Category Archives: The Best Moments in Film History

Best Moments in Film History #10: The Birth of a Monster – Alien (1979)


The following post will contain spoilers. Stop reading if you haven’t seen the film

I watched Alien at a very impressionable age. I couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7 years old. Of all the cinematic moments I can highlight in my 33 years on this planet, perhaps none have had quite as big an impact as my first encounter with Ridley Scott’s Alien.

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The Best Moments in Film History: A family dies at a beach — Under the Skin (2014)

Under The Skin

I came out of the theater in a mix of frustration and puzzlement back in the summer of 2014. Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin was, and still is, many moons later, a difficult film to embrace. Every shot seemed to stretch out into infinity, relentlessly demanding that we observe, analyze and break apart every moment and every bit of dialogue. For every thrilling bit of film reel that was full of mystery and suspense, there were equally frustrating shots that seemed void of substance.

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The Best Moments in Film: Josh and MacMillan play the big piano at FAO Schwarz

The Big Piano at FAO Schwarz

More than a silly comedy about a child suddenly coming to grasps with the implications of being an adult overnight, Penny Marshall’s Big is more about how adults tend to forget how to let loose, have fun and enjoy life’s little gifts.

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The Best Moments in Film: the girl recognizes the tramp

City Lights love

{ May Contain Spoilers !! }

In the century-long history of cinema, few have had the vision and the genius of Mr. Charlie Chaplin, a maker of magical moments that has inspired generations of aspiring artists to join the film-making industry. His contribution to the medium is without question, forever shaping the evolution of cinema and showing audiences around the world that film was full of possibility, a new artistic medium for the 20th century.

To most of us, Chaplin is one of the pioneers of physical comedy (alongside other heavyweights like Buster Keaton). Unfortunately, audiences have forgotten how Chaplin was also the author and producer of powerful human stories that were full of heart and charm.

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The Best Moments in Film History: Carl and Ellie’s love story in “UP”

Moment # 5: Carl and Ellie’s love story sequence at the beginning of “UP”.

Among Pixar’s collection of wonderful productions, “UP” stands as one of the sweetest, more emotionally charged animated films in their collection.

Whereas previous Pixar films excel in carrying an idea through with clarity and consistency, “UP” packs much of its punch within the first half hour to subsequentially turn into an ad-hoc adventure involving, among other things, a floating house, a group of talking dogs and an odd looking bird.

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The Best Moments in Film History: The Battle of Hydaspes in “Alexander”

Before you read any further let me be clear about something: the Oliver Stone biopic of Alexander was a less than successful attempt at storytelling, without heart, lacking in pace and creativity.  Having said that, and leaving behind all of the dull intricacies that the film inexplicably chose to focus on, the sequence that showcases the famous Battle of Hydaspes is a welcomed escape from an otherwise forgettable movie.

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Best Moments in Film History: the end of Ikiru

As it has happened with other older films I have watched, Ikiru had a certain pace and style that was hard to relate to and interpret given the great changes filmmaking has experienced in its century-long history.

Once I broke it down and understood the significance of what I had just seen given the context of its creation, Kurosawa’s work opened up to me and showed me how special it is.

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The Best Moments in Film History: The horror of war, “Apocalypse Now”

Today I return to my blog to continue with my series on “The Best Moments in Film History”.

After my first post touching upon the magnificent performance of Kevin Spacey as John Doe in Se7en, I switch gears to a touching moment in film personified by the timeless Marlon Brando.

By the way Apocalypse Now is constructed, the screen required someone with the presence and emotional power of Brando, Hollywood’s ultimate acting virtuoso, to bring the story arch to a satisfying close. The film had traveled, in a metaphorical and literal level, to a point in which it could have collapsed under the weight of its own expectations. Brando did not only bring the excellence of his craft to the fore, but all the mystery of his persona and the aura of greatness that accompanied him from early on in his career.

The success of a performance, as actors themselves would tell you, comes also from listening to other actors. In this film, Martin Sheen plays Captain Willard in a performance that is powerful because it is restrained. In the more of two hours of film, the Captain does a lot of listening and observing, acting as a small pawn thrown into the middle of the Lion’s den. When Willard becomes Kurtz’ prisoner, the Captain acts in reaction to the madness that surrounds him, in an attempt to stay alive and gain the trust of Kurtz until he can achieve his mission: killing him.

Marlon plays Colonel Kurtz as a man that has lost his mind but who, at the same time, can be rational enough to eloquently reveal part of the torment that haunts him.
When Colonel Kurtz decides to open up to his prisoner, the movie reaches its climax. Marlon lurks in the shadows, his face only revealed by strings of light as he’s sitting down eating a fruit. Slowly the Colonel speaks to reveal the horror that consumes him. The emptiness in his eyes is remarkable and we believe this is a man that has lost himself completely in the carnage of the conflict. There is no glimpse of hope, he is but a mere shadow of his former self and his words are poignant and bizarre enough to make anyone cringe:

I’ve seen horrors… horrors that you’ve seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that… but you have no right to judge me. It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror… Horror has a face… and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies! I remember when I was with Special Forces… seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate some children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn’t see. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember… I… I… I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out; I didn’t know what I wanted to do! And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it… I never want to forget. And then I realized… like I was shot… like I was shot with a diamond… a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, my God… the genius of that! The genius! The will to do that! Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we, because they could stand that these were not monsters, these were men… trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love… but they had the strength… the strength… to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral… and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling… without passion… without judgment… without judgment! Because it’s judgment that defeats us

It can be argued that Apocalypse Now does have other moments that are indelible and helped make the movie what it is. However, if it had not been for the great Marlon and his hopeless words that summarized the goal of the film, there would not be an Apocalypse Now in any list comprising the best films of all time. For Brando it was perhaps the last great role of his incredible carreer, one that changed the concept of acting forever.


The Best moments in film history: John Doe in “Se7en”

May contain some SPOILERS !!

For most of its running time, Se7en is a non-remarkable crime drama starring a young Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman and Gwyneth Paltrow.

It is only when a great actor by the name of Kevin Spacey comes into the picture, quite dramatically I might add, that Se7en is taken to a level of thrill and excitement that did not seem possible for most of the film.

Spacey plays a psychopath named John Doe who believes he is to set an example about the evils of society by making his severely flawed victims suffer their worst nightmare before they finally die at his hands. He chooses his victims carefully, based on the seven deadly sins, each one being guilty for committing one of them.

What is remarkable about Spacey’s John Doe is not what he has done, but the convincing way in which he portrays a man that is void of any moral compass, of feeling any sort of remorse, who is not able to feel bad for any of his victims because he feels they are not worthy of clemency. At first, John Doe surrenders while covered in blood in the police station. The detectives don’t understand why he would, knowing by then that his plan was not yet complete. John had killed only 5 of his victims, 2 were still missing. Somerset, who is the more inquisitive of the two detectives in charge, challenges this notion, always suspicious that there is certainly more to come. As the audience, we relate to Somerset as we automatically think that a serial killer as grotesque and merciless as John Doe would never give up when he is so close to completing his so-called “masterpiece”.

By the end of the movie we know that his plan was indeed complete and that he left it to the inexperienced and anger-prone detective Mills (Brad Pitt) to have the power in his hands to make it possible. The cleverness of his plan is shocking and we, as the audience, are probably as surprised as the characters in the movie.

At the end, we are secretly in awe of Spacey’s Doe for the precision of his plan. His serial killer is the incarnation of psychopathic behavior. He welcomes death, in fact, he looks forward to it, knowing that once he passes he will probably be immortalized by the media. What is unsettling about Spacey’ performance is that we believe in what he believes. He is so convincing in what he says that we cannot argue against it. We are lost in Spacey’s eyes, devoid of emotion or fear. His voice is malignant yet thrilling, revealing in hints and pieces that we are speaking to someone who cannot be persuaded or coerced.

Spacey’s performance is all the more thrilling and relevant because the film desperately needed it. What the picture lacked for most of its running time, Spacey’s Doe brought it to the fore and exceeded our expectations, delivering a surprising knockout punch to the story.

Spacey’s brief performance in Se7en elevated the film and he was the deserving recipient of several awards for his extremely electrifying portrayal (surprisingly overlooked by the Oscars). His John Doe, in my opinion, rivals even that of Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Lecter anyday.