Yesterday, we admired movie characters at their absolute worst, and today, we marvel at their very best. Perhaps more than yesterday’s list, the amount of scenes that could occupy a spot here is boundless. So do feel free to share some of your favorites. Enjoy!
My introduction to Charlie Chaplin was an interesting one. I went for several of my movie-freaked years without ever seeing a Chaplin film. I had heard of their impact, of course, but never actually sat down to watch one. Finally, I bought a massive box set and set aside a weekend to crush out as many as possible. City Lights was my first, and for most of the film, I just didn’t get it. I appreciated the work, but it just wasn’t for me.
That is until its final scene, which left me stunned, immobile and speechless for several minutes. That was Chaplin’s power. The final scene of City Lights is, without a doubt, one of the best moments ever captured on film. Watch the scene here.
Shirley MacLaine – The Apartment (1960)
Ditching the New Year’s party, sprinting through the streets, assuming the champagne popping is something worse, coming in, smiling.
“Shut up and deal.”
That’s about as close to perfect as you can get. Watch the scene here.
Henry Thomas – E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
E.T. was a childhood favorite of mine, and the scene in which Elliot says goodbye to his recently deceased friend ripped me apart every time. Every. Time. And as Elliot closes E.T.’s makeshift coffin… well, tell me I’m not the only one who yelled (uhh…yells) at the screen, begging Elliot to notice E.T.’s glowing heart.
He notices, John Williams’ score cues up, a young boy is overcome with adulation, and our hearts melt effortlessly. Watch the scene here.
Cuba Gooding, Jr. – Jerry Maguire (1996)
A handful of scenes from Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire could occupy a place on this list. But the one I’m most emotionally drawn to is Rod Tidwell being told he has a very heafty football contract ready to be signed. The way Gooding’s chin quivers before he exhales dramatically… the way he stammers to remember the person he needs to thank most… the way Tom Cruise looks of, fighting back tears as his friend sings his praises… given his competition, I’m still not sure Gooding deserved his Oscar for this role, but damn if this scene doesn’t make a strong case for it. Watch the scene here.
Al Pacino – Any Given Sunday (1999)
I’ve limited The Winning Sports Moment to just two slots on this list (because the options are never ending), with my favorite being Pacino’s overwhelmed reaction to his playoff-qualifying win. The final football scene in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday is, in my opinion, the finest football sequence ever filmed. It’s authentic, absurd, engaging and utterly gripping. You don’t have to be a fan of the sport to appreciate this scene, which is concluded flawlessly with Pacino falling to his knees, praying his thanks to the football gods above. He really did fight for that inch. Watch the scene here.
Denzel Washington – The Hurricane (1999)
It took Rubin “Hurricane” Carter more than 20 years to be exonerated of a triple murder he had nothing to do with, and director Norman Jewison captures the moment of freedom wondrously. As Rod Steiger reads his judge’s ruling with perfect impartiality, the camera slowly pushes in on Washington, as he sits calmly but in fear. The way Washington reacts to the word “released” is so comforting – it’s an inaudible sigh of release that lifts an insurmountable weight off his shoulders. Decades led to this moment, and oh how fittingly it is played. Watch the scene here.
Jean Darie (The Blind Man) – Amélie (2001)
Inspirational filmmaking doesn’t get much better than this. I’m mean really, how can your heart not fill with joy as Amélie Poulain walks a blind man down a crowded street, describing aloud everything she sees? And instead of describing the “big” things, she sticks to the tiny details. The free slices of melon, the price of meat, the ugly clothes – the mundane aspects of everyday life that a person with vision may ignore. And the look on Darie’s face says that for 40 whole seconds, he once was blind, but now can see. Watch the scene here.
Ethan Hawke – Before Sunset (2004)
“Baby, you are gonna Miss. That. Plane.”
And he couldn’t be happier. Watch the scene here.
Kurt Russell – Miracle (2004)
Fans of this blog might be surprised that, given my penchant for serious, painful, heavy-handed dramas, I do indeed have a soft spot for seemingly obvious winning sports moments. If done right (and, honestly, few are) then I can fall to pieces watching such a scene. Which is certainly the case for the Disney film, Miracle, which depicts America’s 1980 Olympics hockey win over Russia. Once the clock reads zero, we’re privy to a handful of moments that simply make my heart drop. First is when admittedly reserved head coach Herb Brooks (Russell) attempts to shake the hand of his assistant coach (Noah Emmerich). Emmerich ignores the hand and embraces Russell in a hug of sheer joy. Moments later, Russell locks eyes with the Russian coach, and offers a kind nod of appreciation. He then finds his wife in the crowd and gives her a fitting look of, “Holy shit, I did it,” before retreating to the hallway to cry in private.
Leave it to director Gavin O’Connor (who would later direct Warrior to excellence) to get such a clichéd, sentimental sports moment just right. Watch the scene here.
Will Smith – The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
The thing I love most about Chris Gardner being offered his dream job is how accurately the moment plays out. In my experience, when you’re dealing with a very large organization like the firm Chris is working for, meetings of hiring or firing are as quick and painless as possible. There’s no reasoning, no long conversation – the brass tells you what’s what, and you accept it. Get in, get out, move on. I mention this because I’ve heard a few people say they wish this moment in The Pursuit of Happyness played out a little longer, but I couldn’t disagree more. It’s brief because it needs to be brief. Gardner is seconds away from completely breaking down, which he would consider unprofessional. So, for a number of reasons, the conclusion to this film works, and works damn well. Watch the scene here.