Yup, it’s indeed that time of year – again, where I gather up the morsels of cinema, the moments that brought pure joy, excitement, tears and maybe all three, and rank them, because this is the internet and nothing matters unless it’s ranked out of 10.
For the uninitiated, a cinematic happy place is basically the feeling you get when you see something particularly awesome or emotionally resonate in a film. These aren’t limited to good movies. Even trash has its treasures. It’s whatever hits you the hardest, whatever makes you sit up in your chair and pay attention. Some are obvious, others aren’t. But all of them made me feel like a child on Christmas morning, if only for a second.
Oh, and there be spoilers for the following films:
JOHN WICK 3
TERMINATOR: DARK FATE
10. Knife Fight – JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3: PARABELLUM
Anyone who knows my tastes in cinema knows that I love me a good fight sequence. And some of the best fight sequences are the ones where the protagonist is only a hair ahead of the game (see MI: Fallout bathroom fight sequence as a prime example). And while John Wick ALWAYS seems ahead of the game, his appeal comes from the fact that he’s the Boogeyman who bleeds. Nowhere is this more evident in one of the opening fight sequences of Parabellum where we see the Boogeyman Killer going head to head with some very stabby assassins attempting to claim the bounty on his head.
What makes this scene is the struggle and the messiness. The sequence throws fight convention out the window and embraces the imperfections of a knife scuffle: the fact that some of the throws don’t land, the ill timed misses, the overall skirmish. The whole bloody affair culminates in a rather laboured yet incredibly accurate throw of an axe that made my entire cinema audience go “OOOOOOOOOOOH”. As it should.
9. Tethered Ballet – US
Leave it to Jordan Peele to come up with this bit of brilliance. Us is a horror movie that leans more on the disturbing than it does on the outright scares. There’s a morbid fascination that sets over the audience as we begin to unravel the mystery of who ‘Red’ and the rest of The Tethered actually are. And it’s in this superb sequence that we don’t necessarily find out who Red is to Adelaide (not until the final moments of the film), but what she represents – revenge, and an almost cosmic brand of justice for those who’ve lived underground as forgotten puppets.
This sequence isn’t so much about outright revenge as it is about humiliation and gracefully so. Red knows every move that Adelaide’s about to make, and even though she could end her at any moment, she opts to show Adelaide just how much of the upper hand she has. Even when Adelaide gets the drop on her, Red’s death feels intended. Her plan has come to fruition and there’s nothing left for her to do but have one final poetic moment with the person that imprisoned her in the first place.
8. DO YOU WANNA GET PANCAKES?! – BOOKSMART
This one had my eyes welling up with tears before wheezing with laughter. All throughout Olivia Wilde’s criminally underseen Booksmart we’ve watched Amy and Molly’s friendship be put to the test by both outside forces and from within. As they try to reclaim the last shred of fun they feel like they missed out on, they’re forced to come to terms with the fact that, for the first time in a long time, they’ll be living life apart from each other. As Molly drops Amy off at the airport, heartbroken at the prospect of not seeing her bestie for a good long while, she has a sombre moment in the car. Right before Amy jumps out in front and scares the ever living crap out of her.
It’s a moment that belongs in one of the great fake outs of all time, with the audience’s tears of sadness turning very quickly to that of laughter.
Damn, Olivia, I was having a moment.
7. Exercise Routine – THE FAREWELL
Even though it’s told from the perspective of a Chinese family, The Farewell feels widely universal, accessible to almost anyone from varying backgrounds. Whether you have a Nai Nai, a nonna, a nanna or a yiayia, many of us understand, or have felt the deep love for our grandmothers. And love doesn’t have to be grand gestures. It could be as simple as joining one on their morning exercise routine. (The scene in question is at the end of the trailer).
6. Eat Sh*t – KNIVES OUT
There’s nothing more satisfying than watching a group of entitled douchebags be called out, even if it’s by one of their own. Knives Out features that very thing when an uncharacteristically yet deliciously slimy Chris Evans as Ransom, chews out his entire family. Following the revelation that his grandfather cut him out of his will, Ransom’s father (Don Johnson) and mother (Jamie Lee Curtis) lament that it might be the best thing for him. Ransom swiftly and efficiently hammers into each and every one of them as easily as he eats the cookies from the box, happily pointing out the hypocrisy the entire family swims in. Catharsis at its best.
5. We’re All Alright – THE NIGHTINGALE
Jennifer Kent’s follow up to The Babadook is a ballsy entry. Not just because of the hard hitting and divisive material, but that, given she had Hollywood beating down her door, she chose to make this as her second film. It demonstrates that she had something to say, and the filmmaking capital to do so.
Here, though, she returns to her horror roots, in a nightmare sequence that, no matter how many times I watch it, volume on or off, it’s still sends a shiver all over me. Having stabbed the man who killed her child, Clare (Aisling Franciosi) feels the weight of guilt on her that then begins to creep into her dreams. It’s a scene that hits at an entirely primal level, proving that Kent has the chops to be one of Australia’s greats.
4. Grace v. Rev-9 – TERMINATOR: DARK FATE
We’ve seen machine on machine punch ons occur fairly regularly in the Terminator franchise, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen one as visceral as this. Tim Miller and co decide to completely forego the “run and shoot” etiquette when fighting a Terminator. Pitting half human / half machine Grace (Mackenzie Davis) against a Rev 9 (Gabriel Luna) it amounts to an incredibly charged and refreshingly agile brawl. It’s fast paced and often brutal, both warriors giving as good as they get and it completely does away with the clunkiness of past fight sequences. And by adding a far more human element in Grace, it gives the sequence a completely different dynamic, even raising the stakes, as Davis sells every part of the battle through her beastly physicality.
3. Bread and Grape Juice – THE IRISHMAN
The long gestating crime epic, The Irishman is a unique beast in that a large point of its focus is what happens in the twilight of a criminal’s life following the fall of a crime family. More specifically, what happens when you get old in a profession you’re not supposed to. Robert DeNiro’s Frank Sheeran wears the weight of the lives he’s snuffed out over his multi decade’s long career. All of the “well that’s just how things were back then” self assurances mean nothing when the silence of his life is turned up and he’s left with nothing but his thoughts and the souls of his victims hanging over him.
None of this more evident than this scene. Mirroring an earlier moment, when times were “good”, Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and Sheeran, now old and frail, sit in prison and partake in their shared tradition of breaking bread and dipping it in wine. The wine in this case is “the good grape juice”. A moment passes before Bufalino, who ordered Sheeran to whack his friend, Jimmy Hoffa, laments that “Jimmy was a good man”. Sheeran barely answers back, unable to even look at Bufalino. It’s a heart breaking scene, and a stunning example of a deafening silence, as Sheeran is reminded of his sin and the guilt of killing someone he deemed a friend.
2. Amazing Grace – AMAZING GRACE
I’m not a religious man, but this may be the closest thing to a spiritual experience I’ve had. I went in assuming that Amazing Grace would be an above average concert documentary, and instead I got a magnificent communal experience, and one of the closest things to watching one of the greats perform live. Aretha Franklin’s rendition of Amazing Grace sent my emotions in a tailspin, at one point I found myself clutching my chest because I thought my heart might burst it was that full. While I couldn’t find the actual footage itself on YouTube, you can listen to it here. Be warned: it’s powerful stuff.
1. Assembled – AVENGERS: ENDGAME
“On your left”.
Let me tell ya, I’ve had some pretty intense movie going experiences, funnily enough a lot of them to do with the MCU. That being said, nothing was going to prepare me for this scene. Nothing. The legendary smart arses over at Marvel knew that fans would be FROTHING to see what happened after The Snap. They knew we would be tearing apart each and every trailer they put out, so, they gave us what we deserved until the film came out. Nothing. And because of that, everything became a surprise.
While we didn’t know much, what we did know was that something big was going to happen. That maybe heroes would return. That maybe Cap, after nearly a decade within the MCU, would finally utter those words.
And then this scene happened, and I lost my mind, so much so that my buddy, Mike, had to make sure I was okay and not going into cardiac arrest.
There’s so much that makes this scene as great as it is. First, there’s the promise of our heroes’ return. It’s prospect of Steve going up against a literal army on his own with nothing but half a shield. It’s Alan Silvestri’s score. It’s the “oh sh*t” look on Thanos’ face when he sees portal after portal open. It’s T’Challa’s war cry. It’s the look of determination as Cap realises that now he’s got an army AND a Hulk. It’s the culmination of 11 years of universe building all leading to this moment of superhero unity.
It’s the Avengers. Assembled.
Oh, and as an honourable mention:
That’s me done for another year. What were some of your favourite cinematic happy places of 2019?