2010 offered action fans plenty to choose from. Whether you like all-out fisticuffs with heads and guts flying, thrillers, nostalgia trips, comic geek-outs, comedy or futuristic flavor, you were sure to find something new at the local cineplex to whet your whistle at least every two weeks or so. It's way easier for me to put together a list of my favorite action movies from 2010 than, say, romantic comedies, even though I've probably seen more of the latter. (Public service announcement: rent or buy the fantastic French romantic comedy 'Heartbreaker' if you haven't already. Especially if you have a soft spot for 'Dirty Dancing.' Or hot French people. Or goofy and elaborate stunts. Or things that are great.)
There's no real formula at work here, just that these movies nailed me to my seat and left me slack-jawed with adrenaline buzzing through me long after the credits rolled. You might notice that there are a number of female protagonists doling out the ass-kickings on this list. Although some are fighting tooth and nail for justice or to exonerate themselves, others are just plain fighting -- let's not make it too political. For me, it's just as fun to pretend it's me causing chaos and blood loss like Evelyn Salt or Hit-Girl as it is for guys who want to play Rambo. And hey, Rambo is cool too. Or he was....
Nothing is safe around MacGruber (Will Forte). Not his wife-to-be Casey, not his dream team of operatives who he assembles to bring down Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer), and definitely not celery. 'MacGruber' got a bad rap from the get-go because of its connection to 'Saturday Night Live,' but the freaky hilarious flick has enough '80s-style action to make John McClane jealous. Plus, Kristen Wiig sings the theme song, which is totally frigging awesome and I want to sing it at karaoke now. Make it so, Universal!
'Red,' which is based on the graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, is a gleefully bizarre action film that begins when "Retired Extremely Dangerous" government operative Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is attacked in his own home by assassins. What follows is a crazy road trip across America as he assembles his old cronies, like Marvin (John Malkovich), the ultra-paranoid acid casualty who carries his favorite gun in a stuffed animal, and Victoria (Helen Mirren), the veddy proper retiree who misses her life of running and gunning, as well as the customer service rep he talks to when he's lonely, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), because she's in danger just by being in contact with him. A sketchy excuse, but one that turns out to be right. In the end, the black humor and comic book whiff-bam-boom! action had me chortling and hooting. Plus, Ernest Borgnine is in it!
Our titular hero Kick-Ass, aka Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is better at getting his ass kicked than his name would imply. Luckily, he's saved by the slightly creepy Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his pig-tailed protégé Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz), who are both far more adept at not dying -- not to mention fighting crime -- than Kick-Ass. Director/screenwriter Matthew Vaughn and co-screenwriter Jane Goldman got a ton of ink about Hit-Girl's violent antics and her vocabulary, but frankly she is way cooler and more, well, kick-ass, than anyone else in the film. Here's hoping we get more Hit-Girl soon. In the meantime, Moretz's star is soaring, and rightfully so.
7. 'Scott Pilgrim vs. The World'
Watching 'SPvTW' is the sensory equivalent of walking directly into a video game boss sequence, watching Kaiju Big Battle fight in a warehouse that could catch on fire at any second, and chugging Four Loko to the 'TRON: Legacy' soundtrack all at the same time. (Or so I hear.) This is a good thing.
6. 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo/'The Girl Who Played With Fire'/'The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest'
For me, heroine Lisbeth Salander is the biggest draw for Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy books, and Noomi Rapace absolutely owns the screen whenever she's on it. Tiny but all sinew, spikes and ink, Lisbeth turns the tables on anyone who tries to victimize her. And she doesn't do it the legal way; she does it her way, which could include forced tattooing, setting people on fire, a good axe blow to the head, or any number of other grisly things. Also, hacking.
If you've ever wanted to see a man rappel out of a window, down a wall, and burst through a window on the floor below using someone else's intestines, this is the movie for you. 'Machete' mixes a defiant political subtext with murderous low-riders, illegal alien-hunting politicians, the silent, wizened Danny Trejo as a machete-armed ex-Federale who gets all the ladies (despite his refusal to text) and a most bad-ass revolutionary played by Michelle Rodriguez to great and hilarious effect.
This list would be remiss without including 'Inception,' if only for its slow motion, topsy-turvy ballet of a fight scene starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Other action scenes, such as one set in a snowbound fortress, are not nearly as interesting, if only because JGL's mid-air dance is so damn stunning.
3. 'The Town'
From the very beginning of 'The Town' and its creepy bank robbery scene -- all the robbers are wearing those insane nun get-ups you see in the ads -- to the end, well, I had no idea how 'The Town' would end. The romance and beefcake are welcome, but the real showstopper wasn't director/star Ben Affleck's abs but the final heist they try to pull off at the end.
2. 'Mesrine: Killer Instinct'
Full disclosure: I haven't seen part deux yet, but I am dying to, as 'Mesrine' was chock-a-block full of criminal mischief, slick film work, and sexypants Vincent Cassel playing one of France's most notorious gangsters. Break out of jail? Please! Jacques Mesrine broke out and then came back to break his friends out too!
Phillip Noyce's experience with making top-notch political action thrillers served this movie well, but it's Angelina Jolie who makes 'Salt' so frigging awesome. I know, that's a very professional word to throw around, but the scale of her stunts and the way she ricochets around hallways and humans, using them as launching pads so she can achieve maximum ass-kicking velocity, is entrancing. 'Salt' also uses real-life locations in DC and New York City like St. Bartholomew's Church to great effect. Plus, she uses a maxi-pad to bandage a wound while she's on the run, and if that's not tough, I don't know what is.
What were your favorite action films of 2010?