Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best Smoking Scenes in Hollywood

Smoking has often been used to add flavor to motion pictures in the history of cinema. Contrasting effects and lasting impacts are created by using cigars and cigarettes as potent props. The effect of these scenes include imparting rough edges to imperfect characters, hiding vulnerabilities of a ‘bad ass’ mafia (Al Pacino in Scarface) or even  adding an air of intimidation to seduction (Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate), to list a few.

Directors and actors of highest caliber use smoking as a tool to leave indelible impressions on our minds. Smoking scenes and corresponding conversation style in cinemas have evolved with changing lifestyles. Earlier, laid-back characters used to puff out dense smoke from fat cigars in lavishly-built drawing rooms and bars with enchanting blues playing in the background. In black-and-white movies, such as ‘Casablanca,’ the white smoke appeared more like another character than a mere prop or background.

The times are changing and so are the plots. The idea of smoking, rather doping, for recreational purposes has also found its way in low-budget, rich-content, and high-drama movies with iconic scenes and awesome background scores. Quite unheralded for obvious reasons, these scenes are etched in our—the cine-goers—memories. 

Now that I have set the context, I feel the urge to list the top-5 smoking scenes from movies I have seen.

1.       Sharon Stone in ‘Basic Instinct’: There is some serious oomph oozing out of the iconic interrogation scene in this movie. Sharon Stone plays the character of Catherine Tramell, a wealthy writer. She hijacks the interrogation process through her smoking and seduction. What is commendable is the way Sharon is dominating a scene while sharing it with someone of Michael Douglas’s class. While smoking nonchalantly sitting in a chair with the famous cross-legged pose of hers, the way she says, “What you gonna do, charge me with smoking? “, she pretty much nails it. Michael Douglas has never looked so completely dominated. There is a certain style to the scene which makes it top-of-the-mind recall for all cine-goers, men and women alike. This scene presents one of the strongest female characters Hollywood has managed to produce, while being mostly male-centric, for dark, crime-centric movies.

2.       Definitely, Maybe: This is the most casual smoking scene I have seen in Hollywood. The scene is mature enough to start with Will Hayes, played by Ryan Reynolds, reading out the warning ‘Cigarettes cause slow and painful death’ on the packet. The scene starts as a $20 bet between Will and April (played by Isla Fisher) to decide which of the two brands of cigarettes burns faster. Set in local marketplace evening lighting as background with the drizzle playing its part, the scene takes the tempo of the movie to a higher level. As soon as the cigarettes are lit up, there is a palpable change in the pace of the movie and these cigarettes literally light up the screen. The way the conversation unfurls and ignites a sparkling chemistry between the protagonists, who are not interested in each other at that point in the movie, is fascinating. They end up discussing ingredient chemicals in cigarettes to Kurt Cobain and everything in between.

3.       Match Point: This high-quality drama directed by Woody Allen did use some smoking and smoking hot scenes to convey the confused state of minds of its two key protagonists – Chris Wilton played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers and ‘femme-fatal’ Nola Rice played by Scarlett Johansson. Neither of the two is able to decide what exactly they want from each other and where their relationship is going. These scenes work in bursts bringing situational change with mostly Scarlett smoking and Jonathan maintaining a strong eye contact while being at his coaxing best. The scene that stands out is the one at the Ping-Pong table where Scarlett lets Jonathan know that he plays an aggressive game. The scene has some double meaning put across in a subtle way.

4.       Blood Diamond: The smoking scene that stands out is the one where Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) approaches Maddy (Jennifer Connelly) unaware that Maddy is a journalist. The conversation, though short and kind of meet-cute, is racy with punctuation of smoke puffs by Leonardo. It is immediately clear that the characters are strong enough to even give an inch to the other. The style of smoke showcases the transitions of Leonardo’s attitude from trying to approach a beautifully, casually dressed Jennifer Connelly (looking the best she has ever looked on screen catching Danny off-guard) to warding her off when he comes to know that she’s a journalist. Then while crushing the cigarette butt, he says buzz off in a very creative fashion “I would like to get kissed, before I get fucked”. The scene is lighted up by Leonardo’s acting and the pacey conversation. Through the smoking scene, Leonardo’s face appears like a mini-battlefield of emotions against the back-drop of the upheaval in South Africa for mining ‘blood diamonds’.

5.       ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly’: This iconic movie is etched in the memories of several generations. The intensity and facial expressions of the protagonists throughout the movie make up for the lack of dialogues. The ‘Mexican standoff’ at the climax, stands out among the smoking scenes in Hollywood. It has clearly stood the test of time as far as popularity is concerned. This scene is preceded by a battle of betrayal which adds to the spice and creates a ‘nobody trusts anybody’ scenario. The climax is gripping and is accompanied by an unparalleled background track, which adds to the spice. The way Blondie (Clint Eastwood) smokes his cigar, while taking positions and shooting the bad guy Angel Eyes into the grave, displays his coolness and his nonchalance establishes who is in control. This is a powerful scene which inspired innumerable directors and movies.

Obviously, I had to leave out a lot of other high-quality scenes from other movies. However, if we had to recollect the names of famous smokers in Hollywood, some of them would be: Jack Nicholson (A Few Good Men), John Travolta (Broken Arrow), Johnny Depp, Al Pacino (Scarface, Tony Montana – ‘The World is Yours’, cigar in one hand, remote control in the other), Denzel Washington (Training day, convincing Ethan Hawke’s character to smoke marijuana), Marlon Brando (raw animal magnetism), Robert De Niro (Goodfellas), Ethan Hawke (with Maggie Q in Yvan Attal’s segment in the movie New York, I Love You), Sophie Marceau, Marion Cotillard (Adriana in Midnight in Paris), Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts (My best friend’s wedding), Uma Thurman (Pulp Fiction).

Disclaimer: Cigarette smoking is injurious to health. This attempt at ranking should not be seen as an endorsement for smoking or in any way glamorizing smoking. J


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