Sunday, January 3, 2016

Top 20 Action Films of 2015

We love action films here at Blood Brothers. All kinds of them. While we certainly use the term 'cult' in loose definitions to what we cover when it comes to genre films, just looking at what eventually made my top 20 action films of the year certainly seems a bit scattered and all over the place. Not only are their films that debuted as straight to home video releases (or VOD/streaming), but there are massive tent pole blockbusters too. Action knows no bounds when it comes to being entertaining or well executed no matter what the style or approach. So here is the Top 20 Action Films of 2015:

20. Everly

Joe Lynch's leap into the action realm is something of a perfect fit. Blending elements of Takashi Miike and early Robert Rodriguez with the simplistic grindhouse spin on Die Hard, Everly is more or less going to be a complete miss for mainstream folks, but earn a huge place in the hearts of genre film fans. This film is destined for cult status and stands as Lynch's best film to date. Not to mention, the dark humor is spot on. "That's a lot of dead whores." Yes. Yes, it is.

19. The Golden Cane Warrior

Color me excited, but I enjoyed the hell out of this film. One part Yimou Zhang artistry and one part classic 1960s Shaw Brothers entertainment wuxia, The Golden Cane Warrior balances the two parts relatively well considering its obvious budgetary restraints. Sure, it's not only the level of either The Sword of Swords or House of Flying Daggers, but it's still a remarkably ambitious and thoughtful modern wuxia flick that should have fans excited to see where the the cast and crew go from here.

18. For the Emperor

If you take the core of South Korean gangster films, say New World, and then inject hints of 70s Japanese new action and a hint of 80s Hong Kong excess, that's the volatile mixture that For the Emperor is playing with. The film tends to be a little too twisty in the third act for its own good as it becomes a bit muddled, but until that point its a vicious and sleek cinematic experience boosted by a knack for subtlety from the actors and a tendency for bursts of tension breaking violence.

17. The Divine Move

Take a bit of 70s revenge thriller, mix it with the team-up heist flick, and slather it with some good old fashioned Oldboy and that's what you will find with The Divine Move. It's a serious genre shifter if you ever seen one as it ably navigates a series of film tropes and different genre nuances to produce a massively entertaining film. Perhaps if I understood a bit more about GO as a game the film might have even carried more punch, but just as a thriller action film it hits all the satisfying beats.

16. Kingsman: The Secret Service

With the now somewhat more serious and darker tones for espionage films like Bourne and Bond, Matthew Vaughn attempts to reinvigorate the tongue-in-cheek spy film with Kingsman - and does a pretty admirable job at modernizing the style while maintaining an obvious wink-wink approach to homaging its roots. Playing off with the over the top ridiculousness of Moore era Bond, but with the sleek visuals and modern glitz of Vaughn's partner in crime Guy Ritchie, Kingsman is massively entertaining and slathered in charm. It's not the perfect film and there are bits here and there that a almost guaranteed sequel could improve on (including, but not limited to beefing up some of the flatter secondary characters). However, the film is gloriously edgy with its violence and subject matter and splattered with enough fun and punch that it's hard not to enjoy on some baser level.

15. Wild City

 Ringo Lam is BACK. After leaving the director's chair for almost ten years (over if you don't count the segment he did in Triangle), Wild City had some high expectations riding along with it. Blending a chase thriller with some solid modern Hong Kong cops n' robbers plot and just a hint of classic HK heroic bloodshed, Wild City is an edge of your seat flick that utilizes strong performances and a constantly twisting script as the perfect comeback vehicle for Lam. The film itself is not perfect, there's some questionable CGI and the plot gets a bit muddled in places, but it's hard not to be impressed with how well this film works at balancing a modern HK plot with old school elements.

14. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

While I still prefer part three to this latest entry, it's hard to deny just how ridiculously fun this franchise is...and how strangely versatile it can be at selling gimmicks and concepts. Rogue Nation continues on in the same style as Ghost Protocol (IMF goes rogue...again), but this time they are met step for step by an anti-IMF. Or something. Truthfully, who cares? We see plenty of action, more humor, and a bit more of a classic M:I twisting plot. However, the best part is the bits of throwback style that director McQuarrie injects into the film including a snazzy, fog layered and silhouetted knife fight in the final act. The old school action fan in me LOVED that.

13. Close Range

 Perhaps its my odd love for both Isaac Florentine and Scott Adkins overall, but when the two work together - it's fuckin' B-action movie magic. Close Range, which might have been a terrific Cannon Film with Chuck Norris if it were released in 1986, is a loosely knit story that has bare bones characters and minimal design. What works, and it works impressively well, is that it's NON STOP ACTION. Seriously, the entirety of the third act is a shoot out western style, the first act is a one man raid on a Cartel holding facility, and the second act is a run-n-gun chase. This film never stops. It's not likely to leave a whole lot of an impression down the road, but I'll be damned if I wasn't thoroughly entertained for the entire run time.

12. A Hard Day

It's an assumption now that most Korean thrillers that make it to the States are going to be overly impressive and A Hard Day goes right along with that. It's tense, vicious, effective, and artistically shot so that it never feels the drag of its formulaic crooked cop tropes. However, A Hard Day adds a bit of spice to the mix with some seriously dark humor that makes it so impressive. I laughed a lot at some of the terrible things that happen in this movie...and every laugh was uncomfortable. It was awesome.

11. No Tears for the Dead

I had nothing but praise for Lee Jeong-beom's last film The Man from Nowhere and I have nothing but praise for his follow up, No Tears for the Dead. While it might not be QUITE as good, the blend of anti-hero character study and action is still phenomenal overall. The first hour is the building of plot and characters, but the second hour is non-stop, super violent, action flick complete with a one man siege. I think at this time, it's pretty safe to say that Lee Jeong-beom is the new John Woo and No Tears for the Dead is a prime example of such.

10. Furious 7

At this point, this franchise knows exactly what it wants to be and doesn't fuck around. It's big, it's brash, and it's silly. It's also ridiculously good at being all of those things. New series director James Wan feels a bit shaky at times with his time helming the film which might be more or less the rather spastic plot that leaps from here to there, but once the film gets moving it really never slows down. It's the perfect send off to Paul Walker in the last 10 minutes, the action is till ridiculously well maneuvered (particularly in the last act), and the massive amounts of charm ooze out of every character and villain. It might be outrageous, but it's hard to argue with heart and entertainment.

09. Jurassic World

Jurassic World might have some B-grade elements like silly romantic subplots, kids with divorce problems, and a gene-spliced villain dinosaur/monster, but it is RIDICULOUSLY entertaining. Just the final 15 minutes is worth the price of admission alone. Once it gets moving, it never stops. It has some nice darker streaks that add a bit to the fun of the film and while I'm not saying that the film is going to win any awards for direction, writing, or acting, it does know how to be charming which is a massive saving grace.

08. Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

The hype is real. Truly, Abrams knows how to reboot a franchise cause not only did he return Star Wars to its roots, he improved on them - erasing Lucas' ability to make actors look wooden and really delivering a new set of characters that hit it home. The film is not perfect, the structure is a bit TOO familiar, but it's massively entertaining and it's a great way to kick off the new films. Color me impressed.

07. Memories of the Sword

If you take the basic foundation of Lady Snowblood, wrap it in the character complexities and relationships of Yimou Zhang's Hero, and injected it with the modern artistic look of The Grandmaster, then you have a basic understanding of what South Korea's epic wuxia Memories of the Sword is going to be like. The director does a weird quick zoom in/out movement in some of the fights which is a bit irritating, but the performances and other visuals of the film are breathtaking. It's epic, so be prepared for tons of characters and lots of plot (and thus, plot twists), but the results are impressive to say the least.

06. Creed

Creed is, by default, designed to be the new Rocky for a new generation. Whether you've seen the original films or not, although if you have there is plenty of smaller details and key moments for you to delight in, the film works on its own merits bringing a lot of the key elements to the table that made the original franchise so popular. Occasionally, the film follows the formula a bit too closely for its own good - enough so that the finale is utterly predictable - but the execution is phenomenal. The performances are top notch (I foresee a best supporting actor nod for Sly in this one) and director Coogler nails the visuals, including an entire boxing fight sequence done in one take. At least it looks like one take.

05. Turbo Kid

I was loving this movie with all of its quirky post apocalyptic elements, heartfelt friendship plot, and ridiculous gore, until the guy with the nunchucks made of hammers showed up. Now I'm in love with this movie. It's the brilliant blend of camp, emotional relevance, violence, and romance that makes Turbo Kid hit full speed. It's definitely a cult film, thus it's not for everyone, but for those looking for a film with all the right 80s elements in a overly refined Hollywood landscape then look no further.

04. Run All Night

Wow. I have been a fan of post-Taken Liam Neeson pretty much in its entirety (outside of the Taken sequels, but it's not his fault), but Run All Night had me HOOKED. It's a thriller that seems to be the polar opposite of A Walk Among The Tombstones. This one is filled with a kinetic tension as we see Neeson's Jimmy character as an antagonist as much as a protagonist in the film. Director Collet-Serra handles the high pitch pacing damn near perfectly too, injecting action where there needs to be (the car chase is brilliantly shot) and keeping an emotional relevance front in center in subtle ways.

03. Assassination

 There are enough plot twists, spins, and pirouettes in Assassination for fifteen thriller flicks. Yet, that's hardly the impressive part. The impressive part is that somehow, in someway, the film not only manages to make it all fit, but it makes it flow with a natural ease...AND make it emotionally impactful. The film is definitely plot and character focused (it has a few action packed moments, but it's certainly not exclusively in the genre) so keep that in mind when diving into what is likely to be the sharpest and most engrossing thriller of the year.

02. Brotherhood of Blades

Invoking the spirit of early Chang Cheh sword epics, Brotherhood of Blades is both inherently old school and decidedly slick in new school. The story is heartfelt and epic in nature, the fight sequences are exciting and flashy, and the execution from the actors and director is only top notch. This is definitely an overlooked gem for the year and any fan of wuxia or martial arts films owes it to themselves to leap into this one.

01. Mad Max: Fury Road

At this point, I'm not sad it took so long for George Miller to release this latest entry into the Mad Max universe. He took a 2 hour dose of insane action and injected it with soul. It's a subtle soul, like that of the titular character and his round about way of being the most human person in the wasteland outside of his rough exterior, but it's there. It's also noteworthy to say that I sincerely appreciate that outside of the opening introduction to the film, it rarely spends time trying to explain the insanity of the world and just throws the viewer by the time that the film is done, you feel as much as a survivor as the people in the post-apocalyptic world.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

1 comment:

  1. Great list and your reviews were spot on for the films I've seen. I look forward to catching up with ones I haven't. Thanks.