Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Captain America: Civil War

Even at their most cohesive, movies are still collections of individual moments. And any movie, no matter how bad or forgettable, can achieve greatness for at least a few isolated minutes—with a particularly inspired conversation, an especially beautiful shot, or a set piece that transcends everything around it. That’s why, every year, The A.V. Club finds room not just to count down our favorite whole films but also to highlight the strongest standout, stand-alone scenes—some of them pulled from those aforementioned best movies of the year (which we’ll unveil later this month), others most definitely not. With the exception of our consensus choice for the best scene of the year, the list below unfolds in no particular order, though we did try to cluster the more climactic scenes at the bottom, to make it easier for those who haven’t seen the films in question to avoid reading about their (stellar) endings. Nevertheless, the annual warning stands: There will be spoilers.

Scene of the year

“Would that it were so simple,” Hail, Caesar!

In a year with no shortage of gut-wrenching movie moments, our annual poll found an unlikely winner in one of the purest comic set pieces of Joel and Ethan Coen’s career. The standout scene of the brothers’ semi-affectionate riff on 1950s Hollywood throws the brunt of their combined talent for writing and deadpan timing into a two-man vaudeville routine of words and manners, in which a sophisticated director (Ralph Fiennes) and a bumpkin-ish actor (Alden Ehrenreich) struggle to get through a single line of dialogue: “Would that it were so simple.” Part of what makes the sequence work is its restraint; it toes absurdity, farce, and passive-aggressive conflict, but never crosses a line, drawing more and more unexpected laughs from verbal and social confusion. The Coens have always had a great ear for speech; in Hail, Caesar!, as in elsewhere, they’re at their sharpest when skewering the things they love. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]


Opening credits, Deadpool

From the very first frames of Deadpool, the movie announces its intent to take nothing seriously. As with nearly every other aspect of 2016’s highest-grossing R-rated film, the opening credits are an exercise in sharing a collective joke with the audience. And it’s hard to beat this initial wink, in which the names of the stars and creators of the superhero film are replaced with titles befitting a cynical view of the industry. Hence, it’s “some douchebag’s film,” starring “God’s perfect idiot,” along with “a hot chick,” “a British villain,” and more—all brought to you by the writers (a.k.a. “the real heroes here”) and directed by “an overpaid tool.” All the while, the camera drifts through a freeze frame car accident, panning across screaming bad guys, flying detritus, and the pièce de résistance: a guy’s face smushed into Deadpool’s crotch. (Not to mention the loose copy of People’s “Sexiest Man Alive” issue containing star Ryan Reynolds’ face on the cover.) The film’s standard-issue origin story may not live up to the promise of this cinematic comic splash page, but the opening sets the tone for everything that follows—and all to the strains of “Angel Of The Morning.” [Alex McCown-Levy]


Mansion detour, American Honey

American Honey

The young magazine salespeople of Andrea Arnold’s American Honey lead the kind of lives that seem just one bad turn away from collapse, something Arnold reinforces throughout by depicting extremes of both poverty and privilege. One glimpse of the latter comes in the scene where her heroine Star (Sasha Lane) impulsively accepts a convertible ride from a trio of rich, middle-aged, cowboy-hatted men. Star accompanies them back to a mansion, where she jumps in a pool, flirts, and accepts drinking challenges that she hopes will end in sales. The hopes of the older men are a bit more opaque and, as such, menacing even as they laugh and smile. The scene buzzes with the nagging sense, frequent in Arnold’s work, that something terrible is about to happen, and indeed it does: Shia LaBeouf shows up. LaBeouf’s character wrecks the party before either Star or her hosts can, and soon he and Star are speeding away. It’s a perfect encapsulation of Star’s dangerous youth, careening from one potential disaster to another. [Jesse Hassenger]

Pat opens the door, Green Room

Taking place largely inside the eponymous wood-paneled room, Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room is a claustrophobic thriller in the tradition of John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13. It’s also—to use the vernacular of our heroes, traveling punk band The Ain’t Rights—totally fucking brutal, two qualities that come together when Pat (Anton Yelchin) and his bandmates, trapped at an isolated venue run by neo-Nazi skinheads, first confront venue owner Darcy (Patrick Stewart) from behind a locked door. Smooth, even-tempered Darcy talks a jittery Pat into opening the door and turning over the gun he and his bandmates confiscated from bouncer Big Justin (Eric Edelstein), only to betray their trust by having his henchmen attack Pat’s outstretched arm with knives. When a screaming Pat withdraws his hand, by now nearly detached from his arm, chaos breaks out in the room. Amid the melee, Amber (Imogen Poots), a bystander trapped with the band, grabs a box cutter from Big Justin and slices his belly like she’s gutting a fish. Shockingly sudden and sickeningly realistic, these dual acts of violence let the viewer know that few are getting out of this one alive. [Katie Rife]


“The Fools Who Dream,” La La Land

Damien Chazelle’s colorful, sweeping showbiz musical hits something of a lull in its middle half hour, once its two main characters’ dreams have temporarily been put on hold. But then there’s another pivot, and the movie’s boffo final 20 minutes begins when Emma Stone’s aspiring actress, Mia Dolan, goes to one last-ditch Hollywood audition. There, she sings her life in the form of the song “The Fools Who Dream,” performed in front of a stark backdrop, with minimal instrumentation. Stone’s quavery but full voice and her raw vulnerability are riveting and a reminder that for all of La La Land’s visual flash, its greatest strengths are Stone and Ryan Gosling, who put their wit and woes into every second of their screen time. [Noel Murray]


Fast-forward apocalypse, High-Rise


The setting of Ben Wheatley’s deranged satire is a skyscraping symbol: social hierarchy in architectural form, like the train from Snowpiercer flipped vertically. Per the J.G. Ballard novel it’s based on, High-Rise depicts the collapse of this microcosmic community, as class conflict boils over into total class warfare. But that’s where Wheatley gets really subversive, staging the building’s descent into anarchy and madness as a quick, almost casual montage. One minute civilization is firmly in place; the next it’s given way to a postapocalyptic new world order. Essentially fast-forwarding through the entire second act is a particularly discombobulating trick to play on the audience. Beyond that, it makes a scathing (and chillingly relevant) point: Societies can crumble so quickly that people just accept the rubble as their new reality. [A.A. Dowd]

“Moon Is Up,” A Bigger Splash

A Bigger Splash

The role of Gustave H. in The Grand Budapest Hotel seems to have awakened the dormant comic actor in Ralph Fiennes. He steals the scene (and our list) as a genteel verbal sparring partner in Hail, Caesar! and gives a radically different comic performance as the verbose and frequently naked record producer Harry in Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash. Having shown up uninvited at his rock star ex-girlfriend’s secret retreat, Harry always needs to be the center of attention—a personality flaw that Guadagnino’s zooming, dollying camera is more than happy to indulge. Cut from an uncountable number of angles, his monologue about the recording of the Voodoo Lounge deep cut “Moon Is Up” (reportedly fact-checked by the Rolling Stones themselves) captures the lure of someone else’s ego; he dominates and energizes the scene in equal measure. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

An unholy seduction, The Witch

While viewers glimpse The Witch’s titular evil early in Robert Eggers’ stunning debut feature, it’s not until the central family’s eldest son gets lost in the woods that we get a full, creeping view. Looking like a sexed-up Little Red Riding Hood, the witch emerges from a smoking hovel one languid, terrifying step at a time. It’s as much her sexuality as the likelihood that she signed the devil’s book that frightens the Puritan prepubescent, who’d earlier been sinfully peeping his sister’s bosom. When the beautiful she-devil leans down for a kiss, lesser films would resort to jump cuts or gore, yet the scene’s simplicity makes plain Caleb’s complex feelings: A kiss is what the poor horny kid most desires and fears—with good reason. [Laura Adamczyk]


Touring the multiverse, Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange

From the opening battle scene, when the Ancient One knocks buildings over with a wave of her hand, it’s clear that Doctor Strange is going to be the trippiest of the Marvel movies. But it isn’t until Strange’s introduction to the massive multiverse that we get as freaked out as the not-yet-good doctor. Still a disbeliever even as he’s traveled all the way to Kathmandu for a cure for his broken body, Strange scoffs at the Ancient One’s parlor tricks until she sticks her thumb on his third eye (forehead) and proceeds to blow his mind. Quickly leaving our universe, Strange embarks on a terrifying journey filled with arms, eyes, and multidimensional planes, inspired by the comic panels Steve Ditko produced, back in the actual psychedelic era. As Strange’s strangeness builds in freakier and freakier fashion, the sequence becomes not just a testament to CGI, or animation, or comics, but to imagination itself. [Gwen Ihnat]

An invitation to lunch, Manchester By The Sea

No sequence of physical torture in any of 2016’s horror movies could possibly be as harrowing to watch as Manchester’s excruciatingly polite chance meeting between divorced couple Lee (Casey Affleck) and Randi (Michelle Williams). By this point, late in the film, the tragedy that destroyed their marriage has been revealed; they’ve already spoken briefly on the phone—a conversation that’s completely civil, albeit awkward. And they’re friendly when they bump into each other on the street, too… until Randi tentatively asks Lee whether they can maybe get lunch together sometime. This simple request unleashes a torrent of crippling guilt on both sides, with Randi voicing years’ worth of pent-up remorse while Lee conducts a full-scale battle between his need to pacify her and his desperate desire to flee the area before she can speak another word. Affleck and Williams do heartbreaking justice to Kenneth Lonergan’s unsparing depiction of what broken people struggle to say, and to avoid hearing, when there truly are no words. [Mike D’Angelo]


The Commune watches Weekend Live, Don’t Think Twice

You needn’t have spent any time in the comedy scene of a major American metropolis to see yourself reflected in the improvisers of Don’t Think Twice. Mike Birbiglia’s sophomore directorial effort is about the agonies and ecstasies of any creative pursuit—it just so happens that these characters are in the pursuit of making people laugh while making shit up off the top of their heads. Still, there are moments sprinkled throughout where the comedic murderers’ row (Birbiglia, Keegan Michael-Key, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci, Chris Gethard, and Tami Sagher) at the film’s center pulls the curtain back on experiences specific to their artistic journey, none more effective than when the troupe gathers to watch Weekend Live, Don’t Think Twice’s not-at-all-veiled stand-in for a venerable variety show transmitted from New York City on Saturday evenings. Elsewhere, we see these characters as performers; here, they’re spectators, observing the people they could be. Or almost were: The backstory for Birbiglia’s character, Miles, includes a long-ago audition for Weekend Live, which he infamously botched. We’re watching him watch his unrealized dream, one that’s still achievable for characters contained within the very same frame. It’s a potent reminder that each character is part of a collective and on their own individual trajectory, a notion that’s echoed in group scenes throughout the movie—like the subsequent sequence in which the cast, minus one, gathers to watch the Commune member who’s crossed the threshold separating the couch and the TV screen. [Erik Adams]


III. The Dark Side, Lo And Behold, Reveries Of A Connected World

Lo And Behold, Reveries Of A Connected World

Neither of the two Werner Herzog documentaries released in theaters this year rank among the director’s best work, in part because they’re too scattered to achieve a cumulative power. Still, both Into The Inferno and Lo And Behold, Reveries Of A Connected World have fascinating episodes—including the latter’s standout chapter, an interview with the family of Nikki “Porsche Girl” Catsouras, whose parents and siblings were bombarded with gruesome, emailed photos of her fatal car crash. In a kind of moral callback to Grizzly Man, Herzog refuses to show the infamous pictures, or even any image of Nikki herself, reasoning that doing so would only spark ghoulish imaginations. But the director also blocks and shoots the bereaved—dressed in all black, as though just back from the funeral—in a way that magnifies their alienation, making them seem almost like ghosts of the happy people they maybe once were. It’s a disquieting collision of empathy and showmanship, and proof that Herzog can still provoke, at least for a few minutes per film. [A.A. Dowd]

Kai Tak cruise terminal, Kill Zone 2

Kill Zone 2

Soi Cheang’s convoluted, operatic martial-arts crime fairy tale choreographs hand-to-hand combat with theatrical pizzazz in cavernous prisons and monochrome penthouses. Its most riveting set piece, however, is a shoot-out—a police bust gone wrong at a futuristic cruise ship terminal in Hong Kong’s Kowloon Bay. A former protégé of the great Johnnie To, Cheang deploys every camera movement imaginable as the violence spills out the terminal’s passenger lobby and down its escalators and glass corridors, but he never loses control of perspective. Splitting the difference between Michael Mann and Brian De Palma, it’s a sequence that could teach any number of big-budget Hollywood movies a thing or four about action filmmaking. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

“Sabotage,” Star Trek Beyond

The current Star Trek film series has maintained an uneasy relationship with hardcore Trekkers; some of them resent the flash, fast pace, and self-consciousness of the Enterprise that J.J. Abrams built. This makes a crucial action scene in Justin Lin’s Star Trek Beyond especially cheeky, and satisfying. It’s built on a callback to Abrams’ use of “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys in the 2009 Star Trek, where it soundtracked the antics of a preteen Kirk (itself a possible in-joke about William Shatner’s odd pronunciation of the titular word). In Beyond, Kirk and company use that same song—found in the music library of the alien Jayla, who has previously testified to her love of “beats and shouting”—to blast out a frequency that destroys a marauding fleet of drone ships. It’s the best side of this poppier Trek: playful, exhilarating, and in its own way, pretty geeky. What “Sabotage” fan hasn’t wanted to see a perfectly timed series of explosions set to the Beasties’ famous “WAAAAAHHHHH”? [Jesse Hassenger]


Menstruation conversation, 20th Century Women

20th Century Women

Everyone say it together now: “menstruation.” In Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women that word—referring to that oft-experienced yet rarely spoken of bodily function—gets a hefty workout during one of the movie’s funniest scenes. At a dinner party thrown by Dorothea (Annette Bening), her punk-rock boarder Abbie (Greta Gerwig), who happens to be menstruating at the time, encourages the men at the table to discuss vaginal bleeding. But while the male discomfort is amusing, the moment also slyly illuminates the central female characters’ generational divides and how the years between them alter their approaches to their femininity and feminism. All the reactions are forcefully, viciously honest, as any good discussion of menstruation should be. [Esther Zuckerman]

George Michael, Keanu

Keanu is by no stretch a great movie, but its two leads—Key and Peele—give hilarious performances as nerdy dudes pretending to be murderous gangstas. A scene featuring a deranged Anna Faris playing herself got most of the attention, but it’s cross-cut with an even funnier moment: Keegan-Michael Key sitting in his minivan with some hardcore killers, trying—successfully, as it turns out—to convince them that George Michael is truly “O.G.” It’s the sort of sublimely ridiculous moment that makes you wish these guys hadn’t needed to expend their brainpower on coming up with a story for Keanu, which suffers when it tries to further its own silly plot but glimmers when it just lets its stars get silly. [Josh Modell]


Cujo on steroids, Don’t Breathe

For a movie whose villain is a blind old man, Don’t Breathe sure knows how to stack the odds against its hapless heroes; every passing minute seems to bring an insurmountable new obstacle. The most intense of these trials occurs right around the time that the danger seems finally to be dissipating, as desperate burglar Rocky (Jane Levy) manages to actually escape the house of horrors she unwisely invaded, even taunting her sightless opponent from the street—only to realize that his vicious guard dog isn’t so sightless (or “useless,” in her words) on the outside. The subsequent set piece, in which Rocky fends off the vicious canine from inside a car, is pure, white-knuckle adrenaline—and in its constant leaps from frying pan to fire, a fine microcosm for this whole insanely intense thriller. [A.A. Dowd]


A meeting with Dean Caudwell, Indignation


Running an uninterrupted 16 minutes, Indignation’s fiery centerpiece pits self-righteous college freshman Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) against the school’s condescending dean (Tracy Letts) in a knock-down-drag-out battle of wills, 1950s academia style. Ostensibly, Dean Caudwell wants to inquire about Marcus’ recent decision to switch dorm rooms—an act that, to the dean’s mind, suggests possible socialization problems. Before long, however, Caudwell is not so subtly insinuating that Marcus is ashamed of being Jewish, to which Marcus responds with an angry précis of Bertrand Russell’s famous essay “Why I Am Not A Christian.” Adapting Philip Roth’s 2008 novel, writer-director James Schamus boldly opts to dramatize this lengthy, exhausting debate more or less as the author wrote it, trusting Lerman and Letts to charge superficially polite discourse with the mutual contempt these two men feel for each other. Both actors deliver, demonstrating the violence that can be accomplished even within the bounds of that era’s comparative decorum. [Mike D’Angelo]

Swimming pool bombing, Mechanic: Resurrection

There’s absolutely nothing in the plot, performances, or dialogue of the not-that-long-awaited The Mechanic sequel that merits a full watch, but the movie does contain about three or four genuinely eye-popping action sequences—including the one touted on its poster. When Jason Statham’s super-stealthy killer-for-hire Arthur Bishop is forced to take out an Australian gangster, he climbs up the side of a skyscraper and slaps explosives onto the underside of his target’s glass-bottomed penthouse infinity pool, causing the base to crack and flush its owner out onto the sidewalk many, many stories below. The whole sequence is action cinema at its purest, with almost no dialogue, and an inevitable outcome set up and executed in a way that still inspires chuckles of delight. [Noel Murray]


A tough talk, Moonlight

For all of its wordless passages and lyrical beach imagery, the most potent scenes in Moonlight are one-on-one, face-to-face conversations, simple in execution but complex in unspoken turmoil. Nearly every one of these received a vote in this poll, but if we had to pick one to represent the film, it would be the dining room table scene that closes the first part of Barry Jenkins’ ambitious triptych of conflicted masculinity. Although the painfully repressed Chiron is the central character of the film, the emotional burden of its powerful opening act rests on the fatherly drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali). The scene is minimalist in conception, with the young Chiron asking Juan a handful of questions, which the man answers as carefully and honestly as any loving surrogate parent could, even as he wrestles with the inner conflict that defines Ali’s revelatory and humane performance. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]


The airport brawl, Captain America: Civil War

As much as the filmmakers behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe might play up the differences between individual movies, Captain America: Civil War often favors in-universe consistency over genre playfulness. There are some drawbacks to this approach, but on the plus side, the movie’s showpiece multi-superhero brawl is perhaps the most purely delightful translation of comic-book action to the big screen ever—a cooperative crossover marvel, as it were. A bunch of half-CG heroes running at each other on an airport tarmac could have been uninspired (see Batman V Superman for plenty of examples of how). But directors Joe and Anthony Russo layer all those powers, personalities, and quips until they’ve created a barrage of frenzied playground comic-book fantasizing: What if Spider-Man tried to capture Captain America and then Cap’s best friends Bucky and Falcon fought Spider-Man and then Black Widow fought Ant-Man and then Ant-Man turned into Giant Man and Black Widow changed sides, and on and on, for 15 giddy minutes. [Jesse Hassenger]


First contact, Arrival


Even if you’ve thought about what you’d say if you were to encounter an alien, chances are you haven’t thought about how fundamentally disorienting the experience would actually be. Director Denis Villeneuve has, though, and he demonstrates as much early in Arrival. As dumbstruck as everyone else by the sleek, dish-shaped black ships that spontaneously appear one morning in 12 locations across the globe, linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is recruited for a top-secret government mission to communicate with the pilots. The scene where she first ventures up into the ship combines chilly, Kubrick-esque composition and heart-pounding suspense, set to the soundtrack of Louise’s ragged breathing as she struggles not to pass out inside of her hazmat suit. Villeneuve further disorients the viewer by throwing off the gravity in the entrance to the ship, ensuring that, by the time Louise and her colleagues have floated up through the black corridor into a brightly lit chamber where the seven-limbed Heptapods receive their visitors—a journey not unlike a near-death experience—the audience is short of breath as well. [Katie Rife]

The distraught boxer, Cameraperson

The paradox of Cameraperson is that almost all of its countless terrific scenes were deliberately excised from other movies. Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson assembled her essay-doc collage from outtakes of more than a dozen documentaries she worked on, and she’s saved some incredible shots, interviews, and encounters from the cutting-room floor. One of the most enthralling is a deleted scene from the recent Cradle Of Champions, about boxers training for the Golden Gloves tournament in New York. Filming the end of a match won by decision, Johnson finds herself serendipitously in the warpath of the distraught loser, who she follows backstage and then out again into the crowd, as he rages aloud against the outcome, before his mother reminds him how many people are watching. It’s an involving one-scene drama, made even more involving—as a good deal of the film is—by the detectable emotion of the woman ducking and weaving behind the camera. [A.A. Dowd]


A meeting with King Louie, The Jungle Book

The greatest strength of Disney’s live-action remake of its animated semi-classic The Jungle Book is its top-shelf celebrity voice talent, with skilled entertainers like Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, and Garry Shandling popping up for a memorable scene or two (alongside the likes of Bill Murray, Idris Elba, and Ben Kingsley). The best of the guest voices belongs to Christopher Walken, who plays the giant ape King Louie in a sequence that director Jon Favreau and screenwriter Justin Marks purposefully designed as an homage to Marlon Brando’s mad Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. Speaking in a mutter and seen mostly in shadow, Louie tries to coerce the “man cub” Mowgli into giving up the secret of how to make fire. The meeting in Louie’s ancient temple is at once funny, awe-inspiring, and more than a little scary, haunted by the question of what happens when a powerful, unhinged, orange-haired monster doesn’t get what he wants. [Noel Murray]


Whitney Schnuck, Toni Erdmann

Toni Erdmann

Maren Ade’s sublime third feature doesn’t open until Christmas Day, so those who want to experience one of its most unexpected moments tabula rasa should skip to the next entry for now. At the film’s Cannes premiere, spontaneous applause broke out when tightly wound corporate consultant Ines (Sandra Hüller) gets ambushed by her obnoxiously fun-loving father (Peter Simonischek) into performing an impromptu rendition of Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love Of All” for a house full of strangers. The choice of song, contrasting so starkly with Ines’ repressed personality, prompts initial laughs; what makes the performance truly memorable, though, is the way that Ines gradually gives in to its schmaltzy power. What starts out as a dutiful dirge becomes something closer to a cry for help, and Hüller’s less-than-remarkable singing voice, combined with her willingness to go for broke, is at once hilarious and inspiring. [Mike D’Angelo]

“Once, I was a fucking jet engine,” Sing Street

The latest in a string of feel-good, beat-the-odds music movies from writer-director John Carney (Once, Begin Again), Sing Street tells the relatively upbeat tale of a boy’s first foray into music. But it’s a scene filled with unfettered anger that lingers the longest, as the hero’s cool but shiftless older brother (Jack Reynor) delivers a heart-to-heart monologue about how he paved the way for his younger brother to succeed. The combination of regret, resentment, and pride is perfect, as is Reynor’s ability to carefully build to the climax, his face reddening with each assertion until he concludes, “Once, I was a fucking jet engine!” [Becca James]


Fatherly wisdom, Morris From America

Craig Robinson’s widowed dad/soccer coach Curtis Gentry is the man responsible for bringing Morris (Markees Christmas) to Germany, and then mostly leaving his son to fend for himself. At the end of the film, after Morris has snuck off with some local kids and gotten stranded in another part of the country, Curtis rescues him, and then gives a little speech, which in a fair world would earn Robinson multiple major awards nominations. He talks about his own experiences in Munich and Frankfort with Morris’ late mother when they were first falling in love, and he attempts to explain how he’s trying to enable his son to have his own independent life experiences that will make him a well-rounded person. The mix of hope and anguish in Curtis’ voice is something any parent can recognize—and leaves just about any dad who watches this movie sniffling. [Noel Murray]


Unexpected farewell, Certain Women

Certain Women

Much remains unsaid throughout Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, but the space between the words is never as poignant as it is during the climactic confrontation between ranch hand Jamie (Lily Gladstone) and Kristen Stewart’s Elizabeth, a lawyer who immediately regrets taking a gig teaching school law in the tiny Montana town of Belfry. Over the course of several weeks, Elizabeth and Jamie—who has no interest in education and wandered into Elizabeth’s class out of sheer malaise—develop a tenuous bond, forged over diner food and Elizabeth’s complaints about her four-hour commute. But when Elizabeth (understandably) stops showing up to class, Jamie, who spends most of her time in the company of animals, is heartbroken. So the cowgirl makes the trek to go find her, and is waiting when Elizabeth shows up for her day job in Livingston. Neither woman has much to say—if Jamie has romantic feelings toward her friend, she doesn’t have the language to express them—but the awkward silence says a lot about their wildly different ideas about what this brief connection meant to both of these profoundly lonely people. [Katie Rife]

The final broadcast, Christine and Kate Plays Christine

It’s pure coincidence that Robert Greene’s experimental documentary Kate Plays Christine and Antonio Campos’ immersive character sketch Christine arrived around the same time this year, both digging into the half-remembered 1974 on-air suicide of Sarasota local news reporter Christine Chubbuck. It’s also irresistible (if unfair) to compare the two, especially when it comes to how each handles the death itself. Campos stages it as a nerve-wracking suspense sequence, using frames within frames and jarring insert shots to build the tension of the moment. Greene plays it as a meta-commentary on whether it’s ethical to recreate such a terrible incident in the first place. Both versions are equally cinematic and emotional—and downright masterful—even though one is a sharp critique of the other. [Noel Murray]


The ending, The Lobster

The Lobster

Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster hinges on a cynical paradox: that romantic love is both mandatory and little more than people clinging to surface-level, commonly held traits. So when protagonist David (Colin Farrell) discovers that his beloved, the Nearsighted Woman, has been blinded—thus depriving them of their shared astigmatism—he becomes desperate to reestablish their superficial bond. Leaving the woman sitting at a diner table, David takes a steak knife into the restaurant’s bathroom, intending to maim himself to make them “compatible” again. David is still hesitating, knife held to his own eye, when the movie leaves him behind. Instead, Lanthimos’ camera lingers on Rachel Weisz’s face, heart on the verge of breaking, as she calmly waits for her lover to return—or not. [William Hughes]

The epilogue, Hell Or High Water

The Texas cops-and-robbers saga Hell Or High Water ends not with the bang of pistols, but the crackle of tensely polite conversation, a potential for violence hanging heavily in the air. Having put nearly all the pieces together, ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) arrives at the ranch of surviving outlaw Toby Howard (Chris Pine). The cat-and-mouse game the two have played over the course of the film has ended with casualties on both sides, and the lawman has come looking for an explanation, for accountability, for some kind of closure. Both men have guns, but it’s screenwriter Taylor Sheridan’s dialogue that’s truly loaded. He brings these weary characters to a mutual understanding, while still preserving the possibility of a bloody showdown—here in the moment or in the great unknown after one cowboy has walked into the sunset, the other has stood his ground, and the house lights have come back up. [A.A. Dowd]


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