[Spoilers ahead] I recently purchased my own copy of A Serious Man. The ending to that movie haunts me like few can, and I’m not really sure that I can explain it. It has something to do with dealing with petty annoyances only to discover that there may just be far bigger threats around the corner. The image of Danny Gopnik, flush left in the screen amid a sea of classmates staring at their approaching doom as Grace Slick belts out “Somebody to Love”, is gut-wrenching. Seeing it again the other night made me ponder- which other recent scenes have made my jaw drop like that, either through raw emotion or pure filmmaking skill? Here are some of my favorites from the last ten years.
First, let’s start with A Serious Man:
The final scene of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
It’s a very powerful combination- Nick Cave’s brilliant score, the freeze frames to compound the effect, the 2+ hours that led up to this dénouement, and the actual epilogue of Bob Ford’s life.
Eli Sunday makes Daniel Plainview eat a poopburger in church…
Both Daniel Day Lewis and Paul Dano play this scene so perfectly, each infusing their characters with over-the-top humorous panache.
…but Plainview gets revenge
It’s somewhat unfortunate for many reasons that There Will be Blood has been reduced to “I drink your milkshake!” in many circles. Because it’s so much more genius than that. And even then, the scene was fantastic because the whole “milkshake” line was true to the era, something that P.T. Anderson went to great pains to find out about to make his film a little bit more accurate. All the same, the final sequence is phenomenal- Sunday reduced to rubble, Plainview full of righteous, capitalist-infused fire and brimstone, completely off his rocker. And then, in a sing-songy voice, “I’m finished”. Cue Brahm’s Violin Concerto, Movement #3.
Needle in the Hay, The Royal Tenenbaums
It’s become kind of a whiny, emo anthem over the years, but boy was it hard to watch the Baumer try to off himself the first time. This scene grew even more teeth when Owen Wilson, who co-wrote the movie, attempted suicide just a few years later.
The final segment of Pan’s Labyrinth
Del Toro meshes the horrors of reality with a young girl’s fantasy seamlessly, and in a heart-breaking way.
The pool scene, Let the Right One In
Embedding is disabled but you can follow the scene here. The muted underwater choreography of blood and severed limbs was eerily breathtaking.
The opening scene of Wall-E
It does such marvelous job of establishing tone, environment, and most importantly character. Specifically, it establishes Wall-E as part humorous, part melancholy, part silent film comedian homage.
The opening scene of Up
Boy, talk about sad.