It was a year full of true stories, epic battles and quiet moments on the big screen. We asked our staff to pick some of the most memorable moments from their favorite films of the year — obviously, spoilers abound.
All the Money in the World
When John Paul Getty III is kidnapped and held for a $17 million ransom, your heart breaks for his mother, Abigail Harris, a woman who walked away from the Getty fortune years earlier to raise her family. She is desperately trying to reach her former father-in-law, the richest man in the world, to help facilitate the return of her son. Then she sees on the television, in black-and-white, the infamous Getty talking to reporters. Saying he won’t pay the ransom, Harris is gutted. Asked how much he will pay, Getty coolly responds: “Nothing.” Director Ridley Scott cuts between Harris (Michelle Williams) watching on her television and Getty (Christopher Plummer) talking to the reporters. Even though Williams and Plummer aren’t even in the scene together, the tension is palpable.
— Jenelle Riley
The Big Sick
Though the sleeper hit from real-life couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon tells the story surrounding Gordon falling into a coma during the first year of their relationship, the duo swears “The Big Sick” is a comedy. Emily’s not-so-humorous illness does, however, set the scene for one of the only (or perhaps only?) truly hilarious jokes about 9/11. Emily’s parents — played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter — wait in the hospital with their daughter’s Pakistani ex-boyfriend while they deal with Emily’s condition. Over lunch, her dad sparks a conversation, questioning Kumail’s “stance” on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Kumail’s eyes widen as he attempts to break the ice in a palpably uncomfortable exchange. “What’s my stance on 9/11? Oh, anti. It was a tragedy. I mean, we lost 19 of our best guys.” Sensing the tension in the room, he quickly follows up with, “That was a joke, obviously; 9/11 was a terrible tragedy, and it’s not funny to joke about it.” Audiences that watched the trailer beforehand might have already seen the awkward encounter unfold, yet the delivery played out flawlessly in context and garnered some of the loudest laughs in theaters. Kumail’s quick comeback does the impossible in crafting a joke about one of the most devastating, and arguably among the most inappropriate to make light of, moments in American history.
— Rebecca Rubin
Call Me by Your Name
With wide-panning shots of northern Italy’s lush, romantic landscape and sexual liaisons (one famously involving a peach) evoking all the pain and desperation of thorny adolescence, there are plenty of stand-out scenes in Luca Guadagnino’s 1980s coming-of-age tale that are worthy of cinematic note. But it’s the film’s final scene, in which a camera trains on the ravaged, tear-stained face of Elio, a precocious 17-year-old crushed over having just learned that his older former lover, Oliver, is getting married to a woman, that provides “Call Me by Your Name” with its most poignant and powerful moment. It’s a quiet moment, but a brave one, and one we don’t see often enough. Where men crying is ubiquitously perceived as weakness in American culture, rarely does a director linger for more than a nanosecond should such raw emotion unfold. Which is why it makes sense that it’s a European helmer who trains long and patiently on Elio’s deeply wounding heartbreak, giving him that space to mourn, letting his tears flow, untimed, without stop, as the end credits start to roll.
— Malina Saval
Coming early during “Darkest Hour,” we see Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s photo in the newspapers flashing a “V for victory” sign with his two fingers. But when his secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) and the other girls in the typing pool see it in the papers they burst out laughing. Churchill (Gary Oldman) comes across them and asks why the laughter. Elizabeth gets over her awe of him to explain that by showing the back of his hand to the photographers, Churchill’s victory sign is a well-known rude hand gesture made by the English lower classes that perhaps the prime minister was unaware of. Pleased to know he had “flicked the Vs” at his enemies, Churchill goes off chuckling to himself and Elizabeth gets over her fear of her boss.
— Shalini Dore
The Disaster Artist
Tommy Wiseau, the writer-director-actor-producer of the cult favorite film “The Room,” has made a name for himself by being as enigmatic and secretive about his personal life as his movie is famously bad. However, as James Franco, who plays Wiseau in “The Disaster Artist,” has pointed out, there is a real earnestness and fearless drive in Wiseau to be successful and respected for creating a serious piece of work that audiences would love. “The Disaster Artist” captures this blend of earnestness and ego particularly well during the scene in which Wiseau and his crew film one of the infamous sex scenes in “The Room.” After he strides onto set fully nude, Wiseau insults his actress for having acne. This sets off a fight between him and his crew. Wiseau’s inability to earn the respect of his crew and his desire to be mentioned in the same breath as Kubrick and Hitchcock lead him to believe he must emulate the same tyrannical practices. It’s a tense scene that uses the pressure of making a film to get at the core of who Wisaeu is: a man chasing the American dream who just wants people to respect his talent.
— Matthew Fernandez
One of the most dazzling big-screen (emphasis there) moments of the year is the heart-stopping instant three timelines cascade together 85 minutes into Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” as plots from air, land and sea ignite in flame and oil in the middle of the English Channel. The “Dark Knight” helmer’s World War II action-thriller is a ticking time bomb throughout, built on separate riveting temporal strands. Via title cards, the film establishes the threads as one week, day and hour in the life of Britons, military and civilian, before steaming straight ahead whether you’re up to speed on the concept or not. The narratives tick along with casual indicators of their place in the overall story until the film finally crescendos and the wizardry of Nolan’s latest magic trick is laid bare.
— Kristopher Tapley
The Florida Project
Sean Baker’s beautiful slice-of-life drama set at a motel near Disney World is full of beautiful scenes, each one an individual vignette that makes up a part of a bigger story. One of the most unpredictable and tense scenes occurs when kindly manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) spots a man speaking to a group of the children who reside at the motel. Bobby approaches the man under a guise of friendliness and spends the next few minutes offering to help him buy a soda. The tension mounts as the duo make their way to a soda machine, chatting amicably at first, and the audience is left to wonder if this is a harmless misunderstanding. Then, lightning fast, Bobby’s whole demeanor changes as he smacks the soda out of the man’s hand and sends him running.
— Jenelle Riley
Much of Jordan Peele’s breakout hit was infused with openly startling moments meant to evoke visceral audience reactions, and yet the one that resonated most was shrouded in a stunning silence. The racial satire centers on Rose (Allison Williams) taking her black boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) on a weekend getaway to meet her seemingly “woke” white family. In setting up the scene-stealing performance, Rose’s mother, Missy (Catherine Keener), tricks Chris into a hypnotherapy session to kick his smoking habit. With the clinking of her tea cup and a hauntingly gentle command — “Now sink” — Missy is able to brainwash Chris, who descends into a dark void called “The Sunken Place.” The subtly horrific sequence plays out with Kaluuya in a shell-shocked gaze, tears streaming down his cheeks. Not much else is said; he’s unable to vocalize his helplessness. And perhaps it’s the simplicity that makes it so striking. Peele says the evil purgatory works as a metaphor for being marginalized, and in the moments in which Chris is internally falling, he speaks volumes about the topical feelings surrounding suppression that many minorities face, without saying anything at all.
— Rebecca Rubin
As a by-product of orders Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) receives that require the safe delivery of ailing Native-American tribal leader Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) to his homeland hundreds of rough miles away, a strange, unlikely family is formed. It includes Yellow Hawk’s extended family and Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), whose family has been wiped out by marauding Indians. By the time the group has reached their destination, such fierce bonds have been formed that Rosalie and the captain find themselves as allies in support of Yellow Hawk. When they are confronted by white settlers who are perhaps more brutal and unsparing than any foe they’ve faced, it’s decision time for the duo. Rosalie has changed on this journey and her fury is now focused not on the ones connected by race to her loss, but on the ones connected by hatred, greed and bloodlust. She is not going to retreat from the threat at hand and vengeance is now in her gunsights.
— Steven Gaydos
Craig Gillespie’s biting satirical study on the rise and fall, and subsequent international damnation, of Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding is one of the funniest and most heartbreaking films of this year, a cautionary tale tethered together by one dazzling scene after the next, all edited with airtight, cinematographic precision. But it’s a scene near the end of the film that most poetically captures the blazing victory and crushing defeat of Harding. The slow-motion sequence splices together two landmark moments in the skater’s infamously derailed career: the 1991 Skate America competition during which she lands her first triple axel jump and (after a judge orders her banned from competitive skating for life) a boxing match in which Harding is knocked down by her opponent, her body arcing across the air, blood gushing from her mouth as she hits the floor with a thunderous smash. It’s a scene that calls to mind “Raging Bull,” juxtaposing the brutality of that to which Harding has been reduced (a reluctant second-rate boxer, a pop cultural punchline) with the iconic and charismatic figure she once cut on the ice: passionate, fiery, tough and shot through with a formidable athleticism that, for several years, went critically underappreciated and grossly misunderstood.
— Malina Saval
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig’s deeply femme-centric coming of age tale, is full of wrenching moments. But none are as pivotal — and sweetly affirming — as Lady Bird’s reconciliation with estranged bestie Julie. Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) has spent the entire movie dreaming of a better life. But when Kyle (Timothée Chalamet) insults Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me,” she has finally had enough. “I love it,” she tells her disaffected beau, who couldn’t even be bothered to ring her doorbell to pick her up for prom, waiting in his car with fellow cool kids Jenna and Jonah instead. Now he didn’t even want to go to the dance. “I actually want to go to prom,” she tells the group. When that doesn’t change their minds, Lady Bird ditches the popular kids for her true best friend. She finds Julie (sweetly dorky Beanie Feldstein) at home crying, with food in her lap. Before long the estranged pals have made up and decide to go to the prom together — Lady Bird in the dress her mom thought might be too pink and Julie in the purple number she optimistically bought months before. There, they dance with abandon, unconcerned about what others might think.
— Diane Garrett
Mary J. Blige’s towering presence bookends the Dee Rees drama set in the Jim Crow Mississippi after WWII about two rural families — one white and one black. The film opens with two white men digging a grave, and eventually we see them carrying out a simple coffin, which they can’t maneuver into the grave. A wagon with a black family is passing; one of the white men hails the wagon, asking for help with the coffin. We don’t know the relationship between the families, but we see Blige’s body language — she stiffens, her chin rises, she grabs her husband’s hand and her genius is that it’s subtle but practically shouts out cues to the audience: fear, tension, wariness. That same scene is repeated at the end of the film, but this time, we’ve been on Blige’s journey and her reaction carries much more weight and underlines themes in the film more strongly.
— Carole Horst
From the first moment that expert dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) spots waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps) in a country diner, we’re pretty sure we know where things are headed. He orders a comically large breakfast, and she’s thoroughly charmed, especially when he adds a side of sausages with a twinkle in his eye. With utmost confidence, he asks her out, and we cut to him picking her up that night in a fast, sleek sports car. The dinner conversation is sparkling; Reynolds reveals intimate pieces of himself while leaving a tantalizing mystery at the center of his persona. Finally he invites Alma back to his place, and takes her into the back room, ostensibly to fit her for a dress. Then, without warning, Reynolds’ sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) enters the room, and begins taking Alma’s measurements with brusque efficiency. The heat that has been steadily generating for the entire evening evaporates in an instant, and along with Alma, we’re left to wonder: Did Cyril just spoil the party? Was this Reynolds’ plan all along? Who are these people? The rest of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread” will devote itself to answering these questions.
— Andrew Barker
Steven Spielberg’s “The Post,” about the Washington Post’s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers, features a bravura sequence of a newspaper being published. The montage moves from the go-ahead of decision-makers to the Linotype machines to the printing press and the delivery people; it’s all done with a speed that underlines the importance and urgency of the story being reported. The sequence is also a great showcase for the work of Spielberg and his team, including Rick Carter’s production design, John Williams’ score and the editing of Michael Kahn and Sarah Broshar. Spielberg has always been an expert at action sequences, and this qualifies, a cathartic moment for the characters (and the audience) after their hours of worry about the legal, economic and ethical consequences of printing the material. As a side benefit, the film’s “don’t-stop-the-presses” moment works as a metaphor for moviemaking itself: Everybody works under pressure to make it happen, with each person contributing a key part to the puzzle. And the result is greater than expected.
— Tim Gray
The Shape of Water
For most of the film, Sally Hawkins plays Eliza with a reserved air and delicate sense of loneliness that evokes empathy and fondness from the audience, all without uttering a single word. There is a moment, however, when Eliza asks her friend and neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) to help her free the Amphibian Man that she lets all her emotions flood out. Giles provides a voice to Eliza’s signing, filled with raw desperation as she brings up poignantly painful points like how the Amphibian Man does not recognize her muteness as a fault and asks Giles whether since neither she nor the creature can speak if her disability makes her any less human. Giles’ own emotional conflict toward refusing to help his friend, followed by the rejections he experiences and agreement to help Eliza add to the emotional roller coaster that is a testament to the mastery of both the film’s cast and its director.
— Matthew Fernandez
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Director-writer Martin McDonough liberally mixes the profane with violence, comedy, humanity and poignant moments in “Three Billboards,” which starts out as possibly an indictment of police corruption but veers off in several different directions in its journey. Case in point is early in the film, when Mildred (Frances McDormand) is brought in by the cops after drilling a hole in her dentist’s thumb. A bemused/imperious/tired/somewhat cranky Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) questions the defiant Mildred, who denies the charges. As the scene between the antagonists escalates in what seems to be toward an ugly outcome, Willoughby, who’s got cancer, coughs up blood, splattering Mildred’s face, which quickly turns from wry defiance to shock to compassion to understanding to the realization that she must take charge of his medical emergency. The scene changes direction on a dime, and the audience perception of the characters also changes — and deepens as well.
— Carole Horst