Action is an interesting genre. Obviously it requires a lot of bang and visual stimulation, but not all great action movies look like action movies at first blush. One thing these films have in common is that they each get your blood pumping and deliver visual action that wires directly into the pleasure center of the brain. It may not be Shakespeare, but then again, Shakespeare didn’t live to see how awesome an explosion looked on a fifty foot screen.
Whether you understood it or not, Inception boasted the most arresting visual images of the year. Be it cities turned on end, gravity-defying hand to hand combat, loud ear shattering gun battles, or slow motion car crashes, Inception had something for everyone. And did I mention it was actually good? Major kudos go to director Christopher Nolan, both for his sure hand as well as assembling an unconventional cast that shone brightly in big and little moments throughout. Is Joseph Gordon Levitt a movie star yet?
2). The Expendables
The premise of the Expendables is a bit like a fanboy’s wet dream. Gathering together the best – both fictionally, and amongst the cast – for a big, elite mission that only the finest can accomplish. Boasting a who’s-who in action from the 80s, 90s, and today, plus cameos from Bruce Willis and then-governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger, co-writer, director, and star, Sylvester Stallone, managed to call in every chip he’d ever earned in his decades as a movie star. The testosterone runneth pleasurably over. Side note: so awesome to see Charisma Carpenter getting film work! Cordelia Chase forever!
If you’ve seen a Robert Rodriguez film, then you’re probably familiar with actor Danny Trejo’s work. He normally plays the strong silent type, or the ass kicking silent type, or the … you get it. Finally, in Machete – the product of a fake film trailer produced for Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse – Trejo gets to take the center stage he has so richly deserved. And it’s a bloodbath. If that doesn’t convince you, there’s also a cameo by Lindsay Lohan – you can decide if it was pre or post-alleged shoplifting.
4). The A-Team
It wasn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but Joe Carnahan’s adaptation managed to capture the fun spirit of the 80s TV show. Also represented was the loyalty and friendship between four soldiers used to depending on each other. Liam Neeson does an almost pitch perfect George Peppard impression and Bradley Cooper brings an odd humanity to Face. Implausible? Sure. But nobody ever watched the A-Team for realism.
Tony Scott’s story of two blue collar men – one a seasoned veteran, the other, a young rookie – who wind up pulling off an impossible save isn’t exactly fresh, un-mined material, but handled as Scott does, it manages to feel somewhat original, and the taut pacing and spot on work by stars Denzel Washington and Chris Pine elevate a potentially disastrous premise into something special. I knew this movie had something going for it when, before it had even opened, Saturday Night Live did a spot on parody of the film’s trailer.
6). The Town
Ben Affleck directed a taught crime thriller that managed to fill the shady streets of Charlestown with action, pathos, and comeuppance. You root for people who have no business being portrayed heroically, and end up thinking the FBI are dicks for basically doing their jobs. There’s a car chase in the middle that is both thrilling and in spots very funny, and a wonderful bit of action at the end set around the hallowed Fenway Park. Affleck successfully scores with another twisted love letter to Boston.
7). Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
If you’ve never seen a Harry Potter film before… well, I’m very sorry for you, because they’re quite charming. But aside from that, this, the second to last movie ever, has once again raised the quality bar almost impossibly high. It has also managed to produce the most action packed installment to date. Whether it’s a mad escape from the Ministry of Magic or a good old fashioned showdown with a Horcrux, the pacing and excitement of Deathly Hallows Part One is downright magical.
Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, and Morgan Freeman head an all star cast to bring us the story we’ve all secretly wanted to see: what happens to heroes like James Bond and Jason Bourne once they’re past their prime? Red shows us they could totally still kick our youthful asses, even if they have to pop an Ensure after lunch to keep things nice and regular.
Originally written for Tom Cruise, Evelyn Salt was recreated to fit Angelina Jolie’s combat boots. The “is she bad or is she good” back and forth doesn’t work as successfully as it could – indeed, the only moviegoer likely to believe Jolie is truly evil is the type who has only ever seen one movie : Salt – but the action is rock solid. Jolie leaps from moving trucks, lays waste to dozens of bad guys in a most badass manner, and jumps out of a moving helicopter. Word is, Jolie did the majority of her own stunts. Way to earn that check, Angie.
10). The Next Three Days
Yes, I was one of the hundred people to see The Next Three Days. Starring Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks, it’s a smart, slick thriller that keeps you guessing until the last frame. The action is a slow burn, but once it starts, it doesn’t stop until the last frame. Please allow me to use this space to entreat everyone reading to give this Curtis Hanson joint a chance. It’s a genuinely hidden gem from 2010.