Let’s do things a little differently. Rather than just a straightforward ranking, I’ll list some of my favourite scenes of the year based on an arbitrary criteria on what they were ‘best’ in. Due to differing release schedules around the world, what counts as a 2022 release for me might not apply to you, so please take note of that.
And without further ado …
Best Reintroduction: Enter the Pattman (The Batman, dir. Matt Reeves)
Robert Pattinson is the ninth 1 actor to play Batman in a major studio production. We’ve seen a fair few Batmen, as well as a number of wildly different takes on the character, from Tim Burton’s Gothic grandeur to Joel Schumacher’s high camp to Christopher Nolan’s sleek modernisation to Zack Snyder … being Zack Snyder. As such, director Matt Reeves had to not only reintroduce the character in his opening scene, but to put his stamp on what his version of the Caped Crusader would be. Suffice to say, he succeeded. What makes this scene so excellent is how it keeps the viewer on tenterhooks throughout, waiting for Batman to emerge from the night sky or the shadows, creating a rising tension that reflects that of the criminals that run riot in the Gotham streets. And when he finally emerges, combat-booted and body-armoured, to the blaring howl of Michael Giacchino’s spectacular score and whispers ‘I’m vengeance’, it’s not just a thrilling moment – it’s a mission statement.
Most ‘WTF’ Scene: Birth (Men, dir. Alex Garland)
Men is a confounding, frustrating film that manages to be both overly simplistic and complicated. Writer/director Alex Garland travels further into the realm of pure abstract symbolism (a journey that he began with 2018’s Annihilation), as Harper’s (Jessie Buckley) attempts to heal in a remote country house following the suicide of her husband are constantly interrupted by … well, look at the movie’s title. Except all the men, be they the patronising caretaker, the accusatory vicar, or even the naked dude standing in the garden, all share two things in common – misogyny and the face of Rory Kinnear. It’s difficult to say if Men works as a condemnation or a critique, but what cannot be argued is the raw, visceral shock of its centrepiece scene, where [EXTREMELY GROSS SPOILERS AHEAD] all the various men who have tormented Harper across the film give birth to each other like Russian Matryoshka dolls, with all the expected blood and gore (and vaginal imagery) that ensues. Is this a statement about how various forms of misogyny ‘birth’ and propagate themselves across different generations, and how the masculine simultaneously loathes and wishes to claim the feminine power of birth for itself? Or is it just a cynical attempt to shock the audience with a fundamentally empty stunt of body horror? Either way, it’s a scene that will not be forgotten quickly, no matter how hard one tries.
Least WTF Scene: The First Transformation (Turning Red, dir. Domee Shi)
And then on the other end of the spectrum, we get a wonderful little scene that got The Worst People on The InternetTM up in arms because (you might want to sit down for this) it acknowledged that pre-teen girls have periods. Gasp. Shock and horror. How dare they. Turning Red was a nice return to form for Pixar, and the movie was never better than during Mei’s first transformation, which blended the studio’s usual recipe of humour and heart in a way that felt reminiscent of Toy Story or Finding Nemo. It’s just a pity that rather than applaud the fact that a big mainstream movie aimed at young girls acknowledged its audience’s lived reality, The Worst People on The InternetTM decided to pounce on it as part of their neverending culture war, at least until Lightyear dared to show a married lesbian couple, and then that became the ruination of contemporary society.
Best Tonal Shift: The Rocks (Everything Everywhere All At Once)
Everything Everywhere All At Once is a lot of things – quite literally. What it isn’t, at least for 99% of its runtime, is quiet. Everything Everywhere is noisy, chaotic, and fast-paced … and that’s even before the multiversal shenanigans begin! However, in the midst of its pivotal showdown between Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) and her estranged daughter turned destroyer of worlds Joy/Jobu Tupaki (Stephanie Hsu), the film suddenly switches gears and grinds to a halt, cutting to, of all things, a pair of rocks overlooking the desert. What ensues is one of the most beautiful and profound scenes in recent history, that attempts to deal with nothing less than the meaning of existence itself. It’s both a moment to draw breath and one that takes your breath away.
Best Montage: Memories (Spencer)
Much of Pablo Larrain’s Spencer eschews the tropes of the typical biopic, dispensing with any attempts to present an accurate portrayal of events in lieu of attempting to convey what it must have felt like to be Princess Diana. We saw this approach fail catastrophically (see the second last entry on this list) in 2022, but at its best, we end up with Spencer‘s climactic montage. Standing at the top of a staircase in the rotting skeleton of her family’s former estate, an increasingly beleaguered Diana considers whether to end it all. What follows is a superbly shot and edited montage that comes closer to abstract symbolism than narrative film, with Larrain’s swooping camera tracking Diana (Kristen Stewart at her most luminous) as she walks, runs, and eventually dances through her memories and rediscovers the happiness that has been denied to her up to that point. It’s a sensuous, joyful moment in what is otherwise a chilly film, and it’s a wonder to behold.
Best Vehicular Sequence: The Truck Scene (Licorice Pizza)
Licorice Pizza is on the lower tier of Paul Thomas Anderson films, meaning it’s merely excellent as opposed to a generational-defining masterpiece. Tracking the push and pull of the relationship between child actor Gary (Cooper Hoffman) and aimless photographer’s assistant Alana (Alana Haim), Licorice Pizza largely follows its own meandering rhythm. That is, until the truck scene, where a hilariously coked out and aggressive Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper) hires Gary to deliver a waterbed to his house. Through a series of events too complicated to explain, Gary and Alana must make a quick exit from Peters’ house. Except the truck is out of gas. And they are rolling backwards down the Hollywood Hills. And there are a bunch of kids in the back. Alternating between tension and hilarity, the scene also slyly serves as a metaphor for Alana’s maturation and decision to leave the teenage Gary behind – after all, she’s literally in the driver’s seat now.
Best Monologue: Blanc solves ‘the mystery’ (Glass Onion)
For much of Glass Onion‘s first act, master detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) seems a little worse for wear. Maybe it’s the pandemic-induced isolation that has dulled his senses. Maybe it’s the fact that he cannot quite figure out who secretly invited him to the island. Or maybe it’s Jared Leto’s hard kombucha. Either way, the Blanc of Glass Onion‘s opening seems a little bumbling and a little buffoonish, setting off smoke alarms and generally seeming ill at ease in his luxurious surroundings. However, once Miles Bron (Edward Norton) declares the murder mystery game open, Blanc puts paid to any suggestion that he has gone to seed, with a hilarious monologue detailing every single aspect of the ‘crime’ and its motive. Just the instantaneous deflation of Bron’s massive ego trip would be funny enough, but when you add in Craig’s ridiculous accent and scenery chewing, you get one of the funniest, most delightful scenes of the year.
Worst Scene: JFK (Blonde)
In truth, I could have gone with about eight different scenes from Blonde. Maybe any of the multiple scenes with the talking foetuses. Maybe the one with the uterus-cam. Maybe the discovery of who was actually writing the letters to Norma Jeane (Ana de Armas) while claiming to be her father. But in the end, I went for this one, because of how it is almost indistinguishable from parody. Bad New England accent from JFK? Check. Pointless sexualisation of Marilyn Monroe while puritanically attempting to denounce said sexualisation? Check. Phallic nuclear rockets rising on TV as JFK reaches orgasm? Why even ask? In an ugly, self-indulgent film, no scene is quite as ugly or self-indulgent as this one. And, much like Marilyn Monroe, the whole scene left a bad taste in my mouth. 2
Best Scene: Last Dance / The Ending (Aftersun)
This is technically two scenes, but it’s my list, so I make the rules. Furthermore, both scenes connect with each other so perfectly that it’s impossible to separate the two. Apart, the final two scenes of Aftersun are perfection. Together, they are soul-crushing. I have a lot more to write about Aftersun in my best films list (spoiler, it’s placed very high), but for now, what I will say is that few films have hit me as hard as this one. I was in tears for the Aftersun‘s final fifteen minutes thanks to its utter gut-punch of an ending, as the very reason for the film’s existence falls into place. Dovetailing both the highest of highs and the lowest of lows into a single dance sequence (set to one of the all time great needle drops) before pulling back and ending on a note of melancholy so exquisite it still makes me well up thinking about it now, Aftersun‘s ending is not just the best scene of the year, it’s one of the best scenes in all of cinema. It, and the masterpiece of a film it concludes, fucking wrecked me. Go see it now.