Scenes I Love… In Movies I Don’t
There are some films on my Flickchart that rank higher than they might have, simply because they contain just one scene that held me captivated. Overall, I may not have cared for the movie, but one particular scene or sequence just caught my attention, and I had to admit: I wish the whole movie could have been like that.
Here are a few films that find themselves pulled from the dregs at the bottom of my Flickchart, buoyed in the middling middle on the strength of one or two effective scenes. One is the first R-rated film to win the Best Picture Oscar. One is considered a modern-day masterpiece. One is a mediocre action flick from a director best known for mediocre action flicks. They all have one thing in common: I didn’t love them…but I loved something about them. (Caution to those who might not have seen the films discussed; there may be a few minor spoilers.)
Cliffhanger (1993): High Tension
Director: Renny Harlin
Die Hard 2 will always be the greatest movie ever directed by Renny Harlin, but that’s not saying a lot. He has directed many generic, unremarkable action movies (Cutthroat Island; The Long Kiss Goodnight; more recently, 12 Rounds). And while some may point to Samuel L. Jackson’s spectacular demise in Deep Blue Sea as an inexplicably great scene in a middling action movie, when I think of the potential greatness in Renny Harlin, I think of Cliffhanger.
I actually have a bit of a soft spot for Cliffhanger, and it ranks higher on my list than it probably should, but that’s primarily because of–not one–two great scenes that kick off the film. As far as I’m concerned, the opening scene–in which Sylvester Stallone‘s character desperately tries to hold on to a friend who winds up plummeting to her death in a mountain climbing accident–is worth checking the movie out. But then it moves into a spectacular mid-air heist, as a gang of criminals led by John Lithgow attempt to move massive cases of money from one plane to another. They wind up losing their haul, of course, and have to go hunting for it in the mountains, thus bringing Stallone’s mountain guide into the picture and setting up the rest of the story. Unfortunately, despite Lithgow’s scenery chewing, the rest of the film is as generic as action movies can be (with spectacular scenery). But the first time around, Cliffhanger sure suckered me in with that one-two punch at the beginning.
- Cliffhanger is currently ranked #434 out of 1257 on my Flickchart.
- Global Ranking: #2535
Carlito’s Way (1993): Grand Central Shoot-out
Director: Brian De Palma
I have to admit, gangster movies are not really my thing. I didn’t even care for The Godfather or GoodFellas. The only gangster movie I can think of that I can say I legitimately love is The Departed. So, I was a probably a little unfairly biased against Carlito’s Way going in.
It’s not a movie that I hated, by any stretch of the imagination. But I find the whole proceedings entirely too slow…until the final 10-12 minutes of the film, which grabbed me by the throat and didn’t let go. The title character (played by Al Pacino) finds himself pursued through Grand Central Station in a cat-and-mouse chase that is as riveting as anything I have seen on film. I’ve never been a big Brian De Palma fan, but this scene made me realize that there is, indeed, a reason why some people love his work.
- Carlito’s Way is currently ranked #610 out of 1257 on my Flickchart.
- Global Rank: #627
The French Connection (1971): Subway Chase
Director: William Friedkin
I have an unhealthy bias against movies that are older than I am. The oldest movie I can think of that I legitimately like is Jaws (1975). Then there’s Star Wars (1977), of course. But otherwise, pre-1979 is not good for me. It’s a sickness, and something I’m working on. The French Connection was intended as part of my cure. A highly-regarded Best Picture Oscar winner in a genre I like? Thought I couldn’t lose.
Well, I came short of truly enjoying the movie, but I thought Gene Hackman was great in it, and there was one scene I particularly liked. No, not the car chase, though I have serious respect for the fact that, back then, a scene like that had to be done practically, in every way. In fact, the scene that most stuck in my mind was the one in which Popeye Doyle (Hackman) pursues Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) on foot. There’s a tense moment when they hop on and off a subway car, trying to outsmart each other. Like that final sequence in Carlito’s Way, I thought this scene was shot quite expertly, capturing a real feeling of tension. I just wished I could have liked the rest of the movie more.
(This is a tribute video to the film; pieces of the subway chase are at the 1:00 mark.)
- The French Connection is currently ranked #758 out of 1257 on my Flickchart.
- Global Rank: #208
There Will Be Blood (2008): Dialogue, Shmialogue
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
I don’t have an issue with long movies. My #1 film on Flickchart is the first chapter of Peter Jackson‘s Lord of the Rings trilogy, which clocked in at three hours in the theater, and I was crying out “That’s it?!” when the credits rolled. No, I have an issue with movies that feel too long to me, and while there is much to enjoy about There Will Be Blood, frankly, it just felt too long.
But I didn’t start looking at the clock until at least 45 minutes into the film, and it held me absolutely entranced for the first 20. Because this film starts with an extended scene that firmly establishes the character of Daniel Plainview (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) in an indelible manner…without the use of a single line of dialogue.
I know There Will Be Blood is considered to be a modern-day classic, but aside from Day-Lewis’s fantastic performance, the rest of the film felt like a bit of a let-down to me after that fantastic opening sequence, where Plainview strikes his oil and finds himself seriously injured–but he drags himself back to town, not to seek treatment for his injuries, but to stake claim on his land. I almost feel as though, if I ever give the movie another spin in my DVD player, I’ll probably just stop fifteen minutes in…
(I couldn’t find the opening scene on YouTube; here’s the film’s great trailer.)
- There Will Be Blood is currently ranked #593 out of 1257 on my Flickchart.
- Global Ranking: #66
Kill Bill, Volume 2 (2004): Buried Alive
Director: Quentin Tarantino
I need to be clear here: I’m not a Quentin Tarantino fan. Inglourious Basterds is my favorite QT film, but that doesn’t say much. However, Kill Bill would be my favorite QT film…if he’d simply gotten himself an editor. Kill Bill, to me, felt like one good movie spread too thinly over two, with too much filler.
There were a handful of scenes in both volumes that I quite enjoyed (including this one from Volume 1). Had they been closer together and contained within two hours, Kill Bill might have been quite the ride. But easily the most effective scene, for me, was when the Bride (Uma Thurman) found herself locked in a casket and buried alive. Finding myself buried in that coffin with her, I squirmed horribly in my seat, as Tarantino tapped into the nasty case of claustrophobia I wasn’t even fully aware I had. A seriously, seriously effective scene in a pair of movies I was ultimately very indifferent to.
- Kill Bill Vol. 2 is currently ranked #762 out of 1257 on my Flickchart.
- Global Ranking: #76
These are just a few examples. But it’s safe to say that I rank these movies as high on my chart as I do simply because of these great scenes. Are there any movies on your Flickchart that get similar treatement?
This post is part of our User Showcase series. You can find Nigel as johnmason on Flickchart. If you’re interested to submit your own story or article describing your thoughts about movies and Flickchart, read our original post for how to become a guest writer here on the Flickchart Blog.