2009 Set-Piece of the Year Nominees

The final award to focus on a single scene as opposed to an entire film, this one is a bit of a miscellaneous catch all category.  Basically, if there’s a big set-piece that doesn’t really fit in with the fight, shootout, and chase categories, it goes here.  I’ve decided to disqualify the final battle from Avatar from this, basically because that scene is so long and has so many segments that I don’t think it can really be called a single scene.

  • Destroying the Tree- Avatar:  All right, so even with the big disqualification Avatar still finds itself in here.  The destruction of the home-tree was a turning point in the movie, it was the point where both the sympathies of both the audience and the main character are fully invested in the Na’vi.  It’s the point where I really wanted to see the goddamn humans die.  The image of those choppers lined up and firing as the Na’vi are helpless is really compelling and the pain that the whole thing causes really pulls at the heart-strings.
  • Séance- Drag Me to Hell: Drag Me to Hell is generally a movie where Sam Raimi really just went balls out with the horror/comedy style he invented and nowhere is that more obvious than in the Séance scene.  Strange things happen throughout the scene like floating bodies reminiscent of the possessed people from The Evil Dead, but the real punch line to the  whole thing was the way a goat was utilized.  I’ll leave it at that, needless to say, it’s an awesome scene.
  • Theater Fire- Inglourious Basterds: Quentin Tarentino is a certifiable cinepheliac so it probably makes sense that he’s going to end his masterpiece in a movie theater.  This isn’t just Tarentino indulging his interest in cinema in the background of a WW2 revenge film, the use of a movie theater is central to his statement about art.  But even without all of that, the fire in this scene along with Tarentino’s bold trashing of history are more than enough to put this scene here, not to mention that haunting image of the face in the smoke.
  • The Prison Escape- Public Enemies: I’m not talking about the opening scene here, I’m talking about the scene mid-way through the film in which John Dillinger manages to escape from jail using a fake wood pistol and his wits.  This escape did happen in history and it solidified Dilinger’s larger than life reputation.  Mann expertly crafts this scene using bold camera turns and long-ish shots to follow him throughout his escape.  It’s an unsung highlight to an unsung film.
  • Opening Scene- Star Trek:  The first fifteen minutes of Star Trek are so good they almost hurt the rest of the movie, which is never really able to top the opening.  The birth of James T. Kirk is depicted to have happened over the course of an epic space battle which ends in the destruction of USS Kelvin and the ship’s acting captain: George Kirk.  This act of heroism will inspire the soon to be iconic hero.  It’s a pretty awesome bit of space opera and it make the upcoming gratuitous car chase look just silly.

The Golden Stake goes to…