1001 Greatest Movie Moments


Even Hitchcock knew the scene made no sense at all. After all, if you’ve lured your quarry all the way to a lonely bus stop, why not simply shoot him? But then, what fun would that be? Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant), blandly successful ad exec mistaken for a spy who himself doesn’t exist, is drawn to this remote location to rendezvous, he thinks, with that very agent. What he encounters, out of the endless sky, is a biplane honing in on him like an angry hornet. An image made doubly startling and strangely hilarious by the fact that all the while he dodges death, Thornhill is dressed in his dapper New York suit.

“I don’t even know who was in that airplane attacking Cary Grant” Hitchcock later recalled, waving aside all those spoilsports and ‘plausibles’ unable to embrace the joyous nonsense of the idea. “I don’t care. So long as that audience goes through that emotion.”

That’s what makes it the greatest moment of all: it is there solely because it is so completely cinematic and yet, never disturbs our relationship with the story. Indeed, it somehow enhances it.

The scene builds slowly and wittily, as Thornhill first sidles up to a man dropped off by a car who he thinks might just be the mysterious (non-existent) Kaplan, while in the distance a crop-duster buzzes across the fields. “That’s funny…. That plane’s dustin’ crops where there ain’t no crops,” comments the stranger before departing on a bus. Left on his own, an incongruous and vulnerable figure against this vast landscape, the crop-duster turns on Thornhill……

Although supposedly a stretch of Indiana countryside, it was filmed near Bakersfield in the heart of the Californian desert (outside the towns of Wasco and Delano, just east of the intersection of Corcoran Road and Garces Highway, location-spotters). At 110 degrees in the shade, even Hitch was down to his shirtsleeves – an unheard of sighting of the director without his suit jacket. Between takes Grant would sit and brood in his air – conditioned limo – mostly in the company of screenwriter Ernest Lehman – fretting over the scene’s entire lack of logic. Grant wasn’t talking to his director by this time, having been pushed from pillar to post for the exhausting shoot and had to take it out on someone. It seems even the leading man was missing the point – it was just thrilling cinema, exempt from the practicalities of logic.

The very build – up – virtually nothing happens for the final half of it seven minutes – is a masterclass in mustering tension: less is so much more, your energy bunnies of the modern age. There is also so much more to the moment than just Thornhill sprawling into the cornfield dirt as the crop-duster barely clears his head. It is a virtuoso Hitchcock’ short story – within – the –story, combining terror, humor, a rare splendor, and heart stopping excitement. All of it told almost by visuals alone: there is next – to – no dialogue, and not a note of Bernard Herrmann’s brilliant score is used until the climax of the sequence, doubling the effect of the music when you suddenly realize it’s been missing all this time. His cinema at its most brilliant; no other art-form could achieve the same effect – put you through that emotion.

North By Northwest (1959). 01:08:44


You want to encompass the wonder of Spielberg’s cinema? That fusion of escapism, emotional engagement, stunning visuals and well, just something you have never been before? Then E.T levitating Elliott’s (Henry Thomas) bike into the air to glide before an impossibly vast moon is surely his signature moment. It became a logo for his company, Amblin, and remains one of the most indelible single images in the history of the motion picture, magic E.T. The extra-terrestrial (1982), 01:05:25


Best entrance by a hero ever? Seen from behind at a brunette, “I admire your courage, Miss…?” he purrs ‘Trench Sylvia Trench’ she replies, “I admire your luck, Mr…?” as the camera switches to the front, he answers, ‘Bond, James Bond’.

Dr. No (1962), 00:07:03


The Balrog wrapped in a heat haze, the depths of Khazadum and Sir Ian McKellen standing firm as Gandalf, his face intent with fear and power as he greets his mighty Joe Peter Jackson got talkie. The Fellowships of the ring (2001), 02:03:10


In one precision match cut from the spinning bone to a spacecraft rotating in the depthless vacuum, Stanley Kubrick encompasses all of human evolution (to date), Quite an achievement 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), 00:19:02


Ride Of The Valkyries complete, self-mythologizing, war as life loon Lt. Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall), the embodiment of American imperialist delusion, gives Apocalypse now’s most famous line to a field of rattled troops and dead Vietnamese “Smells like….victory,” he thrills Duvall giving it everything.

Apocalypse now (1979), 00:47:23


“When you’re in the desert, you look into infinity, claimed David Lean, and no single shot sums up that mysticism than the arrival of Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif). A shot known simply as the ‘the mirage’, Ali would slowly emerge from the horizon as a ghostly shimmer, part desert with a white line, a camel track to the well, while black pebbles were placed in finger-like banks at either edge of the shot. Fingers which point towards where the man is coming from. It is actually one take, but for the effect to work, Leans cuts away. “Originally, it was double the length and it was better,” he later confessed. “I lost my nerve and cut quite a bit. Wish I hadn’t.”

Lawrence of Arabia (1962), 00:27:28


Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando), haunted by the memory of taking the dive that destroyed his boxing career, sticks to the dangerous path of testifying against the Mob/union control of the docks. His stand will become his title bout. ON THE WATERFRONT (1954), 01:11:47


It was second unit director Andrew Marton who assembled the greatest race in history, from William Wyler’s notes. When the director saw it, he declared it “one of the greatest cinematic achievements.”

BEN-HUR (1959), 0:36:48


What could be simpler than the concept of having Oz depicted in succulent Technicolor and drab Kansas in black and white? And yet the transition is dizzyingly effective THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), 00:18:46

20 “I’VE SEEN THINGS YOU PEOPLE WOULDN’T BELIEVE….” Like “C-beams glittering in the darkness at the Tannhauser gate” and “attach ships off the shoulder of Orion.” All of them lost “like tears in the rain.” Unbearable.

BLADE RUNNER (1982), 01:42:00 (DC)

19 THE WHISPER We will never know what is whispered on that Tokyo street, but not knowing is the point – you insert your own farewell……Lost in Translation (2003), 01:29:25

18 Dancin’ in the rain Tripping the light and damp fantastic, Gene Kelly transforms a dance in to a heavenly exaltation of joy.

Singin’ in the rain (1952), 01:05:08

17 “Come out, come out, where you are…”

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