Years after the kudos races are forgotten, these moments will remain in moviegoers’ memories.
Sure, there’s the scene at the fountain, or the one in the library, but the moment in “Atonement” that gets everyone talking is the five-minute-plus tracking shot during the evacuation at Dunkirk. Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) stumbles onto the beach, where the British Army is already busy destroying their vehicles, shooting their horses and drinking themselves silly before shipping out. Unlike “Children of Men,” where such unbroken shots were all about action, this one allows audiences to take in the full scale of the historic moment in one big breath — while a giant Ferris wheel underscores war’s absurdity in the background.• View Scene
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In the history of fist fights, none has demonstrated a man’s raw power more, uh, nakedly than the life-and-death grappling match Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) endures in “Eastern Promises.” After all, stripped to a towel at the local bathhouse, Nikolai has nothing but brute strength to defend himself when two knife-wielding Chechen goons come calling. The fight comes entirely unexpectedly, as audiences think they’re getting a first look at the character’s new tattoos (a set of stars that advertise him as a brother in the Russian mob). But the twist reveals that Nikolai’s mentor (Armin Mueller-Stahl) has betrayed him to save his son.
No Country for Old Men
Javier Bardem packs a mean weapon in the Coen brothers’ latest, but Anton Chigurh’s compressed-air cattle gun is nowhere to be seen in the character’s most menacing scene. Instead, Chigurh produces an
ordinary-looking quarter from his pocket and asks a flustered gas-station attendant to “call it” with such deadpan delivery, you just know the poor guy’s life is on the line. In a sense, the entire movie is contained in that coin-toss scene: Death is coming (embodied here by Bardem), and when it’s your time, there’s nothing you can do to avoid it. • View Scene
Near the end of “Ratatouille,” the titular dish makes its way to the table of Anton Ego, that most sneering and supercilious of food critics. Ego stops, stares down at the vegetables so artfully arranged on his plate and clicks open his pen. He takes a bite and is hilariously whooshed back in time to a distant memory from childhood, when his mother’s home cooking first initiated him into the joys of food. Shock, awe, recognition and pleasure. The pen drops to the floor, impotent, silenced. And Ego responds to the experience with a review that, as read by the magnificent Peter O’Toole, becomes one of the most moving and eloquent treatises on art and criticism ever captured on film. • View Scene
There Will Be Blood
An oil derrick erupts, a boy falls to earth, and, in a sequence mesmerizingly scored to the pounding, metronomic rhythms of the drilling machinery, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) rushes to his son’s aid. But as Plainview realizes the extent of the damage — along with the audience, in brief moments of silence shot from the deaf boy’s perspective — his attention immediately begins to shift toward the derrick burning on the horizon, lighting up the night sky. Religion and capitalism, the warring themes of “There Will Be Blood,” merge into one, as the pillar of fire becomes a blazing monument to Plainview’s own insatiable greed. • View Scene
When a messenger arrives asking King Leonidas to submit to the Persian invaders, he dramatically replies, “Madness? This … is … SPARTA!” and kicks the poor soul down a bottomless well. • View Scene
Away From Her
“You certainly are persistent,” says Julie Christie’s Fiona, responding to the latest visit of her husband Grant (Gordon Pinsent) with an expression of confusion and annoyance that is heartbreaking.
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke verbally spar while trying to mitigate matters with the drug-dealing brother-in-law of Hawke’s robbery partner.
A loincloth-clad Beowulf makes his way into Grendel’s mother’s inner sanctum, where she emerges from the water looking like a very naked, gold-plated Lara Croft. • View Scene
The Bourne Ultimatum
In what feels like a complex life-or-death ballet, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) plays cat-and-mouse with the CIA at Waterloo Station in London. • View Scene
The Golden Compass
The sudden-death CGI playoff between the ice bears Iorek Byrnison and Ragnar Sturlusson is a mammoth battle of monarchs, one unfairly deposed and the other sitting on a stolen throne. It’s also an epic and awe-inspiring display of the finest modern techniques of fantasy filmmaking. • View Scene
Into the Wild
Inspired by Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch), aging Ron Franz (Hal Holbrook) climbs a steep desert hill, a quiet but emotionally powerful moment that captures the effect of McCandless’ spirit. • View Scene
The Kite Runner
As young boys in Kabul, Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) and Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada) win the annual kite-flying contest, cutting down all their competition — but things take a nasty turn when Hassan goes to retrieve their prize.
La Vie en rose
This tour de force for Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf peaks in an extended scene in which she imagines her lover waking her, then runs through the apartment looking for him, only to learn that he died in an airplane crash. Completely distraught, she goes through the hall and (via movie magic) onto a stage, where she begins her show. • View Scene
Lars and the Real Girl
Dumbfounded is the only way to describe Karin and Gus (Emily Mortimer and Paul Schneider) when Lars (Ryan Gosling) brings his new girlfriend, a sex doll named Bianca, to dinner. • View Scene
In the quiet of a clearing, in perhaps the most peaceful moment he has enjoyed in ages, Michael Clayton (George Clooney) stands face to face with some horses — when suddenly his car explodes behind him.
The birth of Sandman: Flint Marko escapes from prison into a particle physics test facility, where he is atomized into a pile of sand and must pull himself back together.
A party girl grooves against Jonah Hill’s Seth, leaving behind a memorable stain. As Defamer put it, “Thanks, ‘Superbad,’ for elevating period blood to the ranks of bodily fluids employed in comedies.”
Things We Lost in the Fire
Jerry Sunborne (Benecio Del Toro) shivers and shakes as his body goes through yet another withdrawal, trying to rid himself of the drugs that have played havoc with him for years. • View Scene
Confused by Bumblebee’s disguise, Megan Fox asks, “Why, if he’s supposed to be like this super-advanced robot, does he transform back into this piece-of-crap Camaro?” at which point he “upgrades” before their eyes.
We Own the Night
In a car chase praised by many as the best since “The French Connection,” Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix) tries to evade killers while endeavoring to protect his father (Robert Duvall) — in the rain.
— Justin Chang, Peter Debruge, Stuart Levine and Jon Weisman