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12 Movie Moments of 2012: “… it has its moments…” (Men in Black 3)

As well as counting down the top twelve films, I’m also going to count down my top twelve movie related “moments” of 2012. The term “moment” is elastic, so expect some crazy nonsense here. And, as usual, I accept that my taste is completely absurd, so I fully expect you to disagree. With that in mind, this is #4

Wait, this game doesn’t happen until October.

Oh, it’s always October and November and March. So many futures and they’re all real, just don’t know which one will coalesce. Until then, they’re all happening, like this one. It’s my favorite moment in human history. All the things that had to converge for the Mets to win The World Series. They were in last place every single season until they won it all.

You said you had a gift for us…

That baseball for instance, thrown for the last hour of the game, manufactured in 1962 by the Spalding Factory at Chicopee Massachusetts, was aerodynamically flawed. Due to the horsehide being improperly tanned because Sheila, the tanners wife, left him for a Puerto Rican Golf pro that Sunday…

– J, Griffin and K discuss the Mets

Sometimes great scenes pop up in the most unlikely of places. I enjoyed each of three Men in Black films, even if I’d be reluctant to rank them as among the finest films of their given years, or to consider all three among great cinematic trilogies. I’d be lying if I said that I had been eagerly anticipating the release of Men in Black 3 this year, which turned out to be a solid and reliable popcorn film in a year featuring films that so often went to one extreme or the other. It won’t be a surprise entry on my top films of the year, but it does what it sets out to do, and is often charming doing so.

However, it’s always incredibly satisfying to find one striking or memorable scene in a film that is fairly easy to dismiss as “merely” entertaining. Men in Black 3 has one such scene, featuring the superb Michael Stuhlbarg as the alien Griffin, who has the unique ability to see throw time, weighing and considering probabilities and possibilities. With the capacity to see any moment in history, Griffin uses his gift… to watch the Mets. Somehow, that makes all the wondrous “wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey” stuff seem even more magical.

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To be fair, the scene encapsulates the very best of Barry Sonnenfeld’s Men in Black films. The films are always most impressive when they suggest that the fantastic is literally lurking just around the corner, and you might somehow catch a glimpse of the impossible if you simply open your eyes and stare hard enough. The cook at that Manhattan Chinese restaurant is really a giant worm man. Time travel is available behind the counter at what looks like a standard electronics store. The world is – the Men in Black films hint – filled with the bold and the bright and the incredible and the impossible, but we too often blind ourselves to that.

As such, Griffin’s truly wondrous ability – the power to see absolutely everything that is, was or ever could be – sits behind the unassuming face of Michael Stuhlbarg. Stuhlbarg is quickly becoming one of my favourite supporting actors. He headlined the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man, but he is more frequently seen haunting the periphery of various high-quality productions. He might not be the most frequently used member of the Boardwalk Empire ensemble, but Stuhlbarg’s Arnold Rothstein is an absolute joy to behold. He pops up in a tiny role in Hitchcock, but his presence is appreciated. He also appears in Lincoln and Seven Psychopaths, and it’s always great to see him.

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Stuhlbarg has this wonderful ability to appear relatively unassuming. Indeed, that was part of what made his lead performance in A Serious Man so effective. Playing this improbably gifted and omniscient alien, Stuhlbarg manages to convince us that Griffin is the kind of guy you wouldn’t look twice at. And yet, he also does an amazing job conveying the truly alien way that Griffin must perceive time. It’s very difficult to portray a different way of looking at the universe – because we can obviously only see existence in the way that we see existence. While the special effects team do a great job illustrating how bizarre and ethereal it must be, it’s Stuhlbarg who sells us on the moment – who convinces us that this is simply the way that he sees things.

The real kicker comes after Griffin “shares” his gift. After J sees the universe through Griffin’s eyes, he is practically speechless. “So this is how you see things?” he asks. “This is amazing!” Of course it is. Griffin might look like a strange little man with questionable fashion choices, but he can see everything. However, while his view of reality might be amazing and impressive to us, it is the same way he has always looked at the universe. “It’s a gigantic pain in the ass, but it has its moments,” he concedes. It’s a nice moment, because it raises some interesting ideas.

mib3e

Is the way that we perceive time just as novel to him as his perception of reality is to us? After all, that would explain his fascination with baseball – it’s a sport that could never exist for a race of people who see the universe like Griffin does. It turns the novelty on its head a bit. Griffin is wondrous to us because he’s an alien – but we are just as magical, surreal and weird to him. Through Griffin (and Stuhlbarg’s performance) we see ourselves through new eyes. All of a sudden it isn’t the wonderful hiding inside the mundane surroundings of New York. Now everything feels just a little more interesting, a little more exciting.

It’s a wonderful scene, and it works really well. It’s easily one of the best scenes of the year, and it serves to elevate the entire film. For most of its runtime, Men in Black 3 is reasonably entertaining. However, for this scene, it is downright transcendental.

Check out our other movie moments of 2012:

12. We Built This City (Rock of Ages)

11. September (Intouchables)

10. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises, Premium Rush, Looper)

09. Throwing the toys together (The Avengers)

08. Running (Shame)

07. “You’d love my boyfriend, he’s a total chick flick nut.” (ParaNorman)

06. The Dark Knight Returns (The Dark Knight Rises)

05. Dancing (Monsieur Lahzar)

04. “… it has its moments …” (Men in Black 3)

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