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The 10 Best Action Sequences of 2010

Recently, a little birdie told me that it was “awards season.” That magical time of year where Hollywood rewards their best friends for making movies we don’t care about (but we will add to the bottom of the vast nothingness that is our Netflix queue). Yeah, while Tinsel Town awards itself with naked gold men, buxom globes, and arch-backed beauties (God, I guess it is true…everyone in Hollywood is having sex with each other), the common man has already rewarded the stuff we care about with our hard-earned money. And what is it that we care about? Well…car chases, explosions, destruction, superheroes, pirates, robots, spies…action, action, action! (And Pixar.)
With that knowledge, and because it is awards season, there is a need to acknowledge our interest outside of just our box office dollars (because, let’s face it, green really is loudest)! It’s time for our voices to be heard! Therefore, we bring to you The 10 Best Action Sequences of 2010!!!*
Maverick vs. The Running of the Bulls
Cameron Diaz has old lady face. Just sayin’…
As much as I hate how the action star has gone from a seven foot stack of murder machine to a dimunitive Ambercrombie model, Tom Cruise is the exception. With Top Gun, Cruise came into the 80s with copious amounts of arrogance in spite of his hamster-sized baby-blues and short frame. He’s ridden that wave of cockiness ever since.
In Knight and Day, Cruise joins up with Cameron Diaz for an action-adventure just a pubic hair away from being another Mr. And Mrs. Smith clone. Fortunately for us action junkies, there was less romance and more action in this flick than at first glance.
“Relax, doll. I’m a scientologist.”
When secret agent Roy Miller (Cruise) becomes smitten with June Havens (Diaz), he’s forced to protect her from the boys in black. (There was a super secret-thingy involved — does it really matter?) During the climactic showdown in Spain, Cruise lures the bad guys right into “The Running of the Bulls.”
While car destruction is always entertainingly devestating, the scene gets a demerit for using digital bulls to trample over a few CG cars (c’mon, guys…that is what stunt bulls are for) and giving us tons of PG-13 aftermath. Regardless, bulls, sports cars, and dirt bikes are three things that shouldn’t be put together….which makes an ideal recipe for action movie violence! (It was a slow year.)

Number 9
A Chevelle vs. Officer Friendly
The Car Chase in Faster is so damned fast that I couldn’t
even find a screen capture of the thing.

In Faster, Duane “The Rock” Johnson plays a formerly  incarcerated wheelman wronged by a rival crew of bank robbers. In the film’s McQueen-esque hot pursuit, Rocky makes with the three-wheel motion in an effort to flee the scene of the crime. With his brother and two others as passengers, Rock whips a 1971 Chevelle down narrow alleyways, against oncoming traffic, backwards, and right through police opposition.

Action movie car chases: Teaching me physics and causing
car accidents since I could learn how to drive.

While the scene is a bit too brief (which is forgiven seeing how this is technically a crime film and not a straight-up action flick), Director George Tilman Jr. and editor Dirk Westervelt creates a whiplash-inducing pace that makes you forget that you’re rooting for the bad guys. It also should be pointed out that car chases can easily be dull to watch without proper direction. Faster manages to exhilirate because of said direction.

Finally, The Rock has come back to the action genre! And finally it turned out to be a decent movie for once.

Number 8
Captain Kirk and Malcolm X vs. A Train

“Argh! What is this crap! Ptui! Ptui!”

When nobody was looking, Tony Scott and Denzel Washington became synonymous with the suspense-thriller genre. Their collaboration makes sense when you really break it down: Scott (director of such genre-defining actioners like Top Gun, Crimson Tide, and The Last Boy Scout) approaches film making with an old school efficiency and grittiness that is easily underlined by Washington’s natural intensity and reliability. Together, “Ton-Zel” (I’m trying it out) consistently create a type of tempered machismo that is acceptable for the alpha male and his significant other.

In Unstoppable, Washington and actor Chris Pine (yeah, fangirls…he is Captain Kirk) are a pair of down-and-out rail workers who take it upon themselves to stop a runaway train from derailing and leveling Stanton, PA. (Without an ounce of sarcasm, Rosario Dawson describes the train as a missile the size of the Chyrsler Building with hazardous chemicals and the potential to explode…don’t you just love when action films put things in perspective?) 

When you have a strong leading man in your film
nothing can stop you…not even Virtuosity.

In the film’s wonderfully manipulative climax, Pine and Washington try to slow the train down by backing up and attaching another to it. Of course that fails, and what follows is a series of white-knuckled near falls in order to beat the clock.

What’s great about Unstoppable is that despite being “inspired by true events” (in other words, pick one) the film amps up the ridiculousness and yet totally commits to it. Washington and Pine run along the top of a 70MPH train as if they were Spider-Man. Meanwhile, the entire supporting cast adds to the drama by standing around and looking concerned while police, news copters, rubberneckers, their families and the audience cheer them on. By the end of the movie, it’s pretty clear that Scott and Washington have a lock on this genre for the foreseeable future.

Number 7
Digital Boxleitner vs. Digital Bridges

Damn, girl! I can see your — nevermind…

Okay, so Tron: Legacy failed to impress (I’d say that that is a pretty safe generalization), and you can blame that fact on any number of reasons (decades of over-development, a script heavy with endless clichés…The Matrix), but we can definitely tell you what is wrong with the film’s action sequences. In a movie that had, admittedly, great eye-candy, the action falls short because of all those glow-in-the-dark fetish suits. Sure, they look cool (just like the whole movie), but they illuminate the arms and legs of their combatants too brightly. The over-use of light creates blurs of neon that should require sunglasses (not 3D glasses) in order to make sense out of the light cycle chases and gladiator-styled brawls. Which is a shame, because Tron: Legacy was destined to be a lock on this top ten before it actually came out.

Yep. All the action in Tron: Legacy looks pretty much like
this. I guess glow-in-the-dark fetish suits have replaced
“shakey-cam” as the natural enemy of action sequences.

 For that reason, it feels wrong to exclude such a visual treat from our list but, at the same time, we can’t reward indecipherable action on a countdown that is supposed to commemorate the best in action. So, the number seven slot is going to be a sort of compromise. Tron: Legacy deserves some love, so we’re giving it to the only scene that actually gave us a little nerd erection…

The tracklisting on Daft Punk’s excellent score calls the scene “Adagio for Tron.” “Adagio” means to “slow it down” (according to our Italian blogging bro at Action A Go Go), and the scene in question starts off with a quiet flashback by an aging Kevin Flynn (reprised by Jeff Bridges). However, Flynn’s narration of creating a digital world of hope and promise is shattered when his two creations, Tron and CLU, duke it out. CLU (Bridges with the help of CG de-aging) is a mad machine built on real world domination and Tron is a security program who makes it its goal to protect Flynn — even when the odds turn into three on one. At Tron’s urging, Flynn runs off (bitch), but not before he witnesses Tron’s unfortunate beheading.

The moment is brief, but it’s played up by director Joseph Kosinski and Daft Punk as an operatic showdown. It serves as a reminder of what Tron: Legacy could have been: a dramatic sci-fi opus instead of a sympathy lay…

Number 6
Jackie Chan vs. Juvenile Delinquency

After trying for nearly a decade, Jackie Chan hit big in the U.S. in the 1990s. And how did we welcome him to our shores? We Disney-fied him. With the exception of Forbidden Kingdom (very under appreciated) and a handful of theatrical re-releases, not one American production has utilized Jackie to his full potential. Instead he’s played a variation of “Mr. Mom,” done needless remakes, and had to watch Chris Tucker do his own stunts (oh, I’m sure The Jackie Chan Stunt Team had a good laugh over that one). Now Jackie is too old to care (although, his version of “old” is 10x more kick ass than ours will be) and is just collecting paychecks.

Old school fans may take issue with The Karate Kid being
on this list, but let’s face it, Jackie
Chan could easily stomp Pat Morita’s @$$!

Enter: The Karate Kid, an attempt to raise the star power of Jaden Smith and humiliate another great action 80s icon while confusng his nationality. (Karate Kid? In China?) But this is Jackie Chan we’re talking about. He ain’t going out like Ah-nuld or Bruce. He’s still got some fight left in him!

In  the 2010 remake(?), when this generation of disrespectful Chinese ruffians (thinking their all bad-ass because they watched Chan’s cartoon on reruns when they were age two) tries to get in his face, Jackie is all like “I no punk bitch…you punk bitch!” Chan rolls up his sleeves, tells Jaden Smith to watch and learn, and proceeds to beat the communist red off of them.

Score one for old-school 80s aggression.

Number 5
George Michael vs. Lesbianism

Where else but can you get some hardcore girly action? Er, no…I was talking about Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Sicko.

We walked into Scott Pilgrim thinking we we’re going to get a series of video game-inspired slug fests, instead we were tricked into a hipster rom-com about the trials of love (that’s twice you’ve fooled us, Edgar Wright, We are onto you.) Truth be told, we didn’t hate it but we didn’t love it either and while the action was awesome, it seemed a little out of place amongst the angst. (Whoa…did we just deny action?) Eventually, we opted to make the best of all this lovey-dovey crap and just enjoy the many martial arts-inspired throwdowns. Michael Cera and his stunt man pull off some funny (yet familiar) maneuvers against Romona Flower’s seven evil exes, but the one that got our maleness all in a tizzy was the three-way dance between Scotty P, Ramona, and Roxy…

Dammit, Michael Cera! Stop interfering in me
watching hot girl-on-girl action

After suffering a crushing blow to his ego, Scott Pilgrim (Cera) opts to drown his sorrows in booze at the local nightclub. His new boo, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), tries to console him but in reality her gauntlet of evil exes is what got him to this point. When Ramona’s ex-girlfriend Roxy (Mae Whitman) shows up to the club to square off, Scott reneges citing that he can’t hit a girl. So Ramona does it for him. She busts out the inventory mallet and takes on Roxy whip chain and all. That is until Scott has to intervene in the most chop-socky way possible.

Our heart was set on Knives Chau, but I guess Ramona will do. 

Okay, so…we got ourselves a cat fight, HLA, video game references, kung fu, whips, chains, and booze. What’s not to like about this one. (Did I forget to mention it ends with a lady orgasm?)

Number 4
Patrick Pewterschmidt vs. Harry Angel Heart

While we are dismayed over the fact that spandex and super powers have replaced bullets and muscles in the action genre, we do love a good super-powered brawl (Oh, Spider-Man 2…how you raised the bar for us). So when we saw in the Iron Man 2 trailer that Tony Stark was going to have repulsor ray showdown during an F-1 race, we were so totally there. Frustratingly, what we didn’t know is that the trailer showed us most of the cool parts…

Best part of this sequence? Digital
Rourke walking in front of this explosion.

Iron Man 2’s Monte Carlo rock ‘em sock ‘em gets tons of points for style, but zero points for substance. In it, Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) crashes an F-1 race that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is attending. In a transparent plot maneuver, Stark decides to race the car he sponsors which literally puts him on track for Rourke’s electrified whip exo-skeleton-thingy. S#!+ blows up in slow motion, cars race against oncoming traffic, people get ran over, Iron Man gets a new suit, there are screaming crowds, and somebody falls for the ol’ gasoline-spark routine.

Seriously, how is that exo-skeleton going to keep
Rourke from getting crushed by a car?

So what doesn’t the Monte Carlo fight get right? Well, while the car gymnastics are fun and the build up to the Iron Man suitcase is neat, the sequence gets a little too liberal with the suspense of disbelief. (yeah, we know this is a must for action films, but still.) Add that to the trailer not leaving much to the imagination, and it being too short length-wise and you can see why this should’ve ranked higher, but didn’t.

We are starting to notice a trend here, Hollywood…quite a few of the action sequences on our Top Ten come up disappointingly short in terms of time. What’s up, Tinsel Town? Why are you clipping the length of these action sequences? Is the economy that bad that you can’t commit to full-scale fisticuffs? Sure, it’s wise to reserve the big guns for the climactic showdown, but compared to Iron Man 1, Iron Man 2 feels a bit to narrow in plot and action.

Dear, Hollywood…stop showing us EVERYTHING in the trailer!

Number 3
Cobra and The Transporter vs. An Enitre Island

Everything that needs to be said about the importance of The Expendables to the action genre can be studied in the excellent “making of” feature-length documentary called Inferno. As the documentary points out, Sly Stallone’s 80s-styled bullet extravaganza isn’t just a trip down memory lane…it’s a statement.

It ain’t the years, Sly…it’s the mileage

In the midst of a timely 80s revival, director/actor/screenwriter Sly Stallone is able to look back on his career within the genre and fully comment on the current desolation of the action hero landscape. His Expendables serves as foot-stamping reminder that manly-men can exist in the world. But it also asks, “Can the world exist along with them?”

Stallone plays mercenary “Barney Ross.” Barney has been organizing and killing for years. His body is gravel, his eyes are filled with memories of the fallen, and his friends are all contract death-dealers feeling the pang of life. Sure, the pay is good but sadly, for a gun-for-hire like Ross, it’s the only life he knows.

When an assignment comes down for his team, Ross, along with Lee Chistmas, (Jason Statham — always good in even the worst tripe) heads to Vilena, a small island off the Gulf of Mexico. While doing reconnaissance, they discover a dictatorship puppeteer-ed by a rogue CIA suit (Eric Roberts, FTW). Once their cover is blown they have to escape off the island and board their Tale Spin-looking aircraft. However, this Seaplane is equipped with a sun roof…and a monster machine gun?!?!?

Henchmen. Seriously. Is the hazard pay worth it?

After a brutal skirmish and a car chase, Christmas and Ross board the plane and get away scottFRIGGINfree before they realize, Hey…[email protected] those guys. Christmas mans the machine gun, Ross swings the plane back around and they proceed to swiss cheese the holy hell out of an entire dock filled with foot soldiers. Ross unleashes a torrential down pour of gasoline and Christmas turns the entire dock into a series of fireballs!

Christmas, as if acknowledging the previous generation of action flick fanatics, turns to Ross and says, “That was a hell of a statement.” Yep it was. And it read: “There is no school like the old school.”

Number 2
Cobra Commander vs. Gravity
There is no denying the technical wow-factor that stems from the rotating fight in Inception. Christopher Nolan has inferred that his dreamscape fight was, in actuality, a long in-development dream itself. Clearly, the gravity-defying tussle in question was one of the motivational forces for Nolan to bring Inception to the big screen. In doing so the director-writer raised the bar for the realm of “wire-fu” and managed to dethrone Matrix in that particular category.
The “psy-fi” brawls in Inception revolve around four concepts:  
J-Lev think he’s soooo bad-ass now just because he beat up
a black guy in an anti-gravity fight.

Leo Dicaprio heads up a team of dream thieves hired by one corporate head (Ken Watanbe) to infiltrate the mind of another (Cilian Murphy). Their mission is to plant an idea in Murphy’s mind while he is heavily sedated, a concept that will destroy his family business and benefit Watanabe.

Now, instead of watching DiCaprio whisper poor stock market decisions to a slumbering Cilian Murphy, Nolan gives physicality to the mission by visualizing the inception through action. When the whole plan goes balls up, Leo’s crew escapes to a second level of Murphy’s subconscious (layers). However, they have to leave one member behind (Arthur, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to wake them up at the correct moment (time). As the seconds tick, Arthur is attacked by the protectors of Murphy’s unconscious inside a hotel hallway (architecture). As he defends himself against these security implants, his body is effected by an ensuing car chase on the first level of unconsciousness (gravity). The room spins erratically sending Arthur and his assailants flying to the ceiling, crashing into rooms, and back to the floor as they struggle for a a lone gun to end the skirmish.

Timing, gravity, and architecture. Not just the key to inception,
but important factors in stunt coordination, as well.

Back in the ol’ days (specifically, before The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), wire-work was foreign to American cinemas. It was reserved for films from the eastern side of the world. It was a novelty to us Americans and it felt special to catch a glimpse at something that was seemingly the essence of movie magic (AKA technical skill so insane that it defied logic). With a few rare exceptions (the Superman films contain a variation of wire-work), Americans didn’t REALLY take to the wires until Neo stop trying to hit Morpheus. Over a decade later and now everyone wants to fly. From Spider-Man to Pineapple Express, the family tree of wire-fu has been done to death.

What makes the fight in Inception unique is that it’s used in context for a rare change. Americans never quite figured out that wire work in Asian cinema is commonly utilized for fantasy-martial arts films as opposed to an often unnecessary visual gimmick. In Inception, Christopher Nolan takes that concept and  justifies the weightlessness with tons of psychobabble about the previously mentioned four concepts. He sets it up endlessly and even gives us a few glimpses of what happens when you bring a gun fight to a dream sequence. All of this is appropriate build up so that by the time Levitt’s fight begins the only thing not weightless is your jaw when it hits the floor.

For all you HK cinema fans, I know the difference between “Wire-Fu”
and “Wire Work,” I’m just alternating the terms for arguments sake.

Number 1
Nicholas Cage Redeems His Career and a Star Is Born

Kick-Ass – Big Daddy Gives the Movie It’s Title

Speculate all you want as to why Kick-Ass didn’ t get the box office it deserved, but one thing was certain: Chloe Moretz stole the show as the C-word dropping, butterfly knife-welding “Hit Girl.” So why am I awarding Nicholas Cage’s character the no. 1 spot? Well, because Cage gets points for efficiency…

While Kick-Ass and Hit Girl are preoccupied, Big Daddy (Cage) levels the playing field for his two tight-wearing cohorts. Armed with a shotgun, grenades, knives and precision, Big Daddy walks into a seemingly well-laid Mafioso trap. They do manage to catch the poor bastard (which gives way to another awesome action moment), but not after Big Daddy makes mincemeat out  of those Jersey Shore rejects (set to the tune of  28 Days Later, no less).

While (***SPOILER ALERT***) there won’t be a sequel for Big Daddy, after an ass-skewering like that, you cant help but want to see more.Which brings me to…

Kick-Ass – The Final Showdown

Originally, the # 1 spot was going to go to Inception, but just like the Golden Globes (and, most likely, the Oscars), Christopher Nolan’s psy-fi opus has to play second fiddle. Instead we are tying the #1 spot up for two sequences…FROM THE SAME MOVIE!

When forced to choose just one action sequence from the film Kick-Ass, well, we just couldn’t narrow it down. There was the strobe light shootout, Big Daddy’s one man army (see above), Marcel’s apartment massacre and, of course, the film’s brutal finale!

Here’s the set up for the finale: Hitgirl (Chloe Moretz), Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson), and Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) are everyday people who get it into their head that they can dress up as superheroes and fight crime. They don’t have superpowers, just costumes, weapons, and delusions of grandeur. When the wanna-be heroes’ war on crime becomes a little too efficient for the mob, they are ambushed, only to subsequently get the holy [email protected] beaten out of them…with the exception of Hitgirl! Left for dead on the other side of town, Hitgirl makes it back in time to see her father (Big Daddy) die.

The death of Big Daddy is one of the true highlights of the film, but it ain’t got S#!+ on the King Kong climax. In it, Hitgirl waltzes into the mob bosses apartment and proceeds to shoot, slit, puree, shank, and choke everyone of those God-less sons of bitches. She only takes time to reload…in mid-air.

Certainly, Inception should’ve been a lock for the #1 spot, but this list awards action (dammit)! And when Inception’s brief, bloodless, hallway tussle was paired up against Kick-Ass‘ jet packs, machine guns, child abuse, martial arts, and bazookas…well, Kick-Ass will win us over every single time!

Matthew Vaughn. Sir. You can now make your acceptance speech….

Special Thanks to:

Gene Green @ The Menagerie of Kick-Asserie
Scarz @ Action A Go Go
That_Urban_Punk @ The Getaway Van
The mysterious robot conspiracy theorist @ Android Massacre
And Me @ Typographic Era

James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only


  1. Stefan Blitz

    Stefan Blitz

    February 1, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    No number 8?

  2. Troy

    February 2, 2011 at 12:33 am

    Argh! I fixed it. Thanks.

  3. Angry man film blog

    May 5, 2012 at 2:14 am

    Got my own list of my favourite 13 action sequences

    Definitely agree with your number 1

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