Now that the halfway mark has hit between the dawn of a hopeful 2014 and the inevitable exasperated gasp of relief that another year of harrowing grief is finally over, we're inclined to look back on the past six months of cinematic glory. First, we set our sights to the best performances of the year, both leading and supporting. Next, we turn to movie scenes and moments — the funny, shocking, moving, and just plain weird instances that stuck with us long after we stepped out of the theater. Here's a quick list of some of the most memorable movie scenes and moments we've seen so far in 2014.
The evolution sequence in NoahDarren Aronofsky's account of the great flood jumped levels in progressive thinking when it included a scene that comfortably meshed creationist beliefs with the science of evolution. The sequence, which followed an aquatic amoeba as it grew into a fish, then a lizard, then a series of mammals, until ultimately becoming the impetus for mankind, is not just intellectually rich, but visually dazzling.
Gustave's prison break in The Grand Budapest HotelEvery chapter in Wes Anderson's latest film is terrific fun, but Ralph Fiennes on the run from the law (and the vicious Adrien Brody) is about as merry as it gets... even with the haunting undercurrent in an approaching World War.
The opening sequence in BorgmanThe mysterious Danish picture Borgman institutes an excitement, a levity, and a curious nature all at once with its terrific opening sequence, wherein the title character is drawn from his home underground for unexplained reasons and forced to flee the wrath of angry villagers, and help to liberate his friends from the same.
The "Spaceship, spaceship, spaceship!" gag in The Lego MovieServing primarily as a punchline to a long gestating joke, Charlie Day's Lego character's manic exclamation of his favorite word is the biggest laugh in a very funny movie.
Scarlett Johannson abducting a man with neurofibromatosis in Under the SkinJonathan Glazer's bizarre film is nothing if not evasive, but peaks in its enigmatic nature when the nameless hero/villain Scarlett Johansson, herself of mysterious origins, abducts and seems to warm to a man afflicted with a facial deformity. Cue the process of undress and cannibalistic black liquid floors...
Warner Bros. Entertainment
Ken Watanabe's big moment in Godzilla"Let them fight."
The end credits of 22 Jump StreetChris Miller and Phil Lord embrace their love of genre parody in the post-narrative moments of 22 Jump Street, in which they send their starring duo through a long line of false sequels (entailing their attendance at med school, military school, traffic school... there are a good dozen of these, all of 'em funny).
The statutory rape endorsement in Transformers: Age of ExtinctionLet's get this straight: we're simply in awe of this scene due to how god damn bizarre it is, not at all on board with its message (or even its artistic merits in a movie about robot wars). We can't help but think about Mark Wahlberg challenging the validity of 20-year-old Jack Reynor's romantic relationship with 17-year-old Nicola Peltz, only to see Reynor pull a laminated document from his pocket that exempts him from all legal ramifications of dating a minor. Weird as all hell.
The getaway scene in Night MovesNear unprecedented tension hits when Jesse Eisenberg and his two fellow eco-terrorists attempt to flee the scene after programming a time bomb to detonate an ecologically destructive dam. The trio sits on the midnight river, hoping to avoid both the eyes of passersby and the wrath of a deadly explosive. It's edge-of-your-seat kind of stuff.
Liam Neeson grabbing a gun in mid-air while the airplane aboard which he is a passenger hurdles into oblivion as a team of hijackers attempts to take the whole thing hostage in Non-StopRight?
20th Century Fox Film
The Quicksilver scene in X-Men: Days of Future PastEvan Peters spends very little time onscreen in the latest X-Men picture, but his talents are milked for all their value when he is charged with dashing around a slow-motion Pentagon kitchen to the soothing tunes of Jim Croce.
The grade school scene in SnowpiercerThe most disturbing, macabre, and wickedly fun scene in a movie that has no shortage of any of those three qualities, a very pregnant Allison Pill's grade school seminar in the back half of Snowpiercer stands out as the film's most enjoyable achievement. Pill sells the hell out of lunacy in this sequence.
Paul Rudd walks into a bar in They Came Together Our favorite joke in They Came Together, narrowly beating out Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler's mutual love of fiction books, is Rudd's sullen conversation with a highly redundant barkeep who, let's just say, calls 'em like he sees 'em. Over and over and over.
Nicolas Cage asking a neighborhood kid if he's still MMA fighting in Joe I have no idea why I love this so much, but one brief exchange in the sleepy, somber movie Joe has Cage chatting with a young neighbor in a bodega, asking about how his martial arts practice has been going. It's incredibly peculiar and charming, though I don't expect any of that to carry through here.
The Zola computer reveal in Captain America: The Winter Soldier Although we weren't crazy about the second Captain America movie, we have to tip a hat to the reveal that Toby Jones' Nazi scientist has been living on for the last 70 years in the form of a bulky yet surpemely efficient supercomputer. The sort of weird stuff that we love to see in the crevices of Marvel flicks.
20th Century Fox Film via Everett Collection
Get a good look at the destitute world presented in the very first scenes of X-Men: Days of Future Past, because you won't be spending much time there. In a swift few moments, the movie introduces the stakes (mutant-killing robots called Sentinels have wiped out the majority of the superpowered race and any sympathetic humans), the surviving players — Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Prof. X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), and a few other marginally present regulars — and the one plan that's just crazy enough to fix everything: send Wolverine back in time to the 1970s, courtesy of Kitty Pryde's (Ellen Page) nifty new sending-people-back-in-time power, so he can prevent the impetus for this colossal nightmare from ever happening. Quicker than Peter Maximoff can divert a league of military bullets while rocking out to Jim Croce, we're out of the black hole of grim turmoil and frolicking about the groovy tunes and alabaster hues of 1973. And from there on out, it's all fun.
Wolverine's mission is simple: stop Mystique (Jennifer Bluerence) from killing government scientist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the very man who invented the Sentinels... turns out the act of vigilance was a bit counterproductive. But even simpler than Days of Future Past's hero's journey is its quick fix on the time travel problem — you know, the web of logical paradoxes present in every piece of time travel fiction from H.G. Welles to Marty McFly to Looper that draws ire from sci-fi adherents the world over. Kitty spells out the rules from the getgo:
Go to sleep in '14Wake up in '73Do stuffWhen you wake back up in '14, that stuff will have been doneThe stuff that everyone did before you went to sleep in '14 will have been undone
Bing bang boom. As upfront and easy as high-concept time travel gets. In fact, the guidelines of Days of Future Past's space-time continuum could stand in as the film's general maxim to all viewers: Don't think too much. About any of it. Don't hang too tight to the old stuff, don't worry about the stuff to come, don't even get particularly hung up on the stuff that's happening now. Just enjoy yourself.
20th Century Fox Film via Everett Collection
Although framed around a time-bending journey to preempt the inception of a mutant genocide spanning decades, Days of Future Past isn't as much about the legacy of mutants as its premise might have you believe. All of its stories take place within and between '70s-era Charles (James McAvoy), Erik (Michael Fassbender), and Raven (Bluenifer Lawrence), battling their respective Cold War demons — drugs, political unrest, racial inequity — and shared personal discord. As a young Xavier riddled with pain and depression, McAvoy is a tremendous hoot, stealing scenes from all but one of his screen companions: the fast guy.
Even more of a testament to Days of Future Past's true nature than its "get in, get out, what happens happens" mentality on time travel is its breakout character, Peter Maximoff, a.k.a. Quicksilver (Evan Peters). Wrangled in as a deus ex machina midway through the picture and offering nothing more than hearty chuckles and flashy action sequences, Quicksilver stands far and beyond the more substantive characters and devices as Days of Future Past's foremost highlight. Not because the laugh-a-minute performance has got much running under the hood, but because DOFP is far more interested in having fun (which he does) than in saying anything (which the others do).
Peters is merely the beacon of the movie's joy, not the sole supplier of it. Wolverine's jaunts about the '73 Atlantic coast are deliciously merry. The grab bag of mutants popping out of the movie's seams is a delight. McAvoy's maudlin decadance as a rock bottom Charles is the stuff on which British comedy was founded. Future Past gets its gravity out of the way in the opening sequence; after that, it's all good times.
And that's why it gets away with what might otherwise be frustratingly clandestine references to X-Men film history. As lax as Days of Future Past is in its adherence to "the old stuff," picking and choosing what material from the previous films it wishes to deem canon, it seems to bank on the fact that all watching have every one of the franchise's cinematic contrivances fresh on their minds when they arrive for the new chapter. Stingy allowances to the backstories of characters and concepts — William Stryker (played here by Joshua Helman), the memories of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), and even Raven/Mystique (Bluenibler Bluebluence) — land inches from agonizing obstruction. But even if you're weighted down by your confusion over the nature of elements like these, you're likely to let the joy take hold, because the movie makes it terribly clear that the cool stuff is its top priority.
Although it might lack in the flare of some of its big screen comic book competitors, Days of Future Past does have plenty of "cool stuff" in its arsenal. At the expense, perhaps, of a story that feels perfectly woven, characters that come off as grounded, or a universe that's altogether cohesive, series pioneer Bryan Singer's return to the mutant world is plain ol' enjoyable enough to warrant the scope that it seems like it should have.
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Authorities in the Bahamas on Sunday pressed on with their investigation into the crash of a Cessna aircraft that took the lives of singer-actress Aaliyah and eight others shortly after takeoff on a flight bound for Opa-Locka, FL. Reporting on the tragedy, Boston Globe music critic Steve Morse commented today (Monday): "It ended the life of a singer who brought a special elegance to the hip-hop/soul genre, as well as a unique charisma to the screen." In addition to recording two hit albums, Aaliyah, born Aaliyah Haughton 22 years ago, had also starred in last year's Romeo Must Die and had completed filming the movie version of Anne Rice's Queen of the Damned, in which she played the title character. She had also signed to appear in the next two sequels of The Matrix. Her death extends the sizable list of performers who have died in the crashes of small private craft, including Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper), Patsy Cline, Rick Nelson, Otis Redding, Jim Croce, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ronnie Van Zant, and John Denver.