Whittling down the best movie moments of 2012 is something of a fool’s errand, due to the sheer quantity of potential nominees. Still, it is an awful lot of fun.
The following are a collection of scenes, sequences and moments from 2012 that have stayed with me, lasting well beyond the theater, digging deep down into the fluffy, Three Musketeers-esque center of my brain. There were many worthy omissions, but these are absolutely the cream of the crop. You could point to any one of these sequences and say, “Yes, this is why we keep going to the movies -- because we hope to see something as cool/awesome/moving/funny as that.” Enjoy!
The Space Abortion – "Prometheus"
Whatever you thought of Ridley Scott's return to the "Alien" universe (and I know some people <em>hated it</em>), it's hard to deny the awe-inducing, stomach-churning power of the moment when scientist Elizabeth Shaw (original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Noomi Rapace), infected by a malevolent black goo, has to perform an emergency, robot-assisted cesarean section on herself. (You can watch <a href="http://youtu.be/9IG2bicNOfo">the full NSFW scene here</a>.) While it didn't quite reach the gleefully gross-out levels of the original "Alien's" chest-burster sequence, it was still pretty shocking and violent. On the special features of the deluxe, multi-disc Blu-ray, they show how they actually shot a toothless, PG-13-rated version of the sequence, which deleted much of the blood and almost all of the squishiness. Including that version of the scene in the body of the film would have denied us one of the best, turn-your-head-it's-so-gross, audience-groaning-in-displeasure moments of the summer, as well as one of the single greatest cinematic moments of the year. (Seriously though, what was up with that black goo?)
The Elevator Doors Open – "Cabin in the Woods"
About halfway through Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's insidiously clever horror deconstruction "Cabin in the Woods," the cabin's guests choose their own fate by reading from an accursed text. What that meant, is that they would be dispatched by redneck torture zombies and not any of the numerous other horrific scenarios on display in the underground bunker. At the time, it made me sigh and think, <em>Well I wish we could see the other stuff</em>. Little did I know that in the film's last twenty minutes, we <em>would</em> see all of the other stuff, when two of the kids reached the nightmare headquarters and decided to unleash all manner of monster into the compound. (You can <a href="http://youtu.be/lN5YDtkmxsk">watch the scene here</a>, but we suggest holding off if you haven't seen the entire movie yet.)
Mirror Meltdown – "Wanderlust"
Few people saw "Wanderlust," David Wain's send-up of both the New York rat race and the hippie dippy alternative. But I can only hope that some kind of cult audience has been forming since its home video debut, aided, in part, by the scene where Paul Rudd, as a stressed-out Gothamite, is trying to talk himself into taking part in some free-love canoodling (you can see <a href="http://youtu.be/G8dR2Xs7ZBI">the full scene here</a>). It's like the perverse, insane, totally silly version of the "Do the Right Thing" mirror scene, and it tips into the delightfully absurd when Rudd's rant takes on a delicate Southern accent.
"Pony" – "Magic Mike"
I could probably do a 10 Best Channing Tatum Moments of 2012 list (that diner fight in "Haywire" would probably make the cut), as well as a 10 Best “Magic Mike” Moments list, but instead I'll just consolidate the two and give it up for the moment in the male stripper epic when, feeling undervalued by Matthew McConaughey's sleazy club owner (and a little intimidated by his protégé played by Alex Pettyfer), he comes out on stage and <em>brings it.</em> (The full NSFW scene can be watched <a href="http://youtu.be/dhQU6MIl3B8">here</a>.) Accompanied by the funky Genuwine track "Pony," Tatum showcases his agility, grace, wit, humor and above all else, sex appeal. It's a triumphant moment that ends with a dude in a G-string. I practically threw a wad of five-dollar bills at the screen.
The "Heavenly Creature" Section – "Doomsday Book"
Destined for cult-classic status, South Korea's sci-fi anthology "Doomsday Book" features three tales of the futuristic and bizarre, the most compelling of which is the center story, entitled "Heavenly Creature" and directed by Kim Ji-woon, who helmed the serial killer epic "I Saw the Devil.” This section concerns a robot who is stationed at a Buddhist monastery and who thinks that it has reached a level of spiritual transcendence. (The monks agree.) What follows is a surprisingly heady conversation about the tenets of faith and the nature of humanity, all the while played out in an ingenious sci-fi contraption (complete with evil corporations, conflicted repairmen, and the aforementioned robot). Ji-woon proves that he's an unparalleled genre-hopper; quite frankly this might be our favorite thirty minutes or so of movies this year.
The Five States Of Texas – “Bernie”
One of the many joys of Richard Linklater’s comedic true-crime tale “Bernie” is the fact that he hired real Texans, many of them from the town where the crime took place, to act as a kind of Greek chorus, periodically chiming in with their take on the events or to offer up some kind of gossipy aside. Even though “Bernie” had an all-star cast, anchored by the trio of Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and 2012 MVP Matthew McConaughey, there is a moment where the show is stolen completely by Sonny Davis, a marginal character actor who has been working in the industry since the early eighties. A resident of Austin, Sonny explains the “5 States of Texas,” complete with an animated map that goes along with his little rant. The thing about this moment is how 100 perecent true it is (biographical aside: I am a displaced Texan, too) and how it works for both Texas and non-Texas alike as a hilarious bit of small town gossip. Way to go, Sonny.
“Firework” – “Rust & Bone”/”Katy Perry: Part of Me”
Whenever you run down the plot of “Rust & Bone,” Jacques Audiard’s brilliant new melodrama, it always comes off as being hopelessly depressing -- a woman (Marion Cotillard) who trains killer whales in a SeaWorld-esque park is injured in a stage accident as one of her whales bites off her legs -- but the movie is an absolute triumph and totally uplifting. Case in point: the sequence where Cotillard hobbles out to her balcony and starts miming the stage directions that she would do for the whales while, in the background, Katy Perry’s “Firework” (which would accompany this at the aquatic park), begins to play. Even out of context, it will probably choke you up. The same song was used to similarly powerful effect in the Fourth of July 3D concert movie “Katy Perry: Part Of Me,” which was the second best music doc of 2012 (after the LCD Soundsystem farewell bash “Shut Up and Play the Hits”). It is, like the “Rust & Bone” scene, a moment of unbridled uplift, <a href="http://youtu.be/E8WkM1Yxu78">where the candy colored Katy Perry starship finally takes off</a>, made all the more powerful by the fact that we have watched Perry’s rocky marriage fall apart in brief, elliptical behind-the-scenes snippets.
The Glow Stick – “Zero Dark Thirty”
Most people will talk about the “big” moments in Kathryn Bigelow’s devastatingly brilliant “Zero Dark Thirty,” a true life procedural about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. But for me, the moment that really defines “Zero Dark Thirty” takes place in the final, fateful siege on OBL’s compound -- a quiet sequence that doesn’t involve gunfire or night-vision or those really cool stealth helicopters. It occurs when one of the SEAL Team Six members stops to comfort a young child who was in the house. She is crying (almost all of the male members of her family have just been gunned down by the Americans) and he takes a moment to comfort her. He gets down on one knee, cracks open a small plastic stick from his wasteband, and it starts to glow. He then hands it to her. And in that moment, the rest of the night doesn’t seem so awful. On a larger scale, it also makes the events of the past ten years, for a second at least, seem calmer and more manageable.
“Video Killed the Radio Star” -- “Take This Waltz”
Sarah Polley’s intermittently brilliant “Take This Waltz” does have the rare distinction of being a hopelessly middle-of-the-road movie that just so happens to feature some of the year’s most jaw-dropping sequences. The film concerns a young married couple (played by Michelle Williams and a surprisingly dramatic Seth Rogen) who find themselves drifting apart after she falls for a mysterious, sexually alluring stranger (Luke Kirby). The endless possibility and excitement of this potential new coupling is exemplified when Kirby and Williams take a ride on a cheap-o indoor amusement ride, to the tune of The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.” It’s a sequence that borders on the exhilarating and the fact that the ride and the song are cut short speaks metaphoric volumes. When we see Williams again on the ride, it’s right before the closing credits. This time she’s alone, and it might be an even more exciting moment than before. You get the sensation that this time, the possibilities are truly limitless.
Year 30 – “Looper”
About thirty minutes into “Looper,” Rian Johnson’s ingenious time travel thriller, the movie takes a lovely pause. At that moment, we see what Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character’s life would've been like if he had, as he was supposed to, killed the future version of himself (played by Bruce Willis). We watch JGL grow old, lose his hair, become a hardened criminal, and fall in love with a beautiful Chinese woman. What makes this moment so powerful is that this all happens wordlessly. It’s a testament to Johnson’s remarkable prowess as a filmmaker that he could pull off a sequence so bold and beautifully told. By the end of the moment your pulse will have quickened and your heart might be broken, too.