2014 Calvin Awards: Best Scene
By David Mumpower
February 11, 2014
The recent track record for Best Scene has been memorable for the sheer volume of titles that have received votes. Something I chronicled in last year’s publication was that 51 titles garnered at least one vote. And the gap between 10th and 21st place was less than a single ballot. We were evenly divided at the bottom of our ballots; the top of it was a different story as the category winner, Puny God, claimed victory by a margin of 70%.
In a strange twist of fate, history has repeated itself in 2014. Another 50 titles earned at least one vote, and the difference between 10th place (i.e. a nomination) and 20th place is once again a single ballot. Also, our choice for Best Scene proved absolutely dominant, almost doubling the voting totals of the second and third best scenes in combination. In other words, last year’s winner won by a record setting margin. This year’s winner absolutely destroyed that recently set record.
The sequence in our question, our runaway selection for Best Scene of the year, is the opening segment of Gravity. In this meticulously measured introduction, Dr. Ryan Stone’s last day on the job as a Space Shuttle astronaut is chronicled. We meet her and learn her backstory via the constant jabbering of cowboy astronaut Matt Kowalski. We recognize the perils of her situation as a single tether connects her to civilization. We watch in respect and admiration as the inexperienced traveler demonstrates expertise in repairing the very technology she helped to build on Earth.
Only moments later, we experience pure terror as pieces of debris disrupt the feel-good conversation between Kowalski and Stone. Suddenly, she is spiraling out of control in a zero-gravity fall into outer space. As her co-worker attempts to calm her down and trigger the logical responses, the camerawork deftly displays Stone fading out of distance, growing smaller and smaller as she vanishes into oblivion.
In 1979, the tagline for Alien became a staple of science fiction. “In space, no one can hear you scream.” The introduction to Gravity is director Alfonso Cuarón’s attempt to expand that maxim to its logical and emotional extreme. In only a handful of minutes, Gravity fundamentally elevated our future expectations for cerebral action movies. It is our runaway choice as Best Scene of the year.
The other obvious choice for Best Scene is our second selection. Yes, the scene is from Frozen. You knew it was coming. Let it go. Like everyone else with a heart, our staff fell head over heels in love with the characters of Frozen. That is especially true of the Snow Queen, Elsa, new leader of the people of Arendelle. Most of her life, she has been sheltered from others as her parents feared her inability to harness natural ice powers. After their death, Elsa’s secret is revealed to her people. Their new queen terrifies them.
Ashamed and isolated once more, Elsa stalks to the mountains. As she reaches her destination, she has an epiphany about her newfound sense of liberation. And since this is a Disney movie, Elsa bursts into song as she does so. Everyone knows the words by now because they have been ubiquitous in society over the past few months. Idina Menzel’s version of Let It Go is a masterpiece, and a foregone conclusion to win Best Song at the Academy Awards. What is equally noteworthy about the scene is that the visuals crafted by Disney’s animators if anything exceed the musical accompaniments of Menzel. Let It Go is a music video deftly edited into a feature length animated movie. In almost any other year, this seminal moment in cinema would have been the resounding choice for Best Scene. Since Frozen had the misfortune to be released within a few weeks of Gravity, Let It Go has to settle for second place. Well, second place and almost a billion dollars worth of box office plus epic toy sales revenue.