(Warning: Spoilers ahead)
Whether comedy or drama, films this year featured a barrage of memorable moments:
“Creed” (Warner Bros.)
When Apollo Creed’s son Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) finally gets in the ring for his first official fight — with Rocky in his corner, no less — it’s impossible not to cheer. It’s a tense, operatic sequence that would be exhilarating even if wasn’t filmed entirely in one take; an added bonus that makes it even more jaw-dropping.
After being held captive in a room for seven years, Ma (Brie Larson) hatches an escape plan involving her 5-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) feigning death. What ensues is perhaps the most riveting sequence of the year as Jack sees the outside world for the first time from the back of a pickup truck, then has to make a run for it and rely on the kindness of a stranger.
“Suffragette” (Focus Features)
The most moving scene occurs near the end of “Suffragette” when Carrie Mulligan’s Maud — almost defeated from incarceration, starvation diets and constant surveillance — goes to the factory where all these young women are treated like slaves and takes the daughter of her friend Violet Miller and marches her to safe harbor: the house of a rich compatriot (Romola Garai) who abandoned the cause and she takes the young woman in as a house maid.
“Brooklyn” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
One of the charms of this film is that few of its characters fall into neat categories of bad or good, nasty or nice. When Irish immigrant heroine Eilis accepts an invitation to dinner with her Italian beau’s family, the other young women teach her how to eat spaghetti, which she’s never had before. Eilis is hardly besties with them, but they lend a hand when she needs them.
“The Big Short” (Paramount)
Adam McKay’s agitprop opus is full of jaw-dropping moments (Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining securities!!??) but its heart is bared near the end, as Mark Baum (Steve Carell) sits on a Manhattan rooftop, pondering whether to finally sell his securities and cash in on the financial crisis. Instead of triumph, Baum’s face registers sadness, regret, resignation, even despair. He has met the enemy, and he is it.
The phrase “stop-motion animation sex scene” sounds like a joke (and may even conjure up images of “Team America: World Police”), but in the context of directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s melancholy meditation on love and loneliness, the intimate coupling between Michael (David Thewlis) and Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) represents an emotional high point.
“Inside Out” (Walt Disney Pixar)
Joy and Sadness aren’t just the main characters in Pixar’s latest ingeniously imaginative animated wonder, they’re the primary emotions the audience experiences watching the movie. And perhaps no scene represents director Pete Docter’s expert grasp of both feelings better than the moment when Bing Bong, a cat-elephant-dolphin hybrid made of cotton candy (he’s a little girl’s almost-forgotten imaginary friend, rambling around inside her mind), makes the ultimate sacrifice.
The first scene of Asif Kapadia’s breathtaking documentary on Amy Winehouse’s tragic short life is one of its most crushing: Amy, at the tender age of 14, before the drugs and alcohol and bulimia that would kill her, sings “Happy Birthday” to her best friend in that rich, contralto voice for which she would soon become famous. It’s a painful reminde of all that potential Winehouse had as both an artist and a woman, and how that enviable promise was cruelly snuffed out at the all-too-young age of 27.
“Straight Outta Compton” (Universal)
A preternaturally gifted studio maestro, a self-doubting yet charismatic amateur, a moment of inspiration, and history is made: Usually, when music biopics portray the act of creation as a sudden flash of inspiration, they’re leaving out all the unglamorous trial-and-error that lead there. But with the scene early in “Straight Outta Compton” where Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) coerces the wholly inexperienced Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) into the recording booth to cut the seminal track “Boyz-n-theHood,” the “Eureka!” moment is absolutely real, and F. Gary Gray captures all of the chaos, nervousness and giddy exhilaration that came with it.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” (Warner Bros.)
“Feels like hope,” says Nicholas Hoult as war boy Nux in George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” as the protagonists plan for the car chase that serves as the pic’s climax. “Car chase” seems too small a phrase to capture the breathless battle waged by Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy and a half-teenage, half-geriatric band of kickass females in “Fury Road’s” third act. That a feminist action pic is garnering such awards buzz feels like hope, indeed.
“Carol” (The Weinstein Co.)
In a love story told almost entirely through a series of gazes, the wordless final scene (spoiler alert) is a doozy: Two women lock eyes in a crowded public space, much as they did when they first met. But this time it is Therese, not Carol, who initiates the approach, and what passes between them is not just recognition or tentative interest, but a sublime mutual acceptance.
Sports stars aren’t always known for stealing scenes in romantic comedies (cameos in frat boy comedies starring the likes of Adam Sandler? Yes). But whether it was an impassioned reciting of “Gold Digger” to a devotion to “Downton Abbey,” NBA superstar LeBron James proved he had the comedic chops to be the sensitive, devoted wingman to Bill Hader’s sports surgeon in Amy Schumer’s summer hit “Trainwreck.”
“Spotlight” (Open Road Films)
A key scene comes when the journalists in “Spotlight” are sitting in the editor’s room discussing the fact that child abuse allegations had been brought to their attention five years earlier. As they go through clips Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery) says what the team realizes — that the metro editor at the time was Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton). There was no conspiracy to block investigations but they did slip through the cracks.
“The Martian” (20th Century Fox)
Among many memorable scenes there is the moment when Matt Damon’s Mark Watney has been told that his fellow crew members have not yet been informed that he’s alive. He starts cussing and Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the NASA officer, tells him to cut it out as his comments are going live worldwide. Without taking a breath, Watney continues cursing.