At this time last year, I was proudly tasked with chronicling 2008's finest moments in "big-screen mayhem, violence, destruction and other such shenanigans." I've still opted to sort these sequences out by specific manner of cinematic excess, and I've swapped out a category for "Most Tasteless Slaughter" (think effectively restrained moments of off-screen violence) for "Most Ridiculous Action" (think the exact opposite of that).
As usual, your comments/suggestions are welcome, and as usual, we didn't intentionally leave any titles off. Besides, if we went ahead and listed every single action or horror flick from 2009, what fun would that be?
1. Most pervasive destruction - The world really took a lickin' at the movies this year. Knowing, 2012 and The Road all decided to subject everyone to an apocalyptic cataclysm (cultural losses ranged from The White House and the Las Vegas strip to Charlize Theron). On a smaller, funnier scale, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs proved to be a surprisingly adept send-up of disaster movies, A Town Called Panic brought a gonzo armageddon upon its stop-motion residents, and The Hangover demolished the Las Vegas strip in its own unique way. (Bonus points for working Mike Tyson's pet tiger in there, fellas.)
2. Pulpiest carnage - Liam Neeson didn't let a PG-13 rating get in his way as he single-handedly took apart the thugs of Paris in Taken, a head in a microwave was a creative (if cheap) note on which to end the Last House on the Left remake, Zombieland had very few zombies to show during its second act before paying off like gangbusters with its amusement-park climax, and Ninja Assassin admittedly didn't skimp on its flagrantly fake bloodshed. The MVPs, though? Those Inglourious Basterds, for taking out a theater full of Nazis (Hitler included) between scalpings.
3. Best bloodless battles - Okay, this beat remains for the kiddies. Monsters vs. Aliens' mid-movie melee at the Golden Gate Bridge is still eye-popping and exciting, even at home in 2-D, and Where the Wild Things Are's dirt clod fight was both amusing and sentimental.
4. Most ridiculous action - Did you hear the one about the priest (Ewan McGregor) who took the anti-matter bomb up in a helicopter above Vatican City and then parachuted to safety (Angels & Demons)? How about the fight between the gypsy and the girl armed with office supplies in Drag Me to Hell? In Law Abiding Citizen, a cell phone took a woman's head clean off, while in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, ice defied logic and sunk instead of floating (though by that point in the flick, we'd already had that pretty fun and wholly silly chase towards the Eiffel Tower). Last but not least would be Avatar, and since most people haven't had a chance to see it yet, let me just say this: why would anyone have a knife that big?
5. Most beautiful death - In terms of specific death scenes, I'd go with either Rorschach's angry demise in Watchmen or John Dillinger's fateful exit in Public Enemies. In terms of classy excitement, it's hard to deny that The International's awesome shootout would be a little less cool if set anywhere besides the Guggenheim. The setting practically makes the sequence itself a work of art.
6. Too close for comfort - This one's a three-way tie, between Donkey Punch's flare to the chest (or even the titular punch to the head that kicks things off), Orphan's knife to a young boy's groin (held but what we think is a young girl, and creepier for it), or The Collector's floor full of bear traps bit (maybe not practical, but certainly gruesome). Addendum: I won't be adding every comment to the post, but I just can't forgive myself for overlooking Antichrist's gruesome groin antics. Let chaos reign once more.
7. Funniest shenanigans - Has it really been almost a year since we got to see a nude bimbo and a short-of-stature hotel manager get terrorized in 3-D by a pick-axe-wielding maniac in My Bloody Valentine? Ah, those were the days. A bit less intentional was the laughable notion in Push that thugs able to scream loud enough to blow up fish was the stuff money shots were made of. More shocking was the flasher's fate in Observe and Report (I was totally agape on first viewing; Weinberg can attest to this), and nearly as hilarious was the very first time Wikus popped somebody with his alien weaponry in District 9 (and do I mean popped).