Hello, all, and welcome back to The Friendly Film Fan! After discussing the surprises, disappointments, and hidden gems of movies in 2020, it’s time to get a little more definitive with the end-of-year coverage. Tons of movies came out this past year that had more than a few great moments, but many of the best films of the year also didn’t contain standout moments at all due to their overall balance across their respective runtimes. Those films may not be included on this list, but you’re encouraged to watch for them later on down the line (wink wink). For now, though, it’s time to talk about the standout moments in 2020 movies – the ones that made us laugh, cry, and let our jaws hit the collective societal floor. Obviously, because these moments cannot be fully discussed without context or a summary of their content, this is a spoiler warning: FULL SPOILERS AHEAD. Now, without further ado, let’s get right into it with…
5. “Epiphany” – Soul
Pixar’s Soul tackles a lot of weighty, complex themes, some of which even the film itself isn’t able to get all the way around, despite its incredibly smart, nuanced script which should put it in the running for Best Original Screenplay. But when it hits, it really hits, and that’s no better demonstrated than in Joe’s epiphany as he realizes that experiencing life, joy, and wonder is the spark 22 needed to start living. I’ve personally been grappling lately with the idea of my work consuming me, my purpose becoming so much the only thing in which I participate that I miss out on all the living I have to do and my career eventually crushes me because I’ve poured my soul into something that, on its own, cannot be inherently fulfilling. I love writing about movies a lot, but I don’t want to become so consumed by it that I miss the sparks of life all around me. Joe’s epiphany touched me during a very formative time in my career, and it seems at just the right moment, Pixar knew exactly what I so desperately needed to hear.
4. The Kiev Opera Siege – Tenet
Tenet was certainly a mixed bag for many Nolan fans, particularly wherein it concerned the film’s narrative complexity, with many feeling that the film was only complex for complexity’s sake, without offering anything of substance or weight to take away from the story. While this is admittedly an understandable position, as a pure action movie, Tenet might well be the best thing Christopher Nolan has ever done. That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its flaws – and some noticeable ones at that – but none of those flaws are in the incredible action sequences Nolan is able to craft, the most notable being the Kiev Opera Siege that opens the movie. John David Washington hauling ass across a Ukrainian opera house to the sounds of Ludwig Göransson’s pulse-pounding, all-timer score in the background was one of 2020’s most exciting movie moments. You can feel the desperation, you can witness the fantastic camerawork and editing on display just in the opening minutes, and that sense of urgency carries the whole operation through to the very end. Other sequences, such as the Oslo-set inversion fights, also stand out as part of Nolan’s time-bending genre thriller, but it’s the opening that takes the cake by letting us know what sort of movie we’re really in for.
3. “Stars Are Blind” Montage – Promising Young Woman
Promising Young Woman is a very dark, nearly pitch-black comedy (no matter what the Golden Globes say) that deals with a lot of heavy subject matter and traumatic themes. But the standout amongst all of it is the montage set to Paris Hilton’s 2006 hit, “Stars Are Blind.” The scene begins when Cassie and Ryan make a trip to their local pharmacy (the purpose of which is never made clear, not that it matters), but when the first chorus kicks in, we get to see what it’s like for Cassie to be in a relationship that doesn’t have any sort of asterisk or deeper-than-superficial connection to her previous life (that we know of, until later). It’s the rare moment in the film where Cassie gets to be happy, uninhibited by the advances of “nice guys” or the tactics she uses to subdue them. None of her trauma follows her into this part of her life; she’s free from its relentless grip each time she’s with him. It’s not gone, per se, but it’s not an overwhelming force on her anymore, and she can finally allow herself to be happy. She’s living her own life in this moment, rather than avenging Nina’s, and that’s a big part of the reason the rug-pull later on in the movie – when Ryan is discovered to have borne witness to Nina’s assault – burns so much hotter.
2. Home Birth – Pieces of a Woman
As much as Pieces of a Woman was somewhat of a letdown as an awards contender (apart from the committed performance of Vanessa Kirby), there is one sequence in the film that could win an Oscar all by itself – the home birth. With no hidden cuts and brilliantly slick camera movements, the home birth sequence of the film runs for a full 24 minutes, ranging from terrifying to skin-crawling to a little bit gross to stressful to triumphant to sweet to tragic without skipping a beat. Benjamin Loeb’s camera is as patient and urgent as it needs to be from moment to moment, and there is not one second of this sequence that feels as if the camera is showing off; one barely notices the absence of cuts if you’re not looking for them ahead of time. To truly feel the weight of this narrative, we needed to experience what it would have been like to witness the loss of Vanessa Kirby’s child, and no other film I’ve seen has been able to pull off this level of sequence ambition this well. It’s a true stunner, and if the rest of the film had been even half as good as this sequence, we’d all be talking about it as a Best Picture front-runner right now.
1. The Rudy Giuliani Interview – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Of course, the #1 movie moment of 2020 also happened to be one of the year’s top news moments as well, in a year chock full of them. During the climactic scene of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Borat’s daughter Tutar (played expertly by Maria Bakalova) is set to interview Rudy Giuliani, former President Trump’s personal lawyer. Borat crashes the interview by posing as a boom operator, who is quickly dealt with by Tutar and forced out of the interview room, leaving Tutar and Giuliani alone, apart from the rest of the camera crew. As the two make their way into another part of the hotel room in order to continue the interview, Giuliani can be seen putting his hand down his pants in front of Tutar – who, in the film, is 15 years old. (Giuliani has since claimed that he was adjusting his shirt.) This moment blew up overnight once the film screened for critics, becoming a national news scandal at the highest level, and so the film’s biggest secret was instantly spoiled. That doesn’t make it any less shocking, though, even within the context of the narrative. A surprise comedy sequel to 2006’s Borat implicating the personal lawyer of the most infamously shitty President the U.S. has ever had in what could (and should) well be considered a sex crime was not something anyone saw coming even in 2020, yet it somehow became – in an instant – its most fitting, appropriately executed, and memorable movie moment.
And those are my picks for the Top 5 Best Scenes/Movie Moments of 2020! Any of these on your list? What are some of your favorite scenes and moments in film from the past year? Let me know in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan
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Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time.