My Greatest Cinema Moments Ever

There was a terrific feature in Empire Magazine last month, especially during a pandemic when all cinemas are shut down and barely any major movies are released. They invited their readers and celebrated filmmakers, like Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Bong Joon-Ho to share their favorite cinema moments.

They are specifically looking for moments in which the whole audience experienced movie magic. Think Hannibal Lecter escaping from prison in The Silence of the Lambs. Can you imagine the audience’s response when he pulls the face off in the ambulance? I sure can, even though I never saw Silence in cinema. Or the ending in Buffalo Bill’s house where the depraved serial killer is stalking Clarice Starling with night vision goggles? These are memories from filmmaker Edgar Wright (Baby Driver, Shaun of the Dead), who initiated this feature.

Wright: “I vividly recall riotous screenings of A Fish Called Wanda and There’s Something About Mary, the unforgettable sound of massed sobs in E.T. or Titanic, or just the palpable energy of the first weekend crowd of Scream or The Silence of the Lambs, which was so electric, you’d think it could power a city. I’ve been lucky enough to have made a few scenes myself where the crowd have drowned out the next scene because they are laughing or whooping (I’m thinking the ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ scene in Shaun of the Dead, JK). Such moments are truly infectious, but again, that’s an adjective that needs to be retired for the moment.”

Other notable contributions in the issue are:
– Darth Vader’s dilemma right before he kills the emperor in Return of the Jedi. By Simon Pegg.
– Luke throwing down his lightsaber, also in Return of the Jedi. By Mark Hamill.
– Neo stops the bullets, but the whole film really, in The Matrix. By Chris Evans.
– The tragic reality of Menace II Society. By Patty Jenkins.
– The ear scene in Reservoir Dogs. By Joe Russo.
– And many many more….

My favorite cinema moment by far is The Lord of the Rings. I went to fellowship on opening day and it was a magical experience. You could feel the whole room just be completely absorbed by the wondrous world Peter Jackson and his team had painted on the screen. It was breathtaking. I remember highlight after highlight, but the ultimate audience engagement happened in Moria where the fellowship faces one challenge after the other. When finally Gandalf sacrifices himself to let the others escape, the audience felt like Frodo: totally and utterly defeated. By the time they face the Uruk Hai at the end, the audience was re-energized, and left the room in pretty good spirit, but also sad because of the loss of both Boromir and Gandalf.

The Two Towers even topped this experience. The way it starts is just a master move. Gandalf being pulled into the abyss and falling and fighting the demonic Balrog. Everybody in that cinema went apeshit. After that: one great scene after the other. But the real show stealer of the evening was off course Gollum. Never before had a digital character been so fully realised. Andy Serkis’ performance is mind blowing. He should have won the Oscar for best supporting actor that year, no question. The movie ends at Helm’s Deep and this is a groundbreaking battle scene in terms of pure scale and spectacle. It is the only movie I saw in cinema three times.

Of course, at the moment there are no cinema experiences at all, but the memories remain. And like many of our favorite movie characters, they will return at some point. No question. True cinema moments are magical. There is no substitute.

QT8: The First Eight

I was 13 years old when I saw the video Reservoir Dogs at my local video store. There were – for me at the time – not many familiar actors in it. But the cover looked pretty cool with guys in suits with guns. Plus there was a lot of praise on it from critics, so I decided to give it a shot. I had no idea what to expect, but Jesus Christ was it a good movie! Ridiculously great filmmaking. One of the best movies I had seen at that point and to this day still.

It is funny to hear all these actors in the documentary QT8: The First Eight basically relate to the exact same experience. Tim Roth, shown while being carried in the warehouse by Harvey Keitel, remembers talking to Keitel about what they had just shot and saying: “Man, this is going to be a really great movie!” Keitel agreed.

Reservoir Dogs premiered on Cannes in 1992, very prestigious for a debut, and it was a great success. Everybody wanted to meet Quentin there and he became a movie making star overnight. Everybody said: “Can you believe this guy? He can write and direct and it’s sensational stuff.”

For a long time I was jealous of Tarantino. And when I watch this documentary I still am. I mean, wouldn’t it be something to be able to write screenplays like this guy? And this is also a shared emotion by many people interviewed for this doc. Talent like this is rare. Many people, including me, tried to write scripts like him. But to no avail.

His first screenplays – True Romance and Natural Born Killers – he had to sell to pay the rent. True Romance was originally told in non-chronological order Tarantino-style. Oh and the pop culture loving Clarence, basically Quentin’s alter ego – died at the end. Luckily Tony Scott changed that. At least I for one liked the happy ending.

Tarantino wanted to become a director, so he wrote a script that he could do on a low budget: Reservoir Dogs. Harvey Weinstein distributed the film. After that everybody in Hollywood wanted to work with him, but the Weinstein’s got to produce all his movies up until The Hateful Eight. Then the scandal broke out, and Tarantino – who according to Michael Madsen had known about Weinstein’s misconduct for some time (read Tarantino’s confession-story here) – switched to Sony for his ninth movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

And this Weinstein-business is the only major stain on Tarantino’s career. That, and pushing Uma Thurman to do a car stunt in Kill Bill, which went wrong causing permanent physical problems for her. No good, Mr. Quentin. But there is a lot to balance it out. He is described by everyone in the doc as a very nice guy who enjoys life, and appears to be a great friend for his many cronies.

Pulp Fiction, that followed Reservoir Dogs, is one of the masterpieces of the past 50 years. Michael Madsen, for whom the part of Vincent Vega was originally written, was committed to Wyatt Earp at that time. Nightmare! He takes it well, commenting on the extremely successful casting of John Travolta. “It is one of main reasons the movie worked.” Plus Travolta can dance and Madsen – who did a dance scene in Reservoir Dogs – can’t, at least in his own opinion. “They would have had to change the script into that they don’t win the dance contest.”

How do you follow up a masterpiece like Pulp? You don’t. Just make a very good genre film instead starring Pam Grier, queen of the blaxploitation movies Quentin went to see during his childhood. Jackie Brown is a beautiful film about people trying to figure out what to do with their lives. Then he made another genre film with a strong female lead, a mash-up between Hong Kong cinema and a spaghetti western. Kill Bill is an astonishing accomplishment. Bit of trivia: The razor the Bride uses to escape from the coffin in Vol. 2 is the same used by Mr. Blonde in the torture scene in Dogs. Everything is related in the Tarantino universe.

Then he went on to make another feministic movie with powerful girls in it. Death Proof is a clever slasher flick / carploitation movie shot by the maestro himself. With an unforgettable Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike. After that came his war movie effort. Inglourious Basterds is unlike any war film ever done before. It is storytelling at his best. Django Unchained is another historic film and it’s brutal. It might just be a little too funny for a film about slavery. But Tarantino likes to hand out justice to his characters. Hitler gets machine gunned to death in Basterds and in Django, the black hero – after having killed a ton of slavers – rides off into the sunset with his girl, an image you won’t find in many westerns.

The Hateful Eight, the final movie treated in this doc, is in a way Reservoir Dogs redone as western. Everything comes full circle. Even Weinstein’s story. Apparently John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (played by Kurt Russell) is based on the monstrous Weinstein. He gets a big fat lesson in the film. Tarantino said many times that he wants to quit at ten movies, because otherwise he fears the quality will go down and people will say: ‘This one is not so good, but this guy used to make great movies’. Let’s hope he will break his word and continue to make movies forever. His style and voice are unique and irreplaceable in Hollywood. Whatever happens, currently nine films are in the can. And I will certainly keep enjoying his work till the end of my days and share it with friends. When you absolutely, positively, want to blow away everybody motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes.

My 10 Favorite Movie Openings

10. Kill Bill Vol. I

09. Django

08. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

07. Magnolia

06. A Clockwork Orange

05. Trainspotting

04. The Big Lebowski

03. Reservoir Dogs

02. Once Upon a Time in the West

01. GoodFellas