The following are unranked and in alphabetical order. When the actual scene can be found online, links are provided. Some spoilers are possible but if you're the kind of person who cares about that, you're being silly. Just kidding, we love you.
One of the best-looking films of the year, Arrival's centerpiece shot involves a sweeping helicopter shot coming into a mountain valley, revealing a sleek, giant, ovoid spaceship cutting through the clouds. Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Bradford Young top themselves shortly after with a haunting, perspective-altering trip up the ship's zero-gravity entrance, capped with the reveal of the aliens themselves.
Luca Guadagnino's psychodrama features a mute Tilda Swinton and a manic Ralph Fiennes. At one point in A Bigger Splash, Fiennes' character, a former music producer for the Rolling Stones, puts on one of the Stones' records and spastically dances like a meth addict, migrating from inside an Italian cottage to performing on a cliff overlooking the ocean for all the world to see. As the other characters roll their eyes at his ridiculousness, the viewer is entranced by Fiennes' going all out.
My personal favorite Avenger, Captain America, shared screen space with almost every other member of the MCU in his latest outing. They all share the screen in the film's big climax, where a dozen or so super-powered individuals square off against each other. There's a level of playfulness and discovery as everyone tries to determine how much force they can bring to this fight, before it crescendoes like a bunch of roughhousing kids who are suddenly playing too hard. The end result is one of the best things Marvel's done, the apotheosis of a dozen movies into one irresistible sequence.
In Elle, Paul Verhoeven's psychosexual sadomasochist drama, Isabelle Huppert's titular character holds a Christmas party like something out of the Middle Ages, holding court and subjecting her guests to death by a thousand cuts. Her useless son, raising a baby that is obviously not his own, gets some shade, her ex-husband's girlfriend finds a toothpick stuck in her food, and she aggressively flirts with her neighbor while his wife sits next to him. Seated at the head of the table, Huppert makes a pitch to play Catherine de Medici or some other grand kingmaker who could crush aspirations with a snide remark.
Anna Rose Holmer's hypnotic debut about a young girl breaking away from the boys of the boxing gym and joining the girls of a dance class is packed with memorable imagery, but what makes the largest impression is Royalty Hightower's Toni alone on a pedestrian overpass, merging both hobbies into a grand expression of confidence. Starting with calisthenics, then moving into shadow boxing, and finally her dance routine, Toni, her long braids flailing behind her like tentacles, throws her whole body into the scene, punctuated by the film's staccato, haunting score. The smile that spreads across Toni's face mirrors the one on the viewer's by the end.
Greek visionary Yorgos Lanthimos always goes for elliptical endings, with the final ramifications always up to the viewer. His 2016 masterpiece, The Lobster, sticks to that tradition to his greatest effect yet. In the rules of The Lobster's topsy-turvy society, couples should only be together based on some shared physical ailment. Where they used to share near-sightedness, Colin Farrell's and Rachel Weisz's characters no longer both have that problem, and Farrell agonizes in a diner restroom over whether or not to get himself and his lover back on a level ocular playing field. Lanthimos leaves the decision offscreen, but the possibilities, none of them ideal, rattle around in the viewer's head long after the film ends.
Kenneth Lonergan's latest is also his most difficult, a near-unrecommendable dissection of the toll grief takes on a person. The level of writing and acting on display is more than enough to get past the bone-deep sadness that suffuses the film, nowhere moreso than in a reunion scene between Casey Affleck's and Michelle Williams' characters, both of whom share a dark past. Williams lets years of misery and regret pour out of her while Affleck struggles to keep it together, not wanting to hear any of it. Both actors are devastating to watch in the scene, as the viewer is begging for a genuine reconciliation that Lonergan, correctly, holds back. Manchester By the Sea contains no easy answers or big moments of catharsis, just the hard work of living with an implacable burden.
Barry Jenkins' Moonlight has several touching demonstrations of intimacy, despite the harsh Miami its gay, black protagonist lives in, but none resonates more than a third act scene of simple food preparation. Reunited with his old friend Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) for the first time in years, Kevin (Andre Holland), now a short order cook in a diner, fixes Chiron dinner. Jenkins' follows Kevin through the kitchen as he precisely prepares the dish, reminding the viewer how intimate an act cooking can be when it's done with love.
By the end of The Lonely Island's Spinal-Tap-esque parody of pop music and its endless stream of nonsense, the viewer is well accustomed to the comedic tricks in their bag. We've seen the goofy dance craze known as the Donkey Roll, we've met Justin Timberlake obsequious chef, and we've witnessed actual musical geniuses praising the supposed genius of the trio at the center of the film. However, when they finally get together at the end to perform the show-stopping Incredible Thoughts, the film still works as well as it has been working up to this point, as all of the film's ingredients are now being splashed onto the screen at once. Just like a nun dunking a basketball, Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer are living the impossible.
It's no secret that Robert Egger's New England folktale actually contains a witch. Revealed in the first several minutes, the drama is derived less from what is stalking the central family and more from the likelihood that no one's going to survive the witch's presence. As the last person standing, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is faced with starvation or damnation, and she gives the latter a shot. Black Phillip, the giant black goat that's been the family pet, is asked to speak, and speak it does. Voiced by Wahab Chaudhry as a syrupy seducer, Black Phillip sounds pretty much exactly what anyone would imagine Satan to sound like, a haunting capper to a haunting film.