The set-piece award is meant to be a place where large-scale action sequences that don’t easily fall into the “fight,” “shootout,” or “chase” categories. Past winners have included the Waterloo Station scene from The Bourne Ultimatum, the theater fire in Inglourious Basterds, and the dawn of life sequence from The Tree of Life. This year there seems to be a theme amongst the nominees of “things going badly fast,” they’re all disaster sequences of one form or another
- Embassy Siege – Argo: Before the escape scenario that makes up the backbone of Argo, there was of course the famous embassy siege that sparked the whole hostage crisis. This recreation of that siege starts the movie off on a huge bang. Affleck patiently shows how this situation got out of hand over the course of about an hour by giving us a good view of the unruly mob and of the fear of people inside the embassy as they desperately try to shed sensitive documents.
- Monsters Escape – The Cabin in the Woods: The Cabin in the Woods is a film that’s largely built around pandering to horror fans, but in its last twenty minutes this pandering goes from being kind of lame to being downright transcendent. This sequence works both as an exciting action scene and as a hilarious laundry-list of horror iconography. It’s like the “Imaginationland” episode of South Park meets Jurassic Park, and it’s unique from pretty much everything else we saw in cinema this year.
- Plane Hijack– The Dark Knight Rises: They say that real stuntwork is dead because of the proliferation of CGI, but fortunately Christopher Nolan never got that memo. This crazy man actually hired a bunch of stunt skydivers to tie a prop plane to another plane so that it could be ripped to shreds in mid-air. The action inside the plane is good too with bane establishing himself as a true badass while fighting in a vertical environment.
- Plane Crash – Flight: Robert Zemeckis gave us one of the most memorable plane crashes of all time in his 2000 film Cast Away and it’s clear that he had every intention of topping himself when he made Flight. I think he might have done it too because he manages to make the crash here into a very tense situation, especially when the plane twists upside-down and the flight crew is forced to save passengers who’ve fallen out of their seats.
- Boat Sinks – Life of Pi: This year’s other straight-up disaster scene is this sequence from Life of Pi in which Pi’s boat is scuttled by a hurricane and our hero is forced to find his way onto a lifeboat. This is one of the rare cased where 3D improves the sequence in a big way, especially when Ang Lee’s camera breaks the waterline at certain tense moments. The fact that there are loose zoo animals running around everywhere throughout the scene also adds a nice surreal element to the proceedings.