This essay is part of our 2017 Rewind, a look back at the best, worst, and otherwise interesting movies and shows of 2017.
In years past, we’ve always picked one single scene that feels emblematic of that year’s cinematic experience. It’s not necessarily the best scene, but one we determine will be the year’s most enduring. Last year, we loved the unpredictable, free-spirited nature of the opening sequence of Swiss Army Man. It was a simpler time, then.
We also found ample debate around the most enduring movie moments of 2016. There was plenty of Martha talk.
In hindsight, 2016 was far less of a punishing year as the one we’re about to see end. Sure, culturally it ended with a great deal of uncertainty and some upheaval. But could we have known then how much more tumult we’d experience in 2017? Maybe. Probably not.
While it will take a few years for art to catch up completely with the larger cultural moment, there have been several things in 2017 that have stood as placeholders for the righteous fury — mostly that of women in America — that we’ve seen amplified in 2017. Which is why, in the end, there are two clear winners for Scene of the Year. One comes to us from the traditional realm of cinema, the other gracing our TV screens. Both felt like works of cinema designed to remind us that some fights are worth having, and some people should never be underestimated.
No Man’s Land
This sequence from Patty Jenkins’ big screen power-ballad Wonder Woman begins with a foreboding overhead shot of a massive, bloody WWI battlefield. The kind of place our heroine should not be traversing on her own. But as her companion Steve Trevor finds out very quickly, Diana Prince is not someone you can simply deter. As she rises to the battlefield, revealing her armored form to the world, Wonder Woman marches confidently across the aptly named “No Man’s Land” in a simple, thrilling, incredibly moving sequence. She stands tall and strong against overwhelming odds, inspiring the men behind her to get in the fight.
It would be hard to count on two hands how many women have told me personally that this sequence brought them to tears. As a fan of quality action staging, I was similarly moved. Though for them, the “No Man’s Land” sequence is so much more than a well-crafted action scene. It’s a long-overdue triumph for perhaps the most iconic female heroes of modern fiction. It means something to see her soar. And it’s not a sequence any of these women will forget anytime soon. And neither will I.
The Loot Train Attack
Putting aside it’s terrible name — seriously, “Loot Train Attack”? — this sequence from Game of Thrones’ is the closest any television show has got to the massive scale of Hollywood blockbusters. For the casual viewer of the show, it’s simply impressive. You don’t see this kind of scope on television.
For the more attentive Game of Thrones viewer, The Loot Train Attack is not just an evolution in scale, it’s an evolution in method. Director Matt Shakman, whose most notable previous credit was It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, chose to structure the entire scene around the experience of Jamie Lannister. This is significant not just because he’s on the losing side of the encounter, but because he’s a character we can root for fighting on a side we’d probably all rather see lose. The overwhelming consensus is that people want Team Daenerys to win the larger fight, but we’d rather not see Jamie and Ser Bronn of the Blackwater burned alive. This perspective shift also allows the audience to experience the might of Daenerys’ dragons from a new angle. It’s a brilliantly staged sequence that, when necessary, displays everything that makes Game of Thrones great: the tension, the scale, and the pure carnage of it all.
Separately these are both great scenes. But together they represent one of 2017’s persistent (and oddly hopeful) themes. Even in some of our darkest, most distressing moments, there is plenty of righteous fury from those who believe deeply in their cause. For Diana Prince, it’s the notion that evil in any form should be defeated. For Daenerys, it’s about breaking the wheel of inequality in an effort to create a new world for everyone in her fictional country. These are women and ideas we should follow into battle every time.