My Top 10 Movie Lines of 2013
One day I hope to do a better job of accumulating these lines during the course of the year rather than simply searching for them at the end. I always think I’m doing it. I think I’m putting them in a bin in my brain that says “Great Movie Quotes” but that bin—I’ve discovered—has a leak at the bottom. Like so many other bins in my brain. I go to it and it’s empty. So I search.
Let me know what I’ve missed.
10. “If you have $10 million, or if you have a billion dollars, why do you need that little bit that I have?”
— A Calpin geothermal plant worker in the Robert Reich documentary “Inequality for All.”
Reich’s doc is about the growing disparity between the rich and poor in the United States, about the 30-year class warfare waged by the rich on the poor. He’s actually more polite about it. Smarter, too. One of my favorite moments is when he breaks down where the money goes when someone buys an iPhone. You think it’s to the U.S., where Apple is headquartered, or China, where the iPhone is assembled, but nope. Try Germany and Japan, whose skilled workers make the iPhone's advanced components. The above line is one of the doc’s most poignant moments. The worker at the plant has had her pay cut by $12 an hour to increase the profits of the company that increase the pay of the CEOs and CFOs and MOFOs of the company, and this is her question. It deserves an answer.
9. “Let’s boo boo.”
Various in “The World’s End.” Screenplay by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright.
It's less the line than the derivation. Five mates, Gary, Andy, Steven, Peter and Oliver (Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan and Martin Freeman—helluva cast) reconnect for a pub crawl through their old hometown and discover that the place has been taken over by aliens. Right, but before that they use this leftover phrase from their school days. It means “Let’s go,” and it began when they studied Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale” in school and laughed at the stage direction: “Exit, pursued by a bear.” That became “Exit with Yogi Bear” and eventually “Let’s boo boo.” All of which is so British and so pop-culturey and so smart. Put it this way: the characters in most Hollywood movies wish they had that kind of backstory.
8. “When you’re in love like that you become utterly selfish. Nothing that’s happening to anyone else matters at all ... ”
— Harry Gulkin in Sarah Polley’s documentary, “Stories We Tell.”
The selfishness of love is something we don’t talk about much in our love stories, but when I was young and in love I certainly felt it. It was like the rest of the world dropped away. Only she mattered. It was work to care about anything else. The man who says the above, Harry Gulkin, is a Canadian producer (“Lies My Father Told me”), whom director/actress Sarah Polley is interviewing as she sorts through the stories that make up her. And what makes up her in the end—or the beginning? The love Gulkin is describing, which was between Polley's mother and himself. Here's to selfishness.
7. “Black ... black ... black ...”
- Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) in “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.” Screenplay by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.
The first half-hour of this movie had me breathless with laughter—dangerous in an asthmatic—and the above quote is an example. It’s 1980, and Ron Burgundy and company, new to New York and 24-hour cable news, meet their new boss at WGN, Linda Jackson (Meagan Good). Burgundy, flummoxed, as supremely awkward as only Will Ferrell can be, can’t get around the fact that she’s black, so can’t stop annunciating this fact. It’s the only word in his head so it keeps coming out of his mouth. It’s a Homer Simpson moment. It also feels exactly right. A post-racial America? Where we don’t see color? Sometimes it seems we only see color.
6. Philomena: Do you believe in God, Martin? Martin: Where do you start? I always thought that was a very difficult question to give a simple answer to ... Do you? Philomena: Yes.
--Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) and Martin Sexsmith (Steve Coogan) in “Philomena.” Screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, based upon the book by Martin Sexsmith.
The underrated “Philomena” has some of the best exchanges in movies this year (“Oh, it’s a series”), but I’ll go with this one because it crystalizes the difference between its two main characters. Not who does or doesn’t believe in God but how they express themselves. The uneducated Philomena is plainspoken, like my mother, while the overeducated Martin Sexsmith is, well, more like me. It's not often I see us onscreen.
5. “To choose is to commit yourself. And to commit yourself is to run the risk of failure, the risk of sin, the risk of betrayal. But Jesus can deal with all of those. Forgiveness he never denies us. The man who makes a mistake can repent. But the man who hesitates, who does nothing, who buries his talent in the earth, with him he can do nothing.”
— Father Quintana (Javier Bardem) in “To the Wonder.” Screenplay by Terrence Malick.
You’ve got to give Terrence Malick credit. Most dramatists spend their days figuring out ways to keep the lovers apart (so they can have a “happily ever after”), while Malick, the masochist, actually begins with the “happily ever after,” in Paris no less, then takes us through the long slog downward. Too bad the movie is a disappointment—Malick's first. He gave us too much of the couple. I wish he’d focused more on Father Quintana, who was going through a spiritual crisis, and who actually had something to say.
4. “We have to show ... this is who we are. So in the future people will remember.”
— Anwar Congo in Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary, “The Act of Killing.”
Anwar Congo is a grandfather, a national hero, and a death-squad leader responsible for the torture and murder of thousands, maybe tens of thousands, after a military coup in Indonesia in 1965. The people he helped stay in power are still in power so there hasn’t been a lot of soul searching, national or personal, since. Then Joshua Oppenheimer, a Brit-American by way of Texas and Copenhagen, arrives. Congo and his friends aren’t shy about what they’ve done. The opposite. Didn’t they save the country? From communists? And aren’t they beloved as a result? And aren’t they being filmed now? So aren’t they like the Hollywood heroes they've always loved? Oppenheimer gets the men to not only talk about their crimes but reenact them for the camera, which is when interesting things begin to happen. The above line is spoken early but even then it’s steeped in irony.
3. “See, an IPO is an initial public offering, the first time a stock is offered for sale to the general population. As the firm taking the company public, we set the initial price then sold those shares back to .... You know what? You’re probably not following what I’m saying.”
--Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Screenplay by Terrence Winter.
How will America end? Not with “1984” but with “Brave New World.” That’s what this line means. We are amusing ourselves to death and we can’t be bothered with anything too difficult. IPOs? We don’t want to hear talk about that. If we did, there might have been no global financial meltdown. That was on us. Still is. I know a lot of smart people who object to the way director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Terrence Winter rub our faces in all this but I feel the opposite. I feel when you get an American audience together, who have been so pandered to for so long, why not rub their faces in it? You might even wake them up a little.
2. “You’re 53, with a life in tatters like the rest of us. Instead of acting superior and treating us with contempt, you should look at us with affection. We’re all on the brink of despair. All we can do is look each other in the face, keep each other company, joke a little. Don’t you agree?”
— Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) in “La grande bellezza” (“The Great Beauty”). Screenplay by Paolo Sorrentino and Umberto Contrarello.
Jep says this to Stefania (Galatea Ranzi, bottom right) on his terrace overlooking the Colosseum in Rome, so it’s hardly a life in tatters. Jep has friends, women, wine, but his life is still winding down and he never really did what he thought he would do with it. “Everyone dies frustrated and sad,” They Might Giants once sang, “and that is beautiful.” Jep, throughout this beautiful movie, is trying to see the beauty rather than the frustration and sadness. Sometimes he does. Later, he and Stefania dance and he asks if they've ever slept together. “Of course not,” she responds. “That’s a big mistake,” he says. “We must make amends immediately.” Yeah, that one almost made the list as well.
1. “I have written in sand.”
— Torgny Segerstedt (Jesper Christensen) in “The Last Sentence” (“Dom Över Död Man”). Screenplay by Klaus Rifbjerg and Jan Troell, from the book by Kenne Fant.
I know: The line’s almost a cliché. But in this 2012 biopic of Swedish journalist Torgny Segerstedt (Jesper Christensen), the editor-in-chief of Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfartstidning, who was one of the strongest, most strident, and earliest voices against Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, the line hit home. Segerstedt, by the way, may know about Fascism but that doesn’t make him a nice guy. There’s something severe in his manner, and he’s awful to his wife, conducting, as he does, an affair with his female publisher in plain view. But he’s uncompromising in a way the rest of Europe, sadly, was not. Still, at the end of his life, even as the Allies begin to sweep the Nazis out of Europe, it all feels rather purposeless. The thousands of articles he wrote ... to what end? The Nazis still came. Europe still fell. He's still dying. “How quickly it passed,” he says. “I have written in sand,” he says. Last year's favorite line was about confronting an Ozymandias figure. This one is about realizing we're all Ozymandias.
Until next year.