Friday, January 4, 2013

Top Ten Action Movies of 2012

Alright, it's time for everyone's Top Ten lists for the year, but since 2012 turned out to be a pretty damn good year for films, I thought I'd change things up a bit by doing multiple lists separated by genre. And so, here we begin with my Top 10 Action Movies of 2012!

Honorable Mentions: Drive, Haywire, Deadfall

10. The Man with the Iron Fists - If you've seen the trailer, you should already have a good idea whether or not you'd like this movie. For those who haven't, it's a martial arts film directed by the RZA of the Wu Tang Clan, and it's every bit as over-the-top and ridiculous as one would expect from a martial arts film made by a rapper (and every bit as gory as one co-written by Eli Roth). It doesn't completely work, due to the script being little more than an excuse to link together a bunch of cool-looking fight scenes, and due to RZA's inexplicable decision to cast himself as the title character despite a complete inability to act, but it's still a lot of goofy fun.

9. Safe House - I went into this without any real idea of what to expect, and wound up with a pretty exciting thriller/actioner with Denzel playing the kind of smart-mouthed badass that Tom Cruise was so adorably trying for in Jack Reacher. The story is a tale of CIA corruption, which is obviously ridiculous in real life, but somehow they manage to pull it off even without Will Smith in his underwear (Enemy of the State, I'm looking at you here).

8. Coriolanus - For his directorial debut, Ralph Fiennes did what any actor-turned-director would and decided to make a war movie out of a modern retelling of an obscure Shakespeare play (obscure here meaning I've never read it). He stars as General Coriolanus, a great Roman hero, who completely despises the general citizenry and winds up causing a mass uprising against himself and gets booted out of Rome, only to swear revenge on the city that spurned him. It's energetic, bloody, and vicious enough that even those of you that hate Shakespeare should enjoy it.

7. Lawless - This would be the second film collaboration between director John Hillcoat and goth musician/writer Nick Cave, and if it's not quite as good as The Proposition, it's still a pretty damn effective effort. As with their previous effort, it's a pretty slow-paced effort, but its story (allegedly based on a true story, which is the only reason I'll accept some of the more insane things that occur in it) of Prohibition-era moonshiners trying to evade a psychopathic federal agent is pretty captivating and climaxes with one of the silliest shootouts I have ever seen.

6. The Dark Knight Rises - The conclusion to Christopher Nolan's epic Batman trilogy, this suffers somewhat from a weaker script and a need to provide a satisfying trilogy conclusion first and a satisfying film second. Regardless, it manages to close out the series in a largely quality manner, giving us a new villain (Bane by Tom Hardy) that echoes back to both Heath Ledger's Joker and Liam Neeson's Ra's Al Ghul, and brings one of the most famous Batman stories to the screen. If it wound up being the weakest of the three major superhero films this past year, well, 2012 was pretty stacked.

5. The Amazing Spider-Man - I freely admit I had little confidence in this film before it came out. That said, while I still don't really see why we needed a full reboot of Spider-Man just ten years after the first film, I honestly think this is a better debut film than Raimi's. We've had an extra decade of technological advances to make the fights scenes more realistic looking, Andrew Garfield captured both the smart-assery and the teen angst of the character better, and aside from some plot holes the writing was better across the board. The only real issue I have with the film (aside from the aforementioned plot holes) would be the villain (let's be honest, the Lizard was never one of Spider-Man's more exciting villains, however well done he is here), but even he was enough to make the film a proper romp.

4. The Avengers - I swear I didn't intentionally design the list so that all three major superheroes movies came one after another, that's just how the year turned out. Anyway, as a diehard fan of both comic books and Joss Whedon, I was really looking forward to this, and frankly I think they pulled it off with only one or two hitches (the only significant one, that the villain didn't feel like a big enough threat to justify bringing them all together, isn't really a big enough problem to drag this down, particularly when a weak or rehashed villain was a common theme through all three of the big superhero films that came out this year). I am very much looking forward to the next Avengers movie, and I cannot wait until we see Thanos just straight wrecking everyone.

3. End of Watch - This was a serious enough effort that I almost included it on the drama list, but frankly a movie about two ghetto cops that run afoul of a Mexican trafficking ring, complete with brief and brutally realistic shootouts, deserves a solid place high up the action charts (I also debated with Django Unchained before putting that in the drama list -- because obviously you all care). What really sets it apart, though, is that it really spends a good deal of time developing our two main characters (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña) and, in contrast to most buddy cop movies, showing how much they actually enjoy and believe in their jobs. It's an amazing film.

2. Skyfall - And speaking of James Bond, here we have one of the best Bond films of all time. Everything clicks perfectly with this one, be it Daniel Craig continuing with his more thuggish and surly Bond incarnation, a plot that decides to make the cast into real people rather than the archetypes that they generally comprise, and a fierce and goofy villain in Javier Bardem that ranks up there with the best of his villains (and his grand debut appearance, it must be said, is quite possibly the greatest first appearance of any Bond villain ever). Craig's signed on to do two more Bond films, and while I doubt they'll be able to maintain the level of quality Sam Mendes set here, I am very eager to see them all the same.

1. The Raid: Redemption - I saw this in theaters back in April or May, and I knew then that it was going to wind up being the best action movie of the year. I can't properly do justice to just how the movie is, so let me just say that, after a brief ten minute opening, where we learn we are going to be following an Indonesian police strike force as they invade a high rise to take out one of the city's top criminal warlords, we then get a moment where the plan goes all to shit, and there's nothing left to do but CRAZY WILD MADNESS for the remaining 90 minutes! There's massive gunfights, brutal knife and machete battles, and the craziest martial arts fights since Ong Bak. In what was one of the best years for action movies of all time, this stands head and shoulders above the rest.

NEXT WEEK: Top Ten Fantasy & Science Fiction Films

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