I’ve been writing this annual column since my freshman year, and I’ve learned a number of things during that time. First, you should probably visit some midwest states at some point if you’re running for president. Second, the Academy will never get most of major Oscars categories right, so stop expecting them to. Third, that being said, it’s really hard to know in the moment which movies from a particular year will have staying power (although not that hard @The Academy).
So in one sense this article is futile, since there is a 100 percent chance I will read it back in a couple of years kicking myself for not realizing that a certain scene would make its way into the pop culture canon. But in another sense I feel obligated. Winning Best Picture Sunday night was an enjoyable movie about racism, the making of which and the controversy around which were actually way more educational about racism than the movie itself (since the film’s message is basically this). Winning the most golden statues was a wildly entertaining Queen biopic that was so unfaithful to reality that it couldn’t even correctly depict the year that “Fat Bottomed Girls” came out. Tied for the second-most Oscar wins was one of the top six movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
To sum up, the actual Oscars didn’t get the job done, so I’m here one last time to go through the best scenes of the year in cinema. But first, some honorable mentions. Many of the best moments from The Favourite were just that — moments — as opposed to full scenes (Emma Stone hitting herself with a book, Olivia Colman spontaneously fake-fainting in court and the anachronistic dance, to name a few that make me laugh just thinking about them). It was difficult to isolate just one scene from Eighth Grade, Black Panther or First Man, so three more great films were left on the chopping block. Leave No Trace’s ending had me bawling, but mostly due to the quality of the character development throughout the film. Vice’s mid-movie credits were genius and original, but not really a “scene.” One clip from The Death of Stalin contains perhaps the funniest instances of both physical and verbal comedy in a movie chock-full of them, but it wasn’t funnier than the scenes that made the cut.
Major spoilers ahead. Here are the nominees:
Incredibles 2 – Jack Jack vs. Raccoon
To start us off, everyone’s favorite Incredibles character fights the world’s most impressive combat raccoon. Jack Jack just keeps whipping out new powers until he’s basically Doctor Manhattan, and the raccoon somehow comes out of it alive! That’s a major win for the raccoon.
A Quiet Place – Baby Delivery
A Quiet Place is a non-stop thrill ride that begins with one of the most intense opening sequences of the year and rarely lets up after that. This scene preys on more elemental fears than just monsters by introducing the fear of birthing a child, as Emily Blunt’s character has to silently go through labor. The premise of the situation is a little ridiculous (yeah, let’s have a baby during an apocalypse caused by aliens with super-sensitive hearing, that definitely won’t get us killed), but Blunt’s acting sells the scene and the way that the tension is released at the end of it is clever and satisfying.
Private Life – Ending
I was going to slot a devastating, gut-wrenchingly realistic scene at a hospital from Roma in this spot. Instead, I am going to call attention to a different Netflix film that has received far too little of it. Private Life’s closing shot is not only filled with emotion in its own right, but it also calls back to things we know about the characters’ history from earlier in the movie to make the single concluding image filled with both hope and worry for their future. It is an image that I will call to mind whenever I hear about a couple struggling with fertility issues — an all-too-rarely touched upon subject.
Avengers: Infinity War – Snap
The Doctor Strange vs. Thanos sequence is as visually cool as fights get, and nothing makes me smile in this movie than Thor calling Rocket “rabbit,” but the snap and its aftermath are what the entire world was talking about for weeks after Infinity War — it’s one of the first genuinely shocking comic book movie moments in years. The scene itself is handled perfectly to produce maximum impact, with no buildup, no melodramatic music, and performances by Robert Downey Jr and Tom Holland so good that, as Spiderman turns to dust, you actually forget that Spiderman: Far From Home already has a release date and a trailer.
If Beale Street Could Talk – Woodworking Scene
I’m probably singling out a minor sequence that you may not even remember from an overall terrific film, but in an interview, director Barry Jenkins said that this scene meant the most to him of any in the whole film. It is an overwhelmingly beautiful audiovisual experience. Fonny making art is intercut with shots of him in prison, which we know tragically happens chronologically later in the story. Jenkins slowly swings the camera around Fonny as he works and smokes, which creates a hazy cloud around him through which the sunlight is filtered before it hits him and his block of wood. Jenkins said he wanted Fonny’s work to have a “heightened quality to it” to contrast “the lowest of lows, in prison.” Well, he certainly succeeded.
A Star is Born – “Shallow” Performance
The first time Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga take the stage together is a magical moment, made all the more special due to the fact that everyone had seen snippets of it in the trailer and was practically waiting the whole first 45 minutes of the movie for it. The enormous payoff felt by the viewer mirrors that of Ally, who’s waited her whole life for the chance to perform an original song of hers at a concert like this. The fact that the song itself is catchy as all hell as well as a meme-generating machine doesn’t hurt either.
Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse – Suit-up
Things this scene has going against it: The audio flashback to a line that was delivered, like, two minutes ago in the movie presented as if it were from an hour ago and the breaking up a dope and hype sequence for five unnecessary seconds of Aunt May explaining that she made the web shooters herself. Things this scene has going for it: Everything else, the gorgeous animation, the way Daniel Pemberton’s original score fits perfectly over the song “What’s Up Danger,” the revealing of Miles’s black and red suit for the first time and, oh, I don’t know, just the most jaw-dropping shot in all of movies from 2018.
Deadpool 2 – X Force
It’s a little macabre, no doubt, but kudos to this movie for making me shit my pants laughing at a bunch of people dying. I thought Deadpool 2 embraced the spoof even better than its predecessor, and there’s no better example of that than introducing several new superheroes to form a team that was previewed in the trailer and is well-known from the comics, only to kill all of them off in the first 60 seconds of their first mission, each in a sillier way than the last.
Mission: Impossible — Fallout – Paris Chase
Most people probably came out of this movie remembering either the skydiving practical stunt or the bathroom fight during which Henry Cavill reloads his biceps. But I’m a sucker for chase scenes, so I’m going to nominate the entire Paris scene — like all 30 minutes of it — because it’s such brilliant sustained action, continually throwing our characters into new scenarios just when you think the adrenaline rush is over. My favorite part of the sequence is director Christopher McQuarrie’s masterful, five-minute, nearly dialogue-less setup to introduce us to the new location and the stakes. If you’ve ever wondered what the Mission Impossible theme and the Bane theme from The Dark Knight Rises would sound like together, here’s your answer. Taking time to build suspense for a great action scene is what makes a movie like this nearly two and a half hours long, but it’s also what makes it epic.
The Winner: Annihilation – Lighthouse Scene
The Mission: Impossible franchise almost won its third Best Scene Oscar, but instead it’s going to lose to a dance-off between Natalie Portman and an alien. This is where Annihilation lost a lot of viewers, but for me, it’s when I knew I was watching a sci-fi masterpiece. While the bear scene earlier in the film had me holding my breath for unhealthy lengths of time, this scene had my mouth wide open for even longer stretches. Something about the way everything comes together — the creepy musical cue, the harsh lighting and the perfectly synchronous movements of Lena and her doppelgänger alien — is hypnotizing, even oddly disturbing. The images and sounds that entered my brain during my trip to the theater a year ago still haven’t left, and probably never will. More than anything, though, this scene — and the whole movie, for that matter — just goes for it, which is exactly what the science fiction genre can, and should, do.
Lev Akabas is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.