In mid-December, we published our list of the Best Movies of 2019, including Parasite, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Little Women, all of which appear in this post, too. But there’s an important distinction — that was the “best movies,” this is the “most memorable” moments; it’s less about the quality of the movie as a whole (there are some mediocre movies below) than a single indelible moment within a scene. There’s a lot of crossover, too, but when I think back to the last 12 months of going to the movies, or staying in and watching something on Netflix, these are the (unranked) scenes that come to mind.
1. Keanu Reeves’ instantly iconic entrance in Always Be My Maybe.
2. For the first three acts of Her Smell, Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss) is an absolute mess, a burnt-out rock star seemingly beyond redemption. But then the movie skips forward a few years, and Becky is sober and trying to repair her relationship with her young daughter, who asks her to play “something that reminds you of me” on the piano. What follows is maybe the hardest I cried during any movie this year. It’s heaven.
3. Another musical moment: Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley) singing “Glasgow (No Place Like Home)” during the climax of Wild Rose, a song with an incredible story.
4. The peach fuzz is sequence is more deliciously wicked, but “Jessica, only child, Illinois Chicago” has been stuck in my head since I first saw Parasite.
5. This face from Andy King in Netflix’s Fyre documentary.
6. My actual favorite scene in The Irishman is the closing seconds of the film, which alone should give Robert De Niro his first Oscar nomination since 2013’s Silver Linings Playbook, but it’s not the moment I think about the most. That would be:
few things this year brought me as much joy as al pacino angrily eating his steak in the irishman pic.twitter.com/nWf6Hmepo3
— nick usen (@nickusen) December 26, 2019
7. The Japanese zombie movie One Cut of the Dead is a worldwide sensation, having made over a thousand times its budget and sporting a perfect Rotten Tomatoes score, but go into it knowing as little as possible. The whole thing is a blast, but the [spoiler] scene is why it’s on this list. You’ll recognize it when you see it.
8. Aretha Franklin, as herself, gave the best performance of the year. Or ever.
9. Literally every time Forky calls himself “trash” in Toy Story 4. Same.
10. After John Wick: Chapter 2, I thought I was done with scenes set in a hall of mirrors. It’s a trope for a reason. Been there, seen that… and that… and that… and that… and repeat “that” until I’ve counted every reflection of myself (woah). But along came Us, which slightly falls apart in the back half, but has one heck of a creepy-ass prologue. It’s official: there can NOW never be another hall of mirrors scene (sorry, It: Chapter 2!).
11. Want to watch a movie like Cats but, y’know, good? Try Climax. This movie has everything: French people dancing, sangria spiked with LSD, no James Corden.
12. Jo’s (Saoirse Ronan) Little Women speech to Marmee (Laura Dern) about turning down Laurie. “Women have minds and souls as well as hearts, ambition, and talent, as well as beauty, and I’m sick of being told that love is all a woman is fit for. But… I am so lonely.” This is not exactly a hot take, considering she’s been nominated for three Oscars (she’s 25!), but Ronan is one of the finest and most understated actresses out there.
13. This death in Brightburn is jaw-dropping. Literally.
14. Where to begin with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood? There are so many great moments: Brad Pitt visiting Spahn Ranch, Brad Pitt feeding Brandy a can of Wolf’s Tooth dog food, Brad Pitt taking his shirt off (I saw it twice in theaters, and both times someone in the audience loudly gasped). But as great as Brad and Leo (and the guy who plays Tex) are, my favorite scene in Hollywood is when Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) stops at a theater to watch herself in The Wrecking Crew. It an earnest moment of pure joy — Sharon’s delighted that she’s on the big screen (with her dirty feet on a seat), making people happy. Not “Brad Pitt takes his shirt off” happy, but happy nonetheless.
15. “That’s what she’s doing, yeah. ‘Edging!’ That’s great. It is a pleasurable sensation that leaves only frustration. Perfect.” That’s director Claire Denis discussing the unforgettable f*ckbox scene in High Life, in which Juliette Binoche enters, well, a f*ckbox. That’s also my favorite heavy metal album title of the year.
16. I’ve seen Under the Silver Lake once, which means I’m seven viewings away from sort of understanding three percent of the movie. And yet, even I, someone who isn’t blissed out on drugs and has never made a Pepe Silvia wall, can understand the Songwriter scene, when Sam (Andrew Garfield) meets a wealthy old man who claims to have written countless iconic songs, including “I Want It That Way” and the Cheers theme. Which is to say, I understood it’s good. Do I understand what it means? Nope!
17. It was really nice of A24 to release The Lighthouse in mid-October, giving me enough time to put together my Willem Dafoe Screaming “Hark” costume for Halloween.
18. A dog climbing a wall in John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum? A dog climbing a wall in John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum.
19. Midsommar: every sh*tty boyfriend’s least favorite movie. Especially this scene.
20. The “twist” in The Death of Dick Long. It’s both exactly what you think and not at all what you expect. (I would also like to give a shout-out to the “gobsmackingly awful” twist in Serenity, a wild Florida coast-set noir starring Matthew McConaughey as a fisherman named Baker Dill who’s obsessed with catching a tuna called Justice. It’s wild.)
21. The blood-splattered ending of Ready or Not.
22. Jennifer Lopez dancing to Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” in Hustlers. That is all.
23. Like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, it’s tough to pick only one “best” moment from Uncut Gems. Is it Howard (Adam Sandler) telling Julia (Julia Fox) that they can’t be buried together? (That one’s for my fellow Jews.) Or Kevin Garnett leaning on the glass? (Don’t lean on the glass!) Or the Weeknd doing cocaine in a bathroom? Nah, it’s every scene with Wayne “Handsome Older Man” Diamond, whose tanned face I won’t forget.
24. Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Marriage Story are two of my favorite movies released in the past 12 months. They’re much better than Shadow, but I’m leaving them off this list in favor of the ancient China-set epic, because while Portrait and Marriage Story might have secret paintings and Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson singing Sondheim, they don’t have umbrellas made of daggers. Shadow does!
25. “On your left” from Avengers: Endgame.