The 10 movie moments of 2011

From a year loaded with choice work, Team Film picks ten showstopping scenes. 

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  • Juliette Binoche at the mirror, Certified Copy
    Abbas Kiarostami's romantic masterpiece is all about subtly shifting identities---are its two leads complete strangers or a couple playing games with each other? The image that sums it up is the one where Binoche's Elle spruces herself up in a restaurant bathroom. Earrings come out, rouge-red lipstick goes on. An already fascinating character becomes, before our eyes, an even more tantalizing enigma.---KU

  • Gwyneth Paltrow's head getting sliced, Contagion
    Gwynie, we hardly knew ye: Not long after her cheating suburban housewife has shown up in Steven Soderbergh's virus-on-the-loose thriller, she's already dead as a doornail. But it's the moment when the doctors saw open that pretty skull (rolling scalp over forehead) that delights in all its gruesome, movie-star-defacing glory.---KU

  • The elevator ride, Drive
    Stuck in an elevator with the woman he loves and the man sent to kill him, stoic driver Ryan Gosling gets one moment of romantic passion---before beating the assassin to a bloody pulp. The protective deed makes him a hero; the forlorn look on his face as his soulmate recoils in horror proves that, yes, he's a real human being.---DF

  • The bus accident, Margaret
    Early in Kenneth Lonergan's superlative character study, Anna Paquin's privileged prep-schooler witnesses a bus accident that shakes her to the core. From the banal presentation of violence (the matter-of-fact way a bloody wound spurts onto passersby) to the pleading-for-her-life perfection of Allison Janney's performance as the mangled victim, the scene is unsettling in ways that movies rarely dare.---KU

  • Player trade, Moneyball
    Scripted by the powerhouse team of Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List), this behind-the-scenes baseball drama shifts elegantly between hungry ambition and sweaty uncertainty---and no moment captures that better than this flurry of phone calls, Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill finessing the odds to their favor.---JR

  • "New York, New York," Shame
    "Start...spreading...the news...": Carey Mulligan's wanna-be chanteuse turns Sinatra's standard into an aria of sorrow, channeling enough tragedy and defeat to move her brother (Michael Fassbender) to tears. It's a distillation of Shame's NYC excess in a scant five minutes: the ultimate Gotham victory-lap song as an admission of personal defeat.---DF

  • "This is how Michael Caine speaks," The Trip
    The film is a cornucopia of celebrity impressions, expertly rendered by bickering road-trippers Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Still, we can single out this riotous exchange, not just for the breadth of the vocal range ("And you look like a bag of bloody talk!"), but for its subtle commentary on the movie's overall theme: aging and decay. Watch it here.---JR

  • The confession, Tuesday, After Christmas
    Modern Romanian cinema has distinguished itself via expert long takes, and Radu Muntean's marital drama outdoes its peers with a whopper: a lengthy, unbroken scene of a man confessing to having had an affair. Watch how wife Mirela Oprisor goes from vulnerable to shocked to enraged; it's a run through the emotional gamut in a single ten-minute shot.---DF

  • A day out with baby, We Need to Talk About Kevin
    It's less a scene than the briefest of shots, but one that fully delivers Tilda Swinton's frank take on maternity. Her exhausted character rolls a baby carriage up to a rattling jackhammer, just to drown out the incessant wails. Her face shows a glimpse of relief. Many moms will be able to relate.---JR

  • A bar, a song, a lost cause, Young Adult
    Already, Charlize Theron's Mavis is deeply unlikable: a former high-school mean girl returning to her hometown to break up a happy marriage. But it's in this scene, where her intended mark is clearly in thrall of another woman (even Mavis's favorite song is no longer hers), that we feel the smallest pang of sympathy. Theron loads her close-up with pain.---JR

Juliette Binoche at the mirror, Certified Copy
Abbas Kiarostami's romantic masterpiece is all about subtly shifting identities---are its two leads complete strangers or a couple playing games with each other? The image that sums it up is the one where Binoche's Elle spruces herself up in a restaurant bathroom. Earrings come out, rouge-red lipstick goes on. An already fascinating character becomes, before our eyes, an even more tantalizing enigma.---KU

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