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Ten Best Movie Moments of 2011…

I’ve compile my list of my own favourite films of 2011, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to outline my own favourite movie moments of 2011 – those breathtaking sequences when I was glad to be setting in a darkened room surrounded by strangers. Sometimes it’s easy to forget the raw combination of images and sounds can have such a dramatic effect on you, moving you and bringing you to from the height of joy to the depths of sorrow. I’m very happy with 2011 as a year for cinema, and these are just ten reasons why.

It’s worth noting that this list is entirely divorced from the “best of” films list I’ve been running. There will be overlap, of course, but there will also be some films that didn’t have particular moments that stood out, and stand-out moments in films that weren’t consistently brilliant enough to make that list. I think it’s worth pointing out. Also, it goes without saying, that this is my list – my own opinions and my own perspective. If you agree or disagree, please feel free to shout about it in the comments.

With that in mind, let’s begin…

10.) Loki is Unworthy (Thor)

What set Kenneth Branagh’s Thor apart from the bulk of other generic superheroes was a willingness to embrace the archetypes of the superhero, and to consciously frame the story as a simple tale of a king and the two sons trying to prove themselves worthy of his love and his kingdom. Though Hemsworth brought a charm to Thor, it was Tom Hiddleston who stole the show as Loki, the character using his vindictive bitterness to mask a desire to be “worthy.” The short sequence where Loki tries to lift the hammer and fails (only after making sure nobody is watching him try) encapsulates a lot of the charm of the film in a short thirty-second sequence.

09.) The “Wet Work” Specialist (Horrible Bosses)

I didn’t react quite as well to the comedies this year as most. I enjoyed a lot of them on their own terms (even critical duds like The Hangover, Part II and Your Highness), but I didn’t find anything especially exceptional. There were a few movies worth a look, but few that would work their way into annual rotation or anything like that. However, I will concede that the “wet work” scene in Horrible Bosses was hilarious, if only for the genius of casting the wonderfully stoic Ioan Gruffudd in a hilariously profane and incredibly stupid cameo appearance as a professional advertising in the “men seeking men” part of the paper. From the moment he rolls out the bin-liner to the point where it becomes obvious what he does, it’s just a great scene. It feels a comedy of manners, almost, in a movie without any.

08.) The Speech (The King’s Speech)

I will freely concede that I did not like The King’s Speech as much as most, and I certainly don’t think it deserved the Oscar. That’s not to say that it isn’t a good film (it is), or that it isn’t memorable (it is). It’s the perfect sort of light “feel good” fare that I can sit down and enjoy with any relative or friend, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. For my money, the film is at its absolute best during the King’s address to his nation as war approaches, helped along the way by Lionel. It’s the one moment of the film that really soared for me, and really connected.

07.) One-Shot Sequence (The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn)

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is the most unashamedly fun film that Steven Spielberg has directed since Jurassic Park back in the nineties, and I liked most of what he did with the motion capture technology. I think that Spielberg demonstrated the appeal of the technology to him when shooting that absolutely breathless one-take chase through a Moroccan sea-side town, a shot that would be impossible with real-life actors and sets. In one shot, Spielberg demonstrates the potential of this type of filmmaking.

06.) Journey to the Past (Hugo)

I’ll freely concede that Hugo was a bit too uneven for me. It was two interesting cinematic projects combined into one disjointed film. Both were fascinating in their own right, but they didn’t gel as well as they should. However, it’s worth the price of admission to hear Scorsese talk about the history of cinema – he has a joyous and infectious enthusiasm for the material. The best sequences of the film took us back behind the scenes of Georges Méliès’ studios, as we saw one magician giving us insight into the work of another.

05.) Jameson Cult Film Club Screenings

I had the pleasure of attending two Jameson Cult Film Club screenings this year (Alien and Snatch), and I have to admit their enthusiasm for cinema is infectious. Seeing these classic films brought to life with actors and sets was just a cinematic dream come true. I look forward to seeing them at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival early next year.

04.) “Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)”, the New Age Torture Theme (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)

My better half made the wry observation that Daniel Craig must have a thing for being tied up and tortured. Or maybe it was part of David Fincher’s surreal James Bond influence, giving The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo a “Bond meets Giger” opening sequence and casting Craig as the womanising male lead. Still, the scene which saw Mikael Blomkvist confront the killer in his ready made “torture room” managed to perfectly capture the spirit of Fincher’s film in the space of a few minutes. I sense this is probably a “love it or hate it” film moment, like the use of In the Hall of the Mountain King in The Social Network, but I loved the use of Enya’s Orinoco Flow (Sail Away) as a new-age serial killer mantra. Like the room itself, it illustrates the disturbingly comfortable nature of the violence and brutality, giving the brutal act a sense of sophistication that only makes it more surreal and disturbing.

03.) Scaling the Skyscraper (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol)

Man, I wish I had seen this in Imax. Man, I wish Ireland had an Imax screen so I could see it in Imax. It’s one of the few action sequences this year where I was actually on tenderhooks, and the moment I knew that Brad Bird would be a director to watch in any medium he chooses to focus his attention. I think it demonstrates that the art of practical stuntwork is not dead, and that it can add a lot to a film.

02.) Movie Fest

Organised by movies.ie, Movie Fest gave Ireland its own pop movie festival, screening stuff like Fright Night and Drive for movie-goers. However, the appeal was more than just quality films. It was more than the behind-the-scenes footage, too. It was the notion of spending the better part of two days in a darkened room celebrating cinema, with a bunch of people just as enthused and energetic as I was. I hope it’s back next year.

01.) The History of the Universe in Thirty Minutes (Tree of Life)

The very definition of “worth the price of admission alone”, Terrence Malick manages to perfectly chart the history of the cosmos in about half an hour in the middle of Tree of Life. It’s a stunning and brilliant sequence, one full of profound meditation and wonderful insight, demonstrating that an artist can make great use of special effects. It’s the point in Malick’s disjointed non-linear story where everything seems to come together, and it’s a shame that the rest of the film never comes anywhere near touching this transcendental sequence in terms of quality. Then again, nothing else this year did either. Malick apparently urges those who picked up the home video version of the film to play it with the volume turned up, and I can see why. This is cinema, in its purest, rawest, most distilled form. This is just… beyond words.

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