The Friendly Film Fan takes a look back at the scenes that made us laugh, cheer, cry, and fall in love with movies in 2021.
Hello, everyone, and welcome back to The Friendly Film Fan! As we begin engaging with the movies of 2022, it’s nice to go back and reminisce on everything we got to experience in the previous year, especially specific moments that touched us, thrilled us, saddened us, and made us leap for joy. We all remember where we were when the Avengers first assembled in The Avengers, when Cap wielded Thor’s hammer in Endgame, when Charlie’s head hit the pole in Hereditary, when the Joker finally donned his smile in Joker, when the basement opens in Parasite, when the final drum solo of Whiplash happened, when Rey and Kylo fought together in The Last Jedi, when Miles took his leap of faith in Into the Spider-Verse, when Sex Bob-Omb led the best opening credits music sequence ever made…we all remember the moments. Those specific moments when we fell in love with movies, the sequences we constantly keep talking about once a film has ended and the credits have stopped rolling, those moments where we fell in love with whatever it was we were watching. And those are what The Friendly Film Fan is celebrating today. Of course, in order to discuss these moments in full, a HEAVY SPOILER WARNING must abound, so consider that the warning for this list. Here are our Top 5 Picks for the Best Scenes and Movie Moments of 2021.
(Disclaimer: Films which are considered for "best of the year" status but which don’t feature standout sequences or moments are ineligible for this list, for obvious reasons.
5. Paloma – No Time to Die
Easily the best final film in any Bond actors tenure according to those who have stuck with the franchise long enough (I haven’t seen enough of them yet to decide), No Time to Die was an overlong but worthy addition to the iconic series and a bittersweet swan song for Daniel Craig as its leading man. Not keen to leave us without a standout sequence, though, director Cari Joji Fukunaga also introduced us to a wonderful new character named Paloma, played by the incomparable Ana de Armas. The sequence itself is fun, sexy, loaded with action, and brimming with charm as Bond and Paloma work together to take out a host of gunmen in a Santiago bar where the film’s villain has just executed all of the shadow organization Spectre. Ana de Armas is flawless in this sequence, keeping up with Craig in the fight choreography and having a fun little rapport with the character between bursts of bullets. The worst part of the whole sequence, however, is that that’s her only one. The character never comes back and is never mentioned again after this fight takes place, which is a real shame considering how she’s easily the best part of the whole affair. Wherever the Bond franchise goes after this is anyone’s guess, but any major action directors should take note of how swiftly de Armas steals the show here.
4. America – West Side Story
Almost no one actually saw West Side Story in theaters when it released, but if its awards run is any indication, those people who passed it by missed out on something truly spectacular (and I would agree with this sentiment). The revamped musical, headed up by none other than the G.O.A.T. Steven Spielberg, updated a great many things from the original Broadway production, including deeper characterization for Tony and Maria, as well as the order and lyrics of a number of songs. Nowhere more clearly does this work to the film’s benefit than in perhaps the most famous of the musical numbers, “America.” The lustrous costuming by Paul Tazewell, the new choreography by Justin Peck, the performances of Ariana DeBose and a truly underrated David Alvarez, the cinematography by Janusz Kaminski, and the updated instrumentation and lyrics all combine to create what is easily the standout sequence of the whole film, a joyous celebration and fun little quarrel between lovers, chock-full of all the things that make Spielberg a master of the craft. If ever there were an sequence most poised to show how Spielberg landed his Best Director nomination (and on his first musical, no less), “America” is it.
3. The Spider-Men – Spider-Man: No Way Home
This is where the HEAVY SPOILER warning comes into play most, as it’s revealed during the third act of Marvel’s latest superhero adventure that there are, in fact, two more Spider-Men in this movie than appear on the film’s posters. Andrew Garfield and Toby Maguire both reprise their roles as Peter Parker from the other Spider-Man films, and rather than quick cameos or small joke parts, the two actors are given full supporting character time, appearing in almost the entire third act of the film. Choosing the entire third act as a singular moment doesn’t really work most of the time, though (unless it’s the third act of Sorry to Bother You), so for this particular spot, I’m going with the moment in which they finally unite to fight as a unit. After resolving to cure the film’s villains of their various ailments at the Statue of Liberty, the three Spider-Men engage in a fight in which – at first – they don’t especially do very well, a fact which Tom Holland’s Peter Parker points out during a brief respite. But, after resolving to fight as a team and coordinate their attacks, the three Peters unite, and the moment is one any Spider-Man fan would be moved by. Three Spider-Men all jump from one of the structures, swinging together, and even swinging each other at a point on each other’s webs, as Tom Holland’s Spider-Man theme blares through the action. This truly is the moment “The Spider-Men” finally emerge, and to have experienced it in a theater – especially on the film’s opening day – was pure euphoria. (Plus, if you pay close attention during the fight that ensues afterwards, you can see each of the three Spider-Men fighting in their own unique styles from their own set of films. Pretty neat.)
2. Final Montage – The Green Knight
As with David Lowery’s other works, The Green Knight is better than it has any right to be for a quasi-faithful adaptation of a short fantasy tale about King Arthur’s supposedly most cowardly knight, but it’s the film’s final moments that catapult it from an excellent genre flick to one of the straight-up best films of 2021, bar none. As Gawain’s quest to find the titular Green Knight comes to a close, and time for repayment of the blow which he dealt the creature one year prior draws is at hand, Gawain is seen kneeling face down towards the forest floor. The music swells, the axe drops, and Gawain suddenly moves, narrowly avoiding the blow thanks to a protective piece of cloth around his waist; failing in his quest, and heads back to the castle from which he embarked on his journey, and the audience is shown his ill-sought rule as the kingdom slowly crumbles around him. He is eventually left with no one and nothing, removing his belt just before his head falls off his body and to the floor, a clean cut clearly made by the Green Knight but staved off until Gawain has had nothing left to bring to ruin. But it’s not until the film’s final few seconds that Lowery’s masterful trick is revealed, when the camera suddenly flashes back to Gawain’s face as he kneels before the Green Knight. It’s at this point that the audience realizes the montage of ruin which befell Dev Patel’s Gawain was not the ending of the film, but a vision of what the ending might have been without honor’s intervention. Gawain removes the belt, and the Green Knight spares his life for being honorable enough to play fair in this Christmas game. It’s a brilliantly edited knock-out of an ending that not only demonstrates Dev Patel’s masterful performance, but a director in full command of the story he’s telling.
1. The Spice Harvester – Dune
Even though it may not be as wish-fulfilling as the Spider-Men or as gobsmackingly unexpected as the Green Knight’s ending montage, from whence else could the best movie moment of the year come than the first chapter of Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic, Dune. Though this is only Part One of a two-part adaptation of Frank Herbert’s iconic novel, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune packs a punch the likes of which sci-fi filmmaking hasn’t seen in decades. Everything, from the production design to the performances to the cinematography to that incredible score by Hans Zimmer, is working at its peak level, and nowhere do all of those things come together better than in the sequence where Paul and Duke Leto Atreides suddenly have to rescue an entire spice harvesting crew from the worm-ridden deserts of Arrakis. The sound design dropping out when the ship descends nose-first, the sudden resurrection of that sound when they find their lowest altitude, Hans Zimmer’s (once again) magnificent score, the editing, the camerawork, all come together to craft one of the most tense sequences in all of movies for 2021, and it’s this sequence in particular that showcases just how epic a story Dune really is and what a masterful director Denis Villeneuve has become (which makes it doubly criminal that he was egregiously snubbed for Best Director at this year’s Oscars). If ever there were evidence that Villeneuve was the right choice to adapt Dune, this whole sequence, with all its bells and whistles, is it. What a treat it was to experience this movie – and this scene – on a giant theater screen.
And those are our picks for the Top 5 Best Scenes/Movie Moments of 2021! What were some of your favorite moments in film over the last year? Any you don’t see here that should be included? Let us know in the comments section below, and thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan