Best Action Films 2011
#5 – The Raid
Welsh director Gareth Evans introduced the world to the brutal fighting styles of Indonesia with his second film The Raid, which debuted to universal blood-spattered acclaim in late 2011. With a deliberately minimalistic plot that emphasises the sheer kinetic fury of Pencak Silat, the martial art that exhorts you never to fanny about in a tree à la Crouching Tiger when you can just elbow someone in the larynx, The Raid is set entirely in a gangland tower block which is invaded by an unsanctioned police squad – when the kingpin who owns the building orders his tenants to swarm the cops, their only choice is to fight their way to the top and take him down. Sorry, did you think Dredd was original?
The formerly failing Mission: Impossible franchise was given a kick up the arse by Pixar regular Brad Bird, whose spectacular live action debut adhered to the three golden rules of post-millennial action films – hire Jeremy Renner, hire Simon Pegg and film in IMAX. Tom Cruise’s fourth outing as IMF problem-solver Ethan Hunt is generally accepted to be the high point of the series to date, reinforcing Cruise’s position in the top rank of action stars and temporarily distracting everyone from what a madman he is off camera. And contrary to previous rumours, it looks like he’ll be back for M:I 5, with Jack Reacher director Christopher McQuarrie running the show.
#3 – Hobo With a Shotgun
Legendary Dutch hard man Rutger Hauer (did you know he has his own AIDS awareness organisation) is on stellar form in post-grindhouse caper Hobo With a Shotgun, which grew out of one of the fake trailers released with Planet Terror and Death Proof. When the Hobo (obviously he doesn’t have a name) drifts into Hope Town and finds it in the grip of a brutal gangster, he begs for enough money to buy a shotgun and single-handedly takes on the bad guys. Unashamedly bloody and absurdly fast-paced, Hobo With a Shotgun was directed by Jason Eisener (we interviewed him a while back) and features the best newspaper headline in cinema history: ‘Hobo Stops Begging, Demands Change‘. Amazing.
#2 – Drive
Ryan Gosling cemented his hold on our hearts with his starring role in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, a stunning arthouse thrillride about a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver. Blending 80s style, B-movie aesthetics and the diamond-edged intensity of classic heist movies, Drive made the critically acclaimed Gosling a global star and restarted a fashion (perhaps best forgotten) for elaborate white leather jackets. AND he made a rom-com and a political drama the same year – nothing says ‘legend in the making’ like that sort of range. Gosling and Winding Refn’s second collaboration, Only God Forgives, is out this year – if it’s even half as good as Drive, we’re in for a treat.
#1 – Attack the Block
Surprised? We’re passing over Thor, X-Men: First Class, Warrior and many other great action films (2011 really was a brilliant year) in favour of Joe Cornish’s directorial debut Attack the Block, a spectacular mix of action, sci-fi, comedy and horror which plays out in a South London tower block. What is it with action films in tower blocks these days, anyway? When aliens inexplicably begin their invasion of Earth in Brixton on Bonfire Night, it’s up to a gang of local hoods, the young lady they’ve just mugged (Jodie Whittaker) and shambolic weed dealer Ron (Nick Frost) to save the world – Will Smith had a jet fighter and Rowdy Roddy Piper had his sunglasses, but the only way to tackle an extraterrestrial threat is with a Stanley knife and a tiny bicycle. Brap!