Best of 2016: Top 10 Movie Scenes

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Movie scenes! Much like gaming moments, they bring delicious morsels of potential discussion to us and our friends – but they are much more static, and thus even easier to appreciate on a wide scale. Though this might have been a bad sign for originality or standout movie moments of any kind in eras gone by, 2016 brought plenty of animated hits and big-budget action blockbusters, and in recent years that has actually meant a pretty consistent well of memorable scenes worth talking about. This year continued the trend. Spoilers coming, obviously. Lots of them.

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VR BEST OF 2016 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.

Big movie spoilers follow!
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10. Sweet Dreams – X-Men Apocalypse

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My feelings on this scene are pretty mixed, because it’s very appeal is based on an all-too-similar scene that topped my list two years ago, starring the exact same character. Quicksilver, the breakout mutant of X-Men: Days of Future Past, has a lot more screen time in Apocalypse, and he kicks it off this time around with another slow-motion action scene set to a period-appropriate tune. The scene is, of course, amazing anyway, as the silver-haired troublemaker arrives at the X-Mansion just in time to save a bunch of its inhabitants from an explosion that happens to be unfolding far slower than the guy can move. The ways he saves them are as amusing as you’d expect, and the Eurythmics backing track fits everything so well.

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9. The Old Wall – Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV

Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV was certainly one of the weirder cinematic events of 2016, as on its own it does not stand up to any criticism whatsoever. It is, however, arguably indispensible to those wishing to understand the story of its accompanying game, the aptly named Final Fantasy XV, and in that context it’s actually rather enjoyable. The game is ostensibly “A Final Fantasy for Fans and First-Timers (It says so on the title screen) and yet said first-timers miss out on quite a few series references, none more spectacular than the moment when the movie’s main setting, the city of Insomnia, reveals the true nature of its final line of defense: The “old wall” referenced earlier in the piece is actually made up of titanic, emergency-animated statues altogether resembling the Knights of the Round summon from FF VII, and they do some major damage. One of them highly resembles FF X‘s Yojimbo, which I enjoyed immensely.
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8. The DMV – Zootopia

It’s always tricky putting comedic scenes on this list, as humour is so naturally subjective. For several people, the appeal of Zootopia’s headline gag – in both placement and length – was ruined somewhat by the eagerness of Disney to over-market it, even going to the lengths of cutting a clip of most of the joke’s runtime into a trailer-length pre-release spot. But I love it anyway. The idea of a Department of Motor Vehicles facility staffed almost entir  ely by sloths that love driving at speed is amusing enough, but when our disruptive friend Nick Wilde attempts to get under the skin of his temporary ally Judy Hopps by telling a joke he know will slow down the progress of an already glacier-like speed bump in her honest police work, hilarity ensues. And then it doesn’t. And then it does again.
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7. Bees Attack – Star Trek Beyond

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I am led to believe that Star Trek Beyond was one of the surprises of the year for fans of the extended series, following some disappointing reactions to the last two “rebooted” films (I wouldn’t know – I’m not a Trekkie and I like all three of the new movies). That could be for any number of reasons, but the film’s first big action sequence is surely one of them. A breathtaking spectacle of destruction almost on the level of the early moments of Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, the devastating attack on the Starship Enterprise by the villainous Krall’s extremely efficient automated personal army, referred to only as “bees”,  sets the tone of the whole movie in a way big budget action movies often try to accomplish, but fail.
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6. The Elevator – The Nice Guys

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Isolating a single moment from Shane Black’s The Nice Guys to sum up the sheer comedic pace of the whole thing is difficult to say the least, but given how packed with jokes the first half of the movie is, the elevator sequence just before the film’s climax arguably stands out the most due to its appearance straight after a long-ish stretch of pure plot developments. After spending several minutes arguing in a hotel lobby about whether it’s worth ascending the tower to confront a dangerous criminal, the two less-than-competent protagonists gather their courage together, enter the main elevator, have a discussion about semantics on the way up, poke their heads out when the doors open, witness at least two brutally violent deaths and promptly close the doors again, watching a third man falling to his death through the glass window. The whole wordless affair is classic Shane Black goodness.
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5. Destruction in Reverse – Doctor Strange

Almost certainly the MCU movie with the most visually unique action sequences, Doctor Strange parades around its early Inception-esque folding city battles – so prominently featured in the trailers – like they’re only the start of what it has up its sleeve. This turns out to be a smart move, because in the film’s second act it ups the ante with a portal-warp-happy fight sequence starring what a friend of mine succinctly described as the magic carpet in live-action form. Then, for the climax, it improves upon itself yet again, as the eponymous Stephen Strange uses one of his newfound powers to rewind the demise of an important building he and his allies have arrived too late to stop. Cue evil henchmen meeting their ends due to repairing brick facades, rapidly ascending blocks of concrete and makeshift temporary launch pads for the heroes. And this wasn’t even the best Marvel action scene of the year.
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4. Card Trick Pileup – Now You See Me 2

Sometimes the best scenes are the ones that stand out from much poorer surroundings, and that’s certainly the case with Now You See Me 2. Ultimately not much better than the first one in terms of overall quality – which isn’t a high bar to clear –  NSM2 is nonetheless both visually slick and enthusiastically acted, allowing for sequences like the one where the Four Horsemen must escape an extremely tight, multi-phase security system with a powerful stolen microchip embedded inside a playing card (because of course it is). The tension of the attempted getaway is palpable because of some prior establishing character work, which shows card trick master Jack Wilder unsuccessfully attempting to pass his techniques off to the other Horsemen, as well as a slice of Brian Tyler’s score that rises and plummets with each narrow evasion. The dynamic camera angles don’t hurt either, especially for the money shot that seals the scene’s end.
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3. The First Sister – Kubo and the Two Strings

It’s no shock that a Laika Animation movie should be visually stunning, but the way in which one of its most important action scenes unfolds is dazzling. When the one-eyed child entertainer Kubo and his band of unlikely anthropomorphic animal/bug/paper sidekicks track a major aquatic-bound MacGuffin using a boat made of leaves (yes), they are promptly faced with one of the two shadowy sisters who have been in pursuit of him since the film’s outset. With appropriately dark stormclouds as a backdrop, the group does battle with the powerful hook-wielding sister, whose sneering, contemptuous words behind an unmoving mask bring out a character identity twist that is delivered at precisely the perfect moment in the fight. The unique masked-fight-sequence experience of Dario Marianelli, who scored V For Vendetta, matches the gorgeous visual presentation frame by frame to boot.
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2. Airport Showdown – Captain America: Civil War

It wasn’t uncommon back in April to hear people call this the greatest action beat in the almost decade-long history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In still images it actually looks kind of lame, what with the relatively boring airport location and the complete absence of non-superpowered characters, but the largest physical manifestation of the ideological showdown at the heart of Captain America: Civil War is just incredible in motion. A triumph of the kind of mid-battle character interaction that comic books so regularly employ, the battle gives each of the dozen participants ample time in the spotlight, highlighting the sad reality of friends having to fight one another with a surprisingly light tone, which somehow works. From Black Panther’s slick moves to the giddy realisation of a Spider-Man vs Captain America tussle to the banter-rich rivalry between the Winter Soldier and Falcon, the battle moves with a rhythm that sweeps you up all the way past Giant-Man to the crucial defection and near-tragedy that completes it.
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1. The Battle of Scarif – Rogue One

I cannot describe how good it felt to see the final half-hour of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story unfolding before me on the big screen. The reductionists among us may well call it a tropical retread of Return of the Jedi‘s iconic climax, with similar basic narrative gears pushing the action along, but it has been so very long since Star Wars fans got to see a space battle worth writing home about, let alone one this spectacular, and with on-surface action to match. I played an awful lot of Star Wars dogfighting games as a kid, especially within the Rogue Squadron series, so to see such epic ship-on-ship combat unfold with such high production values was beyond a treat, and it had me grinning from ear to ear for a long time indeed. The rough, almost war-movie tone of the shooting on Scarif’s surface gives a fresh angle on some of Star Wars’ great battles, too. And those last five minutes? Amazing. Just amazing.

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Honorable Mentions
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Opening Credits – Deadpool

How often do you get to say that the opening credits of a movie are a highlight? No, not the scene accompanying the credits, the credits themselves. Confused? Go watch the movie.

Inside the Briefcase – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

The moment we get to see inside the slightly odd Newt Scamander’s Mary Poppins/Dr Who-style magical briefcase kicks off a well-choreographed extended sequence where we are introduced to all manner of magical creatures through the eyes of everyman Jacob Kowalski. The whole thing is visually stunning, but it’s also really the first time we get any sense of who Newt really is.

–Shit Just Got Real – Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Roughly marking the point in Hunt for the Wilderpeople where the relationship between its two leads shifts towards a more productive dynamic, the moment when Ricky and Hec find themselves ambushed by a pack of dim-witted wannabe bounty hunters is hilarious, tense and ultimately a tiny bit heartwarming.

Shiny! – Moana

Going into Moana – Disney’s first animated musical since Frozen, mind you – I had been hearing that the best song was “the funny one”, namely the one belonging to Dwayne Johnson’s demigod character Maui. And it’s a good time to be sure. But soon afterwards the inimitable Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame makes an appearance as a giant crab and sings a song I found to be even funnier – and it’s visually dazzling to boot.

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