It isn't too controversial to claim that a great film is made up of a collection of great scenes. You just may not notice them at first. If you've ever had a frustrating time describing to a colleague why a particular scene in a movie they have yet to view works so well, then you realize that context matters and that each scene is a culmination of what's already come and what's up next. A great scene must work as an individual achievement and as a solid foundation for the whole film. Imagine if the infamous "I drink your milkshake?" line had no context to fall back on?
As we've previously announced our favorite indie films and favorite cinematography of 2017, the No Film School team now reveals our 11 most unforgettable scenes. When possible, we've embedded the scene in question and included brief blurbs to emphasize why they're so special.
As you'll notice, some films had at least two great scenes which, depending on your current health, may prove too much to handle. Take the below as an encouragement to check out these wonderful scenes and in turn, the wonderful films that played host to them.
1. Wonder Woman — Amazonian horseback battle
Director: Patty Jenkins
This powerful scene from Wonder Woman foreshadowed the year of reckoning with men’s bad behavior in Hollywood, a year that culminated with the "silence breakers" being chosen as TIME's Person of the Year and the film's director Patty Jenkins selected as a runner-up. It was this early scene where audiences really knew that the movie was going to flip the script on superhero tropes.
As German soldiers threaten the existence of Diana’s sheltered, idyllic island, they're unexpectedly confronted by a band of fierce warriors on horseback—multigenerational, female warriors. These warriors fly through the air while throwing deadly daggers, performing ass-kicking acrobatic feats that rely on teamwork to succeed—something rarely found in male-driven comic flicks.
The battle felt like a victory for all of womankind, and when a movie can create that sense of universality—even in a made-up land with made-up characters—a classic is surely in the making. —Liz Nord
2. Call Me by your Name — A fireplace contemplation
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Luca Guadagnino's Call Me by your Name offers some of the most profound moments of 2017. In a movie filled with an abundance of heartbreaking scenes—a yearning desire for love and the subsequent loss that follows seeps out of every frame—there’s perhaps none more emotionally raw than the final shot. Featuring the excellent Timothée Chalamet staring, heartbroken, into a warm fireplace as the camera stays fixated on his every expression, Guadagnino's wordless conclusion is a result of high risk, high reward. While the scene’s context won’t be disclosed here, it displays some of the finest and most subtle screen acting in quite some time. While a bawdy sequence involving a peach has served as the film's “water cooler” moment discussed ad nauseam, it’s this closing shot that makes you feel equally gutted and revitalized. The use of Visions of Gideon by performer Sufjan Stevens is only icing on the cake. —Erik Luers
3. Call Me by your Name — The peach scene
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Sony Pictures Classics
Sometimes, the most graphic scene in a film doesn't depict sex—or even nudity. Instead, it capitalizes on the power of metaphor. Indeed, in the sumptuous gay romance Call Me By Your Name, director Luca Guadagnino chooses not to show the main characters having sex; the most explicit scene involves a peach. Elio, the main character, uses the peach to masturbate, eventually finishing inside of it and then falling asleep. He leaves it on his nightstand. Later, he is awoken by Oliver, his older lover, who curiously picks up the peach, and eventually puts two and two together. Equally bizarre, unsettling, and intimate, Oliver's amusement at this adolescent act reveals a chasm between the lovers that will never be surmounted. —Emily Buder
4. Get Out — The Sunken Place
Director: Jordan Peele
The concept of "the sunken place" in Get Outwould be a difficult one to put on screen simply by reading the screenplay. However, director Jordan Peele's vision becomes clear when you watch the scene unfold. It makes perfect sense within the world he's created.
Before the scene takes place, nothing entirely supernatural has happened in the film. And then, as Chris sits down for tea with his girlfriend's mother, the audience feels as if we're trapped right alongside him. Our worst fears are confirmed with each swipe of spoon-on-teacup; something is about to go terribly wrong. And then, as Chris falls deeper and deeper into a stunning darkness, he seems to take his place as a member of Peele's audience. His world becomes nothing more than a TV screen over which he has no control. It is utterly horrifying. —Jon Fusco
The hypnosis scene in Get Out was the most terrifying and unnerving five minutes I've ever spent in a theater. The sound of Catherine Keener's spoon stirring as Daniel Kaluuya nervously shifts in his leather chair brilliantly captured the moment...and all with sound. —V. Renee
Throughout his debut feature, Peele modulates the mood of the film with uncanny skill, never revealing too much at any given moment. In this scene, Chris is first acquainted with his girlfriend’s mother’s brand of “hypnotherapy,” which she is ostensibly using to help cure him of his smoking addiction. She's just super helpful like that. Hypnotism is one of those things that’s so difficult to pull off in movies, but Peele manages to avoid the pocket-watch clichés attendant to these scenes while making the moment not only crucial but insightful way in the way it introduces a key metaphor. It's also a profoundly visceral, disturbing experience, and credit must to go to Daniel Kaluuya and Catherine Keener for their superb performances throughout the film. —Justin Morrow
5. Get Out — The kidnapping
Director: Jordan Peele
Get Out is filled with shots that feel intentional and carefully planned. Take the opening one, for example, a continuous take at night in which a man walks down a sidewalk and suspects he's being followed. The camera moves around to sometimes lead and sometimes follow the man, and to also show his point of view (him: "what's that, a car?") and reveal what the man misses (us: "oh no, the car is making a U-turn to come back around!"). The scene, full of tension and its camerawork completely thought-out, sets up what's to follow: playing with what the audience does and does not know. This creates a sense of building apprehension, and it presents powerful and intentionally-crafted visuals. —Lauretta Prevost
6. Foxtrot —Dancing a foxtrot
Director: Samuel Maoz
From one of the year’s most memorable films comes one of the year’s most memorable scenes. Worthy of author Joseph Heller (Catch 22), Samuel Maoz’s mordant Foxtrot satirizes the futility of war with heart-wrenching authenticity. The film opens on a somber note: a father has just learned of his son’s death. 20 minutes in, the tone shifts: an Israeli soldier dances a foxtrot at a military checkpoint. Contrasting parental grief with the ennui of guard duty, this scene is an iconic standout. Imagine Manchester by the Sea interrupted by La La Land. From there, the film continues to build toward comic and tragic levels, and it's a masterful balancing act of tonal shifts. It's penetrating, devastating, and hysterically funny.
In many ways, Foxtrot is Israel’s Catch 22, a portrait of humanity and its painful absurdities, all encapsulated in this lonely dance. Maoz holds the mirror to our failings with a surehand. —Dylan Dempsey
7. Easy Living — Desperate measures
Director: Adam Keleman
The main character in Adam Keleman’s Easy Living, played by the adept Caroline Dhavernas, is a struggling door-to-door makeup saleswoman. To portray this, Keleman wanted to conjure Salesman, the Maysles Brother’s iconic documentary. As you can see in this scene where Dhavernas’ character begins heading towards desperation, Keleman resurrects classic cinema framing with documentary-style camerawork and does a pretty convincing job invoking the 1969 documentary in this 2017 narrative film. The film is not, however, a period piece; it combines this retro aesthetic with Keleman’s own style, and as evidenced by this short clip, results in a very unique film. —Oakley Anderson-Moore
8.I Don't Feel at Home in this World Anymore — Let the blood flow
Director: Macon Blair
When tension ramps up for the climactic moment of your film and all the small things you've set up pay-off in a series of insane, violent acts, you’ve got yourself a strong third act. With I Don't Feel at Home in this World Anymore, director Macon Blair evokes the same intensity one often gets from his frequent collaborator Jeremy Saulnier (Green Room, Blue Ruin), although here it's injected with dark humor that gives the whole sequence an even more visceral feeling of insanity. Blood (and other bodily fluids) are spilled in a climax that places the film in the conversation for one of the most entertaining crime-comedies of all time. —Hawkins DuBois
9. Dunkirk —Battles in the sky
Director: Christopher Nolan
After the ambitious misfire that was Interstellar, Nolan turned his sights on a true story with Dunkirk. Focusing on three stories set during a single battle in World War II, Dunkirk's narrative restrictions provide the perfect set of boundaries for Nolan to experiment with. While my choice is technically not a single "scene," the fluid editing and compressed time scale of the entire film makes the dogfights (as English pilots work to protect seaman from German attack) completely riveting. I'm still not sure why Tom Hardy is always wearing a mask in Nolan's films, but his eyes are expressive enough to engage with an audience. And hey, Dunkirk's scenes up in the air are amazing. — Charles Haine
10. The Florida Project — The final scene
Director: Sean Baker
11. A Ghost Story — The pie scene
Director: David Lowery
Grief can be depicted in many ways—sobbing, rage, introspection, and on and on. InA Ghost Story, Rooney Mara sits on the floor of a kitchen, eating a pie straight from the pan. Tears roll down her cheeks into the pie tin. She keeps eating. Minutes go by. She keeps eating. The camera refuses to cut or look away. She keeps eating. This physical act cannot possibly fill the void of her recently deceased husband. She keeps eating. The audience desperately wants to look away. She keeps eating. When she can finally stomach no more, she races away to the bathroom and gets sick. And the audience is completely gutted. —Christopher Boone
It was the one scene that had everyone at this year's Sundance talking. About 20 minutes into this cosmically challenging film, A Ghost Story delivers a gut punch: a nine minute long-take in which the main character, M (Rooney Mara), devours an entire pie while her recently deceased husband, now a sheet-wearing ghost, looks on. That's all that happens in this seemingly interminable scene, and yet it's nearly impossible to watch without rapt attention. Through this brutal act of binge-eating, M tries to eat her grief alive, consuming that pie like it’s the only good thing she has left in this world.