My top ten magical movie moments
Published 26/03/2011 | 05:00
A British survey has ranked the moment in ET where the little green dude bids farewell to our planet as the most powerful moment in cinema history.
FilmClub, an innovative charity that provides free films for school cinema societies, conducted the survey among its members and used the data to compile a top ten of greatest movie moments. Of course these things are very subjective, but I must say I found the FilmClub list deeply unsatisfying.
The rest of the list included the climax of Toy Story 3; the big fight in Rocky; the shooting of Bambi's mother; the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; the technicolour transformation scene in The Wizard of Oz; the Odessa steps massacre scene in Battleship Potemkin; James Stewart's filibustering in Mr Smith Goes to Washington; newsman Howard Beale's on-air breakdown in Network; and the broomstick scene in Miracle in Milan.
These are all memorable moments, but not memorable enough if you ask me, and I was inspired to create my own list. It was not easy, and it's shameful how many wonderful scenes I ended up leaving out.
No room, for instance, for Jack Nicholson's famous chicken salad rant in Five Easy Pieces, nor that unforgettable moment in Alien when John Hurt begins to sense a slight stomach ache. The end of Casablanca could easily have made it, as might practically any part of It's a Wonderful Life, but this is my top ten and please feel free to violently disagree with it.
10 Nosferatu (1922)
The horror genre was in its infancy when German silent master FW Murnau made Nosferatu: A Symphony of Terror, in 1922, but few films since have conjured up as creepy a central character. Stage actor Max Schreck turned a workaday vampire into a kind of primordial, stalking bogeyman, and the scene where he sneaks into a young woman's bedroom with every intention of biting her is genuinely unsettling.
9 Night of the Hunter (1955)
Acclaimed English character actor Charles Laughton directed only one film, but by golly it was a good one. In Night of the Hunter Robert Mitchum plays a psychotic jailbird who turns up at a widow's home posing as a preacher and looking for a hidden stash of money, and in one of the film's many iconic scenes he stands outside the widow's house at night singing a hymn that on his lips sounds like a deadly threat. Unforgettable.
8 Lawrence of Arabia (1964)
David Lean's epic based on TE Lawrence's Arabian adventures was full of breathtaking moments, but the most famous involved a desert well.
Peter O'Toole's Lawrence has stopped with his guide to take on water when he sees a blurred figure emerging slowly from a heat haze. It's Omar Sharif playing an arrogant Bedouin prince who shoots Lawrence's companion on the spot because he happens to be from the wrong tribe.
7 Sons of the Desert (1933)
In their finest film, Stan and Ollie have told their wives they're going to Hawaii for Ollie's health, but attend a club convention in Chicago instead. When they return home wearing garlands and strumming ukuleles, they don't know their spouses saw them in Chicago on a cinema newsreel and are lying in wait. It all makes for one of the funniest moments in film history.
6 Citizen Kane (1941)
Orson Welles' debut feature is justly celebrated, and you could take your pick from it in terms of outstanding moments. My favourite is the scene in which Charles Foster Kane's new wife Susan Alexander makes her shaky debut at a custom-built opera house. The moment she starts ineffectually warbling, a boom shot takes you flying up to the rafters, where two backstage guys look at each other and hold their noses. It's a brilliant, dialogue-free piece of cinema.
5 Seven Samurai (1954)
Akira Kurosawa's visually stunning action film about a group of villagers who hire samurais to protect them from bandits was hugely influential, and was later remade in Hollywood as The Magnificent Seven.
Perhaps its most arresting scene is a key night-time battle, when the bandits attack in heavy rain and the samurai try and lure them in one by one to kill them off. At one point a bandit falls from his horse and is dragged through the village on shimmering mud.
4 North by Northwest (1959)
Alfred Hitchcock knew how to set up a scene, and one of his most celebrated begins with Cary Grant getting off a bus in the middle of the Illinois countryside. He's been on the run from a gang who mistakenly think he's a spy, and is supposed to be meeting a Mr Kaplan, but instead gradually realises it might be a trap when a crop-spraying plane swoops from the skies and chases him through a corn field.
3 Taxi Driver (1976)
Martin Scorsese's paranoid urban drama was a landmark film for both him and star Robert De Niro, whose performance as an unhinged Manhattan cab driver made him one of the most sought-after actors in the world.
The most famous moment comes when Bickle looks at himself in the mirror and says "are you talking to me?" before pulling a gun and pointing it at himself. De Niro apparently improvised the scene, but recent stills have shown Scorsese kneeling just out of shot whispering frantic directions.
2 The Searchers (1956)
John Ford and John Wayne made a string of brilliant westerns together, but The Searchers is my favourite, and it's certainly their darkest. Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, an embittered Civil War veteran who becomes obsessed with finding his niece after she's kidnapped by Comanche Indians.
He eventually finds her, but his experiences on the trial have turned him into a blood-thirsty killer. In the film's brilliant closing shot, he restores her to her family but hesitates in the doorway, then turns and ambles wearily away from the domesticity he can no longer be a part of.
1 The Third Man (1949)
Leave it to Orson Welles to make the most dramatic entrance in cinema history, as a man who's supposed to be dead. In Carol Reed's masterpiece based on a story by Graham Greene, Joseph Cotton plays hack writer Holly Martins who arrives in the ruins of post-war Vienna to meet his old school-friend Harry Lime.
But the police tell him Harry is dead, and involved in the black market. Holly is devastated, but one night when he's walking home he sees a cat playing about the feet of a shadowy figure, then a light turns on and we sees Welles' impish smile -- but only for a second.