When we watch films, we are often attracted by the amazing visuals, the exciting fights, and the cool sound effects. When differentiating between good films and great ones, the difference isn’t always the grandeur of the visuals and fight scenes. Instead, what differentiates great films from good films are the quiet moments. Moments that display “show not tell” to progress the plot or tell more about the characters are what make these films even more memorable. If the films display visuals and uses the soundtrack to cement the weight these quiet moments have, it would be an extra bonus.
Here, we will look at 10 films that maximize the use of quiet moments to its fullest:
Seven Samurai (1954)
Seven Samurai is one of the fundamental masterpieces of cinema with precise visual compositions, incredible soundscapes and multi-layered chronicling. Co-written, edited, and directed by Akira Kurosawa, it’s an emotional blockbuster with purposeful pacing. Seven Samurai observes a rural community of farmers that engage seven samurai to deter outlaws from murdering their families and looting their harvests, and they are prudently represented as imperfect and just attempting to survive.
For how iconic the cinematography is in this film, the pacing of the plot is what makes this 270 minute film so enjoyable. Much of what makes the film’s pacing so remarkable is how the film develops the characters through the conversation scenes and body movements.
There are many scenes in the film that utilize quiet moments to either develop the plot or provide character development. In one scene, the Seven realize that the villagers are only eating scraps because of their actions and as a result, they share their food with the villagers. This scene shows that despite the barbaric actions done, the morality prevails these samurai and propels them to share their food.
Hayao Miyazaki’s first feature film, Lupin the Third: Castle of Cagliostro, tells the story of a flamboyant thief who along with his partner-in-crime robs a casino only to later discover that the money is counterfeit. The plot covers his adventures in the land of Cagliostro; the rumored source of forged bills, where he tries to save the princess from a corrupt Count.
The film is very light-hearted and an endlessly fun adventure that contains many elements which later became Miyazaki’s own trademarks, most notable being his fascination with European architecture and his use of space. His use of space allows for the film to create room for “breathing” and serves as a contrast from the tense action scenes in many of his films.
In Lupin the Third: Castle of Cagliostro, there is a scene where Lupin wanders around a burnt-out castle in a contemplative mood with Jigen wondering what is preoccupying him before demanding an explanation. This scene is memorable because Lupin looks to the castle and recalls things in his past, which creates a need for resolution regarding the events related to the castle.
The Princess Bride (1987)
The Princess Bride is a very fun film that has something for everyone, including: treachery, a pirate, epic sword fighting, wrestling, challenges of intellect, monsters, torture, death and redemption; all of these are classic elements of great story telling. The film also has so many great quotable lines that it becomes hard to choice what is your favorite.
The Princess Bride tells the story of Buttercup, who falls in love with a farm guy, but loses him and is at last engaged to the Prince of the region. One day, she is kidnapped and held against her will by three hired helpers: a Sicilian boss, a Spanish swordsman and a Giant, but they soon find themselves being pursued by a mysterious masked man who’s gaining on their trail.
Before the swordfight scene, Inigo Montoya has this quiet moment with the Man in Black, talking about his father’s murder. The result is that both characters are shown to be merely surface villains and are actually quite likable fellows; in fact, neither of them is a villain at all. It helps the dramatic impact of their talk as it leads up to one of the best cinematic swordfights.
A macabre, wonderfully dark, and enchanting exploration of both Halloween and Christmas, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a true stunner by Tim Burton. Featuring wonderful voice work and musical numbers, a miraculous level of detail, and a story that unravels perfectly along with the breathtaking animation; this film easily ranks as the best film to watch in that weird time of year where fall and winter are jarringly intertwined.
Tired of scaring humans every October 31 with the same old bag of tricks, Jack Skellington, the spindly king of Halloween Town, kidnaps Santa Claus and plans to deliver shrunken heads and other ghoulish gifts to children on Christmas morning. But as Christmas approaches, Jack’s rag-doll girlfriend, Sally, tries to foil his misguided plans.
In one scene, Sally picks up the flower which transforms into a tiny Christmas tree, and then tragically bursts into flames right before her eyes. This small gesture foreshadows events that will happen as a result of Jack Skellington’s fascination with Christmas.
The Incredibles (2004)
Widely regarded as Pixar’s most adult film, The Incredibles tells the story of a family of superheroes, with each member having unique set of superpowers. Forced into retirement to a civilian life due to the number of lawsuits resulting from the damages caused by their crime-fighting activities, Mr. Incredible’s wish to relive the glory days is granted when he’s asked for assistance on a secret mission but it ultimately thrusts his entire family into action to save the world from an imminent threat.
Coming to the technical aspects, The Incredibles leaves its mark in all departments. The 3D rendering of every frame is polished to an extensive level of detail. Cinematography makes energetic use of camera, firm exhibition of color palette plus also benefits from accurate lighting. Editing is at its absolute best during the action sequences, most of which are visually stunning, but there are also a few moments where the pacing is a bit on the slower side.
The characters are brilliantly envisioned, sketched, and rendered plus the relentless refinement in screenplay nicely takes care of the character development part. Pixar again puts up a rich voice cast, all of whom fill their respective roles. The themes of mid-life crisis, job dissatisfaction, marriage troubles, etc. are elegantly handled as well. On top of that, Michael Giacchino chips in with a fantastic score that beautifully intertwines with the events of this action-adventure.
Despite all the fast paced action, The Incredibles provides one of the most tender moments in cinema. In the confession right before the final fight, Mr. Incredible admits to his wife that he’s not strong enough to bear the pain of losing them again. This shows that despite the bravado of being perceived as the strongest man in town, he is unable to hold everything together and he drops his pride to save his family.
Evangelion 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance (2009)
Hideaki Anno finally takes his landmark series into a different direction with Evangelion 2.22, the second part in his tetralogy remake. After getting over the initial setup of the story with 1.0, Anno is finally able to branch off into more breathtaking action while still retaining the character development to a certain extent. There’s a significantly better connection between the characters that had been glossed over in the last part, retaining more of the palpable development that had made the series so fantastic in the first place.
Under constant attack by monstrous creatures called Angels that seek to eradicate humankind, U.N. Special Agency NERV introduces two new EVA pilots to help defend the city of Tokyo-3: the mysterious Makinami Mari Illustrous and the intense Asuka Langley Shikinami. Meanwhile, Gendo Ikari and SEELE proceed with a secret project that involves both Rei and Shinji.
In one scene, Asuka enters Shinji’s room and enters his bed while he’s still in it without greeting him, deliberately facing away from him. The ensuing dialogue is personal, intimate, sentimental, and quiet (by Asuka’s standards). Compared to the rest of this film, possibly the most action-packed of any of the Rebuild movies, this scene is powerfully soft.
Inception centres on a team of individuals led by an extractor named Cobb played by Leonardo DiCaprio who, through the use of a special device, construct the dreams of a target and use those dreams to implant an idea in unsuspecting minds to benefit them. Nolan creates a stunning world with mind-bending visual effects; however, it takes him just over 50 minutes, out of the 148 minute run time, to set up this incredible plot which can feel like an incredibly long time, and it is in some cases; however, you’re engrossed throughout with each subtle detail proving consequential to the overarching plot and leads to that famous conclusion that still puzzles audiences to this day.
Inception at its core is two things. It is an incredible and unique heist film and a character study of a man (Cobb) trying to free himself from his suffocating past whilst also avoiding it at every turn. Inception is more than a movie. It’s a thought provoking masterpiece that leaves you questioning the fabric of reality and is what Nolan does fantastically in his films, and is why this uniquely brilliant script is so stunning to watch play out.
Amidst all of the action and the cool shifting architecture present in the film, a lot of the emotional moments are what make this film so memorable. Many know about the scene with Mal and Cobb but I would like to point at a particular scene that holds this film together, where we finally see whether or not Fischer reconciles with the memory of his father. This scene is the climax where all the actions that Cobb and his crew lead up to.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, this third Captain America installment is a gigantically complex vision of ramifications, taking bits and pieces of the MCU and utilizing each resonant segment for a storied experience of crumbling friendships and episodic catharsis. Through its grand 2 hour 20 minute runtime, Civil War operates like a culmination and an antithesis of the Marvel brand, narrowing its focus to showcase conflict among heroes even though the brawls escalate towards geeky, rapturous highs.
Following the events of Age of Ultron, the collective governments of the world pass an act designed to regulate all superhuman activity. This polarizes opinion amongst the Avengers, causing two factions to side with Iron Man or Captain America, which causes an epic battle between former allies.
In Civil War, the movie manages to fit in these quieter moments. We see that while Steve and Tony are beating each other up, T’Challa non-violently confronts Zemo for the events that Zomo is held responsible for, which serves as a shocking contrast despite all the constant fighting going on.
Set in a dystopian future where mutants are on verge of extinction, Logan follows the eponymous mutant who is now way past his prime and spends his days working as a chauffeur while caring for the ailing Charles Xavier in an abandoned place across the border. Things are set in motion when a mysterious young girl who is being chased by an evil corporation arrives on his doorstep and, after being coerced by Xavier, Logan eventually agrees to embark on one final adventure to take her to safety.
Co-written & directed by James Mangold, the story is envisioned from a new perspective and carries a very human, personal & contemplative feel. Logan bears more resemblance to a western, and its funeral-like quality is further enhanced by its R-rated savagery. Although Logan’s own cathartic journey is undeniably compelling, it is his exquisitely handled bonding with Xavier & Laura that turns the film into a deftly layered but highly rewarding meditation on life, death & family.
Fortunately, this film has many of these scenes thanks to its more grounded nature. Basically every scene where Logan and X-23 aren’t ripping somebody to shreds is a downplayed, low-key conversation between the characters These low-key conversations with the characters help drive the plot and show more depth to each of the characters.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Denis Villeneuve’s follow up to 1982’s Blade Runner, 2017’s Blade Runner 2049 is a neo-noir science fiction masterpiece. Within the last decade, Denis Villeneuve’s reputation has shot through the roof, directing not only some of the decade’s best films, but quickly becoming one of my favourite directors working today. Blade Runner 2049 is no different. The long-awaited sequel to the awe inspiring, somewhat slightly disappointing “classic” Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, is not only respectful to its predecessor, but Villeneuve brings back the iconic Harrison Ford and adds the dazzling Ryan Gosling and Jared Leto to the cast to truly make the film come alive.
Blade Runner 2049 benefits from some of the best cinematography I’ve seen in years. From the addition of the seamlessly blended visual effects to the mind-blowing scenery constructed by the entire art department, I have nothing but praise for the visuals in the film as the cinematography is awe inspiring throughout.
What’s interesting with this film in particular is that it inverts the trope I mentioned earlier; it is a moody, philosophical film with occasional bursts of sudden, violent action. Although these bursts are what excite us, the several conversations that are made throughout the film so crucial to the plot, for example a scene where K and his holographic “girlfriend” Joi discuss about the nature of life and sentience. This scene is important because it starts to showcase K beginning to develop emotions and understanding the importance of these emotional responses.
When these quiet scenes work, it can make the action sequences all the more compelling because the quiet scenes have allowed you to be emotionally invested in the characters and their fate.
Richard Wu is a junior studying piano performance at the Jacobs School of Music. This is his fourth semester at Media Services.