Art by Travis Wilker
When you stop to smell the ass-kickings, we’ve had a real terrific decade for action films. I mean really, some of the greatest action sequences I’ve ever seen and will see happened just this decade with filmmakers pushing the boundaries of in-camera effects and practical stunt work and fight choreography. I mean we’ve had Mad Max: Fury Road, the John Wick franchise, The Raid films, The Fast and the Furious films, Haywire, Inception and Tom Cruise obliterating the mortal limits of the human body in the past 3 Mission: Impossible films. We are seriously spoiled. Film is seriously spoiled. This has been perhaps the best decade for action since the heydays of the 80s, and arguably of all time. And guess what? There is still no award for these achievements and ambitions at the art form’s most prestigious awards gathering, the Oscars. Only two films I mentioned above have had any nominations. Just think about that for a moment.
There are plenty of things that make the Oscars a terrible awards show – it’s longer than the average MLB game, they spend way too much time on a category that’s practically a grammy award, and they are hypocritical in claiming to be a progressive and forward-thinking awards show yet still give an oscar to fucking Kobe Bryant in the first year of the MeToo era. It’s such a terrible awards show, such a terrible entertainment product.
I remember last year everybody making a big deal about how the dudes in Bohemian Rhapsody learned to play their instruments so therefore the film deserved awards. The dudes in Bohemian Rhapsody learned how to play “We Will Rock You” like any band in high school? Big whoop, Tom Cruise learned how to fly a helicopter expertly enough to do risky dives, turns and other maneuvers and also trained for 6 months to do a HALO jump on camera. But no awards for him and Mission: Impossible – Fallout? What a joke. It’s ridiculous that in 2019 we still have an oscar for best original song and dedicate a quarter of the award show to it, but we still don’t have an oscar for stunts and choreography, essential parts of filmmaking. It would be a great way for the oscars to give awards to “popular” films and tap into a whole new audience of filmgoers.
When I watched John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, which cements the John Wick Franchise as the best ongoing franchise right now, something heartbreaking occurred to me – this film will not get a whiff of awards recognition. It’s some of the most gorgeously crafted action put to screen, and fucking Gemini Man will sneak in a best visual effects nomination before John Wick is considered for anything. This is terrible! I mean this year you would have an exciting field of John Wick: Chapter 3 as well as Hobbs & Shaw right off the top. Throw in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood and The Art of Self-Defense and baby, you got a stew going. So in an effort to show how great this category would be, I’ve gone back over the last decade and listed what films would have gotten nominations, and which films would have one and just how exciting the races for this award would have been.
Reminder, the 2010 films were celebrated in the 2011 broadcast, so that’s why we’re starting in 2011.
This is a really exciting field to kick it off with, with several different types of action film in the fold. You have the more gonzo action of The A-Team and The Expendables. Predators gets in there for the samurai sword fight, 13 Assassins has some of Takashi Miike’s finest action filmmaking in the solid hour of fight scenes that closes the film. Inception ends up winning here as it had nominations in other categories. These are five films that emphasized practical effects action on different levels, and the Oscars get to award one of the most popular films of the year in Inception.
I Saw the Devil
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Now this a race. Every film deserves to be here, and every film has its claim to win. Drive was the coolest shit we’d ever seen when it came out. Hanna has an amazing one-take action scene that ranks among the best one-takers. The fight between The Rock and Vin Diesel in Fast Five is legitimately a top 5 fight scene of all time. It fucking delivered. Those two dudes just beat the shit out of each other. I Saw the Devil was my favorite film of 2011 and had just gonzo action sequences. But the winner has to Ghost Protocol, right? I mean, Tom Cruise literally scaled the Burj Khalifa for our entertainment. Congrats, Tom!
The Raid: Redemption
This year has some heavy hitters. Looper was my favorite film of 2012 and Rian Johnson shoots such unique and practical action sequences in it. Dredd is fucking amazing and had the best use of slo-mo action. Skyfall was top tier Bond with an emphasis on practical effects and stunt work, congruent with Daniel Craig’s run as Bond. Jack Reacher had Tom Cruise kicking ass, which is one of my favorite things in cinema. But fellas, that Oscar had better be going to one of the greatest action films ever made – The Raid: Redemption. Gareth Evans gave us a new action hero star in Iko Uwais and a martial art in Silat we hadn’t seen before. These are some of the greatest action sequences and fights to ever be assembled. The Raid boys take home the Oscar.
Fast & Furious 6
The World’s End
Man of Tai Chi
Rush is mindboggingly better than it has any right to be, and plenty of that comes from the untapped ferocity of Ron Howard’s (??????) filming of the race sequences rooted in practical effects and stunt work. The World’s End has ridiculously well choreographed fight scenes that get it on here. The Wolverine gets a nod for the bullet train fight alone, James Mangold forever. Keanu gets his first nod of the decade here for Man of Tai Chi, setting up several repeat appearances in the category. I think Rush would win it this year because it’s the most oscar-leaning film here, but it should go to Fast & Furious 6. The fight between Michelle Rodriguez and Gina Carano is an elite, brutal fight scene and the part where The Rock lifts up that nordic dude that’s somehow twice the size of him so that Vin Diesel can fly in and closeline him is one of the greatest moments in cinema history.
The Raid 2
Edge of Tomorrow
OH BABY NOW THIS IS A STACKED YEAR. Edge of Tomorrow is amazing and has amazing Tom Cruise action sequences which is one of my favorite things in film ever, and IT’S THE WEAKEST SELECTION HERE. THAT’S HOW STACKED THIS YEAR IS. The Guest is one of my favorite films of the decade, Adam Wingard did some stellar action sequences on a low budget. Snowpiercer had Bong Joon Ho doing action which is something out of my dreams and he crafted such unique action sequences. John Wick changed my life forever, nothing more to be said, if you know you know. But The Raid 2 has to take it, because they outdid themselves and once again made one of the greatest action films ever made with one of the greatest fights of all time to close it out.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Magic Mike XXL
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Under no circumstances should you try the moves they do in Magic Mike XXL at home, they are done by professionals and shall be done by professionals only. Remember the one-take sequence in Creed where they do a whole fight in one shot??? That was amazing. Leo nearly died several times on camera, so The Revenant gets another nod in this category. They literally strapped Tom Cruise to a plane while it took off and said “hope he doesn’t die” in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and then had him hold his breath underwater for several minutes and said “hope he doesn’t die” again. Tom Cruise gets into this category at will, all he has to do is show up in a movie and gets a nomination here. But still, we have to give this award to the best film made that year, Mad Max: Fury Road, which was an ode to practical effects and stunt work, and remains one of the pillars of cinema in action filmmaking. Do I really need to explain why it wins this year?
Swiss Army Man
Star Trek Beyond
La La Land
Train to Busan
Hell or High Water
Swiss Army Man is a wonderful gem of practical effects, and La La Land gets a nod here for the choreography to please traditional oscar voters. Hell or High Water shocked a lot of people by getting big nominations, and would pick up another one here. Train to Busan would get some of the credit it deserves by picking up a nomination, but the surprise winner would be Star Trek Beyond, which is not only the best in the series but also features the best and most thrilling action in the series thanks to the expertise of Justin Lin.
John Wick: Chapter 2
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
This is another terrific year for this category. The Last Jedi had some of my favorite action sequences in the series, and the shit they were pulling off in camera with practical effects in Dunkirk makes me sweat when I think about it. James Mangold’s farewell to the Wolverine had stellar, grounded action sequences, picking up a nod here. David Leitch proved he could strike out on his own with incredible, practical sequences and fights in Atomic Blonde that wouldn’t have been possible without Charlize Theron. But Keanu finally gets his due with John Wick: Chapter 2. Again, changed my life, if you know you know.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
The Night Comes For Us
What a stellar year for this category! We’re going to feel like absolute idiots in a few years for the total absence of love we gave to First Man, it’s one of the best made films of the decade. The amount of shit they’re pulling off in camera with practical effects is seemingly impossible. We’re all fools. Upgrade was my favorite surprise of the year, I saw it on a whim and it ended up one of my favorites of 2018. Leigh Whannell and cinematographer Stefan Duscio’s manic, bonkers staging of the action coupled with Logan Marshall-Green’s “Buster Keaton by way of Van Damme” physical performance created some of the best action sequences of the year. Mandy is a spiritual journey for me, it’s a once in a lifetime film, and the action is incredible. The Night Comes for Us is by far the goriest action film I’ve ever seen, with Timo Tjahjanto really getting a great handle on action, plus the final fight is between Joe Taslim and Iko Uwais, which is something out of my dreams. But come on, it’s Tom Cruise. Give him his oscar, the shit he pulls off in that film is actually impossible.