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Variety Staffers Pick Some of Their Favorite Film Moments From 2016

Variety logo Variety 1/6/2017 Malina Saval

Whether a moody sci-fi drama (“Arrival”) or a quirky comedy about teenage angst (“The Edge of Seventeen”), 2016 presented a wide variety of movies with memorable moments. Variety staffers picked their top choices for stand-out scenes.

ARRIVAL

(Paramount)

Director: Denis Villeneuve

We learn at the very beginning of Villeneuve’s ethereal sci-fi thriller that Louise Banks’ (Amy Adams) daughter, Hannah, dies. But when we find out how and when and in what way, it’s more crushing than we ever could have imagined. In one of the film’s saddest and most heartbreaking scenes, Hannah asks Louise why her father (Jeremy Renner) left, and why he’s been looking at her differently lately. Louise, torn between revealing the truth and protecting Hannah’s innocence, tells Hannah that he left because Louise told him something that he wasn’t ready to hear. And we are left in suspense. — Malina Saval

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC

(Bleecker Street Media)

Director: Matt Ross

As Viggo Mortensen takes his children in an old school bus, called Steve, to crash their mother’s funeral, a state trooper boards the vehicle. He wonders at seeing the six kids in the bus and not in school. As he starts to get suspicious, the children, who have just been celebrating Noam Chomsky Day with presents of weapons, start to sing hymns, and try to preach to the trooper. Their pretence of being home-schooled Christian fundamentalists works, and he beats a hasty retreat. — Shalini Dore

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

(STX Entertainment)

Director: Kelly Fremon Craig

“The Edge of Seventeen” is perhaps the best teen movie in decades, and it’s all thanks to Hailee Steinfeld’s iconic performance as the cynical yet brilliant Nadine. In a signature badass move, Nadine steals her mother’s (Kyra Sedgwick) car (right in front of her) after a petty dispute, leaving mom dumbfounded as Nadine drives off in a not-so-joyous ride. In arguably the most pivotal scene in the film, Steinfeld redefines teenage angst as she drives into the Oregon sunset, so to speak. — Arya Roshanian

FENCES

(Paramount)

Director: Denzel Washington

August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play comes to life on the big screen with dynamic, Oscar-caliber performances from Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, who play longtime married couple Troy and Rose Maxson in 1950s Pittsburgh, where racial tensions run high. A failed baseball player, Troy is disgruntled with life, but seems to have deep love for Rose, who has stuck by Troy despite his obvious alcoholism. But when Troy tells Rose his mistress is pregnant with his baby — and that he has no plans to abandon her — Rose’s outburst is explosive and bursting with poetic brilliance. — Malina Saval

HIDDEN FIGURES

(Fox)

Director: Theodore Melfi

Taraji P. Henson, Jim Parsons, and Kevin Costner are trying to figure out how to get the rocket to go from a spherical orbit to an elliptical orbit when Costner’s character says they have been looking at the problem wrong. “It’s not new math, but old math,” Henson’s Katherine Johnson exclaims. — Shalini Dore

LA LA LAND

(Lionsgate)

Director: Damien Chazelle

Star-crossed lovers Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) are reunited after years apart and imagine what might have been. A dazzling sequence reminiscent of the epic “American i n Paris” fantasy ballet waltzes the audience through a giddy whirlwind of romantic bliss. — Geoff Berkshire

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THE LOBSTER

(A24)

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

In Lanthimos’ pitch black comedy, residents of The Hotel are turned into an animal if they don’t find a soul mate after 45 days. From that premise come many great one-liners, but none better than when one pairing is celebrated for moving to the “couples section.” Says the Hotel Manager (a brilliant Olivia Colman): “If you encounter any problems you cannot resolve yourselves, you will be assigned children. That usually helps.” — Jenelle Riley

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LOVING

(Focus)

Director: Jeff Nichols

Richard and Mildred Loving are asleep when the local police break down their bedroom door and drag them both to jail in the middle of the night. Their only crime? Interracial marriage. A pregnant Mildred has to spend the weekend in jail. The situation is outrageous, unjust, and infuriating, but Jeff Nichols’ deeply thoughtful film keeps everything grounded. — Geoff Berkshire

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MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

(Amazon)

Director: Kenneth Loneragn

Alcoholic Lee Chandler’s long-suffering wife, Randi, has had enough of the noise and stink coming from the raucous booze and coke party he’s conducting for his male buddies in his home’s cramped pool parlor. “Get dressed and get out” she yells ineffectually as one of the party dudes shouts back “We’re dressed!” The room is packed with the fruits of addiction, family dysfunction, and foolish priorities. But “Manchester” is no comedy and this act of selfishness is only prologue to the darker moments to come.

— Steven Gaydos

LION

(The Weinstein Co.)

Director: Garth Davis

When you enter the theater, you already know the story: young Indian boy gets lost in Kolkota, is placed in an orphanage, adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham), and as a young man (Dev Patel) reconnects with his roots via Google Earth. Yet, in this movie devoid of surprises, there’s one revelatory scene. “I’m sorry you couldn’t have your own kids,” says Patel to Kidman. His adoptive mother shocks him: “We could have had children. We chose not to,” she replies. Then she drops a small bomb: “When I was 12, I had a vision. Some people would call it a breakdown … There was a little brown-skinned boy … I couldn’t even tell if it was just my eyes playing tricks. And then he was beside me. Just standing there… I could feel his warmth.” — Peter Caranicas

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MOANA

(Disney)

Director: Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker, and Chris Williams

In the joyful “Where You Are” song scene, chief Tui, wife Sina, and the rest of the village dance and sing to extol the virtues of tradition and their simple island lifestyle, encouraging Moana to find happiness “right where you are.” However, Moana wanders off toward the sea, which calls her. As she approaches, it cradles her, lapping at her feet and restyling her hair. — Will Thorne

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MOONLIGHT

(A24)

Director: Barry Jenkins

Chiron, a quiet little boy mercilessly teased by his peers, asks his de-facto father figure, Juan, and his girlfriend Teresa what the word “faggot” means. The silence that follows pierces the screen and hits the audience like a tidal wave. — Will Thorne

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

(Focus Features)

Director: Tom Ford

Posh art gallery owner Susan Morrow has had her upper-crust world upended by reading a novel written by her ex-husband. She hopes to see him again and they make an online date, which leads to her sitting in an upscale restaurant for what seems like an eternity. Like her, the viewer is on edge, noting every movement around and behind her. When the scene begins, she is excited, hopeful. Only shown from a distance, we imagine her interior state and ponder where director Tom Ford wants us to look. She’s lost in her emotions and we are lost along with her. — Steven Gaydos

PATRIOTS DAY

(CBS Films and Lionsgate)

Director: Peter Berg

It takes a local boy to help crack the case of the Boston Marathon bombing, as evidenced by an exhilarating sequence where police Sgt. Tommy Saunders (a composite of real-life people played by Mark Wahlberg) mentally recalls the shops with cameras that might have captured video of the suspects. It’s tense and original. — Jenelle Riley

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20th CENTURY WOMEN

(A24)

Director: Mike Mills

Mills wrote and directed one of the most awkward and hilarious dinner parties ever committed to film. Host Dorothea (Annette Bening) asks Abbie (Greta Gerwig) to behave like a nice young lady. Outspoken Abbie loudly blames menstruation for her crabby mood. The guests are taken aback, but brutally honest Abbie nevertheless pushes the conversation forward, with talk about periods and sexual awakenings that escalates into a poignant denouement. — Carole Horst

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