The set-piece of the year award is sort of a catchall for well rendered visual moments from movies that don’t really fit in the usual action scene categories like best chase and best fight. Sometimes they’re hybrid action scenes that incorporate various different modes of action, sometimes they’re miscellaneous effects scenes that do things a little outside the box, and sometimes they’re smaller scale scenes that nonetheless leave a distinct visual impression.
- What Audiences Want- Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): First thing’s first, I realize that praising this scene is probably an irony on par with nominating the song “Everything is Awesome” for an Oscar, but a good scene is a good scene. In it Riggan Thomson is having a breakdown on the streets of New York and his Birdman alter ego starts taunting him and a Hollywood style CGI action scene starts playing out on the streets. It’s meant to be a manifestation of Thomson’s temptation to return to empty Hollywood fare and the film almost dares you not to enjoy what you’re watching.
- Final Battle – Captain America: The Winter Soldier: A lot of critics were annoyed at how long and CGI driven the final action scene of Captain America: The Winter Soldier was and they might have been right, but taken in isolation I definitely think this scene is too awesome to be denied. This is a scene where an all-out battle is waged between our three heroes and an army of Hydra troops across three flying aircraft carriers which almost all blow up real good. All of it leads up to a cool fight between Captain America and The Winter Soldier and as far as pure unadulterated superhero spectacle went this year, this was probably tops.
- Boxcutter- Gone Girl: Gone Girl is rated R for (among other things) “a scene of bloody violence,” and what a scene of bloody violence it is. It’s not a long scene but it is impactful, it shows Amy Dunne seeming to seduce her savior/captor only to pull out a boxcutter she’d stashed away and cut his damn throat in one quick slice. A moment of shock goes over his face before both parties are drenched in blood. Dunne spins the man over and rises like a feral Carrie White. The moment that really sends the scene into the stratosphere is a moment at the end when Rosemond pike gives a sudden flick of the hair that sort of snaps her out of her psychotic trance. It’s a scene that melds the sex and the violence at the film’s heart in a way that is fittingly uncomfortable and cinematic.
- Imploding Person – Under the Skin: Under the Skin is a movie that rarely stops to explain what’s going on, but it finds a fairly spectacular way to clarify some of the goings on in this scene which provides one of the most earned “jump scares” of the year. In it, the huntress captures a second man in her oil like trap and as he’s stuck there he sees the earlier victim and his skin seems to be rippling. Then suddenly he fucking implodes, leaving only his empty skin behind. It’s a strange and shocking image that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Jonathan Glazer music video.
- Quicksilver Vs. The Room- X-Men: Days of Future Past: The character of Quicksilver has been part of a protracted legal battle between 20th Century Fox and Disney over whether the character is more of an X-Man or more of an Avenger. Most speculated that he was only added to this movie in order to lay claim to him, and that was probably true, but it led Bryan Singer to create this very fun sequence where the character uses his super speed to take out three guards and re-route a number of bullets shot at our heroes. Its rendered by “stopping time” and showing Quicksilver moving at more or less regular speed and doing it all with a really amusing arrogance. Good luck topping that Whedon.