When we were kicking around ideas for year-end superlative Cinematical Sevens, I was proudly tasked with chronicling the year's finest in big-screen mayhem, violence, destruction and other such shenanigans. When I was kicking around ideas for said feature between me, myself, and I, there were too many titles to leave off the list, so instead of highlighting only a mere couple of movies, I've opted to sort these puppies out by specific manner of cinematic excess.
1. Most pervasive destruction - The Joker may have terrorized Gotham to the tune of a destroyed hospital, a wrecked helicopter, a sunken SWAT truck, a toasty fire engine, and a golden district attorney, but even he can't top the Cloverfield monster's swath of destruction across the real-life Gotham. Statue of Liberty? Gone. Brooklyn Bridge? History. Central Park? Adios. And that's not including all the Hollister stores that our protagonists might've fled to. (On a smaller scale, though, Inside's lady in black terrorizes a pregnant woman on Christmas Eve to the point of all but painting every last wall in her house with the blood of her victims. Gotta love the French!)
2. Pulpiest carnage - The closest thing to a tie we've got going on is between a Lionsgate actioner co-starring Julie Benz released at the very beginning of the year -- January's Rambo -- and a Lionsgate actioner co-starring Julie Benz released at the very end -- December's Punisher: War Zone. In the last twenty or so minutes of the former, Sylvester Stallone plows down Burmese soldiers to the point of apparently numbing the ratings board into a slack-jawed R rating, while Ray Stevenson savors each and every chance he gets to turn a baddie into a crater. Seriously: fists, bullets, chair legs -- if it can go through someone's face, Frank Castle can put it there. And don't even get me started on that parkour punchline of his... (Credit should be given to another Lionsgate release, Midnight Meat Train, who didn't let less than seamless visual effects work keep its more eye-popping, head-rolling moments at bay.)
3. Best bloodless battles - Okay, this one's for the kiddies. In one corner, there's the opening sequence for Disney's Bolt, a glorious send-up of all things Bruckheimer and Bay in which our heroic canine (voiced by John Travolta) saves the day from any number of exaggerated threats. (That one, it so happens, you can see for yourself right here -- "The Chase" -- though it's that much more zippy in 3-D.) In the other corner, Dreamworks' Kung Fu Panda boasted fight scenes as good as one might've seen in this past summer, but the most impressive one is a chopsticks-and-dumplings confrontation between one big panda (Jack Black) and one tiny red panda (Dustin Hoffman). Good times.
4. Most tasteful slaughter - Alright, kids, back to bed. The Happening may only have one great shot in it, in which a policeman's gun makes its way down a relay of suicidal citizens, but few shots this year, violent or not, could top Eli's swift dispatch of bullies off-camera in the climax for Let the Right One In. If you haven't seen it yet, don't worry, I couldn't really spoil the way the scene unfolds if I wanted to, and besides, even if I did want to ruin it, that's why they hired Matt Reeves.
5. Most beautiful death - This one's a bit more singular, and I'm torn between the death of the plant spirit in Hellboy II: The Golden Army and of the young boy in In Bruges. If you've seen either, I think you'll get my drift. There's one that tops both, but because it's a key part to a great movie that's only in limited release, I'll bite my tongue 'til it bleeds before elaborating.
6. Too close for comfort - Here's where we begin to spread the love a little wider. You've got your skin-invading vines and impromptu surgeries in The Ruins, your penis-pinching va-jay-jay in Teeth, your blunt force trauma by camera or staircase fall in Quarantine, your skin-invading needles in Splinter, your bum-skewering wipers in Stuck, your staple guns and barbed wire and other sharp objects in The Wrestler -- I mean, if there isn't a scene among this bunch that doesn't make you cross your legs, close your eyes, shift in your seat or let out a little groan, then I don't know what will.
7. Funniest shenanigans - And finally, we bring things to a close with the booms and bangs that made us gasp instead with laughter above all else. The director's exit in Tropic Thunder was marvelous, as were the house fight and police chase in Pineapple Express (not to mention poor, poor Red, named so after all that blood he shed). The Signal had an inspired second act laced with gallows humor, and Step Brothers took relentless roundhouse kicks to the faces of grade schooler after grade schooler during the end credits. As for the unintentional madness, Kirk Cameron wielding a baseball bat against that shameful porn-machine PC of his in Fireproof only got as many giggles as David Morse being struck by lightning and twirling -- not flying, but twirling -- off his tractor in Hounddog. Oh, we can only hope that 2009 will be kind enough to share an image that might match that one.