I love movies. I have long loved them, and even though I like to pick and pull (and complain) about their narratives too, there’s almost always something to love in every movie, no matter how stupid, insulting, or ideologically infuriating. I could give you a long list of my favorite movies, but I certainly couldn’t rank them because my favorites swing wildly across genres and change according to my mood and age.
That said, I do have a short list of my top three favorite scenes of all times. Some of these come from my favorite movies, but not necessarily. So here they are, beginning with:
#3: If I Could Save Time in a Bottle
I slowly started to lose interest in the X-Men series after the first couple of movies, but for awhile I still watched every new iteration because they’re almost always guaranteed to be fun, even if not always tightly told. X-Men: Days of Future Past sits near the top of the pile for the sheer fact that they came up with an entertainingly direct way to just retcon away the movies that annoyed everyone. While that doesn’t push it onto my massive list of favorite movies, this two and a half minutes featuring Peter Maximoff (Quicksilver, for you nerds out there) officially ranks as my third favorite scene of all time. It’s visually pretty, strategically clever, and solves several problems over a Jim Croce song while highlighting a (still mostly unknown) character’s abilities and temperament.
It worked so well, in fact, that immediately after this scene they had to come up with a reason to dump him from the main plot. Their remaining problems would have been solved in a quarter second if they’d had him on reserve. Speaking of: why didn’t we ever get that movie? Writing a good script for a character that is almost impossibly powerful would have made a fantastic film. I’m thinking general cockiness would be his downfall at about the midpoint of the movie and through to the climax, with some well thought-out superhero mumbo jumbo to add more surface tension to a deeper character flaw.
Oh, and extra shout out to the music. Not just because I like 60s/70s folk rock, but because of the way they stuck it right into the middle of a dramatic score by pairing it with his headphones. The song enters almost casually, even naturally, but by cutting it mid-bar at the end (leaving no music over the sound of pots and pans hitting the floor), we’re brought immediately back into the other characters’ perspectives. We suddenly understand how absurdly and incomprehensibly abrupt these powers look to everyone else, before the silence eases into the resolution of the tense action score. So cool.
#2: Let Us Go and Fly a Kite
Saving Mr. Banks is my favorite kind of drama: sad in a quiet way but ultimately offering resolution and hope. This was such a tightly written script – even the title is a puzzle that comes together at exactly the right moment – and seeing Mrs. Traver’s feet begin to tap and fly upwards with the music is visually small but, to the overarching plot up this point, huge. To then have a character not only notice but actually extend his hand to this bitter old woman, reaching out with the kindness that she has never shown anyone else, makes my feelings swell. I love redemption stories, and this one is so beautifully told. Never melodramatic nor embarrassing to watch, which melodrama can be—I can barely stand watching obviously fake characters recite prepared speeches at each other and respond like no one, in the history of sad, bitter pasts, have ever responded to a cringily overdramatic speech in their life. It’s just about the smaller kindnesses and happiness that we grant to one another, even when we don’t deserve it.
So yes, while this ranks as my second favorite movie scene, Saving Mr. Banks is also one of my favorite drama movies. This scene encapsulates why.
#1: Two Beautiful Birds
Tim Robbins tricked me into liking him forever (despite the actor’s insultingly loud opinion of people like me, which I only discovered after the fact thank goodness) with this portrayal of Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption. He plays a very quiet character whose feelings run deep; watching him act mostly through facial expression will now and forever thrill me. I’m a sucker for every action hero cliché (particularly any violent, vulgar, and/or clever defiance of the bad guys), and yet the moment where Andy Dufresne leans forward to turn off the music, only to realize he’s still got the freedom of choice – even in a prison – and then pointedly decides that the consequences are worth it, beats any one liner in history. There’s an attest to the directing and camera work there too as it literally moves with the music, but I have never heard a louder, more triumphantly resilient “Make me,” than in this scene where the actor doesn’t speak a word.
As you may have noticed, The Shawshank Redemption is also one of my favorite movies. But this scene could exist in a vacuum and I would still love it, which is why it ranks in at first.
Looking at these gathered in a single place, I’m realizing that I have a type: great character moments shaped by and around a distinct piece of music. You’d think I’d have noticed before, but somehow I didn’t. Also, it isn’t necessarily the music itself, just like it isn’t necessarily the movie itself (though that helps). Opera will never rise high in my favorite music genres, but its use here just *kisses fingers dramatically* Mamma mia.
(Culled from thousands more and listed in no particular order)
“The King and I” isn’t my favorite musical (though there’s a lot of fascinating history and cultural pride around why the Thai people, a famously cheerful and easygoing culture, banned this movie from their country), but watching Yul Brynner throw Deborah Kerr around the floor will never get old. She practically flies when she jumps into her turns, but that’s Yul using inertia and gravity to his advantage with one magnificently strong arm.
(Also, they never so much as kiss in this movie and yet, holy bananas, that romantic tension.)
Good heavens, Katharine Hepburn. Overall, the 1960s version of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is interesting but not ranked among my favorite movies. There are standout scenes with standout acting throughout, but the film kind of careens from scene to (occasionally bizarre) scene, starting at about the midpoint. (Though what’s really interesting about this movie is realizing that it isn’t actually about race but the tension between the generations.) But this rake down – woo baby – is simultaneously the classiest and yet most brutal “You’re fired,” I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.
This bit of dialogue from the original Overboard plays in my head every other week, usually around dinnertime. Specifically:
“I thought you might be hungry.”
“Oh that’s excellent, excellent…well I was hungry.”
Oh yeah. And of course, this: