While this year has been long and tumultuous (to say the least), there are still some fun ways to recap the best 2020’s films had to offer. While I have my Top Ten list of favorite films of the year coming soon enough, it’s always fun to go over some of my favorite movie moments from the year. I managed to narrow it down to 20 memorable scenes from throughout the year (though I’ve no doubt managed to miss a few moments I really responded to at the time). this list represents many fun or crucial scenes ranging from action set pieces to dance breaks to terrific monologues. Enjoy! (Note: There are spoilers for some films.)
Favorite Scenes Presented in Alphabetical Order by Film:
“What A Life” – Another Round
Early in Thomas Vinterberg’s darkly comedic drama involving four adult friends experimenting with alcohol, we learn Mads Mikkelsen’s Martin was a former jazz ballet dancer. Following all of the experiences that have left an effect on each of the friends, a chance to celebrate leads to Martin embracing his own happiness and releasing himself through dance. It’s a fun and fitting moment, with a nice choice in the music track by Scarlet Pleasure.
“I’m Sorry” – The Climb
The Climb’s opening scene is a remake of the short film filmmakers and stars Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin made, with intentions to go as far as they do with their full feature. With that in mind, the mix of comedy and creative direction really does set the film up on the right path. This sequence is handled in one long take, tracking two friends biking uphill, purposefully staged so Mike can admit to Kyle that he’s having an affair with the other’s fiancé. Using the exhaustion of the bike ride to create a barrier allows for a lot of great comedy to come out, along with an early look at this odd friendship that continues on well past when it should have ended.
Mr. Martinez Goes Off Book – Critical Thinking
John Leguizamo’s directorial debut is a winning biographical drama about inner-city students learning chess from their high school teacher (yes, chess had a good year from film and TV). Leguizamo stars as Mario Martinez, and part of his struggle deals with the minimal resources at his disposal. This comes to a head in one scene, where, egged on by his students, Martinez explains how the textbooks are purposefully painting out the stories involving people of color out of history. He covers these facts while barricading the door, worried as if the Board of Education is waiting to make their move. In a film full of inspirational moments to go with the drama, this is a nice moment highlighting Martinez’s commitment to his students.
“You will not kill Paul” – Da 5 Bloods
Delroy Lindo’s commanding performance shines brightest in one of the Da 5 Bloods’ later scenes, a film featuring many powerful moments and loaded imagery. Having abandoned the rest of the group, Lindo’s PTSD-afflicted Paul gives a raw, angry, emotional monologue, addressed directly to the camera, as he wanders through the jungles of Vietnam. While Spike Lee’s films sometimes have a tendency to meander, this sequence should snap any viewer right back to attention, as all the feelings Paul has been dealing with come out in a way that may not be entirely relatable but clearly comes from a place of rage, distrust, and remorse over what took place during the Vietnam War, let alone how it has had a role in guiding his life since.
Riding Into The Night – David Byrne’s American Utopia
There’s so much that’s great about David Byrne’s American Utopia, so it is hard to parse out this concert film on just the different musical numbers. Some of these moments are true delights as far as watching the performers’ enthusiasm on display, matched with some great tracks. Other moments attempt to dig deeper, such as Byrne’s way of addressing the issues that have been highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement. By the end of it all, however, through Spike Lee’s direction, watching Byrne simply slip out the back, after briefly celebrating a job well done with his team, and being met with some applause from fans, he just hops on a bike and rides away through Times Square. It’s a lovely note to end on.
“Delusions!” – The Devil All the Time
According to the filmmaking team, Robert Pattinson arrived on his first day of filming without letting anyone know what his Southern accent would sound like. That must have been a fun day. In a film featuring several actors relishing the chance to break bad, The Devil All The Time gets the most out of Pattinson’s morally corrupt Reverend Preston Teagardin. The man delivers a speech all about keeping an eye open for delusions threatening to cause people to sin. In a deeply nihilistic movie (sometimes to hilarious degrees), it’s a sequence that easily defines the tone.
School Ballet – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Charlie Kaufman’s latest mental exercise presents a lot for a viewer to reckon with, which is only amplified in the final half-hour of the film. Following multiple conversations while driving, and a time-shifting dinner at Jake’s (Jesse Plemons) parents’ house, we eventually arrive at Jake’s old school. Rather than rely on traditional confrontations to go over what happens next, the film morphs into a dream ballet, where dancers replace our two leads. We watch an expression of what’s going on in one of the characters’ minds through elaborate movement doubling as story development. It’s both confounding and mesmerizing, thanks to the music and bizarre nature of it all.
A Shocking Dinner – The Invisible Man
Even as one who has seen plenty of horror films and thrillers this year, I’m not sure if there was a more shocking scene than the one set at the restaurant in Leigh Whannell’s update of The Invisible Man. Given the scene’s placement, the drama unfolding between Elisabeth Moss and Harriet Dyer’s characters, and natural expectations, for Whannell to upend them with a shocking death, it was a trip to find the film suddenly turning the tables in such a bloody yet creative way.
The Well – Jallikattu
This fantastic Indian action film boils down to villagers attempting to re-capture an escaped buffalo. In one major sequence, the buffalo has been trapped in a well. We watch the villagers attempt to use rope and a pulley system to pull the buffalo out, but things do not go as planned. This whole sequence is an excellent display of filmmaking, as the tension is high, the editing communicates so much, along with the cinematography and sound design. The end result also manages to show off some clever visual effects tricks, along with a reminder of how daring some stuntmen have to be.
“Silly Games” – Lovers Rock
While this list is presented alphabetically, this is my favorite movie moment of the year, by far. Steve McQueen’s Small Axe film series is an incredible accomplishment as a whole, but so many little moments highlight why it’s special. During Lovers Rock, a film focused on one night, at a reggae house party in 1980s West London (blacks were not allowed in the real clubs at that time), we watch an extended sequence involving Janet Kay’s hit single “Silly Games.” While the focus is initially on the dance shared between Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) and Franklyn (Michael Ward), the camera continually moves around the room as everyone shares in the joy of the moment. The DJ then turns the music down, only for the song to continue, as performed by the whole room, at the same pace. The length of this sequence never becomes an issue, as it’s pure elation coming through from all involved.
Mank Crashes Hearst Castle – Mank
Part of the reason David Fincher’s brilliant ode to Citizen Kane, the Golden Age of Hollywood, and the views of the time works so well (it totally Manks!) is the script. Jack Fincher’s screenplay (with revisions by Eric Roth) was far more relevant than I expected. Thanks to the dual narrative taking place, a climactic scene finds Gary Oldman’s Herman Mankiewicz drunkenly alienating everyone at Hearst Castle before he throws up all over the floor. The things he’s saying connect based on what we’ve learned throughout the film already, but this visual display makes it all the more entertaining. This scene was supposedly shot over 100 times to the point of angering Oldman, but the resulting scene certainly had the desired effect on me.
Blood Drops – The Midnight Sky
While George Clooney’s dystopian sci-fi film wasn’t his best outing (great sad beard, though), some elements did shine through, including this very intense sequence. Following a successful attempt to fix the radar and comms on their vessel via a spacewalk, an asteroid strike injures Maya (Tiffany Boone). The severity is unknown at first, but the use of visual effects to show drops of blood emerge in zero gravity is quite the image, and things only get worse from there. The race to deal with the situation lands with the proper emotional weight.
“He’s Not My Boyfriend” – The Old Guard
The push and pull in this comic book movie concerning immortal beings is whether or not there is a real need for protecting humanity to some degree over the centuries. That said, while Charlize Theron’s Andy is pretty sick of people, Marwan Kenzari’s Joe and Luca Marinelli’s Nicky still have plenty of love for each other, at least. A sequence that finds the two captured leads to some negging, only to be rebutted by Joe. A monologue he delivers to explain how much he loves his partner is handled so matter-of-factly, with the way it resonates among those in the scene serving as a really nice way to tell everyone to basically shut up because they can’t begin to comprehend what strength there is in that relationship.
Car Chase/Pulled Over – On the Rocks
In this seemingly slight, stealthily quite personal effort from Sofia Coppola, she gets a lot out of a very loose Bill Murray, who co-stars as playboy art dealer Felix, the father of Laura (Rashida Jones). During their attempts to figure out what Laura’s husband, Dean (Marlon Wayans), is up to, Felix decides to use his red Alfa Romeo as a means to chase after him on the streets of New York. Filmed with a surprising amount of intensity, it rivals Extraction for the title of the year’s best car chase, only to add on an extra layer of fun. Cops eventually pull over Felix, who then charms his way out of getting a ticket in a manner that you can completely buy because it’s Bill Murray.
“Where Evil Grows” – Sonic The Hedgehog
Sometimes it’s just fun to watch a scene of pure goofiness. No one is going to confuse Sonic The Hedgehog as a great movie, but it managed to surpass my expectations, and a big part of that is because the film recognizes that letting Jim Carrey just go overboard sometimes can still be a lot of fun. In this entirely superfluous scene, rather than just do a thing that allows for another thing, the movie lets Carrey deliver an entire one-man performance of zany dancing and body morphing for a couple of minutes. It’s very silly, as well as fun, and a good reminder of what a force of entertainment Carrey can be.
The Barbershop Scene – Soul
In my favorite scene of another brilliant Pixar feature, Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) and 22 (Tina Fey) have to take Joe’s body to the barbershop to get him fixed up before a big show. Once here, 22’s newly forming understandings of life on Earth leads to a poignant conversation with Dez (Donnell Rawlings), the barber. While the film is interested in exploring all the ways life can be appreciated, this conversation focuses on the good that can come out of the unexpected, even when one has entirely different plans in mind. There’s also the level of authenticity on display, from A Tribe Called Quest being heard on the soundtrack in the background to the different steps in care when watching the haircut that is delivered. In a film informed by black culture, among other things, there was a lot to take in during this sequence that landed quite well.
Fighting Inverted – Tenet
There are several very cool sequences from Christopher Nolan’s slick time travel action flick, including a wild car chase and a plane crash (of sorts). Still, I really get a lot out of the inverted fight, which finds John David Washington’s protagonist fighting a masked character who appears to be not only predicting his every move but moving in a distinctly reversed manner. Getting to see this fight again from another perspective only adds to the amount of thought that goes into sequences like this. Relying on stunts and clever camera work over special effects only adds to this fight’s unique nature, which is just a piece of this blockbuster puzzle of a film.
Tesla – Everybody Wants to Rule the World
At this point, I’m not sure if any film will really knock out the battle for supremacy in the world of electric current between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. That said, director Michael Almereyda has come along with a non-traditional approach to a biopic, incorporating a lot of modern edge to his story of Tesla. While we deal with odd quirks, unreliable narrators, and other playful flourishes, the film climaxes with Tesla slowly fading away from the limelight. At this point, set against a sunset backdrop, Ethan Hawke’s particular take on Tesla grabs a mic and begins his dark rendition of Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.” It’s a strange touch, yet reliant on entirely fitting lyrics.
Zombie Car Chase – Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula
I can’t get into the best movie moments of the year without noting the best zombie movie car chase of all time. Some obvious CG be damned, this sequel to Train To Busan functions as an homage to films such as Mad Max: Fury Road and Escape to New York, which means delivering a wild climax featuring multiple vehicles in a high-speed chase in a land completely overrun with the undead. All of the pieces on display add up to a killer sequence bringing the film closest to rivaling its predecessor.
The Fly – The Trip to Greece
The trademark of this delightful series of films (series when presented in the U.K.) features Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as exaggerated versions of themselves, doing impressions for each other, and anyone around them, in an attempt for them both to make the other laugh and prove which one is better. In this fourth entry, while there are a few of these scenes that are all quite enjoyable, what I really enjoy about this particular sequence is how much Coogan has, at this point, let his guard down. Where the earlier films had him more locked up when it came to expressing actual moments of joy with his best frenemy Rob, here is a scene where you can just look at the delight on his face, watching Rob’s silliness in his way of taking Steve down a peg by having a laugh at the story that was just told. It’s a great way to highlight the genuine friendship shared by these two.