Thursday, October 6, 2011

Five Great Movie Moments

In my eyes, obviously. If you were going to pop up and tell me that "SAM, THATS JUST UR OPINION!", stop right there - because we all know that it's my opinion on the basis that I was the one that said it. This is just a list of five moments that pop into my head if someone ever asks "What are you favourite movie moments?" and they usually haven't heard of them.

This blog post contains major spoilers for any of the movies you haven't seen. So read at your own risk I suppose.

5. Hypatia's Last Walk
Rachel Weisz plays Hypatia and Max Minghella plays Davus.
 Movie: Agora Year: 2009 Director: Alejandro Amenábar Actor(s): Rachel Weisz, Max Minghella 

Agora is a semi-fictional historical drama based on the life of Hypatia (Weisz), a female mathematician, philosopher, astronomer and dreamer from 400 CE. Her perseverance in studying and teaching the subject of stars among the religious turmoil of her time resulted her being ostracised by Christians who believe her to be a witch. In the final scene of the film, Hypatia is dragged to an alter, stripped naked, and is to be skinned alive by the Christians. At the suggestion of her long time friend and once-slave Davus (Minghella), who has felt an unrequited love towards her all his life, the Christians choose to stone her alive instead. In their last few moments together, Davus, after receiving consent from Hypatia, strangles her so she won't feel any pain after her death. Hypatia's body is then stoned and dragged around the city.

I was blubbering in this scene since it was so unbelievably unfair. Those crazy Christians! What was breathtaking about this scene was the acting and the dreadful situations the characters found themselves in. Hypatia gives a small nod, and Davus goes ahead and strangles her - and at that moment there are a series of flashbacks to when they were happy together as friends. My stomach lurched when Hypatia starts struggling for air, and Davus starts silently crying, all complimented perfectly by Dario Marianelli's screeching and otherworldy music. It was just absolutely incredible how much this film instills a sense of mis-justice and remorse. I had to go walk Calcifer in the garden to just cheer up afterwards.

4. Empress Wan's Death
Zhang Ziyi plays Empress Wan in 'The Banquet'.
Movie: The Banquet (Ye Yan)  Year: 2006  Director: Feng Xiaogang  Actor(s): Zhang Ziyi

The Banquet is a loose adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet, and keeping to the story, everyone manages to pop their clogs at the end of the movie. After a dramatic showdown in the Imperial Palace, Empress Wan (Gertrude) is the sole survivor of the imperial bloodline. Believing power to be firmly in her grasp, the scheming Empress' celebrations are interrupted when a flying blade from an unknown source strikes her in the heart. As she is dying, she turns around to face her assailant; her confusion shifts to horror and anguish, as the blade is then dropped into a mossy koi bed, the final shot being of her blood soaking into the water.

I wrote the last few sentences on Wikipedia, so I feel some entitlement to using it on this blog. I love this scene because of the beautiful cinematography, the whole movie is like a moving painting, but this scene in particular because of the wonderful acting of Zhang Ziyi. Her face is beautiful. Sure, she's dying, but the look, which is a mixture of confusion, anger, disbelief, anguish, is just utterly captivating - the emotion just pierces me! Combined with the open work the ending creates, it's very compelling. Paired with the fantastic music of Tan Dun, the scene is like poetry to me.

3. Sophie's Lack of Confidence
Howl (Bale) and Sophie (Mortimer) have a quiet moment in the secret garden.
Movie: Howl's Moving Castle (Hauru no ugoku shiro) Year: 2004  Director: Hayao Miyazaki  
Actor(s): Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer

Howl's Moving Castle, inspired by the Diana Wynne Jones novel of the same name, is a 2004 animated fantasy film. It tells the story of Sophie Hatter, an 18 year old, beautiful young girl who severely lacks confidence in both her abilities and looks. After accidentally angering the wicked Witch of the Waste, she is transformed into an 80 year old woman, and takes refuge in a magical wizard's tower called 'Howl's Moving Castle'. Through her journey she must learn to break her curse by discovering her own confidence in herself.

There are dozens of scenes in this movie that just take my breath away, but I never feel for Sophie quite so much as I do in this scene. During Sophie's (Mortimer) curse, Howl (Bale) takes her to a secret garden. Lost in her wonder and joy of the garden, Sophie's curse slowly fades away, the old woman becoming a laughing young girl again. After a somewhat serious discussion of the future, Sophie asks Howl if he is going away. When Howl assures her that he is just making sure she has a good future, she pleads with him to let her help, saying "even if I'm not pretty... and all I'm good at is cleaning". Howl is taken aback and insists "Sophie, you're beautiful!" but it's too late - the curse has already kicked back in and the youthful Sophie is replaced by the old woman, who simply smiles sadly and says some remarks on how getting old you don't have to worry about beauty. It's heartbreaking, and a little bit inspiring that Sophie acts the way she does, always kicking herself back down. I love the simple dialogue which creates such a vivid insight into the character's emotions, and the beautiful aesthetic of the scene around them.

2. The Baudelaire Mansion Burns Down
 Movie: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events Year: 2004  Director: Brad Silberling  
Actor(s): Emily Browning, Liam Aiken

A Series of Unfortunate Events is a dark comedy film adapted from the widely popular books of the same name. The plot follows the lives of the recently orphaned Baudelaire children, who are being relentlessly pursued by their nefarious guardian, Count Olaf, who wishes to use them to inhered the gigantic fortune their parents left them since their death. After surviving a series of unfortunate events (see what I did there?), the children are taken back to visit the ruins of their beautiful mansion. As they stand in silence, reminiscing the beauty of their old home, the children watch on as their memories are gradually consumed by reality, and they are left standing in the charred remains.

Despite the fact I just explained it above, this scene is just indescribable. The whole thing is led by a chilling and ethereal score by Thomas Newman, with a delicate piano which transforms into the most heartrending and luscious strings I've ever heard in a film score. The children, Violet (Browning), Klaus (Aiken) and Sunny have the most perfect faces - a forlorn look that shows a fusion of misery, disappointment and anguish. The exquisitely effect of the mansion violently fading away to reveal the charred remains is without a doubt one of the most poignant moments I've ever experienced in any movie.

1. The King of the Golden Hall
 Movie: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Year: 2002 Director: Peter Jackson   
Actor(s): Miranda Otto

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is a modern epic, and the second instalment of the hugely popular Lord of the Rings trilogy. Set in the universe of Middle Earth, the races, most notably in this movie the humans, are attempting to repel an assault on their homelands by the armies of Sauron. In this scene, following the death of her brother and a creepy molestation scene by her father's advisor, Éowyn (Otto) storms from the room with tears in her eyes, and steps out through the atrium of the Golden Hall to look at her surroundings. The wind blows her hair all over her face, and she looks on in desperation as the flag of her kingdom rips of a nearby pole, and flies into the wind.

Not gonna lie, the best part of this scene is the music. Howard Shore's best work, this moment is played on a Norweigan fiddle called the Hardanger fiddle, which is probably the ultimate music ever heard in a movie. It's tragic, inspiring, beautiful, expressive, magical, most coruscating piece I've ever heard. And that's enough for me. Huzzah!

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