cop Terrence McDonagh's plan starts to come together, he's shoved half of New Orleans up his nose and as a result, hallucinated more than a few iguanas. High out of his mind on every substance imaginable, McDonagh visits the home of his drug kingpin friend just as one of his former acquaintances comes calling. But collecting on debts isn't easy when the guy your collecting from has a shotgun under his desk and, a brutal gunfight soon follows. McDonagh grins wildly while his enemy lies dead at his feet, the life draining out of him. Through his perpetually worse drug addled haze he utters what is without a doubt the greatest line of the year to his shotgun wielding partners: "Shoot him again… his soul's still dancing." And you know what? It is. McDonagh's baked brain conjures up the image of the man's spirit breakdancing next to his own body (and an obligatory imaginary iguana) before they fire again, blasting what's left of him into oblivion and sending his spinning soul tumbling to the floor in a bedraggled heap.
Watch him dance. Bad Lieutenant's completely mad, utterly genius moment is embedded below:
Star Trek | George Kirk Takes Command
JJ Abrams revitalization of Star Trek begins not with familiar heroes headed off to adventure, but with a black hole in space and a spikey, metal monstrosity spat straight out of hell. In its path is a tiny vessel and a doomed crew. The ship is named Kelvin and her captain leaves to attempt a surrender. He's slaughtered, leaving only a young lieutenant named George Kirk in charge of the seemingly hopeless task of saving everyone's life. And as Kirk throws himself at the enemy, sacrificing his life to save that of the escaping crew, one of the most heart-wrenching moments of the year happens amidst fire and death and the cold harsh reality of space. Aboard one of the fleeing shuttles is George's wife, in labor with a son he'll never see or know. They comfort each other over the radio, she sweating and weeping in childbirth, he trying to stay strong as he rockets his ship towards its end, guns blazing, hull rocking as it's ripped to pieces by the unstoppable, bloodthirsty, spacefaring devil in front of him. The cries of his newborn son are the last thing George Kirk will ever hear and the name of "Jim Kirk" is the last thing he'll ever utter.
Unfortunately none of George Kirk's heroic last moment is available online yet. But you can watch the scene which lead to his captaincy, as the Kelvin's commander confronts the Romulan devils aboard their attacker, fails to negotiate a surrender, and sends George Kirk to his doom.
Zombieland | The Celebrity Cameo
In Zombieland, you have to make your own rules—cardio is important for outrunning the fast ones, as is the "double-tap" to make sure the beasts are really dead. But fun happens when there are no rules, and you can destroy an entire gift shop if you want, or raid the fridge at your favorite celebrity's house, because hey, they're dead anyway. When Tallahassee decides to visit the estate of the legendary Bill Murray, he figures that they'll find some snacks and some Ghostbusters memorabilia and call it a day. Of course, the house is gorgeous, and of course, there's an actual Peter Venkman Ghostbusters suit to play in. But upstairs something stirs, something with long hair and sallow skin and an unmistakable appetite for brains. While Wichita and Columbus bond over a Ghostbusters screening in the other room, Tallahassee and Little Rock are caught unawares by… holy shit, it's Zombie Bill Murray! Oh, but wait—it's Bill Murray just pretending to be a zombie so he can survive! And he wants to play Ghostbusters with you! The best cameo of 2009 ends in tragedy, as Murray sneaks up on Columbus in full zombie garb, and Columbus, well-trained by years of obsessive-compulsive tendencies and zombie survival tricks, shoots him straight in the chest. On his deathbed Murray admits that he regrets lending his voice to Garfield, and the gang has no choice but to dump Murray's body off the roof and move on. It's the only way to survive in Zombieland.
Relive the best cameo of the year below, with this clip of Bill Murray's awesomeness in Zombieland.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs | Flint Lockwood's Lab
Any time Flint Lockwood goes in his lab, magic happens. It's more than just a tower full of cardboard and leftover technology, it's a place where imagination rules, a place where coolness reigns supreme. In Flint's lab nerds are rock stars and painting pinstripes on your new machine is just as important as making sure everything is plugged in. But Flint's hideout is never more magical than it is during Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs opening credits, credits which proudly declare this “A Film By A Lot of People”. We've just been introduced to Flint as a little boy, starry eyed and full of dreams. And we've seen his town, a gray and flavorless place in need of hope. And then there's Flint, grown and ready to change all of that, untouched by his failures, unscarred by life's many disappointment. As he races around his brightly colored lab, it's as if he's in a battle to singlehandedly defeat god almighty, to push back the gray through sheer force of will. And as the movie's masterful score swells, even though Flint is utterly alone, it's as if the world around him holds his breath while he strikes a hero pose, uploads a cool computer voice, and prepares to bring forth the ultimate in technological achievement: The cheeseburger.
Watch the entire first six minutes of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, including Flint's first kickass lab scene below:
Paranormal Activity | Katie Dragged
Oren Peli's nightmare inducing Paranormal Activity has a number of profound moments, but there's one in particular that completely catches you of guard and is downright terrifying. It's night 20, October 7th, 2006. As usual, it's the middle of the night and Katie and Micah are fast asleep. While waiting for a light to flicker or a creepy shadow to lurk past the doorway, the unthinkable happens. Katie is hauled out of bed, crashes to the floor and desperately calls out to Micah as she's viciously dragged down the hallway. He flies out of bed, but just before he can get out of the room, the door is aggressively slammed in his face. Micah bursts out of the bedroom and runs down the hall while Katie continues to cry out the most blood-curdling scream of pure terror. Frustration builds as the two scream together and the camera, still sitting on its tripod in their bedroom, only gives you a glimpse of the action taking place in the shadowy corner of the house. Finally they make it back to the bedroom, but it's only once she's free of the demon's clutches, that the true horror of what has just happened really sets in. The situation has turned violent.
Determined to make sure audiences were surprised by what they saw on screen, almost nothing from Paranormal Activity was ever available online. So while we can't show you the actual scene, we can show you the trailer and, you'll get the vibe. Be afraid:
Moon | Accelerating Towards Earth
Who is Sam Bell? We never meet him. As Moon ends, someone else escapes the lunar surface. As the helium-3 launcher is spit out the space station, its thrusters accelerating it off screen, it heads for the home that Sam Bell's clone has never seen and prepares to meet the daughter that is not his own. He lets out a series of excited screams, brilliant colored lights flashing across and distorting his face, enjoying the freedom and excitement that none of his predecessors ever felt. On the moon's surface, one of the mining trucks destroys the signal jammer that has blocked all live satellite feeds, spitting pieces of the moon's surface behind it as the tower floats down slowly before crashing. The feed is back up and the clones have overcome Lunar's plans to keep them as slaves and Sam's clone will no longer be kept in isolation. We watch as the launcher flies past the camera towards a wide view of the Earth's crust, draped in clouds and atmosphere, and the audience begins to hear news broadcasts from around the world. He is referred to as the "clone of Sam Bell" or "Sam Bell's clone," never getting his own identity. Rising above the other broadcasts is the sound of an American radio host who says that the clone is either crazy or an illegal immigrant, before the screen turns to black. He may be back on Earth, but that doesn't mean he's not still isolated.
You can get a glimpse of the clone's ride down to Earth in the Moon trailer. It's just a second, starting around 1:49 embedded below:
Taken | Electrocution Torture
The victim wakes up tied to a chair. Retired Agent Bryan Mills explains that the great thing about living in France is not having to worry about the power cutting out. Mills is middle-aged, about as physically imposing as a retired baseball player. He rams nails into the man's kneecaps, puts a cloth in his mouth and asks for information. As an audience, we sympathize with Bryan Mills. Not because we love violence, not because we like to see a man beg for his life, but because Bryan Mills is a scared and broken father grasping at straws to find his daughter. He's not a hero, he's not an anti-hero; he's just a guy using what brutal skills he has acquired to get his baby girl back. He electrocutes the criminal. First for a few seconds, then for longer. The criminal breaks, tells Mills what he knows. He's electrocuted anyway. And we smile. Thus is the hold of Taken. We root for the main character to willingly torture another human being to death. And it's not from want of bloodshed. It's not to bask in a man's suffering. There's the 300's, the Ninja Assassin's to give us pleasure in misery. It's because the world would be a better place if we all had fathers who cared as much. So, crank up the power and walk away, Bryan. It's the vigilante punishment any good dad would dole out.
Inglourious Basterds | The Jew Hunter
More frightening than Darth Vader's terrible helmet is Hans Landa's smile. He's introduced to us during a visit to a farm house, in which he politely enters and asks for a glass of milk. Sitting across from the house's owner, a humble farmer, Landa talks amicably and with flourish, complimenting him on his family and way of life. As he sits there in his Nazi uniform, talking calmly and reasonably, the tension builds. Sweat pours down the farmers face as he looks suspiciously across the table at the man called The Jew Hunter. Landa seems not to have a care in the world as he enjoys his milk, but the truth is that he's measuring the man across from him and he already knows everything. When eventually he gets to the point, there's no doubt in the farmer's mind that it's all over. For his part Landa remains smiling and light, even as he orders the death of the Jews he knows are hiding right beneath his feet, below the floor boards. On the surface it's a simple scene: two men sitting at a table, one doing all the talking. But when Tarantino's brilliant dialogue is combined with Christoph Waltz's frighteningly amiable performance as Landa, it becomes one of the most intensely terrifying moments ever filmed.
Discover what humans are capable of once they abandon dignity. Watch an excerpt from Hans Landa's defining moment below:
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