Bronx-born con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) receives a microwave oven from his new pal, Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). Rosenfeld warns his wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), that this is a “science oven” and nothing metallic should be placed inside. But impulsive Rosalyn sees no reason that she should follow said rules and puts an aluminium tray in the device. After the ensuing fire, she defends herself, saying it was a good thing she tested it because the oven could’ve burned down the house and her husband had no business bringing the “science oven” into their home.
— Shalini Dore
August: Osage County
It’s hard to beat the scene in John Wells’ filmic adaptation of the Tracy Letts play where Barbara Weston (Julia Roberts) spews arguably the best line of the year: “Eat the fish, bitch!” But that’s nothing compared to the explosive dinner fight where, after the ailing Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) antagonizes every person at the somber dinner table, Barbara has had enough. What follows is the hilarious, yet horrifying visual of Roberts strangling Streep. Hollywood has truly seen it all.
— Alex Stedman
In a movie riddled with tightly wound diatribes, its 17-minute al fresco lunch scene is a smorgasbord of rich dialogue between relatable characters newly introduced to the usual two-person show. Aside from informing an audience unfamiliar with the movie’s prequels about the protagonists’ (Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke) backstory, the scene encapsulates the entire franchise’s underlying theme in a single monologue. After the gang discusses virtual intercourse and the oxymoron of “never-ending love,” Natalia, a longtime friend of their host, says, “We are so important to some, but we are just passing through.” Cut to the couple passing through Greek ruins.
— Maane Khatchatourian
Capt. Richard Phillips tries and fails to hold it together as he’s inspected by a naval corpsman following his rescue. Stripping away the false bravado that attends so many heroic Hollywood portraits of American masculinity, this breakdown may be the most wrenching moment of Tom Hanks’ career, bringing Phillips’ harrowing experience, and ours, to a cathartic close.
— Justin Chang
Dallas Buyers Club
Just because the Kubler-Ross model puts acceptance last doesn’t mean that this stage has to come calmly. Matthew McConaughey’s lowlife hustler Ron Woodroof might not think he’s the type of guy to get HIV. But there in a cold, impersonal library, cursing loudly and alone among the Microfiche and harsh lighting, he realizes his fate is sealed and he must fight if he wants to survive.
— Whitney Friedlander
Queen Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel), raised to fear and hide her power to turn anything into ice and snow, has her terrible secret exposed and flees to the high mountains surrounding her kingdom where she launches into her signature song, “Let It Go.” Menzel, at first introspective and tentative, turns the song into Elsa’s liberation anthem, as she embraces her powers and builds an ice castle — a swirling, blue-tinged luxe world where Elsa literally lets her hair down, revealing in soaring song that she is a new woman who won’t be controlled by her old fears with the emboldening line: “The cold never bothered me anyway.”
— Carole Horst
Just as Sandra Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone has given up hope and is ready to die alone in her spaceship, a figure knocks on the door of the vessel. In comes George Clooney’s Matt Kowalski cheerfully talking of beating a previous record for space walks, looking for a bottle of booze and urging her to get started to Earth. It’s the push she needs to go home.
— Shalini Dore
While the ultra-explicit coitus of “Blue Is the Warmest Color” and “Nymphomaniac” may have dominated the headlines, Spike Jonze’s “Her” staged 2013’s most intimate and affecting sex scene over a black screen. After days spent dancing around their growing immaterial attraction, depressed writer Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and his sentient operating system Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) finally consummate their relationship in a sequence that, like their romance in general, leaves everything to the imagination.
— Andrew Barker
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Sisyphean struggle for recognition that lies at the heart of the Coen brothers’ film culminates in the morning hours of a dark, cavernous club in Chicago, where the title character (Oscar Isaac) rehearses for Budd Grossman (recalling Dylan’s gruff manager Albert Grossman), played by F. Murray Abraham. Sealing his hapless fate, Davis chooses to play “Queen Jane,” about a royal who dies while giving birth. Sensing Grossman’s indifference, Davis defiantly sings the last verse without guitar accompaniment. “I don’t see a lot of money here,” Grossman says impassively after a beat. And Davis’ career, like poor Queen Jane, “lay cold as a stone.”
— Steve Chagollan
The Operation Red Wings team runs into trouble after surprising a trio of goat herds. Tying up the Afghans, team members discuss their options: Let the Afghans go, kill them or keep them tied up until the mission is completed. While their action is a turning point for the whole movie, Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) says, “How will this play on CNN?” Killing an old man and two boys will not look good, he says. To which his buddy points out that it’s better than having their heads paraded on Al Jazeera.
— Shalini Dore
Understanding where your family comes from is one thing. Learning about your ancestors while standing on top of their graves is another. June Squibb’s frank, possibly biased, (but probably honest) rundown of these souls to her son David (Will Forte) in “Nebraska” proves that some secrets are meant to stay buried.
— Whitney Friedlander
Saving Mr. Banks
There are so many great moments in “Saving Mr. Banks” — the exuberant joy of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” being sung, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) wrestling with a Mickey Mouse doll — but when the usually frosty Travers tears up viewing “Mary Poppins,” she’s not the only one having an emotional catharsis.
— Jenelle Riley
12 Years a Slave
Solomon Northup’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor) sleepless night is interrupted by sadistic slave owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender): “We dance tonight, get up!” As the bewildered slaves dance, Epps’ eyes alight on Patsey, the slave he loves to rape, inciting his scorned wife to hurl a crystal decanter at Patsey’s face, scarring her. She demands Patsey be sold, but Patsey’s too good at picking cotton to sell. Epps’ power is absolute; all others are trapped in torment.
— David S. Cohen
The Wolf of Wall Street
In a three-hour movie that’s an hour too long and where endless scenes of debauchery unfold to the point of banality, there is one stand-out scene, punctuated by stunning visual effects, that leaves you on the edge of your seat: when Jordan Belfort’s yacht, also carrying his wife and two close friends, capsizes off the coast of Sardinia. It’s an amped-up Hollywood moment in which our morally bankrupt hero (played by an ever-smooth Leonardo DiCaprio) may finally die as the result of his own hubris. And it’s so convincing, you can’t turn away.
— Malina Saval
Nancy (Viola Davis) and Franklin (Terrence Howard), parents to one of two kidnapped girls, sit in their car after witnessing their vigilante friend’s brutal methods of interrogation. Finally, Nancy turns to her husband. “We’re not gonna help Keller, but we won’t stop him either,” she whispers as he looks on, stunned, at a woman he suddenly doesn’t recognize. It’s the Lady Macbeth moment at the heart of the moral quandary that defines the movie.