The Oscars: an award show that expanded the number of Best Picture nominees after it snubbed a well-made, entertaining action movie, and yet still refuses to nominate well-made, entertaining action movies. I understand The Academy’s struggle, though. There are a lot of great films each year that simply need to get nominated, such as…
The Flashily-Directed Movie About Actors Pursuing Their Dreams (La La Land)
The Uplifting Movie About Black People (Hidden Figures)
The Nuanced Movie About Black People (Moonlight)
The Movie That’s Not Nearly Pretentious Enough To Even Have A Chance (Hell or High Water)
The Movie About Everyday White People Wallowing In Their Own Despair (Manchester By The Sea)
The Movie Nobody Has Heard Of And Even Fewer People Have Actually Seen (Lion)
The Acting Showcase (Fences)
The War Movie (Hacksaw Ridge)
The Beautiful, Thought-Provoking Movie About Giant Squids Spraying Ink At The Actress From Enchanted Inside a 1000-Foot-Tall Hovering Black Potato (Arrival)
The Oscars could use a shake-up. At this time last year, I wrote an article introducing a hypothetical Oscar for Best Scene, which would allow The Academy to nominate movies that don’t exactly fit the Best Picture mold, but still have entertaining, technically impressive or inspired sequences.
Which movie would take home this trophy for 2016? Let’s figure it out. 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.
The Nominees (only one per movie):
Manchester by the Sea – “There’s Nothing There”
In a movie defined by great acting and sadness, this scene is probably the best acted and the saddest. Towards the end of the film, a divorced couple split apart by a devastating tragedy reunites coincidentally on the street. Neither person can find the right words, but their body language, facial expressions and tone clue us into their shared traumatic past. The dialogue is natural and even a bit awkward, as it would be in real life. This would be a contender for the win if it weren’t so damn sad. I saw Inside Out and everything, but I still firmly believe that there’s no reason anything should ever be this sad. Or, as our president would say, “Manchester by the Sea is a depressing movie. Way too sad. Sad!”
Arrival – Opening
In what may wind up becoming the live-action version of the montage from the beginning of Up, director Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049 cannot come soon enough) channels his inner Terrence Malick with a sequence of emotionally-charged and evocative images. Backed by a gorgeous minimalist strings piece by Max Richter, we see the life and death, with memories both good and bad in between, of our main character’s daughter in the span of a few minutes. The tears it induces change the way we see the protagonist throughout the film.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Ending
Darth Vader turning into 2001 Shaquille O’Neal was admittedly the most awesome thing I saw in a movie in 2016, so it gets a nomination. But the greatness of the scene was generated more by the idea of Darth Vader going ham, something we never truly saw during the original Star Wars trilogy, rather than by the quality of the scene itself. The action choreography and direction is mediocre and I have to take major points off for the existence of a fight scene in a hallway not shot in a single long take a la Oldboy.
Fences – “I Don’t Have To Like You”
When Cory asks his father Troy why he doesn’t like him, Denzel Washington shows off his ability to bring charm and what can almost be described as comedic timing to dark, frustrating characters as Troy rants to his son about the duty of fatherhood and how he doesn’t have to “like” him. Throughout the film, Denzel gives such gravity to every single word he delivers that if his character were to just start reciting the digits of pi it would have been nominated for Best Scene.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice – Batman Warehouse Fight
If you know me, you know that I’d take a bullet for Christopher Nolan, but he never gave us a kick-ass Batman fight scene. Now we have one, thanks to a few minutes of in-your-face, relentless, video-game violence in what is, for the large portion of its three-hour runtime, a dreary, colorless, non-sensical, melodramatic affair. It falls just short of the Matrix Reloaded car chase and well short of the Darth Maul lightsaber battle from The Phantom Menace in the Good Scenes In Bad Movies Power Rankings
Zootopia – DMV Scene
I can’t watch this without laughing. I just can’t. There’s only a handful clips from 2016 about which I honestly say that, and the vast majority of them involve Ben Carson. One, however, is from Disney’s thoughtful cartoon, in which the same joke is used over and over for four straight minutes and it somehow doesn’t get any less funny.
Captain America: Civil War – Airport Fight
Ten adults get into a petty argument about paperwork and decide to settle things by throwing on colorful spandex outfits and fighting each other at a public airport until someone gets hurt and they immediately stop fighting. Yup, that’s one of your best movie scenes of the year. It’s everything a comic book fight should be: funny, creative and easy to follow! While the final battle between Captain America and Iron Man arguably featured more intense combat and higher stakes, it didn’t have Spiderman.
La La Land – Ending
You know how in physics problems involving Newton’s Laws, five or six different force vectors will sum to zero, causing the object to not accelerate? Well that can happen with emotional vectors too, when you’re overwhelmed by so many different feelings and the result is that your body is rendered incapable of movement. That’s what happened to me at the end of La La Land.
Moonlight – “What’s A Faggot?”
Each of Moonlight’s three acts consists of roughly thirty minutes of slow, meditative build-up culminating in one scene at the end that hits you like a truck and wrenches your heart out in the process. Any of those three scenes could have won this Oscar, but no portion of any movie last year floored me quite like the closing of Moonlight’s first act: a simple dialogue sequence in which a taciturn young boy grappling with his sexual identity asks a series of heavy questions to his father figure. It starts off as any run-of-the-mill interaction, but from the moment the word “faggot” comes out of Chiron’s mouth, I was on the edge of my seat.
This quiet exchange between Little and Juan is so intimate and real that I felt bad for intruding on the characters’ privacy. The entire movie is filmed in a way that gives us the experience of walking in their shoes; since we’ve already developed such deep empathy for them, the scene is even more impactful.
Barry Jenkins’ direction and writing serves to show that a sequence doesn’t have to be elaborate to be memorable. The last two and a half minutes of this winning scene contain 11 shots and 11 lines of dialogue. They alone tell us pretty much all we need to know about not only these two characters’ lives, but about the challenges faced by all people in their communities. Rarely in any movie has so much been said with so little.
Lev Akabas is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.