As 2021 comes to a close, I’m thinking about the more than 200 new movies I screened over the past 12 months. Which 10 will make my 10 Best list? They will be revealed soon. For now, here’s my list of the 10 best scenes of the year:
“Final Steeplechase Race” – “DREAM HORSE” (Now on Hulu)
Without giving too much away (because you should definitely watch this “based on a true story” sports drama on Hulu), the critical race for Dream Alliance is filmed with such intensity and vigor. The cutaways to all the key characters we’ve come to know and care about are done with such precision, especially to Jan (Toni Collette). Her reactions and emotions are sublime.
“Fabietto and Capuano” – “THE HAND OF GOD” (Netflix)
In Paolo Sorrentino’s poetic coming of age drama, our central young man Fabietto gets the chance to meet and speak with a famous film director. Capuano tells Fabietto about what matters in moviemaking and in life, giving him a new perspective. But is this what Fabietto really wants to hear?
“Pool Tournament” – “HARD LUCK LOVE SONG” (DVD Dec. 28)
One of the most immersive cinematic experiences of 2021 is a section of this indie drama with hustler Jesse (Michael Dorman) participating in a pool tournament. He faces-off against Rollo (Dermot Mulroney). You simply can’t look away.
“Down the Hill” – “LICORICE PIZZA” (In Select Theaters Now; Everywhere Dec. 24)
There are a number of scenes in Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest that really work, but this one’s special. Alana (Alana Haim) drives a moving truck. Gary (Cooper Hoffman) is the passenger. And there are some others in the back along for the ride. The truck runs out of gas. So Alana steers that truck backwards, down a hill and onto busy L.A. streets below in a mostly dialogue-free sequence that’s perfectly edited and a legitimate thrill to watch.
“Final Scene” – “LUCA” (DVD/Disney+)
The highlight of Pixar’s 2021 Critics Choice Award nominee is the last scene, which is done with such a genuine, authentic touch that you can’t help but feel the power behind it.
“Paloma” – “NO TIME TO DIE” (In Select Theaters Now; DVD Dec. 21)
The most enjoyable sequence in Daniel Craig’s fifth and final James Bond film sees him reunite with “Knives Out” co-star Ana de Armas, who lights-up the screen as a new recruit with some special skills.
“Doing No. 2” – “QUEENPINS” (Now on Showtime)
The year’s most ridiculously funny scene involves Ken (Paul Walter Hauser) and Simon (Vince Vaughn) sitting in a car during a stakeout. It’s early morning and, because Ken isn’t at home doing his normal, daily, down to the minute routine, he has to… go to the bathroom… in the car. Usually I’m not into that kind of humor, but my goodness do Hauser and Vaughn make this moment absolutely hysterical.
“City Lights” – “THE REAL CHARLIE CHAPLIN” (Showtime)
In this mesmerizing documentary on the cinema legend, we learn just how many takes Chaplin needed to complete a key scene for “City Lights”. (Spoiler Alert: The answer is 342.) The way this is all presented to us (footage, info, commentary)… simply incredible.
“J is for Joy” – “THE SPACE BETWEEN” (Now on Prime Video)
Towards the end of this music dramedy, Kelsey Grammer’s Micky Adams (a washed-up, Grammy winning icon) performs this ballad in front of a crowd at a bar. Moving song and easily the film’s strongest moment.
“Michael B. Jordan” – “SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY” (HBO Max)
If you didn’t know by now that this actor makes an appearance, you’re a bit late to the party. The casting choice is the biggest stroke of genius from director Malcolm D. Lee. And MBJ is totally game for his interactions with LeBron James and the Looney Tunes.