Yes, it’s another end of year list! But take heart! This one’s going to be a bit more blockbuster-heavy than the rest. We know you’re deep into rearranging your Oscar ballot right now, pondering the relative merits of “Foxcatcher” and “Inherent Vice,” but cast your mind way back into the distant past of six months ago, when moviegoers could barely move for projectiles being hurled around the screen: bullets, shields, Lego bricks, an entire baseball stadium. Not, of course, that the holiday season is any more free of action-heavy blockbusters. And since cinema’s idea of summer now seems to begin in early March, we’ve been bombarded with action cinema —some of it outstanding— for most of 2014. But in a year without mega-mega-movies like “The Avengers” or “Man of Steel,” quite a bit of this year’s best crash-bang-wallop stuff was a little more offbeat, including a welcome dose of action comedy (as well as the requisite full-on action grimness).
Here, we’ve rounded up some of the very best such scenes. Fair warning: You’re not going to find many of the films here appearing on our overall best of the year lists. In all honesty, a couple of these movies, highlighted sequences aside, are downright bad (although others haven’t been given their due). But really, what’s plot, characterization, or any other consideration compared to that feeling when your jaw drops and the voice inside your head says “Awesome! How did they even do that?”
17. “A Most Violent Year” – The Car/Foot Chase
As many have already noted (and in doing so, missing the point completely), J.C. Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year” isn’t all that violent, at least not by movie standards. Very few shots are fired and most of the loss is an ethical hemorrhaging and a sense of direction with one’s moral compass (and maybe its brilliance is illustrating how slowly and surely we can cross principled lines even with the best intentions). But that’s the point. Chandor’s film, starring Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, is about the price and consequences of our not-always-honorable choices. But after a long, patient simmering that is rigorous and brooding, “A Most Violent Year” finally erupts. And it’s not so much violence per se —though it surely possesses that quality— as it is camel-straw-breaking explosion of indignation and frustration. Oscar Isaac’s American immigrant business man has turned the other cheek for the entire movie, attempting to take the higher ground and rise above the ugliness of the oil business he’s in. But when he sees his trucks being robbed, he finally cracks. What follows is a long and anxiety-inducing car chase through abandoned subway tracks and tunnels in Queens that segues into perhaps the most striking and memorable foot chase we’ve seen on screen in some time. Gloriously shot by DP Bradford Young —who does remarkable work throughout— the sequence’s fury, stress and pressurization is also brilliantly built from character, and then is expressed viscerally through visual action.
16. “Why Don’t You Play In Hell?” – The Final Battle
Thirty-one features in, prolific gonzo Japanese director Sion Sono reached something of a career high with this year’s completely mental love-letter to filmmaking, “Why Don’t You Play In Hell?” which ends with a scene of cartoonish carnage that makes everything on this list, “The Lego Movie” included, seem positively sober. An unusually crowd-pleasing picture from the provocative and often abrasive filmmaker, the future midnight movie classic involves a group of amateur filmmakers called the Fuck Bombers who are enlisted to film the upcoming gang battle between Boss Muto and his rivals, which the criminal intends to use as a showcase for the talents of his would-be actress daughter. There are smatterings of action earlier, but nothing compares to the fight that ends the picture, essentially the “production” of the movie, which sees the gangs collide in a traditional Japanese house that’s rapidly torn to pieces by swords, gunfire and flying bodies, not all of which have their extremities still attached. Throwing in references to action classics like “Hard Boiled,” “Game Of Death,” “Kill Bill” and “Die Hard,” it’s hardly subtle, but that’s to be expected from a filmmaker whose characters have a tendency to screech their dialogue. But it is a ton of fun, inventively framed and choreographed, and yet curiously affecting in places too. The fights in Sono’s follow-up “Tokyo Tribe” (which debuted at festivals in 2014 and will be hitting theaters next year) might be even better, but they’re also paired with some gross sexual politics which means “Why Don’t You Play in Hell?” remains the director’s high watermark so far.
15. “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies“ – The Battle of the Five Armies
The third (and final) film in Peter Jackson‘s “Hobbit” trilogy, is subtitled “The Battle of the Five Armies,” so that skirmish, featuring all of the various inhabitants of Middle Earth, had to be epic. And it is, taking up almost 45 minutes of screen time. The various parts of this war (which includes an aerial component with giant eagles fighting giant bats) are absolutely staggering, and it’s a testament to Jackson’s technical skill as a filmmaker that he makes almost all of this understandable, at least from a geographic standpoint (though sometimes the frame gets so cluttered with combatants that it’s hard to make out what is happening). If you had to take out a piece of the battle and analyze it, though, it’d probably be the fight between Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and the leader of the orc fighters (a nifty computer generated confection dreamed up by Jackson’s team at Weta). This is a battle that has several movements, most memorably when they take to a large glacier and start fighting as the ice breaks up, causing them to bob and weave and deal with the frigid waters beneath. It has all of the hallmarks of a world-class Peter Jackson sequence: tension, violence, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles. As such, it’s a fine cap to Jackson’s near-decade-and-a-half in Middle Earth, and a huge part of what makes this final entry the best in the ‘Hobbit’ series.
14. “Fury” – The German Tiger Tank Fight
As an aside, given that filmmaker David Ayer has yet to make a great film, it’s interesting that he was given the key to WB’s expensive super-hero film “Suicide Squad.” But as “End Of Watch” and “Fury” illustrate, he’s getting there and arguably is on the precipice. Much like Clint Eastwood’s war film (discussed below), Avery’s machismo-soaked movie is uneven and believes it has more to say than it ultimately does. And even an early “action sequence” (Brad Pitt forcing poor Logan Lerman to kill a Nazi at gunpoint) might earn the title of most poorly staged conflict of 2014. But aside from that egregious misstep, Ayer knows how to stage action. And it all comes off quite beautifully and nervously in a tank battle that pits Brad Pitt’s company’s already damaged Sherman tank against the superior and heavily-armored German Tiger I tank. It’s initially four against one for the good guys. But one by one the advanced enemy vehicle outguns and outclasses them all until all that’s left is the Fury tank. As Pitt and his men roll on forward into certain doom, gun turrets blazing and tank cannons booming like thunderclaps, Ayer criss crosses desperate action between Allied and enemy tank while escalating the tension and increasing the intensity and volume of the inherent do-or-die stakes. It’s edge-of-your-seat, gripping and deeply visceral, and by the time it ends, the audience —much like the characters— fall to a heap on the floor in an exhausted exultation of relief.
13. “American Sniper” – The Sandstorm Firefight
As December Oscar-bait goes, Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” is perhaps closest to Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor” in that both are patriotic visions of America with ultimately little to offer outside the viscera of their grueling action sequences. But given how tonally broad and unconvincing Eastwood’s ‘Sniper’ is in all of its family drama sequences —and how poor/uneven his last five or six pictures are— one is tempted to disrespectfully give all the credit to the action sequences in his war drama to DP Tom Stern. Whatever the case may be, “American Sniper,” much like the character, only comes alive in Iraq, where Bradley Cooper’s sniper “legend” is adding confirmed kills to his belt notch like the manliest of studs. As problematic as ‘Sniper’ is, it excels in creating tension and claustrophobia leading up to an action sequence, so when the bullets inevitably fly, they are uncorked with a brutal rush of already built-in anxiety and fear that’s all too tangible. This culminates in one particularly breathless sequence: Cooper’s platoon marches in to a dangerous, insecure hotspot with orders to take out a rival sniper who has thwarted elimination for months. Exacerbating it all, a blinding sandstorm rolls in as the harrowing sequence begins to crescendo to its height of desperation. Without spoiling it, this is nerve-wracking stuff, dripping with the sweat of tension and much like earlier sequences maximizes staging, but then gives into the chaos of confusion. It almost makes you wish Eastwood would have simply made a “Hurt Locker”-style movie that never goes home.
12. “Grand Budapest Hotel” – The Ski Chase
Certainly the least “action-y” film on this list, Wes Anderson‘s latest and much loved “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was not without action. There were several beautifully crafted sequences, but the most impressive is the ski chase that Anderson shot, in his usual artifice-heavy style, with miniature models, painstakingly filmed by a team of special effects technicians and puppeteers in London and then carefully inserted into on-the-spot footage from ski slopes in Germany. The result is completely delightful —like the film itself— right from the moment the doors of the mountaintop monastery pop open in appropriately Alpine cuckoo-clock style, revealing first Gustav (Ralph Fiennes) and Zero (Tony Revolori) and then their pursuer, Jopling (Willem Dafoe), though, again, most of what you’re seeing is models. The entire scene was done with Anderson’s usual obsessive detail: the models are careful likenesses but were then filmed from a significant distance (the model ski run constructed in the London animator’s studio was 24 feet long), with the figures taking up only a tiny part of the frame, so that they wouldn’t have to be artificially reduced in post-production. The result adds to the stunning sense of texture evident throughout the film, and is also cutely entertaining in the way Anderson’s tedious haters hate. Ignore them.
11. “John Wick” – Home Invasion
There are two things you don’t do: you don’t kill Keanu Reeves’ dog, and you don’t steal Keanu Reeves’ vintage car. But young punk Iosef (Alfie Allen) doesn’t know better and does both of those things in “John Wick” and winds up on the titular retired hitman’s radar for revenge. So in steps Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), John’s former gangland boss and Iosef’s father’s who tries to save his son’s life by having John wiped out. Bad idea. We should probably tell you we’re only about twenty minutes into “John Wick” and directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch come out blazing with the first of what is a series of dazzling action sequences. But this one really sets the pace for the rest of this film; there’s a reason these guys made our breakthrough directors list. With extensive credits under their belts as stunt and action coordinators, they know how make action scenes with impact, and they do this by the simple method of letting the audience see the action. It sounds obvious, but increasingly blockbusters are content to throw a lot of cutting and CGI at the screen without a sense of geography, tension or invention. Not so with “John Wick.” When a team of baddies come in the night to try and kill the hitman, he’s ready for them and what follows is a carefully paced, finely measured setpiece that’s almost a cat-and-mouse ballet as John tracks down each interloper and wastes them, with his hands or preferably his gun. Reeves moves with a sleek grace, and the camera follows his every maneuver, duck and counter-attack with the directors at the ready with more squibs at hand than we’ve seen in any other film this year. The body count is high (John is nothing if not efficient), and so too is the carnage, but Stahelski and Leitch know just how keep the B-movie on the right side of of the heavy/light divide: when Thomas Sadoski’s cop Jimmy pulls up to inquire about a noise complaint and looks over John Wick’s shoulder, he knows better than to ask any further questions.
10. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” – Nick Fury Car Attack
Action-packed to a fault, by the time the “Captain America” sequel got to the bombastic finale full of exploding helicarriers, many viewers —us included— had enough of the explosions. But earlier on in the film, we were treated to some much more grounded, hard-edged action: the opening duel on the tanker and the confrontation between Cap (Chris Evans) and the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) on the freeway were impressive, but best of all was the unexpected attack on S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and his armored SUV in downtown Washington DC. Absurd as the set-up was (crypto-quasi-Nazis in cop cars attacking a 4×4 that turns out to be tougher than a tank) the Russo brothers’ direction made it all seem crunchingly, poundingly real, especially through the intense sound design. Fury, of course, remains cool under fire , even when faced with a battering ram, and the sequence uses DC’s packed streets for a powerful chase segment that also includes a pretty solid moment of comedy amid all the bullets and crumpled metal. The joke is classic Russo brothers, but the sequence’s grit and grind are down to the impressive collaboration between cinematographer Trent Opaloch, who came to the world’s attention doing the same kind of textured action for “District 9,” and editor Jeffrey Ford, who edited equally outstanding scenes in “The Avengers” and “Iron Man 3”. And stay tuned, because he’ll be back for “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Captain America: Civil War.’
9. “Edge of Tomorrow” – The Beach Assault
How do you feel about Doug Liman‘s “Edge of Tomorrow”? Strikingly original, groundbreaking sci-fi mind-bender? Baffling, slightly limp stroll through a number of mis-matched storylines? Don’t know? We don’t either: it was so hard to make up our minds about that we actually published two reviews. But we can agree on one thing: the assault on the beach that forms the film’s recurring centre is stunning. We’re arguably cheating by including it as one sequence, since we see it so many times in the overall movie, but it was conceived and filmed as one. The inescapable comparison (and conscious target of homage) is the opening assault from “Saving Private Ryan,” of course, but it’s that scene through an anime-meets-atompunk filter, rigorously conceived and chunkily designed and then put through its paces again and again, with reused footage and slightly new moments cleverly blended into a brilliant narrative ebb and flow. It’s also the first time we’ll see Cruise’s character die, but even without the Groundhogging aspect it’s great stuff, from the vertiginous sound design as Cage (Tom Cruise) dangles from the plummeting dropship to Cruise’s entirely believable crippling fear and eventually his fearsome transformation into a killing machine who charges through craters and explosions with kinetic, balletic grace. Plus there’s the first good look at the writhing nightmares of the film’s alien antagonists, and Emily Blunt laying into them with a sword. If you have to see one scene again and again and again, it might as well be this one.
8. “Godzilla” – The Parachute Drop
If there was a consensus complaint about Gareth Edwards‘ “Godzilla” reboot this year, it was there wasn’t enough action. The film took a long time to get to the monsters, an even longer time to see them clearly, and an even longer time than that to see them actually fight. When they finally did, it was all well and good —and the surprise neon atomic breath was a great moment— but the most impressive action moment was one that only featured the big lizard peripherally: the parachute drop into the smoking ruins of San Francisco in a last-ditch attempt to stop the beasts and also disable a nuclear bomb that someone carelessly left downtown. Or something? Okay, so if there was another consensus complaint re: “Godzilla” it was the messiness of the plot. But who cares when you have a scene apparently directed by the post-nuclear reincarnation of apocalyptic painter John Martin, armed with several hundred thousand smoke machines? Trailing red smoke as Aaron Taylor-Johnson and his comrades tumble into something out of the less fun dreams of Hieronymous Bosch, Edwards’ immensely wide shots reveal an almost abstract landscape of roiling fumes and eerie light, all overlaid with Alexandre Desplat‘s screeching, blood-curdling score. Genuinely horrifying and thrilling in the eeriest of ways, the sequence brought out the Godzilla series’ post-Hiroshima roots and reminded us how much more Toho’s films are about than men in dodgy dinosaur suits.
7. “The Raid 2” – Freeway Sequence
And from “Godzilla,” with too little action, to a movie that poses the question “can we have too much?” Obviously hardcore genre-fans would say no, but a number of movies suggested this year that you can. And first among them was “The Raid 2,” a two-and-a-half hour orgy of gruesome ass-kicking that sequelized Gareth Huw Evans‘ breakout hit from a few years back, and even more than its predecessor, was so wall-to-wall brutal that it left us glazed over and exhausted by the end. Which is a shame, because almost any of the individual sequences — all dizzyingly choreographed, inventively shot and thunderingly edited— could have made an argument for making the list, and there are few action filmmakers right now with the Welsh ex-pat’s innate skills or seeming disregard for health and safety. The epic mud-and-rain drenched prison fight, the dispatching of Hammer Girl, Baseball Bat Guy and The Assassin all feel like hall-of-famers, but if we have to pick one, it would be that demented end-of-second-act freeway sequence. Topping even “The French Connection” for that crucial no-surely-someone-actually-died-while-filming-this factor, the scene sees Iko Uwai‘s hero battling with four thugs in the backseat of a moving car, as crime family consigliere Eka (Oka Antara) is in pursuit in an attempt to rescue him while engaging in a gunfight with other criminals. It features all of Evans’ trademarks: intricate fight choreography, an ace sense of where to place beats and gags and a high dose of tension. But it also feels like a slight respite from the sheer brutality of the rest of the film, letting mostly metal parts shatter rather than fibias and tibias. Your move, “Furious 7.”
6. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” — Quicksilver’s Prison Break
Perhaps ultimately (and inevitably?) less than the sum of its many, many parts, the most recent entry into the ‘X-Men’ canon still boasted some extraordinarily impressive parts. Featuring several big action sequences, including the opener in which Sentinels effortlessly kill several major characters while Bryan Singer chuckles faintly offscreen, there was one scene that stood out more than any other: the rescue of Magneto (Michael Fassbender) from his Pentagon prison, using the skills of the super-fast mutant Peter “Quicksilver” Maximoff (Evan Peters). The scene was shamelessly, gleefully gratuitous: Quicksilver was introduced to the film solely for it and dismissed immediately afterwards (though he will return in 2016’s “X-Men: Apocalypse”), and anyhow you’d think an unkillable fighting machine and a psychic genius could probably have come up with a successful jailbreak plan without the help of a teenager, but who cares? It was two minutes of raw bullet-time fun, wittily soundtracked with Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” as Quicksilver dashes around a Pentagon kitchen, his relative speed slowing everything else to a crawl —bullets, Wolverine’s extending claws, flying stew— while he rearranges security guards and projectiles at will, cheeks wobbling weirdly in the extreme slow-mo. Filmed in blinding light at 3600 fps (i.e. as many frames per second as there usually are in two and a half minutes of footage) and then filled with immensely complex digital extras like the wake Peters leaves in the falling water, it was a sequence that induced, even in jaded move nerds, one of those precious moments of SFX jaw-drop, maybe even the most striking since “The Matrix” introduced us all to bullet-time in the first place. Our own review noted that Quicksilver “is easily the super-powered highlight of the movie … the filmmakers wisely only employ him briefly which will surely have audiences begging for more”. Yes, please.
5. “Guardians of the Galaxy” – The Prison Break
We could have gone several ways here. Although, like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” Marvel’s other movie this year, “Guardians of the Galaxy” devolved into a slightly confusing air battle in the final act, it had many eye-popping action sequences up to that point, including the battle in the hollowed-out god’s skull known as Knowhere (and thanks to director James Gunn, we as a species are now enriched by being able to type phrases like “the battle in the hollowed out god’s skull known as Knowhere”). But the highest point of the action came earlier on, with the Guardians’ first collective action, the balls-out prison break scene. Absurdly enjoyable in every respect, from the sight-gag going in the background as Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper’s surprisingly excellent voice work) lays out the plan, to the climactic 360 degree shot of the very same animal wildly firing a gun twice his size from the shoulder of his unstoppable tree-man friend Groot (Vin Diesel), the scene was the purest essence of what made ‘Guardians’ so good. It combines humor, action and a bright, offbeat visual sense of color, shot-making and pace that upends current mainstream conventions but never becomes confusing or hard to follow. Instead, the characters’ objectives were crystal clear and beautifully easy to comprehend, even if one of them did turn out to be a pointless chase after a prosthetic leg.
4. “Snowpiercer” – Axe Fight Scene
Contrary to what some coverage (ours included) might have led you to believe, “Snowpiercer” wasn’t just an elaborate proxy for debates about the Weinsteins. It is in fact an incredible movie, dreamlike in its expanse of moods and variety of imagery, visceral in its texture and its action. And what action: we could have had the fight in the dark in this spot, but an even more stand-out sequence is the one we’ll call the axe fight, as Curtis’ (Chris Evans) men battle their way through a carriage full of balaclava-ed, axe-wielding henchmen. In one relatively brief sequence, we get the following: the strange sympathetic magic of the fish-slitting ritual; the sudden medieval hack-and-slash of the claustrophobic fight’s opening moments; the balletic, blood-spraying slow-mo sequence that sees Curtis fly through half a dozen enemies; the lightness of his motion contrasting with the heavy, wet thuds as axes meet faces; and then the lull as the train crosses over a perilous bridge, a moment in the cyclical journey that has come to serve as New Year. It’s like World War One’s Christmas truce: 90 seconds of countdown and cameraderie before the bloodshed resumes. And then, finally, the fish comes back, transformed from surreal symbol to practical joke. Director Bong Joon-Ho‘s Korean background makes you wonder if the sequence is a homage to the corridor fight in Park Chan-Wook‘s “Oldboy,” but really the scene is all its own, encompassing the whole film’s violent, beautiful tone shifts.
3. “The Lego Movie” – Highway Chase
Look, we know February was a long time ago, but there seem to be a lot of end-of-year lists out there that don’t feature “The Lego Movie.” How can this be? So obviously destined to be a disappointing, wrong-headed, cynical cash-in, Phil Lord and Chris Miller instead made a hilarious, touching and completely ingenious film full of outstanding voice talent and fascinating visuals. Most of all, they also managed to integrate the fact that everything was made of Lego into the plot and the action, most magnificently during the neon-lit motorcycle chase shortly after Emmet (Chris Pratt, 2014’s newly-minted action-comedy superstar) and Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) first meet. With the sort of fourth-wall-breaking audacity usually only seen in insufferable Jean-Luc Godard movies, Wyldstyle constructs a motorbike from Lego scenery components (even briefly showing their serial numbers), leads Liam Neeson and his crooked cops in a high-speed chase, including through a Lego house, and then rebuilds the bike into a jet on the fly, all while continuing to impress upon the hapless Emmet that he is The Special. The entire sequence was like crawling back inside your six-year old brain and rediscovering how Lego-based storytelling used to feel. Astonishingly inventive, it was also, like several other scenes on this list, very very funny. Here’s hoping action and comedy continue to be blended together this well.
2. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” — Attack on the Humans
Funny that 2014’s most thoughtful blockbuster was also the only one that featured a chimp charging down a San Francisco street on horseback firing an AK-47. But the central battle scene of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” with the heavily armed apes rushing the defenses of the dug-in humans led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), was the inevitable and inexorable end-point of the slow slide of the uneasy peace between the species devolving into mutual incomprehension and war, and the perfect counterpoint to the build-up’s subtle emotional intelligence. Running counter to the usual post-Greengrass action style, which is particularly surprising given director Matt Reeves’ shaky-shaky “Cloverfield” background, the assault unfolds in a measured, methodical style: there’s a clear geography to the scene, a logic to the movements of the attackers and the defenders, an ebb and flow. It’s a real battle, after years of the movies just giving us fights. The savage straightforwardness of the action and the breathtaking excellence of the motion capture work gives weight to the full moral complexity of the film and allows the scene space to move around in, which is crucial for a fight which the viewers already know is a wasteful folly, with heroes, villains and clearly comprehensible motives on both sides. Hard to say which is more impressive: that complexity, or the complete, brutal realism of images that ought to seem dreamlike and bizarre.
1. “Nightcrawler” – The Car Chase
“We ultimately looked at it as one long accident, rather than a car chase” director Dan Gilroy told Buzzfeed, encapsulating one huge reason why this thrilling scene from the grimily excellent “Nightcrawler” sits atop this list. In it, there’s a sense of hurtling toward doom, of building momentum, of you not being so much on the edge of your seat as on the edge of a cliff. Good movie car chases derive a lot of their tension from a kind of cognitive dissonance as regards their physics —editing, cinematography and performance all combine to build the sense that the very next shot is going to be some sort of cathartic release, yet it goes on and on, near misses stacking up on close calls to the point that it should break our suspension of disbelief. But the best movie car chases (and Gilroy cites touchpoints “The French Connection” and “Bullitt” as inspirations) are so firmly grounded that that never happens, and instead we get, like in “Nightcrawler,” a scene in which you can almost taste the gears grinding and smell the burning rubber. It’s also remarkable how much time we spend with Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed inside the car, making this action scene also a fantastic character moment for both and never allowing us lose sight of the overarching stakes. Spectacular but also unusual for being a scene in which a car chases a car chase, editor John Gilroy (another Gilroy brother) and maestro cinematographer Robert Elswit deserve huge kudos for pulling this off, as do second unit director and DP Mike Smith and Christopher Moseley. It’s a great example of doing more with less, as originally Gilroy had imagined a much more elaborate scene, but limited budget and resources forced a downscaling, which feels like it can only have helped the scene’s intimate, immediate feel. Six weeks of planning went into it, but happenstance still played its part —the cop car meant to spin into the other lane once hit actually stayed put, in a shower of sparks, giving a whole new dynamic to the next few scenes, the more visceral for us having seen that stunt happen realistically, erratically. But even aside from the technical skill on display in all quarters, we love this scene for the function it performs in the story, almost as a microcosm of the overall film, which itself has the fascination of a slow motion car crash of degrading morals and rotten voyeurism, all playing out on the sleazy nighttime streets of downtown LA.
One area in which even the prestigiest of TV can’t quite yet compete with the movies is probably that of the action scene —for sheer visceral impact, a bigger screen serves these sequences well. That said, a couple of 2014 TV episodes led the pack in terms of action, and we wanted to shout them out too. The justly celebrated six-minute tracking shot that ends episode four of “True Detective” was a terrific example of tension building and fluid, desperately real-feeling action based around a real-time raid. And at the opposite end of the spectrum, the “Battle for the Wall” episode of “Game of Thrones” showcased some fairly elaborate fighting, picking out instances of hand-to-hand within a much larger battle, though there are those on staff who found it a little murky to make out at times.
Back in movieland, there are plenty of near-misses that could have made the list too: the Parisian car chase in the surprisingly fun “Lucy”; the battle of the ark in Aronofksy’s “Noah”; the Alpha dragons’ fight in “How To Tame Your Dragon 2” and the absurd campus chase in “22 Jump Street” all stick in the mind. Various moments from various YA adaptations —the zipline scene in “Divergent,” the night in the maze in “The Maze Runner,” the climactic exfiltration in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 1”— were enjoyable but maybe not groundbreaking enough to really get excited about. And some smaller films had strong moments of low-level action: think the brutal treatment of the landlord in “The Riot Club,” the dam bombing in “Night Moves” and the shootout in “Blue Ruin.” There was also considerable debate about “Interstellar”: is the desperate return to the shuttle on the water planet, exciting as it is, technically an action scene? What about Matthew McConaughey’s fumbly fistfight on the ice planet? And if it counts, is it any good? We erred on the side of leaving them off, but let us know what you think about that —or anything else we might have missed — below.
— Ben Brock, with Rodrigo Perez, Oli Lyttelton, Jessica Kiang, Kevin Jagernauth and Drew Taylor