Amid the binge-watching that quarantined movie lovers are undoubtedly doing, it may feel like every worthwhile film on streaming has been exhausted. So, why not consider revisiting (or perhaps watching for the first time) some exceptional moments from films that might not top anyone’s year-end lists?
A single wide angle. A splash of color. An adrenaline-pumping car chase. Sometimes the smallest details in a film hook a viewer’s imagination in an unexpected way or bring a moment of levity and cleverness to an otherwise frustrating watch. Selections on this list include movies that are considered disappointing entries in their director’s oeuvre, films that didn’t quite satisfy audience expectations and sequels that just couldn’t recapture the magic of what made the original so special. However, you’ll find something to love in all of them. Each film comes to life in moments that rise above the cinematic experiences of which they are a part.
No one will judge you for skipping ahead to the “good parts” if you don’t feel like sitting through the entire movie. If you do decide to watch any of the movies on this list in their entirety, you’ll understand why these particular moments yearn to break free of the films that confine them.
Here, in no particular order, are some of the greatest moments from what some may consider not-so-great movies.
“The Matrix Revolutions,” Netflix
“The Matrix” movies started the Wachowskis’ career on a high they continued to chase but didn’t always manage to hit in their subsequent films. The story of Neo awakening to the suffering of those around him was told through stylish camera tricks and slick costumes. But as the series went on, the stories became more convoluted. A standout sequence in the third, and hopefully not final film in the franchise, is the battle for Zion. The scene cuts between ground-level mech suit skirmishes and winding chases through abandoned tunnels. The humans’ desperation is palpable as they mount a final defense of their last remaining home, fighting back tentacled Sentinels and unleashing endless streams of bullets. Just when the robots lose the upper hand, giving the audience a chance to catch their collective breath, an enormous drill crashes through the dome of Zion’s underground ceiling, bringing down a massive buzzing hive of sentinels with it. With “Revolutions,” the Wachowskis achieved a level of destruction rarely seen today.
“6 Underground,” Netflix
Much has been written about the 20 minutes of pure id that open Michael Bay’s most recent film – a Netflix original titled “6 Underground” – because it’s close to impossible to overstate just how jam-packed the in media res car chase is through the crowded streets of Florence, Italy. Those 20 minutes are a culmination of Bay’s filmmaking efforts shrunk into one car chase. Featuring narrowly-avoided collisions every several seconds, Dave Franco’s character, the car’s driver, skids within inches of everything from nuns on Vespas, puppies, supermodels, wedding parties and the statue of David. Meanwhile, in the backseat, Adria Arjona digs a bullet out of Melanie Laurent’s stomach. No one will blame you if you need to take a breather after this.
“Hold the Dark,” Netflix
Jeremy Saulnier’s slow-burn followup to 2015’s punk-rock slasher “Green Room” is a spartan exercise in minimalism. “Hold the Dark” is a brutal thriller about a writer hired to investigate a string of mysterious deaths in rural Alaska. The film takes its time to reveal itself, but the themes of racial and class privilege become ruthlessly evident when Cheeon, an indigenous man played by Julian Black Antelope, takes on a squadron of fresh-faced officers. Fans of Saulnier’s work might have been waiting for the director’s signature gore, but the shootout near the movie’s midpoint more than makes up for the lack of blood and guts. Firing a machine gun from a second-story window, Cheeon dispatches nearly a dozen armed men before being killed by James Badge Dale’s officer Marium. The use of practical makeup effects and squibs highlight the intensity of the firefight without leaning into a heightened sense of reality.
“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” Netflix
Indiana Jones, having been captured by Russian military agents in search of a mysterious Macguffin prior to the events of the film, infamously survives an atomic detonation by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator after leading his captors through the undisclosed warehouse full of his prized artifacts that audiences first glimpsed in the final moments of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Despite what are surely numerous “Texas switches,” it’s thrilling to watch a then-65 year old Harrison Ford play an older Indy dodging gunfire and using his whip to swing himself onto moving trucks. Try to avoid smiling as John Williams’ iconic score kicks in as Indy elbows bad guys out of military vehicles.
“Tron: Legacy,” Disney Plus
Joseph Kosinski’s feature film debut was a flop at the domestic box office – barely making back more than its budget – but “Tron: Legacy,” the sequel to the hybrid live-action, computer-animated ’80s original, was a neon trip inside the high-gloss world of a computer chip. We are introduced to “the grid” through Sam, the son of the first film’s main character, as he battles to survive a “light cycle” destruction derby. As his competitors attempt to outmaneuver each other, their svelte bikes emit a rigid light trail that pixelates and destroys whatever touches it. The sequence showcases the eye candy production design through sleek black surfaces and cyan and orange lights. Kosinski and director of photography Claudio Miranda threw out the flat facade of the original in favor of completely immersing viewers in the totalitarian, matte-free aesthetic of cyberspace.
“Aladdin,” Disney Plus
Disney’s live action remakes have garnered mixed reactions. While 2019’s “Aladdin” was applauded for casting actors of colors to play characters of color – something the original didn’t do – many called out Will Smith’s take on the genie for being too similar to Robin Williams’ iconic performance and the overall lack of expressive qualities allowed for in the animated film. One moment, however, came the closest to portraying the wildly extravagant grandeur of the original. In “Prince Ali,” Smith’s genie introduces Aladdin to the people of Agrabah as the wealthy, globetrotting socialite he wished he was. The grand entrance involves dozens of dancers, huge crowds of onlookers and opulent costumes. The splashy music number infuses the film with something that was missing from the earlier “Friend Like Me” sequence – a tactile sense of life.
“Onward,” Disney Plus
If audiences felt that Pixar’s latest film lacked the pathos they’ve come to expect from the studio, the climactic dragon battle and emotionally resonant finale certainly intended to assuage their concerns. The movie, which didn’t crack the top half of Variety’s Pixar ranking, showcased the cutting edge digital lighting and animation for which the studio has been known via several action setpieces – a freeway chase involving a gang of fairies on motorcycles and a series of “Indiana Jones”-esque temple booby traps – but didn’t seem to land an emotional gut punch until its final moments. After a dejected Ian Lightfoot realizes his brother has given him the guidance and support he wanted from a parent, he decides to sacrifice his own closure and allows his brother to share a few fleeting moments with their resurrected father. Trapped behind the wreckage of a dragon battle, Ian watches his older brother’s tender moment of catharsis. Unfortunately for viewers, they must wade through the previous 90 minutes to feel the same emotional climax that Ian experiences.
“Hail, Caesar,” HBO
The Coen brothers’ “Hail Caesar” was a mixed bag of vignettes. The story of Josh Brolin’s “fixer” attempting to corral old-Hollywood stars and reign in blockbuster productions was, at times, a highly entertaining waltz through the entertainment industry’s golden age. The highlight, of course, is Channing Tatum’s Navy officer dance number “No Dames” which takes place inside the “Swingin’ Dinghy” bar. Tatum, whose dancing origin was brought to life in “Magic Mike,” is more than appropriately cast as Burt Gurney, a Gene Kelly-esque entertainer managed by Brolin’s character. Sure, the sequence relies on one joke, but it’s so full of classic Hollywood energy and style that it’s hard to ignore as the standout moment in the film. Just try scrolling past the scene next time someone posts it online.
“Yesterday” piqued audience interest by promising the story of a lone man who knows “The Beatles” catalog in a world that’s forgotten the Fab Four. However, upon release, audiences found a paint-by-numbers romantic comedy. Within the formulaic story lies a much more interesting movie, one whose traces can still be seen. Hamish Patel’s Jack Malik is mentored by Ed Sheeran (as in the character who’s named Ed Sheeran and played by real-life artist Ed Sheeran) until he transcends his teacher. This moment is beautifully rendered through a post-concert backstage hangout where Sheeran challenges Malik to a five minute-songwriting battle and is absolutely crestfallen when he hears Patel’s character sing “The Long and Winding Road.” Sheeran’s surprisingly heartbroken reaction plays perfectly into the humble artist persona he’s crafted in real life. What a delight it would have been to see more of their “Mozart and Salieri”-esque dynamic play out across the entire film. Then again, there’s always “Amadeus.”