Halloween is through, which means the next holiday is Christmas Overkill for Two Months. Still, not all Holiday-themed entertainment need be wholesome or even primarily about the holidays, and no November/December movie season is complete without a view of the best Christmas counter-programming movie, “Die Hard.” Fittingly, Time Out New York has given “Die Hard” an early Christmas present by placing it at the top of their 100 Best Action Movies list. The full list is here, but these are the films TONY contributors picked as the top ten:
1. “Die Hard” (1988), Dir: John McTiernan
2. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), Dir: Steven Spielberg
3. “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991), Dir: James Cameron
4. “Hard Boiled” (1992), Dir: John Woo
5. “The Road Warrior” (1981), Dir: George Miller
6. “Enter the Dragon” (1973), Dir: Robert Clouse
7. “Police Story” (1985), Dir: Jackie Chan
8. “The Wild Bunch” (1969), Dir: Sam Peckinpah
9. “Seven Samurai” (1954), Dir: Akira Kurosawa
10. “Aliens” (1986), Dir: James Cameron
TONY’s editors picked the list by polling to action film experts, directors, actors and stuntmen, then whittling their picks down to 100. Voters included Luc Besson, Danny Trejo, Zoe Bell and John McTiernan, whose odd votes included “The Duellists,” “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Hour of the Wolf” (maybe he thought it was a favorite movies of all time list?). McTiernan also made the list at number 17 with “Predator.” Here’s what Tom Huddleston wrote about his list-topping film:
“Die Hard” is a textbook case of everything falling into place. John McTiernan’s direction pulls no punches, and there are sequences here—like the oft-imitated, never-bettered swinging-through-a-window-on-a-firehose moment—that achieve something close to visual poetry. The script is crammed with humor and invention, and whoever came up with the idea of setting it at Christmas deserves a big medal. But of course, the blue-ribbon winner in all this has to be Bruce Willis, who crashed from nowhere (well, from TV’s “Moonlighting”) onto the world’s stage, thanks to a combination of antiheroic self-mockery, battered but unbowed machismo and one very grubby T-shirt.
It’s a bit of a surprise that Steven Spielberg didn’t make a stronger showing – do “Jurassic Park” and “Jaws” not count? Where’s “Minority Report?” – with only two films making the list (“Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” is at number 71). Still, it’s hard to complain with “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (my pick for the best action film of all time) coming so close to number one. TONY film editor Joshua Rothkopf writes:
Action movies had never before been this supercharged, nor would they be, by virtually anyone else. It’s a perfect entertainment machine, effortlessly involving to teenage boys or anyone looking for a pure hit of hotsy-totsy-Nazi escapism…It might be more of a masterpiece than any of Spielberg’s other triumphs, simply for unearthing the treasure of the chase, running down the magic for a perfect two hours and then, suggestively, hiding it in a dusty warehouse as if to say: Now it’s your turn. Go find it.
It’s not just Hollywood entertainment that made it to the list: Asian cinema is heavily represented as well, with films by John Woo, Akira Kurosawa, Jackie Chan and more. The highest was Woo’s “Hard Boiled,” which Keith Uhlich wrote up:
There’s a valedictory quality to the movie that seems especially poignant in retrospect, since this was the last film Woo made before he spent a decade-plus churning out Hollywood product of varying quality. What a way to go out, though, especially in the astonishing climax in which Tequila and Alan infiltrate Johnny Wong’s arsenal…which just happens to be housed in a hospital filled to brimming with sick patients and newborn infants. By that point, even “Hard Boiled” seems too soft a title.
European cinema had a few films cited as well, from Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” to Luc Besson’s “Leon: The Professional.” And while William Friedkin’s “Sorcerer” made the list at 91, the original Henri-Georges Clouzot classic “The Wages of Fear” went even higher at 60. Here’s Huddleston on that film:
But there was a time, long ago, when nail-biting thrills and tough philosophical statements about man’s inhumanity could sit quite comfortably side by side, a trend that reached its peak with Henri-Georges Clouzot’s dizzying “The Wages of Fear.” The tale of four hopeless losers forced by poverty and desperation to take a job driving trucks filled with nitroglycerine dynamite across the worst roads in the Amazon jungle, this is an unrelentingly sweaty, grimy, dread-filled experience. But it’s also one of the cinema’s toughest, least forgiving portraits of men on the edge, barreling toward certain death and bitching miserably every inch of the way.
Finally, TONY deserves credit for this left-field pick, the Lumiere Brothers’ silent classic “The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat,” which Uhlich argues for as an essential action film:
The legend goes like this: At the premiere of pioneer filmmakers Auguste and Louis Lumière’s one-minute, single-shot document of a train pulling into a coastal French station, audience members jumped out of their seats, convinced the locomotive was racing toward them. Truth or apocrypha? Many scholars have argued for the latter, but the myth took hold and persists to this day. Once you hear the tale, it’s impossible to divorce the film from it—the fantasy is too attractive, and it perfectly ties into the ethos of the action movie, which thrives on goosing our emotions by making us believe (if primarily on a subconscious level) that we’re truly in the thick of things. All the bullets we’ve dodged, all the cars we’ve crashed, all the trains we’ve ducked away from, they all start here.