Ed. Note: Yeah…these last two articles have been taken longer than expected. I apologize to you, the reader, for the delay in these articles. I hope to have my Best of Music up before this week is over (although I am going out of town on Thursday), and next week’s article will arrive right on time, I promise you. Please enjoy the rest of this article as was originally written.
Welcome to the First Annual Sacred Wall Awards! We’ve spent the past couple of weeks looking at the worst of the worst and the best of the best. However, I haven’t really taken the time to break these down to their roots. What were the best performances of the year? What of the best songs and scores? And were there any scenes that are destined to become classics, like The Wolf of Wall Street’s “The Lemmon Scene,” or the First Fight in last year’s Creed? These are the answers I’ll be exploring tonight.
The following awards will follow a simple format, not unlike a ballot for the Academy Awards. I’ll start by presenting my top six for the four acting categories-five nominees and a Winner, as well as the best screenplays, songs and scores. Then I’ll name a best of for each of the below-the-line technical awards, like Sound Mixing, Cinematography, and Editing. Then I’ll move on to the best documentaries, as well as the Best Horror, Best Comedy, and Best Ensemble, before moving on to personal awards, like the Best Use of a Song or the Most Nostalgic/Tear-Jerking Moments of the Year. And finally, we’ll bring it on home with the top award of the night, the Twelve Best Scenes of 2016. For each award, I’ll offer up a brief description for my reasoning-just one or two sentences instead of the multiple paragraphs I’ve been doing. With that settled, let us commence with the Sacred Wall Awards, starting with Best Actor!
Best Actor in a Leading Role
- Denzel Washington-Fences: As Troy Maxson in Fences, Denzel Washington looms large and creates one of his most indelible performances yet, a complicated composition of tics, traits, flaws, and sympathies that make you want to like him despite all the demons he deals with. With August Wilson’s dialogue, he’s unstoppable.
- Ryan Gosling-La La Land and The Nice Guys: In his emotive triple-threat performance in La La Land, as well as his comedic performance in The Nice Guys, Gosling showed he is a physically, verbally, and emotionally talented actor with two of the best performances of the year.
- Joel Edgerton-Loving: Edgerton’s performance is one of the sweetest of the year, emoting as an introverted, quiet man who is nothing if not a sweetheart who just wants to love his wife.
- Casey Affleck-Manchester by the Sea: Speaking of internal struggles, few were as great as Affleck in his emotionally wrecked and slowly imploding role in the devastating Manchester by the Sea.
- Ryan Reynolds-Deadpool: Deadpool doesn’t work without Reynolds’ performance. Witty, sarcastic, sweet, and unbearable all at the same time, his energy helped turn the movie into one of the best of the year.
- Warren Beatty-Rules Don’t Apply: I didn’t get around to reviewing Rules Don’t Apply-which may have been a good thing, as it wasn’t very good-but Beatty’s mournful Beatty was funny, lovable, and quirky, showing Beatty’s own inner turmoil over what his life could have been without Bening n it.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
- Annette Bening-20th Century Women: There are few performances from this year, or any year, that filled me with as much joy as Bening’s Dorothea Fields. It’s damned near impossible to create a character that feels lived in, with tics and traits that take a lifetime to develop. Most actors and actresses who accomplish it are playing real life people. Bening’s Fields is one of the select few who do it with an original character. Fields is sweet, smart, funny, kind, and flawed all at the same time, and she will successfully evoke images of your mother, your grandmother, your friend, and more in her tour-de-force performance. This is the best acting job of the year.
- Natalie Portman-Jackie: A close second to Bening is Natalie Portman, who tops her performance in Black Swan by evoking the image, voice, and psychosis of our 35th First Lady. It’s as brilliant a performance as Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, and it deserves the praise for it.
- Amy Adams-Arrival: Amy Adams gives the best performance of her career as a smart, strong linguist trying to make contact with an alien species. Much of the role requires beneath the surface acting, and it helps make the ending a real wallop.
- Emma Stone-La La Land: She sings, she dances, she woos you with those saucer dish eyes, what more do you want from her? Stone truly makes you fall in love with Mia Dolan, and her performance of “Audition” is an emotional wallop on par with Liza Minnelli and Jennifer Hudson.
- Ruth Negga-Loving: Like co-star Edgerton, Negga makes the movie shine by playing her role as small as possible. By playing a person instead of an idea or a victim, Negga builds an empathy for Mildred Loving, helping you fall instantly in love with her the way Richard does.
- Isabelle Huppert-Elle: A dark, twisted role that allows the 63 year old French starlet to be sexy, powerful, smart, cold, calculating, and distraught all at the same time. It’s an odd, disturbing role, but one I appreciate her for pulling off.
Best Supporting Actor
- Ralph Fiennes-A Bigger Splash: Fiennes is one of the best actors in Hollywood, and he gets nowhere near the credit he deserves. In A Bigger Splash, he plays a man who is charismatic, obnoxious, flawed, and fun all at the same time. There’s no character on this list I would want to party with the way I do Fiennes’ Harry. Whether he’s swimming naked or dancing to The Rolling Stones, Fiennes gives one of the most memorable performances of his career, and it is a lesser film when he isn’t onscreen.
- Lucas Hedges-Manchester by the Sea: Affleck is getting most of the attention for the film, but I want to give some praise to Hedges. Hedges portrays the grief-stricken teenager with absolute pizzazz, feeling real and raw all at the same time. He’s also responsible for most of the film’s laughs, which are sorely needed.
- Timothy Spall-Denial: I don’t think there’s a character as hate-able as Timothy Spall in Denial. He’s so cold, so calculated, and yet so charismatic, it’s impossible to not remember him, and hate him for remembering him. His pomping and preening about how we need to stop being so “politically correct” when it comes to the “myth of the Holocaust” are chilling in their authenticity, and it may be his best performance to date.
- Ben Foster-Hell or High Water: Ben Foster is one of my favorite actors, and his performance as the deranged-but-lovable thief helping his brother pull off the perfect heist is one of his best yet.
- Mahershala Ali-Moonlight: Mahershala Ali elevates the “dealer with a heart of gold” stereotype to great heights through empathy and no less than three breathtaking scenes-all in the first third of the film.
- Issey Ogata-Silence: Ogata, a Japanese comedian, creates the most memorable villain in recent years-charismatic, funny, sinister, sadistic, and above all, convinced his actions are in the right.
Best Supporting Actress
- Viola Davis-Fences: Honestly, there are few scenes in recent memory as perfectly acted as Viola Davis’ big monologue in Fences. As a woman pushed to her breaking point, she unleashes a pain that is immediate, twenty years, and four hundred years in the making, all at once. She is distraught at her lot in life, but never regrets it, wishing for a perfect family that she may not be able to have, forced to make decisions to keep everyone together, and overall portraying a loving, wise woman in a way that only Viola Davis can. It’s one of the best performances of the year, and it proves why Davis is the greatest actress alive.
- Greta Gerwig-20th Century Women: Few actresses can make as three-dimensional a character as Greta Gerwig makes Abbie. Smart, funny, troubled, and so, so punk, Abbie is like the big sister mentor you’ve always wanted, cool even when she’s not, funny even when the joke is on her, and overall a force of nature. I don’t think I’ve fallen in love with a character the way I fell for her in quite some time.
- Janelle Monáe-Hidden Figures and Moonlight: Janelle Monáe may have had the most successful year all around, giving two of the year’s best performances her first two times out. And they couldn’t be more different, despite a link of empathy. In Moonlight, she’s the mother figure a child has always dreamed of, while in Hidden Figures, she’s a loud, opinionated, and ever-so-likable firecracker who’s sharp tongue is only matched by her even-sharper brain.
- Michelle Williams-Manchester by the Sea: Michelle Williams may only have 12 minutes of screen time in a 130 minute movie, but does she ever make the most of them. Quietly funny, subtle, and real in her first three scenes, she absolutely nails a final monologue that will send chills down your spine in a heartbreaking tour-de-force.
- Nicole Kidman-Lion: Lion doesn’t become good, in my opinion, until Kidman shows up. The rest of the cast feel like dishonest amateurs until the sweet, motherly Kidman shows up, teaching us all why we considered her one of our best actresses fifteen years ago.
- Margot Robbie-Suicide Squad: Yeah, yeah, I’m putting Suicide Squad Are you going to tell me Robbie isn’t stellar in this movie? Smart, funny, sexy, and tough, Robbie is the only reason I gave the film a decent review back in August. She may be the best thing to come out of the DC Extended Universe.
- Damien Chazelle-La La Land: Damien Chazelle pulled off one of the most electrifying, brilliant films I’ve ever seen. It’s so fully realized, filled with references and pastiches-it’s like a musical version of a Tarantino film, but the only murder is our hearts. And there are no less than three sequences that are absolutely visual masterpieces, and it proves that Chazelle is one of the greatest directors of his generation.
- Barry Jenkins-Moonlight: Speaking of great directors of the current class, Barry Jenkins. Moonlight is the type of expertly made film that the United States doesn’t really make any more-skillfully rich, both literally and thematically, and emotionally powerful. It’s a truly remarkable film.
- Denis Villeneuve-Arrival: Villeneuve takes his place as the next Stanley Kubrick, making highly entertaining films out of thematically complex material. Here he makes a sci-fi film about coming together and motherhood, and it’s an artistic achievement, critically and commercially.
- Ethan and Joel Coen-Hail, Caesar!: Kudos to the Coen Brothers for making a thematically smart movie out of one of their lighter, dumber comedies. Plus, they made several different types of genres in one movie, adding to its appeal.
- Jeff Nichols-Loving: It takes a skilled hand to make a movie this restrained. Nichols finds the human heart and emotion inside an incredible story without ever exploiting it to manipulate the viewer. It’s quiet, and that’s what makes it so emotional.
- David Mackenzie-Hell or High Water: What a taut, fun movie. Kudos to Mackenzie for making an awesome action-Western that can thrill and entertain us while still taking a smart, dark look at modern America.
Best Original Screenplay
- Hail, Caesar!: This is, far and away, the most entertaining script of the year. Every line is funny, every idea introduced is big, and every concept is properly absurd. Want to throw in a giant Soviet submarine? Done. Want a several page scene of a cowboy trying to pronounce “Would that it were so simple?” Done. Want twin gossip columnists? Done. Every joke has a fantastic payoff, every line is just dripping with droll humor, waiting for the perfect delivery by a great actor. This is the type of script that makes me excited to be a critic.
- Manchester by the Sea: Another great script, this time because of its ability to seem entirely realistic and natural while simultaneously feeling operatic in nature. Every dark moment (and this is a depressing film) is counteracted with a humorous one-never ha-ha funny, just funny in the little ways that real life makes you laugh. Kudos to Kenneth Lonergan for pulling this off.
- La La Land: La La Land’s wit has been hidden by it’s songs and acting, but make no mistake: this is also a well-written movie. The big ideas? Those come from a script. Gosling’s quips and Stone’s zings? Written in a script. It’s not the most memorable script, but it is the hardest working, keeping the entire project together.
- Everybody Wants Some!!: Realism is hard to convey in a script, which makes what Richard Linklater has accomplished with this script that much move impressive.
- 20th Century Women: Rich, sweet, funny, and filled with strong, three-dimensional characters (and mostly women!). Mike Mills knows what he’s doing.
- The Nice Guys: The most flawed script on this list (lots of plot holes, albeit sometimes intentional), this is also the funniest on the list. It’s rich, laugh-a-minute stuff that will have you gasping for air between guffaws.
Best Adapted Screenplay
- Moonlight: This was a hair’s breadth between number one and number two. I choose Moonlight because there’s just nothing wrong with this writing. It’s flawless. Each line has an increased weight, yet still functions on a realistic and grounded level. I’m a little jealous of Barry Jenkins’ abilities here-he has done what every writer strives to do, finding the artistic inside the realistic and created beauty.
- Arrival: Just missing out is the smartest script of the year. Seriously-without an adept writer who knows exactly what to do, this movie doesn’t work. It requires multiple narratives, perfectly timed reveals, and high concept dialogue. Luckily, this film had it all in abundance, and while it just misses out for #1, I’m proud to call it one of the best scripts of the year.
- The Hunt for the Wilderpeople: New Zealand humor is a magical thing. Taika Waititi has crafted a fairly basic, but wholeheartedly funny and sweet film that stands as a lesson to the rest of the genre.
- Fences: August Wilson is one of the greatest writers to ever live. While I have issues with the staging, as the film feels too basic for the screen, I’m still floored by the writing and the characters, and this film deserves acclaim for that.
- Loving: An incredible film in its simplicity, the film is rich and vibrant because it does the exact opposite of what you expect. Kudos to Jeff Nichols for handling this perfectly and focusing on the heart and soul instead of the pomp and circumstance.
- The BFG: The late Melissa Mathison’s BFG is an understated testament to writing. She really does bring Dahl’s world to the big screen, keeping things alive and vibrant, even if Spielberg isn’t quite as strong as he was in the days of E.T.
Best Original Score
- La La Land: I mean, obviously. Justin Hurwitz has crafted a fun, yet somber original musical that is more than likely to stand the test of time. I still find myself humming select pieces from this master class of music in daily goings on.
- Arrival: The Academy may have ignored this piece because the main tune is not an original composition, but honestly, it’s the other pieces that floor me. The song that plays over the language montage is just beautiful composing.
- Moonlight: An operatic, dramatic piece for an operatic, dramatic film. So fitting, and so perfect.
- The BFG: It’s John Williams. While it isn’t quite as memorable as, say, Harry Potter or Star Wars, it still is vibrant and joyful, and better than most children’s movie themes out there.
- Jackie: While most films would go large and majestic, Mica Levi goes somber and eerie, capturing Mrs. Kennedy’s distraught mental state.
Best Original Song
- Audition (The Fools Who Dream)-La La Land: There are many songs I could have picked from La La Land: the boisterous “Another Day of Sun,” the throwback “A Lovely Night,” or the electrifying “Start a Fire.” But I’m going with “Audition,” Emma Stone’s Oscar-reel moment that lays out the case for the importance of art and is belted in the vein of Minnelli in Cabaret. It’s a show-stopping moment, and provides one of the best songs of the year.
- How Far I’ll Go-Moana: If I had my druthers, I’d give the nod to “Shiny.” However, when unknown Auli’I Cravalho belts Lin-Manuel Miranda’s power ballad, it truly is a classic Disney moment. It’s not quite “Let It Go,” but damn is it something to behold.
- I’m So Humble-Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping: There’s really not a better produced song on this list than “I’m So Humble.” The Lonely Island have made a true pop masterpiece that is both satiric in nature and a true gem to listen to. Kudos to them.
- Drive It Like You Stole It-Sing Street: Sing Street is full of great songs: “The Riddle of the Model,” “Brown Shoes,” and “Go Now” are amongst them. However, most people agree the best is “Drive It Like You Stole It,” a throwback to the eighties throwing back to the fifties, and a true radio classic to boot.
- Can’t Stop the Feeling-Trolls: Kudos to Justin Timberlake. Not only did he create a True Movie Moment with “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” but it has real crossover appeal, topping the charts and all. Not since the days of Footloose and Dirty Dancing has a movie mended that gap.
Best Animated Feature
- Zootopia: Obviously the best animated film of the year, this film is an animated marvel, a teachable moment in sharp writing, and a heartwarming lesson for the entire world. A sharp satire masquerading as a children’s film, it is a noir that explores universal issues in a very timely and very smart manner, while still being child-friendly and often hilarious.
- Kubo and the Two Strings: I liked this film when I first saw it. Looking back, now I kind of love it. It’s stop-motion is some of the best I’ve ever seen, the story is innovative and thrilling, and the score is one of the best of the year. It’s like the rightful heir of Avatar: The Last Airbender, but in the form of The Nightmare Before Christmas.
- Moana: Likable characters, great music, and stunning animation make this one of the most fun animated films of the year. Moana is one of the best Disney Princesses, and The Rock helps make Maui into one of the best side characters in Disney canon.
- Sing: A movie after my own heart, Sing may not be original or great, but it’s a bunch of celebrities playing likable characters and singing 80 of my favorite songs. It’s too cute not to enjoy.
- Finding Dory: While nowhere near the masterpiece its predecessor was, Finding Dory has a heart and wit that can still make you smile.
Best Documentary Feature
(Note: I have yet to see I Am Not Your Negro, which many people consider the best of the year. Therefore, this list is incomplete)
- O.J.: Made in America: O.J.: Made In America almost gets this spot by default at this point. It’s a film that took thousands of people of different mindsets, interviewed them, got their unique takes, and explored exactly why the O.J. case-as well as the man’s life behind it-was so absorbing. It explores race, celebrity, class, and more to get to the heart of American society, and how this was a boiler plate that was a long time coming.
- Tower: The biggest, and most pleasant, surprise of the year. I’ve always had an innate fear of clock towers after seeing a much-colder documentary on it as a way-too-young child. This film does away with those fears, choosing to ignore the killer completely and focus on the victims, and more importantly, the heroes, through rotoscope reenactments that feel electrifying and warm-hearted. This is one of the best films of the year.
- 13th: One of the most shocking films of the year, 13th almost plays as a thought experiment and a research paper, but an excellent one at that. Filled with stunning images and facts that even history experts will be shocked to learn, it lays out the case against the criminalization of the African-American community by sinister forces working over the course of 150 years. Also gains credibility by offering both sides of the argument, no matter how much it disagrees with one side.
- Weiner: Not so much a documentary as it is a Shakespearean tragedy, Weiner explores why our politics are the way they are, showing a rising force brought down by his own hubris and an inane media.
- Tickled: One of the most bizarre films of the year, the film starts out comically, then takes a bizarre turn, and then begins a downward spiral into the depths of hell, filled with internet ethics, class warfare and more. You have to see it to believe it.
Best Horror Film: Hush
Hush is one of the best horror films in recent years. Taut, short, and innovative, it utilizes sound to tell a Halloween esque cat-and-mouse game between a crazed killer and his deaf prey. Smart cinematography, sound design and more help to make this the most recent addition to the Horror Renaissance in which we currently reside.
Best Comedy Film: The Nice Guys
Sure, Everybody Wants Some!! is the better film, but The Nice Guys is the funniest, hands down. The jokes immediate, the physical comedy top-notch, and the acting pitch-perfect, everything works on a comedic level first, and on a filmic level second. And that’s all that’s required in making a laugh-out-loud comedy.
Best Sound Mixing: Silence
I’ve never seen a film with this great a sound design before. Honestly, each chirp of the cricket and wisp of the wind elevates the beauty of Japan, amps up the tension, and offers up two arguments on the existence of God: are these naturalistic noises proof of God’s silence to man’s plight, or proof of his existence? Either way, what Scorsese and crew do here is truly magical.
Best Sound Editing: Patriots’ Day
Patriots’ Day is a film that has some issues, including a terrible script and a mishandled scene that they’ve chosen to use in every trailer. However, the two “action” setpieces the film offers up are fantastic, both in portrayal (they really do make the heroes out to be the heroes that they are), and in sound design. The final battle in Watertown is the best action sequence in years, and that’s because of the sound design that Peter Berg and co. have given it.
Best Production Design: La La Land
La La Land is one of the most gorgeous films of all time. This is a film where the sets and colors truly pop off the screen like true confectionary delight, in a way that we haven’t seen since the 1950s, when color was new and original. At least four sets stand out as masterworks of the craft: the Cliffside sunset, the Planetarium, a green-lit apartment, and the Epilogue’s dream ballet, which is one of the most innovative sequences I’ve seen in years. This is a master class in set building, and it deserves any and all awards coming its way.
Best Cinematography: Arrival
La La Land may get more attention for “having the camera act as another dancer in and of itself,” my personal preference is the cinematography for Arrival. These images are stunning, they make each frame a true wonder to behold, and it sits as an objective observer to the best of humanity in the face of our biggest fears. These themes are usually better delivered by writing, acting, and direction, but somehow Bradford Young knows how to use his camera to do this too. The image of helicopters approaching a black spaceship looming over fog-encased hills is single-handedly the best shot of the year.
Best Costume Design: La La Land
Costume design is usually attached to the period piece genre, but once again, I want to profess my love for La La Land. Sure, these are just simple contemporary dresses and suits, but God, did you see those dresses and suits? They are so elegant, so stunning, and so colorful, they can create a style trend all on their own. In fact, they have: Gosling’s suit and Stone’s Yellow Dress are already fashion icons, not unlike Diane Keaton for Annie Hall or Audrey Hepburn for Breakfast at Tiffany’s. These costumes are universally, objectively great.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I like the fact that Star Wars is going back to its roots as a practical effects driven series. You can tell because the alien creatures are just so much more textured than in the prequels. And sure, the biggest effects moments in Rogue One were CGI (looking at you, Tarkin and Leia), but that didn’t mean we had no makeup effects. Look at the alien creatures they encounter, or the weird hair on that awful Forest Whitaker character! Hell, even if only for a second, look at the effects on Vader’s mangled head. That ain’t CGI, folks. CGI doesn’t look anywhere near that detailed. Sure, the creatures in this aren’t as memorable as the original series, or even Episode VII. But they are good makeup effects nonetheless.
Best Film Editing: Moonlight
Fun fact: Joi McMillon is the first African-American woman to be nominated for Best Film Editing at the Oscars. And for good reason: Moonlight is one of the greatest edited films in years. It combines the classical storytelling style with the kinetic energy of an arthouse film, allowing for a flowing, artful story that never loses its soulfully romantic roots. It’s never as flashy as La La Land or Arrival, or as traditional as Silence or Hidden Figures, instead living in a magical in-between where it flows from event to event, pausing only briefly to enjoy the little moments that make life memorable, be they the joys of learning to swim and your first romantic encounter, or the tragedy of getting kicked out of school and having your mother scream an unforgivable sentence at you. Editing is one of the key forces that makes a great movie classic, and luckily it is Moonlight’s strongest feature.
Best Visual Effects: Doctor Strange
This was one of the coolest looking films all year. The minute Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange is cast through a portal into the infinite universes of time and space, you are floored. Then the film dials it back to give you time to recover, handing you smaller effects like a portal ring and a magic cloak sidekick. And then, right when things seem most simplified, they throw you an Inception-style city landscape folding in on itself. It truly is a magical, fantastical film, filled with beautiful colors and wondrous sight gags.
Best Ensemble: Don’t Think Twice
Don’t Think Twice is a film that lives and dies on its cast. It requires actors that are talented, but won’t steal the show, funny, but capable of hitting some pretty powerful dramatic beats, and capable of improv that is still funny (I have some issues with the art). Mike Birbiglia has walked this tight rope perfectly, assembling a team of absolutely hysterical and deeply talented actors in Gillian Jacobs, Keegan-Michael Key, Tami Sagher, Kate Micucci (one of my favorite actresses), and especially character actor Chris Gethard. The ensemble works perfectly together, plays off each other, and carefully explores the balance of friends competing in the art community. It’s hands down the best ensemble of the year.
Best Voice-Over Performance
- Auli’I Cravalho-Moana: In my original review, I called Auli’I Cravalho’s Moana “one of the best Disney princesses of all time.” After sitting on that statement for a few months, I’m doubling down. Moana is smart, funny, naïve, and determined-all things that make for great protagonists. Throw in the fact she has a killer voice, and you’ve got yourself a winner.
- Nick Kroll-Sausage Party and Sing: Two quirky roles that couldn’t be more different (one a hero, the other a horrific monster of a villain), yet each filled with catharsis and exuberance by Kroll’s talented voice.
- Charlize Theron-Kubo and the Two Strings: Charlize Theron pulls double duty in Kubo and the Two Strings, providing two key voices that are warm, funny, stern, and loving all at the same time.
- Edward Norton-Sausage Party: I honestly had no idea this was Edward Norton as this movie went on-the Woody Allen-esque Jewish imitation sounded like co-star David Krumholtz But Norton throws his all into this satirically irreverent performance, and gets the film’s best line as he mocks his own status.
- Jason Bateman-Zootopia: Ginnifer Goodwin’s Judy Hopps may be the film’s heart and soul, but Bateman’s cynical Nick Wilde is the key to this movie’s success. Funny, bitter, and hurt by his past, Bateman is the star here, through and through.
Best Use of a Song
- Camelot-Jackie: “Camelot” is used twice in Jackie. The first is by far the most iconic, as she staggers around the White House to Burton’s boisterous tune, slowly losing it as she drinks and pops pills to deal with the pain of the loss of her husband. However, it is the second that stands out to me: the more somber second use, which reflects on the failed dream of Camelot and hope for tomorrow. Used at the end of the film, it conveys the sense of legacy that Jackie hopes to achieve: while Kennedy may have failed, his legacy and ideas can live on forever, just like Camelot.
- What a Wonderful World-Finding Dory: A use of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” near the end of Finding Dory makes for a sweet, yet hilarious moment that damn near makes the entire film.
- Shake It Off-Sing: Thanks to Reese Witherspoon and Nick Kroll’s energetic and magnetic performance, they take Taylor Swift’s dumbest fun song and turn it into an emotionally uplifting moment.
- Take On Me-La La Land: Because Ryan Gosling depressively playing “Take On Me” on keytar while his 80s cover band jams out is one of the best images of the year.
- No Dames-Hail, Caesar!: Technically an original song, this pastiche of 50s sailor musical numbers is a smashing good time. Who knew Channing Tatum could sing on top of dance?
- Cotton Eyed Joe-Everybody Wants Some!!/Swiss Army Man: I’ve been wanting to be done with “Cotton Eyed Joe” since I was 12, and yet this song never escapes me. Who knew it would be an important moment in not one, but two films from 2016? Used soulfully in Swiss Army Man and nostalgically/joyfully in Everybody Wants Some!!, the song gets the comeback it doesn’t necessarily deserve.
Best Nostalgic/Tear-Jerking Moment
- Epilogue-La La Land: I don’t think I cried harder at any scene from this year as I did during the Epilogue of La La Land. See below for a more succinct description of this sequence, but know I was incapable of leaving the theater after watching this sequence.
- The Opening Montage-Arrival: There may not be a greater ode to motherhood as the opening of Arrival. Sure, 20th Century Women may be an entire film dedicated to the subject, but it is Arrival that captures the highs and lows, in all of their glory.
- The Accident-Manchester by the Sea: The scene that makes everyone cry. The reason Affleck is an Oscar frontrunner. The reason Manchester by the Sea is so great. What a scene.
- The Car Wreck-Pete’s Dragon: Another scene I go into more detail on below, this is a scene that brings forth the nostalgia of older Disney films and the heartache of a great short film.
- Dory Finds Her Parents-Finding Dory: Finding Dory had a lot of problems. However, my heart hasn’t sung all year like the scene where Dory finds her parents. I didn’t know it was something I wanted, but man, did it feel good.
- Car Ride Rap-Everybody Wants Some!!: There was no scene as nostalgic for me this year as five college athletes driving around, locating bars, singing along to the radio as “Rapper’s Delight” plays. It took me immediately back to my Freshman Year.
Best Scene of the Year
- The Last Fifteen Minutes-La La Land: If La La Land had ended on “Audition,” it still could potentially claim this spot as number one. Emma Stone kills it. However, that isn’t the scene people talk about from the film. That would be “The Epilogue,” a dream ballet of epic proportions. Some of the biggest questions that keep you up at night are the “What Ifs?” What if I had done this differently, what if I’d had the guts to ask out the one I loved, what if I was just all around a better person? As a lover of chaos theory, these are the questions that fascinate/haunt me, and it is for this reason La La Land’s ending will go down as one of the best scenes of all time.
- Opening Your Mind-Doctor Strange: Rumors persist that Dan Harmon of Rick and Morty helped write Doctor Strange. And based on this one scene alone, I believe it. A combination of Rick and Morty’s scientific humor and the effects of Fantasia combine to blow your mind in a sequence of unparalleled delight. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a scene like this before, and I’m not sure I ever will again.
- No Dames-Hail, Caesar!: I like my musical send-ups a very specific way: filled with great dancing, fun music, and a sense of absurdity. The Coens provide this through Channing Tatum’s flawless tap dancing and homoerotic subtext. It’s a magical sequence for fans of the Gene Kelly
- Greece Uprising-Jason Bourne: Jason Bourne is a flawed movie, derivative of the three classics that came before. But for one glorious sequence set during a Greek Uprising, we remembered why we loved the series. Tight editing, smart action, and great car chases illuminate an otherwise basic film.
- Boarding the Ship-Arrival: There are more memorable scenes in this film, but none really match the masterful filmmaking of the first time the characters board the ship. Slow, masterfully shot and edited, and ending with an incredible gravity shift, it really sets the tone for what we’re getting into, sci-fi wise.
- The Prom-Sing Street: Music video sequences help the audience see inside the mind of quieter characters. And the “Drive It Like You Stole It” prom sequence shows us what our hero dreams of, in a fun, electrifying sequence.
- The Crucifixion-Silence: Quiet, beautifully shot, and filled with symbolism and catharsis, a scene of three Japanese Christians being crucified on a Japanese beach stands out as one of the most disquietly beautiful of the year.
- Opening Credits-Deadpool: No scene quite sums up its film as a whole the way the opening credits of Deadpool Irreverent, whip-smart, rule-breaking, and funny, they clue the audience in about the journey they’re about to partake in, and damn near steal the movie.
- The Diner Scene-Moonlight: Two men (Trevante Rhodes and André Holland). One dinner. Eight years of tension, guilt, regret, and romance. A series of stolen looks. A fantastic use of the song “Hello Stranger.” One excellent scene.
- The Opening Scene-Pete’s Dragon: Pete’s Dragon is a “very good” movie that only feels “good” because the beginning is so great. A beautifully shot car crash, forest sequence, and introduction to the Dragon all make this one of the best scenes of the year.
- Shiny-Moana: Not the scene likely to come to mind, the stunning animation, killer music, and great vocal performance by the cast (especially Jemaine Clement) make this one of Disney’s all-time great villain songs.
- Plane Landing-Sully: A breathtaking sequence of action and the power of humanity.
Thank you to all of our wonderful nominees this year. You can watch the Twelve Best Scenes of the Year below (or at least those that have clips. This concludes the Sacred Wall’s film coverage for 2016, tune in this Wednesday (hopefully) for our coverage of this year’s music scene!
La La Land (Note: the Epilogue is not released online. Instead, please enjoy my second favorite scene: “A Lovely Night”)
Arrival (Note: Arrival is not yet released. Instead, please enjoy the trailer)