There are countless greatest movies lists, and most everyone has a handful of favorite films or a favorite director. However, cinema has left us with a handful scenes so powerful or sublime that they are indelibly ingrained into our collective culture and individual consciousness. They are scenes we can all agree on. Many of them come from award-winning films. Often they are visually striking. All show the pure joy of having a movie camera and bringing the audience somewhere with it.
Who will ever forget...
The distant figure of T.E. Lawrence, shrouded in Bedouin clothing and blurred by intense heat waves, slowly advancing toward the viewer in the beginning of Lawrence of Arabia. A crisp 70mm print projected onto a large screen will nearly make the audience feel the blast of desert heat.
The pseudopod water creature sent by the benevolent terrestrial aliens in James Cameron's The Abyss. The scene, written so it could be easily edited out of the film if the experimental computer graphics looked cheesy, was so effective that the early Silicon Graphics computers which rendered it were used to make later pioneering films: Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Jurassic Park.
Animated seductress Jessica Rabbit's jaw-dropping saunter across the runway during her act in The Ink and Paint Club of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The scene required the talented human actors to pretend they were interacting with characters that were not really there, mechanisms to cause props and clothing to move, and dozens of layers of film in an optical printer to make Jessica and her shimmering dress.
Dr. Bill Harford's wide-eyed, naïve, and dreamlike entry into the sexual underworld of Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, and the crescendo of the intense synthesizer soundtrack as he goes deeper. The uncomfortable, stilted conversation afterward where Victor Ziegler urges him to forget what he saw.
Andy Dufrense tumbling from the foul sewer into the thunderstorm's cleansing downpour during his prison escape in The Shawshank Redemption.
Heather's terrified, tearful, pleading videotaped message to her family in The Blair Witch Project.
Woody Allen's sad yet lovingly accepting monologue as Alvy Singer, and the flashbacks to old times at the close of Annie Hall.
The farewell conversation between Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson which we're not allowed to hear in Lost in Translation.
Major "King" Kong's cowboy ride on a nuclear bomb, whooping and hollering as if riding a bucking bronco, in Dr. Strangelove.
Gung-ho General Patton (George C. Scott) breaking the fourth wall as he addresses his troops with a rousing speech in front of an enormous American flag which fills the frame; also, firing his handgun at the Axis bombers, in Patton.
Paul (Don Cheadle) discovering the gruesome reason his car is having so much trouble making way through the thick morning fog in Hotel Rwanda.
Mr. Blonde cutting off the ear of a cop and dousing him in gasoline while dancing to Steeler's Wheel in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs.
Nighttime is settled on New York City during the sweltering summer of 1977, a serial killer is on the loose, and social tension is already at the boiling point, when the electricity goes out during the Summer of Sam.
Reverend Hess (Mel Gibson) and his two children reaching toward the sky with their baby monitor as it emits the eerie alien sounds in Signs.
Sal's (Danny Aiello) frank and emotional outburst at Mookie (Spike Lee) in front of the smouldering remains of his Brooklyn pizzeria in Do The Right Thing. Roger Ebert said this was the only film that ever made him cry.
Martin Scorsese's virtuoso Steadicam walk into and through The Copacabana nightclub in Goodfellas.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter's (Anthony Hopkins) startling entrance in The Silence of the Lambs.
The enormous scale of the ancient civilization's vast machinery underneath the surface of the Forbidden Planet, the human astronauts merely dotting the walkways as they explore it.
Graceful, flowing and deadly treetop fighting in Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
The exhilarating, reckless police car chase of an elevated train through the busy streets of New York City in The French Connection.
Luke Skywalker and the Stormtroopers speeding, zooming through the forest moon on flying scooters in Return of the Jedi. The simultaneous battles on three different levels at the climax of the film: the ground fight on the forest moon, the space battle, and Luke fighting his own father, Darth Vader, inside the Death Star.
Blind Susy Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn) in a breathless, pitch-black game of cat-and-mouse with burglars in her home at the end of Wait Until Dark.
The soul-searching and inconclusive dialogue between Michael Moore and the parent of a child killed at Columbine High School in Bowling for Columbine. "What is so radically different about us?" "What is it about us?" "What is it?" "What is it?" "What is it?" "What is it?" "I don't know."
Roger Ebert and Tim Dirks have made movie reviews a labor of love. Many are on their respective web sites, http://www.rogerebert.com/ and http://www.filmsite.org/.