From: Magic in the Moonlight
Although not one of Woody Allen's more popular movies, the Pygmalion riff Magic in the Moonlight does climax with one of the director's best scenes, acted beautifully by Colin Firth. The skeptical stage magician Stanley Crawford has already started to believe in the divine after an encounter with a spiritual medium, and when his aunt winds up in the hospital, he starts to pray for the first time in his life. What happens next is an incredible duel between emotion and intellect. It's some of the finest acting of 2014.
From: The Raid 2
Gareth Evans' sprawling crime saga and superlative fight movie The Raid 2 has plenty of stand out moments, but the introduction of Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man (a girl with a hammer and a man with a baseball bat) is some of the most glorious action filmmaking in years. These two assassins go about their work in an incredible cross-cutting fight sequence, issuing deadly, personalized violence upon their poor bastard enemies. It's an adrenaline kick in a movie that was already a total rush.
Superhero movies seem capable of almost anything these days, but old-fashioned suspense seems to have gone out of fashion. Fortunately, the thrilling elevator sequence in Captain America: The Winter Soldier brings it back with style. Steve Rogers notices that more and more agents are entering the elevator on its long journey downwards, and he and the audience know that the situation will explode at any moment. "Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?" They should have taken him up on that very generous offer.
From: 300: Rise of an Empire
Bad movies can have great scenes too, and in the case of 300: Rise of an Empire, also a great performance, courtesy of Eva Green as the film's half-mad villain. When she invites Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) to parlay, their scorn for each other erupts into a frantic, spiteful, glorious bout of hatefucking that had everyone in the audience squirming in their seat (and for all the right reasons).
Darren Aronofsky took plenty of liberties with The Book of Genesis while making Noah, his ambitious and experimental adaptation of one of the oldest stories in the world. But halfway through the film, after the doors of the ark have closed, he stops entirely to tell the story of the creation of the universe, following The Bible's version events perfectly in the voice-over, while showing the scientific evolution of the universe underneath it. The fact that these two theories match almost perfectly, one literal and one metaphoric, has been noted before, but never so beautifully realized.
From: The Skeleton Twins
The splendidly acted but otherwise familiar comedy The Skeleton Twins finds Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig playing estranged siblings who reconnect after a failed suicide attempt. And like many comedies of this ilk, at one point they lip synch a pop song together. But somehow in Craig Johnson's The Skeleton Twins it feels fresh again, thanks in part to their detailed performances and the fact that, damn it, Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" is one of the best songs ever. Don't fight us on this.
Over 30 Godzilla movies have been produced, and somehow Gareth Edwards' new reboot showed us something new. The towering behemoth we all know and love is fighting the insectoid MUTO to the death, and his finishing move is pure, cheer-inducing glory. We don't want to ruin it, but holy crap, that was cool.
From: The Drop
Tom Hardy spends most of the crime thriller The Drop trying to stay out of trouble. His boss at the bar is getting involved in criminal enterprises beyond his comfort zone, his girlfriend is being stalked by a confessed murderer, and his dog is caught in the crosshairs as well. As the pieces all come together in the hair-raising finale, we know that poor, put-upon Bob is going to have to do something about his plight. And then... he does what he does. And it's PERFECT.
From: 22 Jump Street
Phil Lord & Chris Miller's comedy sequel to end all comedy sequels 22 Jump Street spends most of its running time making fun of the fact that it's just repeating every scene in the original, and somehow getting away with it. But how could they get away with it a third time? They probably couldn't, so the filmmakers overstuffed the closing credits with teasers for one 22 Jump Street sequel after another, including trips to culinary school, ninja school, outer space and more. We hurt ourselves laughing, and we still wanted more.
From: Force Majeure
When an avalanche almost strikes a family on their skiing trip, the dad, Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), cuts and runs instead of protecting his children. Everyone's physically fine, but the marriage may be ruined forever. Tomas spends most of the film being taken to task, desperately defending his ego, before finally bursting into what director Ruben Ostlund calls "the worst man cry ever," a seemingly unstoppable torrent of tears sprung from deep-seated insecurity. It's almost comical, but it's unforgettably genuine.
This is self-explanatory.
There are several unforgettable moments in Ava DuVernay's impressive Selma, a biopic of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that focuses on his Civil Rights marches in Selma, AL. But the most shocking moment of all comes right at the beginning, when four little girls at church are having the most easygoing conversation imaginable. And then, if you know your history, you know what happens. DuVernay manages to make the prelude innocuously human, and the event itself haunting. It's a powerhouse moment that sets Selma off on an incredible and terrifying note.
From: Inherent Vice
She sent Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) off on his latest case, to uncover the truth behind a conspiracy involving real estate, dentists and Neo-Nazis. And then she disappeared. But the final return of Shasta (Katherine Waterston) is so unexpected, so ethereal, you almost wonder if it actually happens at all. But either way it's an incredible look into the motivations of both Shasta and Doc, conveyed hypnotically by both actors in a scene that's as disturbing as it is erotic. It's the only scene of its kind in years.
Fletcher, a seemingly corrupt music professor played by J.K. Simmons, has spent nearly all of Whiplash psychologically even physically torturing young drummer Andrew (Miles Teller) into greatness. It should come as no spoiler to say that Damien Chazelle's film ends in a performance, but to say more would do the film a cruel disservice. Suffice it to say, Whiplash concludes with a nightmare, a victory, and such a strange hybrid of those two elements that we're not even sure there's an actual word for it. But it shook us to the core, and it will probably never be forgotten.