As awards season looms, and we continue to celebrate the best of cinema from 2014, there will always be those films, those characters and those moments that don’t quite get the regard they deserve. That is, the Globes and Oscars follow a very particular pattern, and those films that are nominated are regulated to the drama genre (the Globes pick comedic dramas when they go to the comedy category). We celebrate technical achievements, acting greatness and of course, the Best Picture of the year, but not everything can be boiled down so easily.
Of course the film world is far more vast and interesting than simply the handful of films selected. What’s more, while some films may not have been all around excellent, there are indelible scenes from the past year that we will never forget.
So instead of looking at whatever we define as greatness when it comes to films and filmmaking, let us take the chance to look at some of the scenes that moved us in a different way. There were plenty of films last year that featured scenes most uncomfortable, jarring and even disturbing. They range from the Oscar-nominated to the epic, from the mainstream to the exceedingly eccentric. And from the great to less-than-mediocre. These were scenes that stood out at the time and stayed with us long after, for better and worse and in a variety of ways, made us cringe, recoil and look for cover.
12. Nymphomaniac – Tied Up
There were more than a handful of awkward, bizarre and cringe-inducing moments in Lars von Trier’s epic sexual adventure, Nymphomaniac. While there is a lot to be said for the creation and execution of this film, one that was divided into two 120-minute parts (with a five-hour director’s cut coming later), there was one particularly uncomfortable moment (aside from you know, all the sexual deviancy that takes place throughout). Seeking some sort of sexual stimulation, a now mature Joe meets a man who will inflict punishment on her to achieve some sort of feeling or peace. In a lengthy scene, she nervously agrees to be tied up, she is smacked and whipped, and it’s both painful for her and the viewer.
11. Whiplash – Try Outs
There are many taut, startling moments of the critically-acclaimed Whiplash; all the way from the very beginning, right through to its grand finale. Lest we spoil the ending, one of the most arduous scenes in the film comes in the middle when the maniacal music teacher, Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) tries to find the right drummer, and won’t stop until he does. He runs through each of the three hopefuls, including our protagonist Andrew, and doesn’t stop until someone gets it right. First he embarrasses all three by dismissing the rest of the band. After hours go by, and blood and sweat are pouring out of these once cocky kids, finally one steps up and we release a sigh of relief –from everyone.
10. The Boxtrolls – Cheese Allergy
This animated film from Laika studio (Coraline, ParaNorman) is weird throughout. It is a Dickensian steam punk adventure in a world where the rich wear white hats and love cheese, and friendly trolls live under the city in fear of being killed. It’s heart-felt and funny, but certainly odd. A most peculiar scene however, comes when our monstrous villain whets his dairy appetite only to realize he is allergic to the fine cheeses that the elite enjoy; and he really wants to be a part of the elite. Well, he starts to break out in hives, and his already grotesque body becomes distorted to such a disgusting extent that it’s hard to watch.
9. The Equalizer – Home Depot Carnage
It’s not often in action movies that the tone of the film is so out of balance with its depiction of violence. The Equalizer starring Denzel Washington, is hokey and funny at times, but takes the violence to a hyper realistic and gory level. During one climactic battle inside a Home Depot, we bear witness to just how desensitized our supposed moral hero is. Among the tools he uses to dispatch the bad guys, are barbed wire and a power drill; and director Antoine Fuqua has no problems showing us the gory results in a strangely serious way. Our hero too, seems to enjoy the slow death he brings, making this all the more uncomfortable.
8. John Wick – Dog Death
There was a short trend this year of putting really cute dogs alongside tough men for gritty movies (okay, really it was just this and The Drop, but it was great). Before becoming this super stylish and enthralling action thriller, we first had to have motivation for John Wick to come out of retirement. He is spurred to do some terrible things because of what happens to his new furry friend. It seems the worst thing any filmmaker can do is put an animal in danger; in John Wick, we hear and hazily see a puppy being killed. It’s the most excruciating part of a film that quickly transforms into something sharply and smartly entertaining.
7. American Sniper – Opening Scene
It’s in the trailer, and it’s powerful there. It’s even more unnerving when you watch it in the film, as American Sniper opens with Chris Kyle having a very tough decision to make. Staring down the scope of his rifle, he must decide whether or not the woman and young boy in his sights are carrying a bomb and a threat to his fellow soldiers. The taut scene is fraught with tension, and regardless of whatever discussions have swirled around the film since its opening, it’s a memorable scene and utterly exhausting to endure.
6. Birdman – Times Square
Frazzled and clad only in his tighty-whities, Michael Keaton runs through a crowded Times Square, desperate to get back into the theater he was locked out and back on stage for his big scene. It’s a tragic and powerful scene, made all the more compelling by the impeccably well-executed film that led up to this dramatic finale. To this point, we’ve shared laughter and anger and have so much sympathy with this actor trying to regain his pride and dignity. To see him hastily maneuver New York City in his underwear is aggravating, among other things. It’s a credit to Keaton for his performance for making this scene so heart-wrenching; by this point, we are totally on board with him, and this embarrassment paired with the potential heartbreak that could follow, is devastating.
5. The Double – Lost Card
Richard Ayoade’s subtle, clever adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novella is creepy in a lot of different ways. A color scheme made up of yellow and grays, settings that are dank and oppressive, and a lively soundtrack set a perfect tone for a film about a young man’s life being taken over by his doppelganger. This dark comedy has throughout, an uneasy air, none more uncomfortable and frustrating than the series of eerie interactions where Simon, having lost his identity card for his mindless office job, tries to explain that he does in fact exist and has worked at this office for seven years. The people he sees every day don’t recognize him, and he tries to make logical arguments and sense of a system that is inherently illogical; frustration in him and the viewer reaches inexplicable heights.
4. Foxcatcher – Dupont With A Gun
A film that arguably deserved to be among those nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, Foxcatcher is a slow burn of a character-driven drama. Dark and quiet throughout, Foxcatcher follows eccentric billionaire John Dupont, and his sponsorship of an American wrestling team. The film is unpredictable and undeniably uncomfortable for its entire running time. We know something is off the entire time, we just don’t know exactly when things are going to erupt and go crazy. One of the more unnerving sequences is when a bothered DuPont enters the training room carrying a gun, seeking out Mark. We are so programmed to believe something is wrong with him and something terrible will happen, and this scene further challenges the viewer with an instant of fear and uncertainty.
3. Nightcrawler – The First Dead Body
Like The Double and Foxcatcher, most of what transpires in Nightcrawler is eerily uncomfortable. The main character, after all, opts to be an entrepreneur specializing in capturing video of death and chaos, from home invasions to highways crashes. What is most staggering is just how sane this lunatic sounds throughout, and how much he can divide the viewer. He was driven, smart and successful; he is also heartless and sociopathic. There are many scenes to choose from, including the finale, but the first time we really see evidence that Lou Bloom has no boundaries whatsoever, is when he re-positions a dead body in order to get a better shot; and he is so proud.
2. Selma –The Bridge
The acclaimed film from Ava DuVernay boasts many emotional and intense moments (especially considering all the stirring Martin Luther King speeches were rewritten). The most important scene arguably, comes halfway through when protesters cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, only to be greeted by armed and aggressive police officers. What follows came to be known as Bloody Sunday, where the 500-600 protesters were attacked and driven away. DuVernay films on the actual bridge, and each moment is a painful and melancholic watch, as chaos ensues and the protesters are battered and beaten in an unforgettable scene.
1. The Raid 2 – The Prison Fight
We just had to include another bloody sequence in an action film on this list, but what sets this apart from others, is just how authentic it feels. This most-anticipated sequel to The Raid is bigger, bolder and far, far, bloodier. Its larger scale (and higher production value) is evident early and often, with one scene in particular standing out. Now, all the scenes in this franchise are rather jaw-dropping, but what unfolds in a rainy prison yard is staggering and brutal and tests the nerves of the steeliest of viewers. A melee unfolds (never mind that there’s mud everywhere), and the screen fills with broken bones and bloodied bodies in a most cinematic fashion. Faces smash against concrete, sticks go through bodies, rocks land on heads and with the slow motion, the sound of bones snapping and people screaming, we’ve got one the most brutal sequences on film. And it goes on for six minutes.