My personal year end awards are to be announced this week. Today I’m announcing the awards for individual scenes. Tomorrow I’ll hand out technical awards, Tuesday I’ll reveal the acting awards, Wednesday it will be writing awards, Thursday it’s genre awards, and Friday I’ll announce my top ten of the year.
Fight of the Year
Here we begin the action scene trio: fight, shootout, and chase. Clearly gunfights are not allowed here, only melee based fights are allowed. Additionally, I’m not going to try too hard to be outside the box here, you won’t for example see “fight of wills” or something, no, this is about people who are simply trying to kill each other using melee weapons only.
“Beowulf vs. Grendal,” Beowulf: The epic poem Beowulf is based on has often been described as a series of three fights. Interestingly, Hollywood actually dropped one of these fights leaving just two: Beowulf vs. Grendal and Beowulf vs. a Dragon. Of the two, I choose the fight against Grendal for the list. The Grendal character is a creepy presence and the fight is really primal. It was also part of a very bizarre trend of fight scenes involving uncomfortable male nudity.
“Jason Bourne vs. Desh Bouksani,” The Bourne Ultimatum: Throughout the entire Bourne series, Jason Bourne was able to handle everything that came to him with ease. Almost every time he ran into cops/enemy agents he was usually able to take them all out with a single punch. Sure he ran into super-agents in both the prior installments, but none of them were really major threats. Then, midway through Ultimaum he encountered an assassin who was a cut above the rest. What followed was a kickass fight that has been dubbed “the book fight.”
“Nikolai Luzhin vs. Some Assassins,” Eastern Promises: This was the first fight scene of the year to involve uncomfortable male nudity, but not the last. Many have compared it to the shower scene in Psycho, that’s a bit much, but this is still a hell of a fight. But let’s not forget that this is a Croneberg scene, and the final kill in it is a classic.
“Stunt Girls vs. Stuntman Mike,” Gindhouse: Possibly the highlight of Quentin Tarentino’s superior half of the Grindhouse experience. After a wild car chase scene, the stunt girl squad took on Stuntman Mike with a vengeance. Less a fight than it is a scene of Kurt Russel getting his ass handed to him by a set of girls.
“Peter Parker vs. Harry Osborne,” Spider-Man 3: Notice that this isn’t called Spider-Man vs. The Green Goblin. Sam Raimi’s third entry into the Spider-Man franchise was disappointing on many levels, but I maintain that the action scenes were pretty cool, the highlight was this clever aerial fight between an uncostumed Peter Parker and his former friend turned enemy.
The Golden Stake goes to… Eastern Promises
I was really tempted to give this one to Jason Bourne, but ultimately the crazyness of the Eastern Promises bathhouse fight won me over. This movie was marketed as a pretty standard thriller; as a Cronenberg fan I of course knew better, but I doubt most of the middle aged audience didn’t. If you want to pull a good prank next Christmas buy this DVD for your grandmother and watch her reaction to the part where Viggo Mortenson stabs someone in the eye at the end of this scene.
Shootout of the Year
Melee fights are all well and good, but in this modern age they don’t really come up that much. Now the weapon of choices is the firearm. In this category we look at fights that play out with multiple assailants and multiple weapons.
“Contention Shootout,” 3:10 to Yuma: Westerns have long been the place to go for big shootouts, and 3:10 to Yuma doesn’t end with a simple one on one showdown. Mangold ends his film with the entire town of Contention, Arizona is set against Russell Crowe and Christian Bale as they try to board the titular train. This was a well choreographed and chaotic gunfight that kept me on the edge of my seat.
“Projects Shootout,” American Gangster: Toward the end of his gangster epic, American Gangster, Ridley Scott took a page from his brother Tony to create a fast, yet not wildly ambitious gunfight on the top floor of a housing project. The lack of ambition helps this scene, had it turned into a wildly large action scene it would have take the audience out of the reality of the film. As it stands, the scene is exciting, but not ridiculous.
“Gun-Leg shootings,” Grindhouse: While the rest of the shootings here mainly involved run of the mill assult rifles and pistols, this is a gunfight that was defined by the main character’s weapon of choice. It took a really obsurred sense of humor to attach an M-16 to the amputated leg of a women, but I’m glad Rodriguez was able to dream that up. Rose McGowan standing on one leg spraying a room with bullet is one of the most memorable moments of the year.
“This Mindless Violence,” Hot Fuzz: The action movie parody, Hot Fuzz, was never quite able to live up to the absurdity of Jerry Bruckheimer action films but it came real close in the climactic action scene that began with Simon Pegg riding into town on a horse and ended with Timothy Dalton’s face impaled on the steeple of a miniature church.
“Riyadh Shootout,” The Kingdom: The Kingdom was a retarded action movie pretending to be a political thriller, and the deeply inappropriate finale was a big part of why. Yet, if I’m willing to ignore the way the film loses any believability and intelligence with this scene it can be appreciated out of context. The bullets here feel like they fly off the screen, there is a Michael Mann style intensity on display here wasted in a context where it makes no logical sense.
The Golden Stake goes to… Hot Fuzz
This was one of the more underwhelming of the awards. All of the nominees seemed to have some real flaws that seemed to disqualify them. The scene that seemed to keep coming back to me was the comedic shootout at the end of Hot Fuzz. The highlight of this scene was when a bad guy was killed and falls into a freezer. Pegg seems to forget to say a cheesy one-liner only to be corrected by Nick frost who was disappointed Pegg hadn’t told the evil doer to “chill out.”
Chase Scene of the Year
The final of these specific action scene awards will go to the chase scene of the year. These chases can be on any type of vehicle or on foot. This year the vehicle of choice were mainly cars.
“Run for Your Life,” 28 Weeks Later…: This is the only foot chase nominated here, but it’s a real doozey. The film seems to open on a relatively quite moment, before all hell suddenly breaks loose. What follows is a frantic chase to reach a motorboat. And its not all excitement, this scene is also important to the plot as a decision Robert Carlyle comes back to haunt him.
“New York Super Chase,” The Bourne Ultimatum: The entirety of The Bourne Ultimatum could be seen as an extended chase scene, but it is the final car chase in New York that best exemplifies what this category is all about. While both of the previous “Bourne” films had great chases, neither of those scenes had the sheer size that is on display here.
“Ship’s Mast,” Grindhouse: Rightly or wrongly, Quentin Tarentino’s half of Grindhouse mainly be remembered for its car chase. This duel between a 1970 Dodge Challenger and a 1969 Dodge Charger was made even more spectacular by tying a stuntwomen to the hood of the Challenger. Even Death Proof’s biggest haters seem to be able to admit this scene was a highlight of the Grindhouse experience.
“Motorcycle in a Snow Globe,” The Simpson’s Movie: When the chase scenes were on this year, they were really on,, but I had trouble coming up with the last two nominees; frankly this scene was only here by default. But that’s not to say there isn’t a charm to this scene, there’s something about Homer Simpson riding a motorcycle around a glass dome in a literal race against a clock that amuses me, and it ends with a really cool inside joke.
“Highway Chase,” Transformers: Michael Bay’s Transformers was a noisey mess of a movie, one of the worst in this infamous director’s notorious cannon. However, there was some real mojo in a few places, and this all too brief scene was one of them. The idea of an all out car chase in which cars that could transform was cool. Had they taken this approach for an extended finale the film would have been better off. Instead they reached L.A. in record time in one of the film’s many plot holes.
The Golden Stake goes to…Grindhouse
This should come as no surprise to anyone who had the Grindhouse experience last April. This homage to carsploitation was leading up to a car chase throughout, and the finale didn’t disappoint. This was an edge of your seat action scene that lived up to all the great chases of seventies exploitation cinema.
Set Piece of the Year
Consider this to be a miscellaneous scene category. Anything large, not necessarily action oriented scene that wasn’t a chase, fight, or shootout was eligible.
“The Dunkirk One-Shot,” Atonement: The “single extended shot” trick seemed to have reached its peak in last year’s Children of Men, but Atonement proved that directors can still do wonders with it. This is more of a steady shot than the handheld work in that film, but it’s not just showing off. This shot perfectly sets up the emotional impact and chaos of the evacuation.
“Waterloo Station,” The Bourne Ultimatum: This cat and mouse chase is the perfect example of why the Bourne films were so great. This combines hand to hand fighting, technological spycraft, a sniper rifle, and the sheer genius of Paul Greengrass to make one of the most exciting sequences of the year.
“Hotel Room Stalking,” No Country for Old Men: Easily the most suspenseful scene of the year. With this sequence the Josh Brolin character is finally allowed to confront the assassin that has been stalking him, but isn’t going down without a fight. The Coens manage to create brilliant tention by simply having a “cat” and a “mouse” of two sides of a door and the results lead all the way out to the streets below.
“Oil Fire,” There Will Be Blood: Probably the most original of the set pieces here, the oil fire is the perfect example of how set pieces can do more than entertain, but also develop the characters. Technically it is a hell of a spectacle and also really suspenseful. Johnny Greenwood’s experimental score amps up the excitement for this scene, which is the turning point for Daniel Plainview, both financially and psychologically.
“The Opening Murder Scene,” Zodiac: Fincher’s Zodiac opened with a hell of a bang. On a night in the late sixties a couple in a car watches fireworks go off as they listen to Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” on the radio. Suddenly a man dressed in black approaches, and both their lives are changed forever. No single part of this scene really stands out but all these elements really come together.
The Golden Stake goes to…The Bourne Ultimatum
It’s interesting that The Bourne Ultimatum has been such a presence in the individual scene awards. The film is set around three major set pieces that were each better than anything that had been seen before in there series, and each one of them delivered like gangbusters. Any other year this film could have just as easily won the best fight or best chase award, but it’s just as well that this brilliant set piece won as it seems to truly encompass everything this series and this director are all about.
Best Musical Performance
This is the first of two music based scene category, and its specifically meant for scenes involving musical performances. That means the song must be performed onscreen by a character, diegeticly. The film does not need to be a musical, or even music related, although the nominees will more likely than not will be. Bear in mind that the scene as a whole is considered for this, not necessarily the song or the quality of the performance (though both of those criteria will be taken into account).
“Stack-O-Lee,” Black Snake Moan: Like any self respecting movie about “The Blues,” Black Snake Moan has some great music. The absolute standout though is a scene toward the end where Samuel L. Jackson plays an absolutely scorching cover of “Stagger Lee” at a packed bar, while Christina Ricci Dances in slow motion with the crowd.
“Ballad of a Thin Man,” I’m Not There: Musically, I’m Not There’s finest hour occurs during the much talked about Cate Blanchet sequence. Here Todd Hayne’s treats us to a really great cerebral montage set to the tune of the famous Dylan track. It that literalizes the lyrics, but it also advances the plot, as the antagonist Mr. Jones begins his plans to bring the main character down.
“Anyone Else But You,” Juno: It makes sense that a film that everyone and their mother thinks is the most lovable thing since sliced bread, should have an ending that really drive home how lovable its characters are. This static shot of Ellen Page and Michael Cera playing guitars and singing this Moldy Peaches song (badly) really gives the film closure. I could have done without the joggers making another appearance but otherwise this is a great example of how a musical performance that isn’t conventionally good can be so perfect.
“Falling Slowly,” Once: Ultimately, I think “When Your Mind’s Made Up” is a much better song from Once, but it is the “Falling Slowly” duet that is the better scene. Like most of the rest of the movie this scene allows the viewer to see this couple fall slowly (pun intended) in love, and do it through music. Here we see the couple explore each other’s collective musical personalities and their personal compatibility, and its all done to a really well written song.
“My Friends,” Sweeny Todd: There were a lot of good songs from Sweeny Todd, but this is the one that really stuck with me. The scene, which involved Depp serenading a razorblade, was fairly hokey. As such this scene was largely nominated on the basis of the song and Depp’s performance singing it on screen. There’s a reason this is the song the studio is using to show the world Depp’s singing in the movie, he really delivers this song.
The Golden Stake goes to… Black Snake Moan
The song in this scene, “Stagger Lee,” is a violent blues standard that goes back to the 1930s, it’s the perfect fit for this movie and exactly what you’d want from Samuel L. Jackson singing the Blues. This scene, more than the rest managed a perfect mix of song, performance, context, and visuals. The scene is filled with cool moments like when Jackson points his guitar out like a gun during the songs dramatic peak.
Best scene accompaniment, Pre-existing Pop
Another scene based category related to music, but rather than focusing on live onscreen performances, this is about films that use songs from other sources to accentuate the onscreen action. Again the focus is less on the song than the way it is used in the film.
“Playing With Fire” by The Rolling Stones, featured in The Darjeeling Limited: Wes Anderson has always been a master of using British invasion music to underscore his films. This early Stones song, brings a real angst to some of the most memorable moments in this less than memorable film.
“Chick Habit” by April March, Featured in Grindhouse: It’s no secret that Quentin Tarentino is a master of pop music accompaniment and has been since the beginning of his career. What’s particularly special about his use of “Chick Habit” in Grindhouse is how it completely transforms the film almost out of nowhere. What seemed like a car movie is completely transformed into a Russ Meyer style female empowerment film simply with the use of one song.
“Love Hurts” by Nazareth, featured in Halloween: As a fan of Rob Zombie’s previous film, The Devil’s Rejects, I was sorely disappointed by his remake of Halloween. Though the film was loathsome, there were some interesting things going on in the soundtrack, chiefly among them being this use of the Nazareth classic “Love Hurts” played during Sheri Moon Zombie’s strip scene, which is intercut with Michael Myers the night he first kills.
“Big Poppa” by The Notorious B.I.G., featured in Superbad: This gangsta classic is featured in the soon to be classic scene from Superbad where Jonah Hill dances with hot, drunk, older, girl and begins feeling like the night will finally start going his way. Of course this isn’t to be. This party track is the perfect choice to build up the character’s ego before completely deflating it in one of the most memorable gross-out gags since There’s Something About Mary.
“Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan, featured in Zodiac: The opening scene of Zodiac has come up a lot in these awards, and for good reason, it’s a perfect little diamond of an opening. A big part of what helps that opening is the use of Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man.” This song establishes a time and place without drawing too much attention to itself, and really blends in with the onscreen visuals.
The Golden Stake goes to… Superbad
This is probably not the conventional choice, and in many ways I think all the above mentioned track are rather evenly matched, but this is the one song here I really yearned to listen to when I got home. No one in their right mind would ever mistake Jonah Hill for a “true playa’” but for about two minutes he thought he was, and it’s all because of this song.