The 10 best movie scenes of 2018
Honorable mentions: the ending, First Reformed; the pool party, Eighth Grade; the talk between Simon and his mom, Love, Simon; the pizza scene, Set It Up; the opening scene, Thunder Road; the bathtub birth, A Quiet Place; the tree scene, Revenge
10. Mission Impossible: Fallout - the bathroom fight scene
I could have picked from half a dozen action sequences from Fallout for this list, but I’ll stick with the bathroom fight scene here. It’s a scene that encapsulates why the past two Christopher McQuarrie-directed M:I installments have brought new life to the franchise.
First, the sequence is methodically paced and expertly choreographed. Unlike the visual chaos of the Avengers battle scenes everything here is crisp, and every move serves a distinct purpose. Second, it’s the first scene of the movie where we see the full skill set of newcomer August Walker (Henry Cavill). His brute force contrasts Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) wily resilience, and their divergent styles make the fight scene more engaging.
And third, of course is the ageless Cruise. More on him in my top ten performances list, but I’ll just say that no other actor on the planet could bring such levity and charm to a fight while also making its dire stakes and very real sense of danger palpable. This scene is largely silent, but Cruise doesn’t have to say a word for you to be pulling for him.
9. Paddington 2 - the ending
The Paddington films are the most underrated family franchise around today, and Paddington 2 improves on the already considerable charm of the 2014 original. The sequel finds the title bear (gracefully voiced by Ben Whishaw) framed for a crime he did not commit, and he tries to win his freedom so he can purchase his Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) a pop-up book of London so she can see from afar what his city life is like. The film is equal parts Marx Brothers-style slapstick and Wes Anderson-style whimsy. (It’s also a deft Trojan Horse in celebration of immigrants.) I won’t say too much about the ending, but it’s a moment as sweet as the marmalade Paddington so dearly loves to snack on. Paddington 2 is streaming on HBO, and you’d be a fool to avoid it just because it’s a children’s movie.
8. Support the Girls - the rooftop
Support the Girls stars Regina Hall as Lisa, the manager of a Hooters-like sports bar who’s having a very tough day holding everything together. There’s a burglar stuck in the vents, her boss is an asshole, and the cable isn’t working in time for a big fight. The ending of the film finds Lisa on a rooftop the next morning with two of her employees, Maci (Haley Lu Richardson) and Danyelle (Shayna McHayle).
At work Lisa was forced to manage everything and everyone, and did so with patience and aplomb. Sitting on the rooftop she finds herself freed from responsibility. Maci, radiating positivity, and Danyelle, laconically opining, are more or less the same as they were before the previous day’s drama.
Maci notices a girl on the street crying and shouts at her from the rooftop. “We love you! You can do this!” Lisa recalls Danyelle’s advice to her earlier about “how you deal when life keeps throwing you bullshit”: first comes crying, then comes laughing, then comes screaming your ass off. The three of them proceed to scream into the void. It’s not clear if their lives are looking up, but they’re supporting each other, and in the moment that’s all that matters.
7. Private Life - the proposition
Private Life, which is currently streaming on Netflix, is about a middle-aged couple, Richard and Rachel (Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn), trying everything they can to conceive a child before it’s too late. In this scene, they ask their step-niece Sadie (Kayli Carter) if she would be willing to donate her eggs for a surgical procedure so that Rachel can give birth.
I didn’t love Private Life overall; it falls into the sort of high-strung, neurotic Manhattanites dealing with stressful family situations archetype that might best be described as Baumbach-lite. This scene shines above the rest of the movie because the film takes a break from all that bickering for a real moment of sentimentality. Kayli Carter was the breakout star of Private Life, aloof and self-assured in exactly the right balance. I hope she gets more roles as rich as this one.
6. First Reformed - Magical Mystery Tour
I wouldn’t actually watch this scene before you’ve watched all of First Reformed, which is available to stream on Amazon Prime. It’s not really a spoiler scene; in fact, it doesn’t make much logical sense at all. The ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ sequence is a logical break from the story, but it is spiritually consistent with what the film is trying to accomplish: a celebration of human connection in the face of environmental destruction. It one sense, the scene is deeply intimate, and it feels as if we are encroaching on a private embrace. But it is also a public call to action, an invitation to witness a destruction and not only ask what we are going to do about it, but what it is already doing to us.
5. Searching - the opening sequence
Searching is about a father named David Kim (John Cho) who goes looking for his missing high school daughter Margot (Michelle La), but you probably know it as the movie that takes place entirely inside the computer screen. Talking about the film in terms of this gimmick is both reductive and a compliment. Searching is a movie that’s so much more than its gimmick, but it’s also a movie that is fascinating precisely because of this trick. In the same way that The Blair Witch Project was formally inventive with found footage, Searching uses the digital realm as both a visual and thematic device.
In the movie’s opening sequence, this visual structure is used to devastating emotional effect. In the first five minutes of Searching, we see Margot grow up; we also see her mother (Sara Sohn) grow sick. It recalls the opening scene of Up, allowing us to learn everything we need to about the dynamics between the main characters and delivering an emotion gut-punch at the end.
4. Widows - the driving shot
After Jack (Colin Farrell) leaves a campaign event promising to create more opportunities for businesses owned by minority women in his ward he hops in his car, but the camera never joins him. Instead, director Steve McQueen places it on the hood. As Jack engages in a racist tirade to his assistant Molly (Siobhan Kunz) about power and the pointlessness of the political machine, the camera captures the transition from the rundown neighborhood Jack just left to the palatial home his driver pulls up in front of. It’s a powerful repudiation of gentrification, and it’s the best scene of the movie.
3. Minding the Gap - Bing interviews his mom
No video available for this one, although Minding the Gap is available to stream on Hulu. It’s an under-seen gem of a documentary, and I highly recommend you check it out if you can. The film, directed by Bing Liu, follows the troubled upbringing of Liu’s skateboarder friends in Rockford, Illinois. What could have been an overly romanticized reflection on adolescence becomes a meditation on surviving trauma in a forgotten American community. Liu pulls no punches in bringing his own life into this mess, yet never does so in a way that is self-indulgent or compromising of the core narrative.
This is not technically one ‘scene,’ as Bing’s interview with his mom comes up a couple times separately during Minding the Gap. I’m thinking specifically of the last appearance, which comes in the middle of an emotionally rousing apex of the movie that finds many of its plots converging. Bing is interviewing her about his step-father’s abuse towards his mother and Bing, an astonishingly raw moment to put on film. What it brings out in him and his mother is like few moments I’ve seen on screen before.
2. Eighth Grade - the fireside speech
The number one scene from 2018 guaranteed to make me cry every time. Kayla (Elsie Fisher), an unconfident eighth-grader, is performing a ritual of sorts in her backyard: she is burning a time capsule of her possessions she made back in sixth grade for her future self. Her dad (Josh Hamilton) helps, although he doesn’t know until after the box is in the fire pit that it contained, according to Kayla, “just sort of my hopes and dreams.”
The scene turns when Kayla, trying with everything she has to avoid eye contact with her dad, asks him, “Do I make you sad?” Her dad responds with a firm refutation that is also deeply disheartening. He never considered that she thought she made him sad, and it’s a revelation worse than her being angry or despondent with him ever could be.
His sadness melts into joy, though, as he tells Kayla just how easy it is to be proud of her. He begins to open up about his own insecurities, and the speech becomes freeing for him as well as her. “If you could just see yourself how I see you,” he tells her, “I swear to God you wouldn’t be scared either.”
Kayla slowly opens up during her dad’s speech. Although she’s straining to avoid eye contact, she masks the subtlest of smiles at his pride for her. She’s been distant the entire movie, which makes the embrace that this scene culminates in so sweet. The moment is tender, expertly paced, and hilarious, just like the entire movie.
1. A Star Is Born - “Shallow”
Every iteration of A Star Is Born is a variation on the same story: a famous-yet-troubled artist discovers a talented unknown, and their romance is thrown into tension with their diverging career trajectories. The live performance of “Shallow” in the 2018 version is the crucial scene in this transition of stardom. Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), a grizzled, alcoholic rockstar, brings Ally (Lady Gaga) with him on stage to perform a song she wrote.
In prior scenes, we saw Jack at his lowest: drinking excessively, stumbling around, going through the motions during concerts. When he brings Ally to perform with him, though, he’s glowing. Ally, meanwhile, is terrified. Even when she works up the courage to walk on stage she remains fearful, clasping her hands over her face in disbelief. It’s what makes the performance so exhilarating: the tension between Jack’s belief in Ally and her own disbelief at what’s happening makes the big OHHH-OH-OH-OH-OH that anyone who’s seen the trailer will recognize so thrilling.
It helps, of course, that the song is so damn good. It’s a masterfully written and performed duet. I walked out of A Star Is Born with mixed feelings, but the greatness of “Shallow” is undeniable. This was my favorite scene of the year, and it wasn’t particularly close.