What makes a great scene?
Must it stand on its own and complement the rest of the film it's featured in? Must it throw the film for a loop, altering the plot and changing our view of what has come before and what will come after? Must it be its own singular creation, isolated from the rest of the film to produce its own unique magic? Thankfully, it's all debatable.
Below, the No Film School team had the difficult but enjoyable task of choosing their favorite individual scenes of the year. Each are plot-changing and story-altering, arriving at a point in the film where expectations are morphed and grow deeper. Some are horrifying and involve death, others involve the release of immense pain, and each has stayed fresh in our minds, lingering there long enough to be deemed worthy of this list.
These are our favorite scenes from motion pictures released in 2018.
Burning — Dance scene
Director: Lee Chang-dong
While I loved Burning as a Murakami fan watching what felt like a dream-Murakami project—how many other Murakami novels could Lee Chang-dong throw in references to?—it was "the dance" scene that really turned the movie from a Murkami fanboy project into a hauntingly beautiful film experience. The long take dance sequence, at the cusps of sunset, with North Korean propaganda echoing across the DMZ-lined countryside, and a simmering murder mystery about to thematically burst, was by far the most unforgettable scene from 2018 for me. —Jourdan Aldredge
Relaxer — The couch scene
Director: Joel Potrykus
The couch scene. If you happened to have seen the latest offering by home-grown Michigan auteur Joel Potrykus during its small festival (the official release isn’t until early 2019) then you know that's a bit of a cheat because the whole movie takes place on a couch. An eccentric accomplishment, the film stays almost entirely on an eye-level view of a guy playing Pac-Man. It's funny, gross, philosophical, and sad all without ever getting up (even to pee).
Oh, and did I mention it’s set on the eve of Y2K? In every sense of the word, the couch scene will stick in your brain. —Oakley Anderson-Moore
Red Dead Redemption 2 — A really bad cough
Developer: Rockstar Studios
It’s no secret that I love westerns. 2018 was quite a year for the genre, but the one that left a mark on me was not in theaters or even on Netflix. It was on my PlayStation 4. Yep, I’m talking about Red Dead Redemption 2.
Over halfway through the story, the character of Arthur Morgan develops a nasty cough. By this time, I had logged many hours with Arthur, buying the perfect clothes and growing (and then crafting) his facial hair into a massive handlebar mustache. Everyone plays the game as Arthur Morgan. But everyone’s Arthur Morgan is very different.
One day, while I was strolling to a mission as ones does, the cough got real bad and Arthur doubled over. He barely made it to the nearby doctor, who gave Arthur and I some shockingly bad news. Tuberculosis. A death sentence in 1890. I had a really hard time processing this and so did Arthur.
I had him stumble out into the street and noticed that rain began to fall. We trudged, as one, through the muddy streets of the busy city, the passersby around us not knowing the blow we’d just be dealt. And then the magic happened.
I realized I was audience, actor, character, and director all at once. I took the camera and placed it behind Arthur as he walked. I slowed his walk. I tilted up a bit to see the rain falling from the sky.
I took it all in.
Along with a lot of help from Rockstar Games, I made the most unforgettable scene of the year. But there was another later scene that’s hard not to mention. At some point, I had saved a few people’s lives and dropped them off at a train station to escape their past, and my Arthur changed to the “white hat” once he knew his time was limited on earth. When Arthur sat down at the station to catch his breath from coughing, he encountered a nun we’d met earlier and helped out.
In this scene, I was truly just a spectator because it was with this nun that Arthur really poured out his heart, as much as any outlaw like him could. I had spent so much time with Arthur, but I didn’t know he’d had a child. I didn’t know about his father. I didn’t know how scared he was to die.
It was all kind of moving, to be honest. And I’m not even telling you about how the story ends. I can’t believe I’m saying all this about a video game, but there you have it. —George Edelman
Director: Panos Cosmatos
You know every single one of these I write is going to be about the same movie, right? Erik and I argued over who was going to be able to write this one up, because it's one of the single most beautiful scenes ever to be crafted on screen. I am of course talking about Mandy, and the scene where a traumatized Red (played by Nicolas Cage) stumbles into his bathroom, grabs a handle of vodka, chugs, and screams his despair into existence after his wife is brutally burned to death before his very eyes.
Prior to this scene, Cage actually gives a subtle and restrained performance. He is no more than a humble lumberjack in love. Similarly, the movie actually begins at a serenely hypnotic pace. But once he sets foot in that bathroom, everything changes.
It is always a treat to see Cage lose his shit, but in this instance, we as the audience don't know whether to laugh or cry. Thanks to Panos Cosmatos' crafty direction, we've gone through the same trauma as Red, witnessing the death of an innocent woman in all its gore and horror. We are in that bathroom with Red for what seems like an eternity. We unravel. We want revenge. And boy do we get it. —Jon Fusco
Hereditary — A bad car ride home
Director: Ari Aster
There's a moment in Hereditary where a boy and his sister get into a car and go for a ride home. She's having an allergic reaction. He's having a panic attack. The sister puts her head out the window. SMACK.
Hereditary was a blast. It's twisty, full of turns, and it has this scene where a kid's head pops clean off when it comes into contact with a telephone pole. It starts the movie off and sets it down an insane road. I thought it was legitimately an incredible way to subvert everything the audience was expecting, preparing us for the even more insane things that followed. —Jason Hellerman
Suspiria — Dance of contortion
Director: Luca Guadagnino
All Olga wants to do is call it quits from the dance academy and merrily go home. If only it were that simple.
For last year's list of most memorable scenes, I chose the finale of Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name, a fireplace-set sequence which was both timely and timeless. For this year's list, I again looked toward Guadagnino's filmography for inspiration. A horror remake that's entirely its own beast, Suspiria is filled with memorable moments, none more so than a scene in which a dance student is overtaken by the choreographed movements of a new ingénue named Susie.
As Olga attempts to leave the dance academy, Susie's finely tuned dance movements (as displayed from another room) violently engulf Olga, causing her to go spiraling around a rehearsal studio, her limbs wailing and breaking with each thrust and turn her counterpart makes. Susie is unaware of the diptych relationship being formed by the power of dance (and witchcraft), and as Olga's body, thanks to an incredible display of makeup and prosthetics (as evidenced above), turns into a human revolving door, the fates of both Susie (ecstatic promotion) and Olga (violent demotion) are sealed. After viewing the film for the first time this past fall, I knew my favorite scene of 2018 had been found, and as a man of my word, here it is. —Erik Luers