Movies can be eternal, they can provide a needed two hours of pure escapism, they can be a mere blip in time, or they can be everlasting. For me some of the most poignant moments in films-in the greats-are how they handle their endings. A great ending can make an average movie stick, they can enhance an already tremendous feat in filmmaking to a landmark, and they can simply sell the story. Here are 10 of my personal favorite film endings….Okay I lied, here are 12. You try narrowing it down to 10!
12. Lost in Translation (2003) Directed By: Sofia Coppola
That last whispered secret conversation. Was it a goodbye? Recognition of a shared affection? In the crowded street they were the only ones they had eyes for-including the audience as we all became voyeuristic onlookers to a self-contained spectacle.
11. The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Directed By: Irvin Kershner
Han Solo has been taken (young Harrison Ford we’ll love you always), the future appears bleak and we watch as Leia and Luke take a moment of quiet solace in one another as Lando and Chewbacca take off in the Millennium Falcon to save their friend from Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt. An epic conclusion to a landmark film.
10. Psycho (1960) Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock was a master at pulling the rug out from under his viewers and Psycho contains some of his most disturbing imagery. As the movie draws to a close-after learning about Normans split personality-we hear a voice over from Mrs. Bates about how it was Norman who committed the murders, just as Marion’s car is shown being towed from the swamp. Anthony Perkins delivers a wonderfully timed unhinged, psychotic smirk. Is he lost or is he in control? Which idea is the most terrifying?
9. Rushmore (1998) Directed By: Wes Anderson
Max Fischer (played by a phenomenal Jason Schwartzman) has just presented the debut of his play to a warm response and in the after party asks Rosemary for a dance. It’s this closing moment that showcases the artistry of the films character study. Max was never anything more than a slightly lonely, affection starved you man and by the end of the film he’s developed a stronger sense of self.
8. Young Frankenstein (1974) Directed By: Mel Brooks
This Mel Brooks film-my personal favorite-is an exercise in absurdity. As an affectionate parody of classical horror films it allows Gene Wilder as well as a grossly stacked supporting case to run rampant, keeping the laughter constant. As the movie draws to a close-after a song and dance number goes array-Frankenstein and his creature are hunted down by angry townspeople. However, in the film still has a joyous ending as Frankenstein transfers some stabilizing intellect to the creature who is then allowed to reason with the angry mob. You’ve got to love a good twist.
7. The Graduate (1967) Directed By: Mike Nichols
Pure, youthful bliss! The happy couple has raced away from the church-high on life and out of the clutches of societal expectations until they climb onto the bus and take a seat at the back. Their laughter dies down, their hysteria settles and they’re left, starring off into the distance as uncertainty filters in. What do they do now? Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross’s faces say it all. Ambiguity works wonders in the moment as we’re all left wondering what’s next and if they really did just win.
6. The Apartment (1960) Directed By: Billy Wilder
“Shut up and deal”. Shirley MacLaine is energizes a film that is already so full of life and the ending is the first time we’re allowed to breathe as we see her character Fran find a peace of mind. The stories protagonist may have been Jack Lemmon’s character Baxter but I’m fully of the mindset that Fran’s character steals the show and the ending line sells the idea. Baxter has just told her he loves her and she quiets him, not turning him down, acknowledging him but not yet ready to be giving out hand out declarations. It’s a bittersweet ending but a promising one and sometimes, after spending the entirety of a movie with a character filled with heartbreak and sadness, it’s all you need. They don’t need to talk love, they just need to be.
5. Shaun of the Dead (2004) Directed By: Edgar Wright
If you didn’t tear up when Shaun said good bye to Ed in the basement of the Winchester as zombies rained in you’re lying. If you didn’t feel grossly happy at the image of zombie Ed sitting in Shaun’s shed playing video games as Queens “You’re My Best Friend” played them out, you’re a liar. Or you know, not a silly sap like me. The point stands: this is a fantastic ending to a movie that’s already transcended the genre it was in. The film manages to surprise despite its genre label confines and the ending is only one of the awesome moments that the film provides.
4. The 400 Blows (1959) Directed By: Francois Truffaut
The quintessential coming of age film this movie has a lot of ups and downs for our protagonist Antoine and the ending perfectly summarizes his journey by not allowing us any safe answers. He’s been dropped off at an observation center for troubled youths and one day, while playing football, escapes under the fence and runs away to the ocean, somewhere he’d always wanted to go. When he arrives to the shoreline he runs to it, stops and turns around and the film ends with a freeze frame of his face, slowly zooming in. It’s a powerful example of filmmaking and directorial choices-we’ve gone on this journey with Antoine and we’re left wondering where he’s going next. His choice to go the ocean was one of youthful impulses-he acted first, thought later and once there and finally alone he has to think. And we’re left without an answer.
3. The Seventh Seal (1957) Directed By: Ingmar Bergman
This film did a bit of a number on me. After seeing it for the very first time I couldn’t quite get it out of my head and while much of that came from the introspective and philosophical nature of the film as well as some of its unsettling imagery, most of it came from the last shot. Jof and his family have sat out the storm while the Knight and his followers are visited by Death after having one last supper. The next morning Jof awakes and sees the group being led over the hills in a “dance of death”. Linked by their hands, and shot in shadowy silhouettes against the sweeping landscapes, the shot juxtaposes the joyous nature of dance with the solemnity for where they’re heading. It’s a cinematic landmark.
2. Before Sunset (2004) Directed By: Richard Linklater
Everything in me wanted this to be number one but in the end it loses out, but barely. Jesse and Celine are a couple much revered over the past few decades and the end second installment of the trilogy has my favorite moment of the three as the movie draws to a melancholic close. Celine has sung her song and is dancing in the kitchen, alive and beautiful and the most alluring thing Jesse has ever seen by the way he can’t take his eyes off of her. She warns him that he’s going to miss his plane and his response is “I know”. And the movie ends. There’s something whimsical about the ambiguity of it all-we all don’t know (until Before Midnight of course) if he’s going to stay or not but I can’t imagine anyone seeing it and hoping for anything but.
1. City Lights (1931) Directed By: Charlie Chaplin
I’ve spoken about this film a lot. I’ve spoken about this ending a lot and frankly it’s due to how tremendously constructed it was and how impactful it is on the viewer. The Tramp has done everything in his might to allow for the woman he loves to have her sight returned to her. It’s sent him to prison and upon his release goes to the corner where she used to sell flowers but doesn’t find her. Instead, he finds her now with her sight restored in charge of a successful flower shop-and at first she doesn’t recognize him but when she does she begins to cry, overcome. “You can see now?” the Tramp asks her. “Yes, I can see now,” she responds, and the film ends with the two looking at each other. What does she think now that she can see her benefactor and sees that he doesn’t come from riches? Is this a blooming romance or a simple acknowledgement or even a goodbye? Whatever it is, it’s beautiful.