"Skyfall," "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Take This Waltz" are good movies. Each are well-made, well-cast and well-acted productions that attempt to give old genres a new twist. On Rotten Tomatoes, all three are certified fresh with ratings of, respectively, 92, 85 and 78 percent. At least one or two have appeared on a majority of top-10 lists written this year by critics and bloggers. Just not mine: "Skyfall" was James Bond as Batman, to diminishing returns; "Beasts of the Southern Wild" couldn't overcome the fact that it was poverty porn of the highest order; and "Take This Waltz" centered on an unlikeable protagonist who became a bridge too far for my sympathies.
Yet despite those one-liners-as-tossed-off-criticism, "Skyfall," "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Take This Waltz" each provided moments of real joy. That's how good 2012 was for movies: Even the not-so-great films were kind of great, at least in parts. Ahead, three of the best scenes from 2012.
"Beasts of the Southern Wild": Opening scene
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" is an easy movie to love. Behn Zeitlin's film covers a lot of hot-button issues while never explicitly saying it's covering said hot-button issues: Hurricane Katrina, the growing disparity between the haves and have nots and global warming all feature heavily in "Beasts of the Southern Wild" without ever being mentioned by name. There's also Quvenzhane Wallis, the precocious young star of the film, who was plucked from her obscurity as a 6-year-old to play Hushpuppy, the precocious future queen of The Bathtub. (This is to say nothing of the score, by Zeitlin and Dan Romer, which is one of the best in years; it's the kind that will be used to goose emotions in movie trailers for the foreseeable future.) If only the whole was equal to the sum of its parts. In the end, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" feels interminable, especially after the stirring opening of the movie, an ode to Hushpuppy, her father and the residents of The Bathtub. Taken in isolation, it's an incredible combination of image, music and performance (just a guess: if Wallis is nominated for an Oscar, her clip will come from this sequence). It's too bad there's an entire movie still to come -- one that hits the same notes over and over again until the audience is beaten into emotional submission.
"Skyfall": Opening scene
Speaking of strong beginnings: If "Skyfall" ended after the extended chase through Istanbul and Adele's take on the Bond theme, it would have been the best Bond since "Goldfinger." Instead, it's the best Bond since "Quantum of Solace."
"Take This Waltz": The Scrambler scene
Sarah Polley is a great director, it's just that "Take This Waltz" isn't a great movie. At best, it's a good movie for about 75 of its 116 minutes. Which might be Polley's ultimate point: Whether you're talking about movies or relationships, things can be good, and then not good, and how you deal with that change is how you deal with life. Or something. Anyway, amateur psychology aside, the moment in "Take This Waltz" when Michelle Williams and Luke Kirby ride The Scrambler with The Buggles' "Video Killed The Radio Star" playing as accompaniment is a game-changer; you'll never listen to that pop song the same way again. It's easily the most memorable scene of 2012; so memorable, in fact, that months after seeing this perfectly acceptable, small-scale relationship drama, the scene stands out above individual moments from better movies like "Zero Dark Thirty," "Lincoln" and "Django Unchained." The Scrambler even comes back at the end, giving Williams a send-off worthy of Benjamin Braddock. If only the rest of "Take This Waltz" were as perfect as that carnival ride.