20 September 2009

My Top 10 Opening Scenes

Paste Magazine recently ran an article called "The 10 Most Iconic Opening Scenes In Cinema History."   My list isn't a list of "Iconic" scenes, just the stuff I like.  The scenes that immediately sucked me in, piqued my interest, or otherwise decided to forgo the standard hand-holding opening of many films, and make an indelible mark that said "you want my hand?  Here's the middle finger.  Watch the movie."

10.) Peter Hunt's On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
The first and unfortunately only time George Lazenby strapped on the Walther and Bonded.  This opening sequence immediately gives a hint of mystery - who's the new guy?  The cleft chin, the cigarette.  Then Diana Rigg as the greatest of all Bond girls comes into the picture, a brutal fight sequence and the cheekily memorable line, "this never happened to the other fellow."

9.) Mike Judge's Office Space
Immediately sets a tone of hurried, harried, and generally miserable people stuck in traffic and being passed by a guy with a walker.  Sets up the Tremendous Trio of Peter, Samir, and Michael Bolton, and makes you instantly fall for and identify with these characters.  Genius opening.

8.) Alfonso Cuaròn's Children of Men
The only time Paste and I agree.  A beautifully realized and composed single take that throws you headfirst into a world of despair, dread, and hopelessness.

7.) Fritz Lang's M
Along with Metropolis, the other masterpiece of Fritz Lang.  While not coming close to matching the jaw-dropping grandeur of Metropolis, M succeeds in using sound inventively, filling the film with a sense of forbodeing terror, as Peter Lorre's child killer takes young Elsie Beckmann, a blind balloon salesman the ears for all of us as we hear the killer whistling "In the Hall of the Mountain King."

6.) Tim Burton's Batman
Another immediate tone-setter, and the scene that cemented Michael Keaton as THE Batman of the 20th century.  Adam West this wasn't.

5.) Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard
Tracking down a curb, revealing Sunset Blvd, as we find a man floating face-down in a swimming pool.  Then we find out he's our narrator. Millions of imitators followed, but none ever compared.

4.) Brian DePalma's The Untouchables
Can anyone not cringe when hearing the little girl yell, "Mister!  Mister!  You forgot your..." BOOM.  Welcome to DePalma's Chicago.

3.) Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now
Jungle, meet napalm.  The Doors.  The End.

2.) Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West
I could've picked any of Leone's films, but this one stands out for me.  10 minutes of silence, the only sounds the creaking of floorboards, the whine of metal in the air.  "We're short one horse."  "No, you brought two too many."  Bang bang bang, hello Harmonica.

1.) Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark
A thrilling introduction to one of the most iconic characters in cinema history.  He's introduced as a classic screen hero in his first shot.  Then we peel back the layers to find a hero who is a hero because he fails.  Because he's human.  In the space of less than 10 minutes we have a fully realized character who we root for the entire time - especially when he gets back up after falling down, dusts off the jacket, puts his hat back on, and keeps going.


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