2010 Calvin Awards: Best Scene

February 9, 2010

Truly theirs was a wonderful life.

The category I enjoy the most each year is Best Scene, because it's the most novel choice as well as the one that is hardest to predict. In recent years, we've celebrated Anton Ego's unexpected face turn into a euphoric food critic, the startling events that revealed the fate of the passengers of United 93, and Heath Ledger's magical ability to make a pencil disappear. There is simply no way to anticipate which scene will strike a chord with the largest percentage of our voters, as there are literally thousands of available options. Despite this potential for variation, our selection for Best Scene this year is a runaway winner.

Almost exactly half of our voters chose the same sequence as their favorite of the year. 90% of our group selected this particular scene not just worthy of nomination but as one of their five favorites. This is as resounding a victory as our voting process allows with the winner tallying more ballots than the second and third place finishers combined. And that scene in question, if you haven't guessed it already, is of course the flashback sequence in Up that reveals the entire history of Carl and Ellie's relationship. It starts with their childhood and progresses through their courtship, their marriage, their inability to have children, and their struggles to deal with her declining health. It is as heart wrenching as anything in the history of cinema and I honestly do not consider this statement hyperbolic. I have difficulty placing such a recent film in the context of the greatest scenes in cinema, but my instinct is that this is the rare sequence we will still be discussing fondly in 20 years. Properly appreciating its legacy, our staff has selected it as the clear cut choice as Best Scene of the year.


Trauma is the buzz word in the Best Scene category this year. Two of the most harrowing selections represent our third and fourth choices in the category. The opening scene of Inglourious Basterds quickly establishes Christoph Waltz's character as a terrifying soldier in the Nazi regime. Starting with his innocuous request to sample some of a dairy farmer's delicious milk, he carefully doles out information about who he is, what he represents and why a person should regret any attempt to protect enemies of the state by hiding them in the floorboards. Waltz's Hans Landa is the face of evil in Inglourious Basterds and his chilling display of professionalism deftly establishes what Aldo Raine's men will be forced to overcome.

In an oddly similar fashion, The Hurt Locker's car bomb defusing sequence has the same effect with one key difference. Sergeant First Class William James is one of the best in the world when it comes to disabling bombs, but the people he scares the most are not the enemy. Instead, it's his own troops, particularly two allies who grow to fear his cowboy behavior. While still lamenting the death of the previous person to command James' post, the two men watch in horror as James proceeds to take off all of his protective armor. The reckless soldier determines that having maximum maneuverability is more important than physical safety, which makes them wonder if he has a God complex or a death wish or both, the underlying theme of the entire movie as it proudly submits James as Exhibit A of how the rest of the world stereotypes the American soldier. James fails to take the bait on a fake bomb trigger and eventually traces his way from the trunk of the car all the way up to the windshield wiper connection as he attempts to solve the puzzle of what will prevent the bomb from going boom. It is a harrowing window into the everyday life of those who disable bombs for a living and clearly among the most gripping scenes of the year.

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