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Courtesy of The New York Times

February 26, 2016

Guest Room | Who Would Win a Hypothetical Best Scene Award?

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There’s almost nothing I love more in life than hating to love — to hate — to love to hate The Oscars. There’s nothing quite like hundreds of old rich white guys dressing up in tuxedos to award themselves little gold statues.

When you consider what the Oscars are about — ranking our favorite movies of the year — they should really be a lot more fun. So let’s drop some boring categories (I’m sure everyone would be absolutely devastated if we got rid of Best Song and Best Makeup and Hairstyling), and add some fun ones, like Best Practical Effects, Best Low Budget Picture and Does Your Picture Have a Blind Man Wearing Red Pajamas and Playing a Flame-Throwing Electric Guitar on Top of a Moving Truck?

I think the most interesting new category would be Best Scene. First, it would give The Academy an opportunity to nominate more action movies with thrilling sequences that they couldn’t nominate for Best Picture because they weren’t ploddingly-paced period pieces. Second, it would give us a chance to reevaluate our opinions on movies by jostling our memories in search of specific moments that we loved. For example, the fact that there were nearly no images or scenes that stuck in my head from Star Wars: The Force Awakens means that maybe it won’t become the classic everyone thinks it will, even though it was so much fun in the theater. Third, it would lead to great debates, which we all want more of (except political debates … I mean, once a month should be enough, right?). Think about “Here’s Johnny!” from The Shining going up against “Luke, I am your father” from The Empire Strikes Back in 1980!

Just so you have an idea of what we’re going for, here are the scenes that I would have voted to win over the past several years:

2014 – Whiplash – Final Concert

2013 – Gravity – Opening Debris Sequence

2012 – Django Unchained – Dinner / Dark Knight Rises – Ending

2011 – Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol – Tom Cruise Scales the Burj Khalifa

2010 – Inception – Rotating Hallway Fight

2009 – Up – Married Life Montage / Inglorious Basterds – Opening Scene

2008 – The Dark Knight – Literally Any Scene (if I had to pick one, I’d go with the interrogation)

What should theoretically take home the trophy for 2015? Let’s figure it out. It was a solid year for movies but not quite as strong for standout scenes when compared to the ones above. Keep in mind, we’re looking for scenes that we’re going to remember 10 years down the road, or ones that were essential to their movies’ success. Kingsman’s hilariously over-the-top church brawl, Agu being ordered to execute an innocent man in Beasts of No Nation and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’s opera fight all just missed receiving nominations. The toughest omission was a scene from Love & Mercy — the year’s most underrated movie — in which Brian Wilson, portrayed by an Oscar-worthy Paul Dano, goes crazy when his brain is bombarded by the sound of clinking dinner utensils becoming music in his head.

The Nominees (only one per movie):

The Revenant – Bear Attack

I have mixed feelings about The Revenant (other than its gorgeous cinematography, which led to my dad whispering in my ear “there’s another artsy fartsy nature shot” every few minutes), but the scene that everyone’s talking about has to receive a nod. Instead of using quick cuts and chaotic editing, director Alejandro G. Inarritu forces us to watch the brutal mauling of frontiersman Hugh Glass through long takes, and the result is heart-pounding, even when the bear — which looks unbelievably realistic — takes a break in her attack. The opening battle between the fur-trappers and Native Americans is a remarkable technical achievement in its own right, but the bear mauling was the memorable scene.

The Walk – The Walk

This great scene elevates an otherwise decent movie about Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the World Trade Center towers to a really good one. The 3D gives us the feeling of actually being a thousand feet high on a wire, but Joseph Gordon Levitt’s calm acting reminds us that this insane daredevil act was an art. It’s not the most memorable scene from 2015, but it is an excellent example of visual effects done right to create a true moviegoing experience.

Spy – Jason Statham Claims He’s a “Real Spy”

In a perfectly cast parody role, Statham plays an incompetent secret agent who takes himself too seriously. When Melissa McCarthy’s character is assigned to an important mission instead of him, he recites a list of increasingly ridiculous stories to prove that he’s more qualified for the job: “During the threat of an assassination attempt, I appeared convincingly in front of Congress as Barack Obama.” Thanks to sharp screenwriting enabling his deadpan delivery, Statham steals the show in what was supposed to be McCarthy’s movie. It’s not Oscar-winning material, but it was the hardest I laughed at a movie last year.

Creed – One Take Fight

One of the moviemaking feats of the year was director Ryan Coogler shooting an entire boxing fight without a single cut. Round one ended, and I was like, “Okay, you can cut now,” but then the shot just kept going through the break and into the second round. I can’t comprehend the choreography that must have gone into this five-minute scene, plus the beating that the actors took boxing for that long. The camerawork and sound design put us right there in the ring, and the continuous shot keeps the fight’s momentum going. It is, however, still just a boxing scene, albeit an impressively filmed one.

Inside Out – Sadness Comforts Bing Bong

My favorite film of 2015 sent tears streaming down my face so fast that they were going into my mouth before I could wipe them away. I could have chosen the poignant ending or that scene you all probably thought I was going to choose, but Sadness consoling Bing Bong after his rocket ship is thrown away is the first hint of the story’s beautiful and sophisticated overarching theme that it’s okay to be sad sometimes. Phyllis Smith and Richard Kind would have certainly been nominated in another of my made-up categories: Best Voice Over Performance.

The Contenders:

Sicario“Time to Meet God” [SPOILER ALERT!]

Incredibly underrated director Denis Villeneuve gives a lesson in creating suspense visually thanks to brilliant composition and lighting from cinematographer Roger Deakins, who would win an Oscar for his work almost any other year. Hitman Alejandro, played perfectly by Benicio Del Toro, tracks down the Mexican drug lord responsible for his family’s death and murders his wife and children right in front of him at the dinner table. It’s intense. I wasn’t blown away when I first saw Sicario, but, thinking back on it, three other scenes could have easily made the cut too (the border traffic jam ambush, the tunnel raid, and Alejandro hiding in the back of a police car). That’s the only reason this particular scene didn’t win the hypothetical prize; it’s arguably not even the most memorable from its own movie.

Mad Max: Fury Road – Final Car Chase

Yes, you could argue that the entire movie is one scene, but director George Miller redefined the term “non-stop action” in the final 17-minute chase by expertly keeping our heroes vulnerable throughout. When I saw When I saw the Doof Warrior’s guitar incorporated into the fight in the theatre, I almost peed my pants it was so inspired and creative. Why doesn’t it win? Only because it’s not really a scene, in the traditional sense of the word.

The Hateful Eight – Samuel L. Jackson Monologue

Jackson should have won Best Actor for this scene alone, in which former Union soldier turned bounty hunter Marquis Warren tells old Confederate General Sandy Smithers the tale of how he tortured and killed his son, revealing graphic details little by little over the course of four full pages of screenplay. Bruce Dern shows Smithers’s reaction to the horrifying story incredibly using only facial expressions. Throw in Ennio Morricone’s mysterious score and you have a dramatic sequence. It’s ingenious that we have no idea whether Warren actually did the things he says he did or if he’s just having fun toying with Smithers. But ultimately it doesn’t matter because both scenarios make his character equally terrifying. Only Jackson could have pulled it this character off. It’s also classic Quentin Tarantino the way a fictional character receives karma to make up for the historical crimes of an entire people. Only a truly artistic piece of cinema could possibly beat such a well-crafted scene.

The Winner:

Furious 7 – Skyscraper Car Jump

YES! We got the Fast and Furious franchise an Oscar! Hey, think about it this way: If I had told you 12 months ago that either Furious 7 would win an Oscar or we’d have a potential Donald Trump-Bernie Sanders general election, you would have, in a heartbeat, put your money on the franchise whose chronological order goes 1-2-4-5-6-3-7.

You probably still think I’m joking with this award selection, but I’m not. Furious 7 never quite works as a movie, but man does it have some epic scenes, including Paul Walker’s escape from a bus falling off a cliff and the touching, mature ending that paid tribute to the late Walker. Then there’s this ludicrously over-the-top sequence where our two precision-driving protagonists drive a car through midair from one skyscraper to another, somehow survive, and then repeat themselves when they find that their brakes are broken. Mad Max: Fury Road has been getting so much credit for its practical effects and out-of-the box action scenes, but just YouTube the behind the scenes footage for this skyscraper scene and I guarantee you’ll be equally impressed.

This was simply the most unforgettable movie moment that I saw in 2015. The fact that the immortal Vin Diesel was prominently involved shouldn’t prevent it from winning an Oscar.

Lev Akabas is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at lakabas@cornellsun.com.

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