10. The Barrel Chase from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
This was perhaps the most imaginative action sequence I saw all year. The thirteen dwarves, alongside Bilbo, escape the Woodland Elves in wine barrels floating down a raging river, all the while fighting orcs running alongside the banks with sticks, swords, and bows and arrows, all from inside the barrels. If the sequence sounds insane, it is, but it is in these types of preposterous action sequences that Peter Jackson really gets to play with his films, and the glee is infectious.
9. The Japanese Grand Prix from Rush
Director Ron Howard's Formula-One racing film, Rush, was a powerhouse experience, highlighting the rivalry between real-life drivers, Niki Lauda and James Hunt, in the 1976 season. No other sequence brought the emotion better than the final race of that season, the Japanese Grand Prix, where Lauda gets back in the car only mere weeks after a life-changing crash. Every plot line and character beat that Howard had been teasing out for the entirety of the film all started to come together and coalesce in this one race. There is an emotional power that this sequence brings that is almost operatic and lyrical. While it is an exciting action sequence, due to the speed and tension of the race, the music from Hans Zimmer and Ron Howard's direction never lose the human characters in the midst of the raging machines, and that's why this sequence is on this list.
8. The Finale from Captain Phillips
This was perhaps the finest acting moment of the entire year, when Tom Hanks's Captain Phillips is finally rescued, after having been kidnapped by Somali pirates earlier in the movie. When Captain Phillips is brought aboard the rescue boat and is looked at by the doctors, he is just in shock, almost numb to anything, and then as the doctors are looking him over, he just bursts into tears, the insanity of what he just went through finally hitting him. Hanks's performance in this moment is almost unsettling in the raw nature at which he throws himself out there. One of the main reasons Captain Phillips worked as a film was because of the relatable nature of Tom Hanks and his Everyman persona, so when this moment occurred, it was like seeing your favorite Uncle that never cries burst into tears, and the moment is so gut wrenching you can't take your eyes off the screen.
7. Watching "Mary Poppins" from Saving Mr. Banks
Saving Mr. Banks has a good many moments that I found worthy to be on this list, and you will see one further up on this list that I found even more powerful, but that should take nothing away from the climax of the film. When Mary Poppins author, P.L. Travers, sits in the theater at the Hollywood premiere of Mary Poppins, she weeps openly as she watches her cherished story play out on the big screen. Now, in real-life, Travers did not like the film and denied Disney the rights to sequels, and the film ends before it can show whether or not Travers liked the film, but that is not the point of this moment. Travers does not weep at the sight of her creation being realized onscreen because it was a dream of hers, but because she is finally letting go of all these traumas from her past that inspired her to write Mary Poppins. As people, we are often bogged down by our own pasts, and seeing someone who is finally letting go is cathartic.
6. The Opening Shot from Gravity
There is an audacity to this opening shot that grants it this spot on the list. It is a 13-minute-long shot that is entirely uncut, but the beauty of this shot is how it does not feel like one shot. The camera is always floating around in space around Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, it focuses on who and what we need to focus on to advance the story, and only when we need it. While this shot was created primarily in a computer, it is no less staggering for how it works in casually laying out the story and creating the feeling of actually being there as another astronaut, so that when the space debris starts coming and crashing all around us, our hearts have literally jumped up into our throats. Masterful filmmaking from a true master of the craft, director Alfonso Cuaron.
5. Saving Spock from Star Trek Into Darkness
While I still feel that the final ten minutes of Star Trek Into Darkness really drops the ball, the rest of the film was one of the better experiences I had all year long, and one of the sequences that helped was the first ten minutes of the film. The opening action sequence finds Spock inside an active volcano on a Class M planet, planning to set off a cold fusion device to stop the volcano from erupting and eradicating an entire species. Of course, Spock gets trapped inside, and the only way to save him is to reveal the USS Enterprise in the sky above the natives, who have barely just invented the wheel. What are Captain Kirk and his crew to do? Do they let Spock die, or violate a Starfleet mandate and save his life? Obviously, Kirk being the rebel he is, decides to take the Enterprise and beam Spock back aboard the ship. What makes this moment so impactful, is it perfectly illustrates the relationship between Spock and Kirk, with Spock's logic ruling his choices, and Kirk's emotions ruling his, which also foreshadows an even greater moment later in the film. Then there is the awesomeness of when the USS Enterprise actually emerges from the ocean floor and is revealed to the native population. I don't know the last time where I actually felt the massive scale of the USS Enterprise.
4. Visiting District 11 from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
One of the best moments of the first Hunger Games was the death of Rue, it was wrought with emotion and beautifully shot and acted, so it is only fitting that the most impactful moment of the sequel was when Katniss and Peeta visit District 11 to pay their respects to Rue and her family. This moment was exceptionally acted by Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, with you feeling her remorse at not being able to save Rue. However, this moment is also important because it is the first moment where Katniss sees for herself the rebellion that she has inadvertently spurred through her actions, with the public execution of an old man who supports Katniss very chillingly portrayed.
3. Presenting "Let's Go Fly a Kite" from Saving Mr. Banks
This is one of those movie moments that would not exist were it not for the perfect storm of all the elements. This scene takes place about three-fourths of the way through the film, when P.L. Travers has all but shutdown every idea that Disney and company have had to turn Mary Poppins into a film. This is when the songwriters and screenwriter first pitch the idea to her that Mr. Banks fixes the kids' kite and they sing, "Let's Go Fly a Kite," for her. What makes this moment so magical, is that it shows how P.L. Travers' own experience with her father can be mended through the act of letting go. Here, actress Emma Thompson portrays Travers finally letting go emotionally, with a rare smile on her face, joining in on the song. Simply put, I don't think there was a scene in film this year that filled me with more joy, and it will have you singing the song for the entire next week after seeing it.
There has been much debate in the fan community about Star Trek Into Darkness merely being a loose remake of The Wrath of Khan, but where Into Darkness works better is in its finale featuring the self-sacrificial death of a prominent crew member. Unlike in Wrath of Khan, in Into Darkness, Kirk is the one who climbs inside the nuclear powered reactor to stop the Enterprise from crashing into Earth, with the radiation killing him. Movie heroes can often show us the best that we as humans have to offer. Kirk is selfless in this moment, only thinking of his crew, when he willingly gives up his life for the lives of others. Actor Chris Pine plays the scene with Kirk knowing that he is going to die, but he refuses to give up, he shows us the best that is inside all of us. Then, the icing on the cake is the final farewell between Kirk and Spock. Just brilliantly shot and acted.
1. The Finale from Gravity
If I could just list the entirety of Gravity as the best cinematic moment of 2013, I would, but that would defeat the purpose of such a list. Ultimately, I had to pare down the best individual moments from the film for me, and I think that the best moment of the entire film is that final scene. The whole film was designed by director Alfonso Cuaron and his son, Jonas (who co-wrote the film with him), as a story about rebirth and deciding to live after you think there is nothing left to live for. They intentionally use many visual metaphors throughout the film to symbolize this change in Sandra Bullock's character and perhaps the least subtle of these metaphors is the most affecting. When Sandra Bullock's Dr. Ryan Stone finally manages to make her way back to Earth and crash land in a lake, she swims to shore and stands up in the sand, staggering away, almost like a child first learning to walk. In essence, Dr. Stone is learning to walk again after losing her daughter a few years ago, having now found the strength within herself to carry on walking and live again. Like the opening of Gravity, her emergence from the lake and her standing up is all one shot, and it is so beautifully choreographed by Alfonso Cuaron, that when the pulsing music from Steven Price really kicks in, you can't help but be swept away by the moment.
Tune in two days from now as I continue my look back at 2013!