Ordet (1955) (last scene)
If you do not know the premise I will not spoil what is the most genuinely heart stopping thing I have ever seen. Suffice it to say if cinema, indeed all great art is a way for one person to experience something new through the eyes of another, then this is the ultimate. Whether you are agnostic, or a dyed in the wool aethiest, this scene will allow you for a few seconds at least to know what it feels like to have faith.
City Lights (1931) (end scene)
Much has been said about this movie; its long production whilst Chaplin could come up with a convincing introduction (itself one of the best in cinema history) which sets the scene so we believe that the blind flower-seller thinks little tramp Charlie is a wealthy society gent. He may have become unfashionable but forget the novelty value of The Artist, this is the pinnacle of silent movie story telling. For me the final scene is unmatched in all art for its sheer biblically moving emotion. As the (now sighted) girl realises that her benefactor is no wealthy man but a little vagabond who has quite literally given everything he had to give her sight. Yet at the moment when he should claim his longed for prize his pride pulls him away, and in his shame he tries to keep the secret and spare the girl from disappointment. He needn’t worry!
Shortly before he died, Jack Lemon was interviewed for a programme discussing great movie moments, simply recalling this scene brought the great man to tears. See for yourself, and have a tissue to hand!
Bladerunner (1982) (tears in rain)
Rutger Hauer could make a living for the rest of his days endlessly recalling the story of the genesis of this seminal scene…the long winded arty-farty wooden script which he was supposed to deliver, and the flash of inspiration which lead him to think up perhaps the greatest evocation of what it is to be a sentiant being ever uttered. Vangelis’s searing other-worldly score adds so much to the out of body feel of this magical movie.
Ikiru (1952) (swing scene)
The beautiful haunting melody which punctuates this Kirosawa masterpiece about making the world a better place, is accompanied by a swinging motif. As Mr.Watanabe sings the song in the speakeasy it is a swinging bead curtain. When his task is complete we see him swinging in the snow, singing one last time as the camera tracks at 90 degrees, looking through the climbing frame.This is the killer scene, the policeman turns the whole wake on it’s head, and as the string section cuts in, prepare for a very painful lump in the throat!! Finally when the children are called inside, the empty swing is filmed from the exact opposite perspective, and it is at this moment that I defy anyone not to see the man’s ghost on the swing.
Däs Boot (1981) (shovelful of sand)
For sheer thrilling terror this astonishing scene has no parallel. The Captain riding on the conning tower like a mad Valkyrie, under a hail of bursting star shells, willing his submarine though the suicidal gap of the Straights of Gibraltar, the crash dive, the relentless fall of the pressure gauge needle, and when the U-boat finally settles way below the indicated maximum on the dial, the cut where the crew have grown ashen and aged into old men before our very eyes has to be seen to be believed.
The Seventh Seal (1957) (Jof’s vision)
Many will have other moments as their favourites from this world masterpiece, I choose Jof’s vision for two reasons, firstly because as he sees the Virgin Mary walking the naked little Jesus in the spring sunshine, it would have been so easy, especially if filmed in colour for the scene to have looked ridiculous, but Bergman’mastery of monochrome means it is utterly convincing. Then as Jof faces us and his lovely wife tells him she loves him, we see in his expression the ultimate in human experience, him knowing that she really means it, he is truelly the luckiest man alive, and he and his family are worthy of the sacrifice the Knight makes to save them.
Ben Hur (1959) (chariot race)
Again no CGI, the real McCoy albeit it a little over-cranked to intensify the sensation of speed, but the whole thing remains epically exciting. From the parade with the sublime martial score, through the sheer majestic spectacle of teams of four horses at full tilt, to the amazing ‘christian’ reaction of Judah (Charlton Heston) as his nemesis Marsala (Stephen Boyd) is smashed under his own horses. He looks back anxiously for he has not forgotten their youthful friendship, and doesnt wish such horror on his one time friend, despite his evil deeds. There is talk of a remake, why bother?. Already one of the shortest lists in the world is movies better than Ben Hur!
Shawshank Redemption (1994) (Buxton scene)
I haven’t gone for the obvious Mozart scene, but for Morgan Freeman’s visit to Buxton where Andy (Tim Robbins) has left money and instructions for him to join him in a new life in Mexico. The whole sequence is movie perfection for we are privy to an intimate life changing event for a man utterly alone in the middle of nowhere, under the most perfect, isolated, lonely tree. Morgan Freeman remembers his friend’s instructions, and when it dawns on him that this is for real, he does something utterly unique to human beings he actually looks around nervously incase anyone might be watching! Magic!
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest (1975) (world series scene)
Jack Nicholson’s performance is one of, if not THE standout Oscar winning efforts of the 20th Century, and the scene where the evil Nurse Ratched won’t let him watch the Baseball World Series, remains (for men at least) one of the most brutal examples of misplaced control of one human over another ever filmed. As he gazes at the blank TV screen, McMurphy makes up his own imaginary commentary, which is so utterly convincing that the other inmates are totally drawn in, and in their minds eyes are (for a brief moment) free, and right there on the bleachers in the stadium. Immense stuff!
Wild Strawberries (1957) (end scene)
It was my daughter Laura (14) who nailed exactly why the ending of this Bergman examination of mortality and regret, is….well……astonishing. As the old Professor lies on his bed, he daydreams of the past, walking through his youthful memories, stopping to wave at his parents beside a beautiful Baltic shore (accompanied by the most delightfully simple score on a heavenly harp) he meets his childhood sweetheart who tells him that ‘the strawberries are all gone’. Then he looks up as though hit by a thunderbolt. What is he thinking?? Is his life about to end?? ‘It is like the Mona Lisa’, Laura said. How right she is, it is profoundly enigmatic and open to a thousand interpretations all equally right or wrong!!
Lawrence of Arabia (1962) (mirage scene)
David Lean’s best picture is widely regarded as one of the greatest ever made, and his grasp of the epic canvases made available by advances in camera technology were as ground breaking in the 1950s and 60s as the CGI wonders of the last decade or so. The legendary scene where Omar Sharif emerges out of the heat haze to shoot dead T.E. Lawrence’s arab guide for using his well without permission, just has to be seen (on as big a screen as possible) to be believed. No computer trickery here, just astonishing cinematography! The rest of the film ain’t half bad either!
Dark Star (1974) (Pinback’s diary entries)
A friend bought me 1001 movies to see before you die last xmas, and within minutes I had texted him lamenting some of the obvious omissions. If I had to be an advocate for the inclusion of just one movie it would be Dark Star. Few films offer so much from comedy, tension, abstract creativity, and down right existentialism as this crazy movie. Indeed it is perhaps the closest anyone has come to showing just how boring interstellar space travel could actually be! Made at the time of the Richard Nixon impeachment, the scenes I have chosen are where the neurotic Pinback explains to his video diary why he hates the mission (which he appears to be on by accident!), and later tells a joke involving obscene words and gestures which the recording equipment automatically deletes with captions like ‘expletive deleted’ a la Nixon trial. The result is the joke and punchline are utterly ruined, but it still remains hilarious as you fill in the blanks!