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From an awkward scene with a knife to an A-listers comeback with the sounds of Fiona Apple, Guardian writers pick their favourite big screen bits of the year

The ride Ford v Ferrari

Photograph: Merrick Morton/AP

In Ford v Ferrari (AKA Le Mans 66), Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) has been tasked by the Man in the guise of Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) to build a racer that can beat those rotten eye-talians who think they are better than us. Shelby can do it, but he needs Letts to get off his back with the rules and regs and let his genius soar! (Ayn Rand would love this movie.) After some comedic business, Ford winds up in the test vehicle alone with Shelby, who zooms him through sphincter-clenching turns at incredible speeds. When he slams the brakes, Ford sobs.

At first you think the scene is just to mock the unmanliness of this pencil-pushing suit. Then it changes. Shelbys velocity has so rattled Fords emotions he explodes in grief that his late father cant see his name on such a powerhouse, and in deep sadness that hes not a man of vision himself. He recognizes in Shelby everything he isnt, and it floods out his eyes and nose. It is a weirdly tender moment, reminding us that even comedic baddies in a dad film are people, too. JH

The strip Hustlers

Photograph: Barbara Nitke/AP

Jennifer Lopezs dazzling pole dance caused a ripple of gasps around the screening room where I saw Lorene Scafarias clever con movie Hustlers. Its not just that J-Lo looks so great for her, or anyone elses, age. And its not just that the moves required for this dance are so demanding, she later released a YouTube video of the rehearsals in which she gazed horrorstruck at her own bruised thighs. Its mostly that its a very old-school star move: the flaunting of talent, professionalism and charisma that we associate with a routine by say, Fred Astaire. But also, Ramona is the films central enigma and this moment, her first appearance, sums up the movie.

Her gymnastic display inspires something more tangible than mere lust: admiration (from an overawed Constance Wu), and financial reward. Ramona hugs those dollar bills close to her heart as she strides off stage. The choice of song, Fiona Apples Criminal, is as prophetic as her payoff line is prescient: Doesnt money make you horny? PH

The arrival Homecoming

Photograph: Parkwood Entertainment

A quote from Toni Morrison, some grainy analog establishing shots of the Coachella grounds, and then: it is time. The camera dollies up to a drum majorette who taps out a count, mean-mugs for a moment, and then blows her whistle to summon the demi-deity known as Beyonc Knowles-Carter. The director of photographys choreography works in perfect tandem with the dancers as one continuous shot pulls forward while they twirl out of the way to reveal Queen B, so resplendent and regal that both the nickname and the crowds slavering idol-worship of her instantly make sense.

To the strains of a HBCU-styled marching band, she strides down a catwalk to the stage with one foot in front of the other to maximize the swing of her hips. She might as well be walking on water, so supremely in command of this massive spectacle that she reminds us why we talk about pop stars in religious terms. CB

The evaluator Marriage Story

Photograph: Netflix

As rapturous as the reception might have been for Noah Baumbachs shattering divorce saga Marriage Story on the festival circuit this fall, no one could have predicted its instant virality earlier this month when it landed on Netflix. But while Adam Driver and Scarlett Johanssons devastating argument became its most memed moment, its the lighter, yet still astute, set piece involving a court-appointed evaluator that made the biggest impression on me.

Its a perfectly calibrated sequence of awkwardness with Drivers theatre director Charlie painfully determined to show that hes a stable parent but knowing, as his soon-to-be-divorced wife says earlier on, that outside observation on any given day would reveal flawed parenting. This tension lingers throughout as he tries to bury his instinctive reaction to his sons gentle insolence while trying, unsuccessfully, to seek some humanity or humour from the unknowable visitor Nancy Katz, played hysterically by the standup comic Martha Katz. Im not sure if another line has amused me this year quite as much as Charlies son asking him to do the thing with the knife over dinner in front of an understandably suspect Nancy and silently raging Charlie. Uncomfortably brushing it off, he eventually decides to explain his trick but it goes horribly, stomach-churningly wrong and he ends up bleeding profusely while trying, yet again, to pretend everything is fine. Its gruesomely, outrageously funny and a reminder of Baumbachs ability to make drastic yet effortless tonal switches. BL

The karaoke Booksmart

At a graduation eve party in Booksmart, one of the most criminally underseen movies of the year, shy overachiever Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) sits on the floor in a crowded room, sloshing through the end of her drink and admiring an overconfident theater friend belt out Alanis Morissettes You Oughta Know on a karaoke mic. Amy, out for two years but inexperienced, spends most of the film careening from confident and brash, in the presence of best friend Molly (Beanie Feldstein), to tongue-tied in front of Ryan (Victoria Ruesga), her crush of two years; when Ryan hands her the mic halfway through the song, the sound cuts out a fever pitch of nerves. But then Amy crushes it, nailing the songs ending and revealing to her classmates that, low-key, she can sing.

This scene does an impressive amount in about a minute, namely: live out the fantasy that has occupied about 65% of my daydreams since age 13 (I cant sing), prove that Dever has ARRIVED, salute an ultimate banger of a song. But it also captures the warm invincibility at the bottom of your first drink, the high of leaning into someone elses confidence or of unlocking that fearlessness in yourself the type of finely observed, wild yet grounded fun that made Booksmart one of the most resonant high school movies in a long time. AH

The fuckbox – High Life

Photograph: Allstar/Alcatraz Films

When Claire Deniss desolately beautiful science-fiction nightmare High Life premiered at the Toronto film festival, the fuckbox scene became a brief but intense meme for the few on film Twitter who had seen it: in a film that was hard to describe and distil as a whole, it was the salacious detail singled out to pique others interest. Thats a reductive way to tease a film prickling with so many layers of philosophical and sensual detail, but once seen in context, its also an entirely indelible image: Juliette Binoche, nude and scar-torn, entering a space-borne masturbation chamber, straddling a dildo seat and riding it until, as Lil Nas X might say, she cant no more. Performed with abandon by Binoche and shot with visceral candour by Denis making a tensing, thrashing map of the actors back alone its one of the most extraordinary sex scenes in modern cinema: an expression of female erotic autonomy that outlasts any early quips about it in the memory. GL

The crying Midsommar

Photograph: Landmark Media/Alamy Stock Photo

Ari Asters Midsommar is a portrait of how a toxic relationship quietly, but surely, unravels. At first its subtle: Florence Pughs Dani frets that she overburdens boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) with her own drama and mental health issues, and that her need for emotional support is unattractive. When her whole family dies suddenly, shes desperate to hold on to Christian. She appeases. She apologizes. She stifles her cries after Christian and his friends subtly pressure her into taking shrooms, as specters of her dead sister haunt her.

The whole film is about Dani feeling silenced and invalidated by a man who views himself as the saddled victim. Thats why its so weirdly refreshing when, in Midsommars terrifying climax, the Hrga women embrace Dani for who she is, cupping her face and encouraging her to sob as loudly as she wants. Crouched on the floor, they cry as one, and as their wails reach a communal crescendo, you see Dani finally finding some measure of healing. Sure, its a crazy Swedish cult, but there Dani finally finds someone who actually acknowledges her agony. GS

The tai chi – The Farewell

Photograph: AP

The quiet sentimentality of Lulu Wangs charming sleeper hit shines brightest for me in a scene where twentysomething Billi (played by Oscar-buzzed Awkwafina) and her grandmother, Nai Nai, practice tai chi outside.

Nai Nai coaches her granddaughter through some of the movements, lightly nagging Billi about practicing tai chi everyday in that cute, but kind of annoying, manner family members are known for. Its obvious Billi has no plans of practicing tai chi after this scene and doesnt deem it particularly useful. Then Nai Nai proudly and confidently credits the martial art for her continuing good health, a big smile on her face. Thing is: Billis grandmother has terminal lung cancer but does not know it. So Billi performs the tai chi movements with a renewed energy, owed to the strange mixture of guilt, sadness and stress she feels over the secret illness. She pushes out bad energy and inhales good, yelling out an awkward, meek Hai!

An hour later, at the end of the film, we see Billi walking down the streets of south Williamsburg. Shes still upset over her grandmothers cancer and visibly overwhelmed and stressed. Out of nowhere, she stops in the street, takes a deep breath and yells out a loud, reverberating Hai! The circularity of the moment Billi going from disinterest in tai chi to seeking relief through it highlights how our families can arm us with specific tools to handle the stressors of life. It reminds me of the hours me and my late grandmother would spend putting together 1,000-piece puzzles. As a kid, I was confident I would never take part in such a boring, odious activity as an adult. Today, its my favorite pastime. AW

The confrontation The Souvenir

Photograph: Bbc Films/Allstar

Generally speaking, scenes in which lovers kiss and make up following an infraction are joyful affairs. They come at the close of a movie, following heart-rending misunderstandings that have left a happy ending in jeopardy. Thats not the case in The Souvenir. After months of casual, incremental borrowing to fund his heroin habit, Anthony (Tom Burke) stages a robbery at the flat of young girlfriend Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne). This is purely to bankroll smack not the luxe trip to Venice they embark on soon after, which she pays for, and during which she twigs what hes done.

When they return to London, Julie asks and Anthony admits. But hes not sorry. Hes wounded she has brought it up his abhorrent behaviour compounded by this cavalier attitude. Youre shocked, and relieved surely shell give him the boot?

And she quietly forgives him. Anthonys arrogance and obfuscation, his hurt words about only doing what he needs to, in a world she wouldnt understand, which hes protecting her from, fall on appalling open ears. Blame is smoothly shifted. Repentant Julie strokes his foot and forgets her heirlooms.

Joanna Hogg shoots the confrontation in one static shot; the couple sitting opposite in armchairs, until Julie bridges the gap. The viewer knew the truth would out and assumed it would be a bigger scene. That its not moves the relationship into new territory. You can no longer underestimate Anthonys actions or his hold over Julie. The moment she reaches out in supplication is the chilling heart of a fairly scary film. CS

The knife fight John Wick 3

Ignore the whys (the film-makers did); basically, its Keanu Reeves versus a bunch of faceless goons in a surprisingly tooled-up antiques shop, and for me, one of the most exhilaratingly gruesome action scenes in recent memory.

It starts with a few gunmen, easily dispatched, but things really kick off when Reeves and an opponent realise they are in a corridor of glass cases packed with all manner of bladed weapons. So much glass-smashing, knife-throwing, shooting, stabbing, punching, kicking, grunting and limb-twisting ensues, you can barely keep track. It is brilliantly choreographed and executed, but whats so great is how messy it all looks. And painful. Nobody is neatly killed. Knives miss their targets. The deaths get ever-more cartoonishly horrendous. And the scene ends with a flourish: the last, wounded assailant sits groaning in the foreground; from way back down the corridor Reeves hurls a final axe, which, of course, hits its target in the side of the head. The first time I watched this scene I laughed out loud in horror and admiration, which was kind of awkward as I was sitting on a crowded plane. SR

The heroin Pain and Glory

Photograph: Lifestyle pictures/Alamy Stock Photo

Painfully clean-living as I am, I have never understood why so many films I like feature the consumption of heroin. Christiane F, Trainspotting, The Souvenir, Permanent Midnight and of course, the champ: Requiem for a Dream. Now we can add another to the list: Pedro Almodvars autobiographical reverie Pain and Glory. Now, most films posit heroin as a one-way ticket to the morgue, or at least to total social dysfunction; for Almodvar, though, it seems to be the next best thing to an after-dinner mint. His alter ego Salvador (Antonio Banderas) appears to handle it all with remarkable ease, using it to soothe his emotional worries and act as a vehicle for remembrance. Experiencers of the real thing may have a different view, but I presume Almodvar knows what hes talking about. Its quite the eye-opener. AP

The brow mop Amazing Grace

Photograph: Collection Christophel/Alamy Stock Photo

Sydney Pollacks lost concert movie Amazing Grace was finally brought out this year showing the live filming in 1972 of Aretha Franklins gospel album of that name at New Temple Missionary Baptist church in Watts, Los Angeles. Franklins calm and restraint at the centre of this boiling cauldron of musical energy is compelling. The most startling moment involves her father, the Rev CL Franklin, who addresses the congregation and then, while Aretha is actually singing, he rushes forward to mop her brow. Was this the sort of thing he used to do when she was a little girl? Is it touching that he does it now? Or weirdly dysfunctional and coercive? Either way, it is a compelling image in a remarkable film. PB

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Keanu Reeves has once again shown his good side. Which, at this point, seems like the only one he has. This time, the 54-year-old actor was on a flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles when the plane made an emergency landing in Bakersfield, California. That’s a nearly two-hour drive from the Burbank Airport. And, according to eye witnesses and online footage, Mr Reeves not only organized everyone into a group, he joined them on the bus ride to their destination and made the most out of it.

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The flight diverted due to a “mechanical indication” and landed “safely without incident,” according to Freddy Lemmo, a representative for SkyWest, an airline that frequently operates on behalf of other airlines, in this case, United Express.

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Captured and shared by multiple social media users, Mr Reeves is shown calmly speaking to an airline representative and leading a discussion with a group of passengers, trying to figure out the most efficient way to get to Burbank.

“The people who can unload the bags won’t be here for three hours. The vans will be here in an hour,” he said and proceeded to explain that it would be much easier to leave and worry about luggage later. At that point, they decided that a bus ride to L.A. was the most optimal solution.

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And it looks like Mr Reeves is the person you want to ride with. The actor kept the group entertained by reading out facts about Bakersfield and playing music native to the area.

“Its population is about 380,000, making it the 9th most popular city in California, and the 52nd most popular city in the nation,” Reeves was seen reading from his phone on a fellow passenger’s Instagram story that has since expired.

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The trip finally ended with the group safely getting to L.A., and Mr Reeves was last seen heading into a Carl’s Jr.

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People were incredibly delighted to hear another story about Mr Reeves

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Whether he is helping people on the subway, bouncing the visual effects talent on the Matrix, crushing a marksman course, Keanu Reeves seems like a pretty down to earth dude. Here Late Show host James Corden shows Keanu one of his first commercials. From the looks of things, this likely predates one of our favorite movies, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Let’s hope the rumors of the Bill and Ted Three-quel are true…

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Natalie Portman shines as a grieving Jackie K, Jude Law makes a slick pontiff and Terrence Malick scrutinises the universe again in a festival littered with big names

Every major film festival is essentially an island or at least its own self-enclosed microclimate and the fact that the Lido literally is an island can sometimes make the Venice film festival seem entirely cut off from the outside world.

This year, however, Venice felt like an integral part of the flow of the bigger universe. One reason was because its opening-night festivities were cancelled in solidarity with those affected by the recent Italian earthquake. Another reason is because you felt that more of its selections were likely to matter to the outside world than in some recent editions.

This year, the first few days were ruthlessly front-stacked with big-name films. This meant that by the time I arrived during the first weekend, I had already missed Damien Chazelles opening musical, La La Land, Tom Fords Nocturnal Animals and Denis Villeneuves alien contact epic, Arrival the latter two starring Amy Adams, all of them widely admired.

Scheduling nobbled Mel Gibsons Hacksaw Ridge for me, but this second world war drama seems to have done wonders in rehabilitating Gibsons reputation. There was plenty more to feast on. One outstanding title was Jackie, inventively directed by the brilliant Chilean film-maker Pablo Larran. Natalie Portman plays Jacqueline Kennedy as she copes with the aftermath of JFKs assassination. Noah Oppenheims script presents her story through that time-honoured device of a press interview (Billy Crudup is very good as the journalist), with Jackie talking us through the events in Dallas, her famous 1962 TV tour of the White House, and the shock of simultaneously losing a husband and her first lady status. The moment at which Lyndon Johnson is inaugurated, suddenly leaving Jackie an isolated figure on the sidelines, is magnificently poignant. Portman has never quite seemed a heavyweight player before now I wasnt convinced by her in her other Venice feature, eccentric French period piece Planetarium but in Jackie she gives an authoritatively nuanced performance. The next awards season seems hers for the asking.

Jude Law is a sulphurously charismatic pontiff in Paolo Sorrentinos The Young Pope. Photograph: Gianni Fiorito/SKY

Other auteur names included Paolo Sorrentino, returning to the Roman follies of The Great Beauty with an eccentric peek under the skirts of the Vatican in The Young Pope, his TV series for Sky. The first two episodes were shown here, and they dont yet convince that the show will be addictive, but Jude Law is sulphurously charismatic as a smoothie pontiff. The usual Sorrentino visual tricks are here sweeping glides through marbled corridors, nuns playing football in slo-mo but they feel heavier than in his best work. And the English-language dialogue theological, political or just plain off-the-wall is indigestibly prolix.

Equally indigestible was Voyage of Time, Terrence Malicks latest extended gasp at the wonders of the universe. This religiose, abstract epic could be described as a prayer in images, and it will bring out the atheist in many a hardened critic. It feels like a bundle of trimmings from his Tree of Life a rapturous assemblage of volcanoes, ice floes, creatures of the deep, the odd CGI dinosaur and an extended sequence showing the life of primitive man, like a slightly less hirsute sequel to the opening of Kubricks 2001. Along the way, Cate Blanchett recites nay, intones a poetic hymn to a universal Mother (Oh Life Hear my voice). Theres barely an image here that isnt magnificent but put them all together and the result is cosmic kitsch.

Intergalactic weirdness of a wilder kind came from the Mexican director Amat Escalante, whose name often promises festival controversy (Cannes-goers still speak with shudders of his ultra-violent Heli, known to some as the Mexican flaming penis movie). The Untamed is the most unrepentantly outr film here, about a working-class family whose lives are drastically affected by meeting a young woman and her nightmare lover a tentacular alien being that embodies the pleasure principle at its intensest. Both distressing and compelling in its mix of HP Lovecraft ickiness and everyday realism, The Untamed got some unlooked-for laughs from a nervous preview audience. But its a crazily audacious film and no one whos seen it will touch calamari again in a hurry.

While The Untamed is surely destined for cult reputation, a film that probably isnt not least because it insists on practically flashing the words INSTANT CULT CLASSIC at you in scarlet neon throughout is The Bad Batch. This wearisome piece of post-apocalypse hipsterism is Ana Lily Amirpours follow-up to her superb vampire debut, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night but shes disappointingly turned out a derivative, unpleasantly brutal desert-set fantasy about a young woman (scowlingly blank Suki Waterhouse) getting even after a nasty encounter with some body-building cannibals. Jim Carrey is unrecognisable as a silent, bearded hermit, while connoisseurs of dud Keanu Reeves performances will enjoy him in vintage leaden form as a Hefner-esque tyrant in a Burt Reynolds moustache.

Timothy Spall, who plays a wheezy, lofty Ian Paisley in The Journey, on the red carpet in Venice last week. Photograph: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Closer to the mainstream, there was The Journey, Nick Hamms imagining of a car trip shared by lifelong opponents Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness before the 2006 Northern Ireland peace talks. Its a stagey, somewhat contrived piece, but the acting is a treat, and there are relishable comic touches in Colin Batemans screenplay. Timothy Spall is a wheezy, lofty Paisley, Colm Meaney is impish as McGuinness, and Toby Stephens and John Hurt excel watching from the sidelines as Tony Blair and an MI5 grandee respectively

There were two great documentary portraits. Andrew Dominiks One More Time With Feeling charts the making of the new Nick Cave album, Skeleton Tree. But it also shows the singer and his wife Susie Bick dealing with the recent loss of their teenage son, Arthur. Its an intimate, sometimes uncomfortable but never intrusive film, and Dominik shooting in black-and-white 3D sensitively matches the private life and the life of Caves incantatory new songs.

Actor and writer Julia Roy with director Benot Jacquot in Venice for the screening of A jamais. Photograph: Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images

Differently revealing is David Lynch: The Art Life, in which the director engagingly sheds his aura as Weirdest Auteur in America to show himself as an enthusiastic, self-aware creator of paintings, sculptures and, well, things, and talks us through his pre-Eraserhead early years as an art student, bohemian and teenage rebel. You could never have imagined ever learning this much about Lynch the man, and fans will love him all the more for it.

As for people making a mark in front of the camera, this has been a good year for new female talent. Two French names to watch: one is Julia Roy, who stars in and scripts Benot Jacquots jamais, an adaptation of Don DeLillos novella The Body Artist. Its uncanny, if a little arch, but, stealing the show from Mathieu Amalric and an eerie old house, Roy makes the show her own.

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