5. Children Of Men – The car attack
Set in the near future, in a world of infertile women, Theo (Clive Owen) agrees to help an old flame, and activist, Julian (Julianne Moore) transport a mysterious woman – who turns out to be pregnant – to a safe zone.
Director, Alfonso Cuaron, places us in the car as Theo and Julian happily reminisce, driving through picturesque nature, playing games with ping-pong balls, and seconds later, one of the lead characters has a bullet in their neck.
Shot in a single take and a single shot, this scene escalates like no other. Cuaron lulls the audience into a false sense of security – A nostalgic drive through the country – then attacks us.
We are thrown into one of the best shot action sequences of all time, and probably the most shocking, unpredictable death (alongside Samuel L. Jackson and that shark). The long take later in the film is another master class from director, Cuaron, and his long time cinematographer, Lubezki.
4. Whiplash – The final performance
A scene with no violence and barely a word of dialogue – Just a young man playing drums and a teacher watching him play – but this scene will leave you physically and mentally exhausted.
Whiplash tells the story of Andrew (Miles Teller), a young, promising drummer, in his first year at an elite music conservatory, and his relationship with his unforgiving and terrifying instructor, Fletcher (J.K Simmons).
Fletcher spends most of the running time pushing his students to the limit (abusing them), whilst taking Andrew under his wings (abusing him the most), due to his promising talent.
Andrew sacrifices a promising new relationship with Nicole (Melissa Benoist), and his life begins a downward spiral in a similar fashion to Natalie Portman’s Swan Queen in Aronofsky’s Black Swan.
After being humiliated by Fletcher, Andrew returns to the stage in a battle for approval, greatness and perfection, during this exhilarating climax.
3. Sicario – The border crossing
The tunnel sequence, family dinner, and epilogue could all make this list. This entire film is a master class in building tension. Aided by an incredible score from the late, Johann Johannsson, Villeneuve shocks the audience early with a bomb and keeps us in the palm of his hand, culminating in the entire sequence leading up to this scene.
During this scene, a team led by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), mysterious outsider, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), and young FBI agent, Kate Macer (the heart of the film, Emily Blunt), prepare to extradite a Mexican druglord across the border into America.
Alone, and outside of their jurisdiction,there is nothing welcoming about their short vacation across the border. Victims hanging from under a bridge. Distant gunshots. A local cop car following them… Then shit really hits the fan.
After collecting their man, they find themselves stuck in a massive traffic jam on re-entry to America, and a sitting duck for the armed cartel members in the traffic surrounding them.
‘What are the rules here?’ one agent asks. ‘We must be engaged to engage’ is the response.
The rules not only force us to wait, but also everyone in the vehicles, including Kate. We are placed in her shoes, as she reacts to the gravity of the situation. She has no idea what she is doing here. They should not be here. The shootout only lasts a number of seconds but the damage has been done in the excruciating lead-up.
2. No Country For Old Men – What’s the most you ever lost in a coin toss?
In this thriller directed by the Coen brothers, another great villain, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), is hired to track down missing drug money, stolen by hunter, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), who stumbles upon the drug exchange gone-wrong, and decides to take advantage of the situation, pocketing the money.
Prior to the scene, Anton demonstrates just how easily he goes about disposing of anyone who stands in his way, terrorising them with a customised air pistol, and killing innocent bystanders for any information leading towards Llewelyn, as he tracks him across Texas.
By this stage, the audience fears the worst for anyone dealt with the unfortunate fate of crossing his path, and during this scene, Anton pays for some gas. He simply pays for some gas…
Nothing should be overly exciting about this scene. On paper it probably looks like it could be cut without loss, but the Coen brothers take the most tedious of the everyday tasks and give us a nightmare.
A simple, innocent gas station attendant (Gene Jones), questions some of Anton’s beliefs and practices, and is subsequently forced to flip a coin for his life, without knowing what he is flipping for – but we know the stakes.
1. Inglourious Basterds – The interrogation
‘Once upon a time… In Nazi-occupied France’
That is all the audience needs before Tarantino introduces English audiences to Christoph Waltz, and his very own great villain, Colonel Hans Landa, as he interrogates Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet), a man expected of harbouring a Jewish family during the war.
Tarantino uses his arsenal of tricks to build the tension of this opening scene. He shows us that the Jewish family are hiding under the floor early in the scene, much like Hitchcock would, then forced us to endure the wait – and it’s a heart-pulsing wait – as our villain slowly closes in on his prey.
Landa spends the best part of the next five minutes coldly going about his business of making Perrier and his daughters (including a young Lea Seydoux) as uncomfortable as humanly possible.
Perrier returns serve with Landa, but Landa is still closing in. He switches the conversation to English knowing that the family below cannot understand where the conversation is heading.
Landa explains why he is so proud of his nickname ‘The Jew Hunter’ and why he excels at his job. He pulls out a pipe and begins to smoke. He is well and truly on top now, offering clemency to Perrier in exchange for the exact locations that they are hiding.
Perrier folds and gives up the family, who are torn to shreds with machine gun fire. Sole survivor, Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), narrowly escapes as Landa decides to spare her as she flees.
Honorable Mentions: The plane crash in Final Destination. The gunshot from In The Bedroom. The baby on the beach in Under The Skin. The ending of First Reformed.