by Jacob Thomas Jones
Each year, there are any number of films that inspire moviegoers to engage in conversation immediately after exiting the theater due to the innate need to share in the experience of what was just seen. You simply have to talk about certain moments, whether they were shocking, heartwarming, profound, awe-inducing, or just plain fun. Sometimes they’re all five, sometimes they’re one or a few combined. In any case, these moments can make our jaws drop, make us laugh, make us think, or give us a catharsis we didn’t even know we were waiting for.
2023’s movies were full of these moments, so many of them that whittling the list down to just five of them has been one of our toughest but most rewarding list-making tasks. A few notes before we begin: these are only the best individual movie moments of the year, so films we loved that stay consistently great all the way through, rather than having standout individual moments, are not included here. In kind, some films that appear on this list may not end up making it to our Top 10 Movies of the Year. But that’s the beauty of lists like these; they give us a chance to highlight films we may not otherwise get a chance to praise in such effusive terms, and ultimately, they offer us an opportunity to re-live, reflect upon, and re-immortalize some of the cinematic year’s greatest hits. Here are our picks for the Top 5 Scenes & Movie Moments of 2023! (Needless to say: heavy spoilers apply.)
5. Ginza – Godzilla Minus One
Godzilla Minus One is already off to a hell of a start by the time the titular monster reaches the Japanese city of Ginza, the horrors of the enormous Kaiju’s rampage readily apparent to the viewer. It’s once he reaches that place, however, that Takashi Yamazaki’s film kicks into its highest gear, with the monster taking on the form of a great natural disaster as he wrecks everything around him, reducing the city to rubble, crumbling train cars in his jaws, and rendering the city streets craters as he stomps along. And then came the moment in which every viewer’s jaw hit the floor: the atomic breath. We’ve seen Godzilla’s atomic breath in movies before – 2014’s American Godzilla film features a quite famous moment where the Kaiju defeats another monster using it – but rarely have we seen it rendered this terrifyingly. The dorsal fins begin to protrude from Godzilla’s back, the blue glow illuminating them like a timer, and once he’s all charged up, the soundscape is entirely filled by the audio of what these characters call the “heat ray” being unleashed, which in turn unleashes an atomic explosion, wiping nearly everything out for miles around. As the camera takes a low angle, we witness the majesty of Godzilla as he roars into the sky; he has become the embodiment of nuclear terror.
4. I’m Just Ken – Barbie
There are a few different moments from Barbie that could have made this list, but at the end of the day, it’s this showstopping musical dance number in the film’s third act that takes the cake. I’m Just Ken isn’t just lyrically innovative and riotously fun, it also gives the audience further insight into Ken’s frame of mind; plus, every background actor is giving everything to the audience frame by frame. If you look, you’ll notice details that you never noticed before. This is all before the dream ballet dance sequence begins, which may be the best part of the whole thing. The stage is gorgeous, the choreography is iconic, and the conclusion to it all is extremely cathartic. (Look at Kingsley Ben-Adir during the dream ballet’s final chorus – it’s a real treat.) And it’s all led by a stellar turn from Ryan Gosling, who we all knew could do comedy and could sing, but leave it to Greta Gerwig to pull the ingenious move of putting those talents together in one fantastic brush stroke.
3. Finale – Killers of the Flower Moon
(There were no actual images of the scene in question available, so I had to use a regular still.)
Perhaps the single most powerful conclusion to any film released in 2023, Killers of the Flower Moon sees Martin Scorsese confronting head-on his own complicity in not fully telling this story by concluding that he can’t fully tell this story – after all, he’s not Osage, and it would take a member of the Osage nation to sufficiently fill in the gaps Scorsese is unable to fully understand. Additionally, the film critiques the very idea of itself as a form of entertainment for mass audiences by criticizing the idea of large-scale crimes which have affected entire generations of people being turned into the true-crime tales we obsess over day after day. How complicit are we in trivializing real pain when these events and other atrocities become the entertainment we so desperately cling to? And how can we hope to rise above these issues if even those who seek to understand them cannot tell the full story? To read my words on it, one wouldn’t be able to get a full picture of just how powerful the ending is, but when seen through one’s own eyes, it’s one of the most profound self-criticizing moments in any big director’s recent filmography. How lucky we are that Martin Scorsese is still seeking to educate, and to learn, this deep into his wonderfully storied career.
2. Trinity – Oppenheimer
Sometimes a great movie moment doesn’t have one individual thing making it great, but a whole host of different tools and history coming together to wow the audience with a showstopping sequence demonstrating the full power of a filmmaker’s capabilities. Christopher Nolan’s directorial vision is on full display in Oppenheimer, but nowhere does everything coalesce better than in the crescendo that is the Trinity Test. Even with the knowledge of history to back it up, Trinity is a masterfully-edited, brilliantly-scored, and perfectly-acted sequence in which our characters wait with bated breath to discover whether or not their atomic bomb will detonate, changing the world and everyone’s lives for the rest of eternity, whether all their work will be for nothing and they’re about to fire a dud…or whether, upon detonation, it will ignite the atmosphere, ending humanity as we know it. From the moment boots are on the ground to the sound dropping out when the bomb explodes to the second Kitty receives a phone call telling her they’ve succeeded in their quest, we are white-knuckled with anticipation, ready to witness history but knowing the horror it will leave in its wake. It’s a moment so arresting, it literally shakes the foundations of cinema.
1. Ely Cathedral – Maestro
Despite the fact that Bradley Cooper’s sophomore directorial effort has become film twitter’s favorite movie to hate for awards season (a notion I thoroughly disagree with and do not share in), there remains one scene, one moment in the whole of film in 2023 that takes everyone’s breath away the minute it begins and refuses to give it back until the six minutes have passed: the Ely Cathedral sequence. Up to this moment, Leonard Bernstein has languished in toil, his life unable to fulfill him, his work unable to make up the gaps in his heart, and his delicate marriage to Felicia teetering on the edge of calamity. It’s difficult for him to hold on to the life he so loves; yet, when he gets in front of an orchestra, everything else falls away, and we are treated to an awe-inspiring groundswell of magnificent performance, direction, cinematography, and sound design. Cooper spends a full six minutes live-conducting the London Symphony Orchestra through Mahler’s “Symphony No. 2 in C Minor ‘Resurrection’,” his performance and the film itself reaching their ultimate crescendo as he and his baton navigate through every note with such passion it would take a stone heart not to be moved in some way. It’s impossible to describe just how arresting this moment is without one experiencing it for oneself, but in seeing Maestro in a Dolby Atmos-equipped theater, the effect was soul-shaking, a completely transportive, unforgettable, and riveting soundscape surrounding and driven by one of the year’s most spectacularly worthy efforts. I still love Maestro for all the supposed flaws it contains, and the Ely Cathedral sequence remains without question the singular best movie moment of 2023.
And those are our picks for the Top 5 Scenes and Movie Moments of 2023! What were some of your favorite moments in movies this year? Let us know in the comments section below, and thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan