12 Angry Men (Lumet, 1957)

5 Favourite Film Endings


Billy Elliot (Dir. Stephen Daldry, 2000)


billy elliot favourite movie endings
The epilogue of Billy Elliot is special considering that there are hardly any words spoken or in fact any direct interactions at all between Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) and his father Jackie (Gary Lewis) who's relationship (along with ballet teacher Mrs Wilkinson, played by Julie Walters) drives the whole film. Billy's mother has recently passed away, and is drawn further and further away from his father who is struggling to cope in the culture surrounding the miners strike. Billy himself spends much of the picture either keeping his new hobby a secret from his father or attempting to convince him how much it means to him; to little avail. 

Billy's life is pretty much confined his his little community in County Durham; when asked about other places that he's been, Jackie says that he has never even "been past Durham", but eventually young Billy is forced to leave his family behind and move to London and attend The Royal Ballet School.  The coach that he is on dissolves into a shot of an oncoming tube train where his father and brother are sitting, years and years later the two of them are finally making a trip down to the capital city to see him play the lead role in Swan Lake. We can assume that Billy hasn't seen his family since he first moved, and thus we are witnessing Jackie's first ever glimpse of his son as a professional ballet dancer. Arriving just in time, he  sits down and is brought to tears in anticipation as Billy waits in the wings. Upon being told who is watching, Billy starts to look much more nervous at the prospect of performing in front of his father rather than the hundreds of others that are there too. It's hard to believe that this final scene would be as powerful as it is without Tchaikovsky's music that plays, until it finally culminates in a shot of Billy leaping into the air on stage (Queue Marc Bolan....). It seems to be a throwback to the opening sequence when we see Billy dancing and jumping on his bed along to T.Rex's Cosmic Dancer and it's nice to have this contrast that visualises the journey that he's been on. 


Paths of Glory (Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1957)


paths of glory best movie endings kubrick
In this film, Stanley Kubrick highlights the absurdity of war and the hypocrisy of commanders who oversee a battlefield with no idea of the dreadful conditions that the soldiers  themselves must face. After a failed attack on the German trenches in WWI, three men are unfairly tried and executed for cowardice, despite the commanders admitting later on that they knew the attack on the anthill probably was "impossible". Those who give the orders from the safety of their own decadent manor are so detached from the reality of battle they simply look for scapegoats to cover up their own mistakes and short-sightedness. The whole film is relentlessly grim and at times infuriating, knowing that the events that transpire over the course of an hour and a half isn't at all detached from what really happened during the Great War, when shell shock was simply seen as a sign of cowardice. 

After the execution of the three men, a large group of soldiers are finally getting a moment of respite when they're drinking in a bar. A man brings a woman on stage, presumably a captive who is quickly  mocked by the men. In tears, she is forced to perform and proceeds to nervously sing the German song "The Faithful Hussar" - the men continue to jeer until a few seconds into the song they slowly become incredibly emotional and many a moved to tears, sitting in complete silence before starting to hum along. Kubrick lingers on each face to allow us to truly appreciate the impact the this 'enemy' is having upon them, who have been reduced to sobbing mere seconds after heckling an innocent women.  Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) is told that the men soon have to return to the front lines, but he refuses to tell them for the time being, so they can continue to watch in ignorance of the news that is to follow. Kubrick's pictures were often described as cold and emotionless, but upon learning of his friend's death, Steven Spielberg apparently screened this moment of the film to several of his friends, as he wanted to show "how deep Stanley's heart was".


City Lights (Dir. Charlie Chaplin, 1931)


best movie ending city lights
An ending that has the ability to make grown men cry.  I first watched this in film class at University and the only thing that stopped me crying myself was the relentless piss taking from friends that I knew would follow if they'd had seen me. The clip is down below but really you have to see the whole film to understand the impact that this last scene has. Chaplin has fallen in love with a blind flower girl, who mistakenly believes that he is a millionaire and he makes it his mission to raise enough money for her to have an eye operation to restore her eyesight. He succeeds, but through circumstances ends up in prison and is unable to see her until months later upon his release. The blind girl remains hopeful that her millionaire admirer will walk through the doors of her new flower shop, but it never happens. 

When the tramp does finally walk the streets again, we see him reach into the gutter to pull out a flower from amongst the garbage - his memory of her. The flower girl, unbeknownst to him is watching from her shop and simply laughs at him. As audience members we all fear the worst, that she is superficial and will not treat him with respect when she discovers that this is her benefactor. A great part about this ending is how drawn out it is, we know more than the characters do before the tramp meets her gaze, we see her taking pity upon him as she has no idea what this shabby and withdrawn man has done for her. At the moment he turns round and sees her sitting in the window, the music stops and although initially elated, he soon tries to shuffle away out of embarrassment. But the flower girl calls him back, giving him a new flower and some money - her heightened senses means that she finally recognises him when she touches his hand. It's a masterclass in physical and facial acting; some see this scene as ambiguous but when she puts his hand to her heart it's clear that she accepts him for who he is. Although City Lights is notorious for having a long production time, the last scene was the exception; filmed within a matter of hours - perhaps because it was one of the first scenes that Chaplin though of when he envisioned the film. Ask someone today if they've seen the film, and they probably won't answer "yes", but instead something along the lines of "oh my god, that ending". 

The Apartment (Dir. Billy Wilder, 1960)


The Apartment shut up and deal.
It's always been a struggle to choose between this and Some Like It Hot. Both endings are beloved and somewhat unconventional, neither of them end in a kiss but instead a funny line between the two love interests. But I think this picture just clinches it because of how much effort has been made in the two hours before the ending to built up the notion of loneliness that the two main characters live in. At the start of The Apartment, Jack Lemmon reveals in voice over that the population of New York is over 8 million people - despite this he doesn't seem to have any family nor friends to speak of. The only people with whom he communicates with on a daily basis are his superiors at work that use him for their own means as well as elevator operator Fran (Shirley MacLaine) whom he harbours an unrequited love for. Even though she seems to be the most meaningful person in his life, Bud (Jack Lemmon) is somewhat distanced from her, only ever addressing Fran by her surname. Fran meanwhile, we know much less about but likewise there are very few other figures in her life - only her married boss Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) that she regularly meets with and who promises her that he will leave his wife. She also carries something with her, a broken mirror that she keeps because it makes her 'look the way she feels'. Amongst all of this - the film is set against the backdrop of the Christmas holidays, which is the loneliest time of the year for millions of city dwellers. 

This is why the ending, when these two people finally get together is so memorable. Partly because Fran has been treated like dirt by Sheldrake the whole time and partly because Bud follows his neighbours advice to be a 'mensch' - a human being, someone of integrity by standing up to his boss. Fran finally realises that Bud truly loves her when, on New Years Eve she discovers that Bud refused to hand Sheldrake his key over, which cost him his own job - and so begins the finale that in so many romantic comedies have copied but never bettered. How many films of this genre end with a character running through the streets to declare their love to someone... alot is my guess. But what makes this different is the last line: "shut up and deal" - there's no big monologue or fade-out kiss, it's just her way of saying "I love you too, Bud". Think of it as a much more upbeat precursor to The Graduate (Nicholls, 1968); two people running away with each other to start a new life, but unsure exactly of where they will end up. Billy Wilder is often criticised for his cynicism, but we've grown to love Bud and Fran over the space of two hours; with Fran's vulnerability and Bud's growth as a character you get the sense that they're definitely going to have a happy ending, because it's what they deserve. 


The Purple Rose Of Cairo (Dir. Woody Allen, 1985)


The Purple Rose of Cairo best movie endings
For alot of film lovers, Mia Farrow's character in The Purple Rose of Cairo is one of the the most relatable people in all of movie history. Quite simply, because waitress Cecelia (played by Farrow) goes to the pictures as often as she can absorb herself in a different world. To escape the mundanity of her life in depression era New York, she spends what's left of her wages after work (and after her husband has taken the majority of it for himself to gamble with) to go and see the latest movie at her local cinema - sometimes more than once. One in particular, (named after the title of the film) she sees so often that the character of the archeologist within, Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) notices her and decides to quite literally break the fourth wall and walk from the screen into the real world. 

Now, of course that makes absolutely no sense; but movies have always been a fantasy world that the public flock to in order to escape. Ironically, while the message of the film is that real life isn't as dreamy as the movies, it still simultaneously works as a love letter to cinema. Tom and Cecelia obviously fall in love, much to the annoyance of studio heads and Gil Shepard, the real life actor that plays Tom - who is the complete opposite to the charming character that he portrays. But Cecelia falls for Gil's offer of joining him in Hollywood and leaving her abusive husband, on the condition that Tom returns back into the film world that he came from. 

By the end we learn that Gil lied to Cecelia and he returns to LA without her, his promise was simply a ruse for him to get his own career back on track. Without a husband, home or the physical embodiment of the man she fell in love with she once again forgets her troubles by catching the latest showing, which happens to be Top Hat. Heartbroken, Cecelia just sinks into her seat and is soon captivated and smiling wryly at Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' in their 'Cheek to Cheek' performance. There is perhaps no better film that so accurately depicts why we all love the movies so much, it's both incredibly sad but oddly uplifting - Cecelia has lost everything but she will always have her local movie house.


Comments