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The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2015

Here are 20 scenes where the occasion enraptured us as much as, or more than, the final product.

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The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2015
Photo: Strand Releasing

Cinephilia originates, per the title of Rashna Wadia Richards’s recent book, in “cinematic flashes,” those moments where consideration for an entire film’s merit takes a backseat to unflinchingly immersing oneself in the proceedings. Even fleeting instances within sequences—a glance, a soundtrack cue—sometimes have the power to eclipse entire films. For the surrealists of the 1930s, finding these instances, even inside of bad films, was an end goal. See Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart, from 1936, as the ultimate example, where the feature-length film East of Borneo, from 1931, is edited into a 19-minute short with only scenes featuring the titular actress. Though feature filmmaking often purports to proffer the set piece or non sequitur in service of a greater narrative, here are 20 scenes ranging in length from thirtysomething seconds to over 20 minutes where the occasion enraptured us as much as, or more than, the final product. Clayton Dillard

About Elly, “Kite Flying”

In a film where tiny lies destabilize a small community, here is a moment of truth. Elly (Taraneh Alidousti), a stranger among friends, helps a child get her kite airborne and experiences a moment of piquant liberation. While held tightly in the frame, Elly thrills to and reaches at a vision we can’t see. The truth sets her free, and leaves the rest of us in the dark. Christopher Gray


The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2015

Carol, “The Second Dinner”

The two significant shoulder touches in Carol’s opening dinner scene (which ultimately turns out to be a flash-forward in its chronology) play out in a pair of precise, pregnant framings: one facing Rooney Mara’s Therese, and one from behind her back. When the scene replays an hour and a half later, Haynes executes a few minor variations that bring all the pain and longing largely suppressed up to that point into sharp, devastating focus. Carson Lund


The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2015

Chi-Raq, “Oh Girl”

This sequence from Chi-raq exhilaratingly embodies Spike Lee’s flair for emotional misdirection. Initially, it’s amusing when male characters suggest blaring erotic music over loudspeakers so as to get their women to stand down from the sex strike. But when the plan’s actually initiated, with the Chi-Lite’s mournful “Oh Girl” wafting through the air, we see the women swaying and singing with such startling longing as to briefly stop the film in its tracks, the early absurdity of the setup long forgotten. Bowen


The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2015

Creed, “Dirtbike Training”

The single-shot fight scene is, too, a winner, but Adonis Johnson’s (Michael B. Jordan) supremely cheesy, tear-jerking late-film training run through North Philadelphia encapsulates the “If you fight, I fight” ethos of Creed: Ludwig Goransson’s upgrade of Bill Conti’s score pulses before reaching a crescendo, local dirt bikers adopt Adonis as a native son, and they all honor the fighter who brought them together. Gray

Eastern Boys, “Home Invasion”

Sexual tensions run high in director Robin Campillo’s Paris-set drama, but they’re positively on fire in a 20-minute sequence where a bourgeois man’s apartment is turned into a makeshift rave, invaded by rent boys who loot the joint, but not before the place’s high-dollar speaker system gets a workout from electro beats, as eyeline exchanges and swaying bodies speak louder about the environment’s economic disparities than words ever could. Dillard


The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2015

Eden, “Veridis Quo”

Your best friend is dead, there are no easy answers, your favorite song plays, you’re in the club, the lights are bright but reveal nothing, your lover walks in, high on cocaine, the bass thumps but you feel nothing, you look your lover in the eyes and realize there’s little left, you leave the party and wander into the streets hoping for something, anything to happen, your lover weeps. This is life or death and the pain is real. Dillard

Girlhood, “Diamonds”

In Girlhood’s standout sequence, an illicit night spent in a hotel room culminates in the main characters giving a full rendition of Rihanna’s “Diamonds.” Marieme (Karidja Touré) is initially a timid observer, before a slow zoom into her face culminates in her getting up and joining in with her gyrating, lip-syncing friends as four become one, their elated faces bathed in shades of blue that carry the unnatural hue of a pop video. Reality and aspiration flow into one another in a way that feels perfectly, painfully teenage. James Lattimer

Inside Out, “Abstract Thought”

Pete Docter’s latest Pixar offering had conceptual brilliance to spare, but the film’s indubitable high point was its awesomely clever visualization of emotions literally flattening into abstraction right before our very eyes. It’s a hilarious coup for a film as profoundly concerned with the way human beings negotiate their intellectual and emotional sides as this one is. Kenji Fujishima

It Follows, “Opening”

It Follows begins with a stunning confluence of panic-rousing stimuli. As the camera pivots slowly to the right, the soundtrack throbbing with sinister synth washes, a girl runs from her home, pausing briefly in the middle of her suburban street to stare in horror at a threat that’s invisible both to the audience and a nearby neighbor. The camera unbelievably, in one unbroken movement, flips between positioning the audience as victim and victimizer. Ed Gonzalez


The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2015

James White, “Mother and Son in Bathroom”

Momentarily putting aside his own tormented bullshit, James (Christopher Abbot) paints his mother (Cynthia Nixon) a portrait of a life that will never be, as means of distracting them both from her cancer-riddled misery. James imagines a conventional storybook existence, the absence and improbability of which haunt he and his mother equally despite their myriad other differences. The scene is so beautiful and intimate, so pitiless in its sadness, that you desperately want to look away, but can’t. Bowen

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