May 22, 2003
Squib Central’s Top Ten Action Sequences on Film List, Part 2:
Thanks for joining me for the second installment of Squib Central. This week finds us finishing off our list of top ten movie action sequences. Again, I encourage you to chime in with your opinions via e-mail.
5. TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY (1991) – Final Half-Hour
It’s hard to believe that director James Cameron made our list twice, but alas, here he is. Why did I select this movie? TERMINATOR 2, notably the final half hour, is the perfect synergy of special effects, action choreography, stunts, cinematography, musical score, and explosions…which are all successful in advancing the plot. Perhaps that is the greatest feat of a skillfully filmed action sequence: existing for the sake of plot advancement and not simply for gratuitous violence. That, plus the big explosions.
4. SCARFACE (1983) – Final Gun Battle
“Say hello to my little friend!”
Speaking of gratuitous violence, Brian DePalma’s SCARFACE enters the charts at number four. True story: Growing up the youngest of five (two older brothers, two older sisters), I was often left in the care of an older sibling. One of the first “movie memories” I have is of watching a copy of SCARFACE taped from cable. I remember being a small child, playing with my Masters of the Universe Action Figures on the couch, while my two older brothers hooted and hollered during SCARFACE. The cartoon violence and ham-fisted acting here (probably Pacino’s first over-the-top performance) were almost appropriate for a kid to watch. Well, okay, maybe it was inappropriate, but this was before Disney Video came along (Thank God!).
This movie has seen a resurgence of late thanks in part to the DVD, and while there is a growing legion of Tony Montana followers these days who can quote the entire movie by heart, it’s that final gun battle at Montana’s mansion that should garner the most attention from new recruits for this army of armchair gangsters and future film geeks.
One main reason for the inclusion of this film on the list is simply tone. This sequence is all about tone. Much like Pacino’s Cuban druglord, full of machismo, bravado, reckless abandon, and yes, even silliness, this action sequence was truly balls-to-the-wall. It was straight out of a B-movie, but there was something about the tone of the final scene that made it remarkable, and dare I say, timeless. Unfortunately, it would also spawn a generation of misogynistic rap artists (read: not all rappers…save the hate mail) and scenery-chewers like Gary Oldman (read: I love Oldman…save the hate mail).
3. THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971) – Car chase scene (well, if you can call it that)
Let’s see. This film earned nods at 1971’s Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor (Gene Hackman), Director (William Friedkin), Screenplay, and Film Editing. Did it deserve it? Damn straight! The action sequence alone deserved its own award. I wonder, do you think car chase scenes are the most difficult to film? Not only is this a car chase, but more aptly, it’s a car/train chase. I can only imagine the amount of planning that went into this goliath of a scene. No one really attempts this type of scene these days, and when they do, they’re forgettable train wrecks (pardon the pun): loud and pointless, with cumbersome camera trickery and noticeable CGI. THE FRENCH CONNECTION is the real deal. The older audience appreciates this pick, I’m sure, unfortunately, I think it has slipped off the radar screens of today’s hipper, younger crowd.
2. THE KILLER (1989) – the entire movie
If Squib Central could have a mascot film, John Woo’s THE KILLER would have to be it, without question. Woo’s THE KILLER has that sweeping, majestic vision that has been copied so much the source would almost have to be transparent by this point. I popped the film back in recently for the sake of this article and let me assure you, this film holds up better than ever. The action choreography is inspired. Hell, you know what? The action choreography of THE KILLER is the inspiration. The Wachowski’s bullet-time MATRIX owes more than a little to Woo’s bullet ballet THE KILLER. The next time you see two film adversaries locked in gunplay, pointing loaded pistols in each other’s faces as if part of some modern day duel, think of THE KILLER. It’s iconic.
And now, for Squib Central’s number one cinematic action sequence of all time, drum roll please…rather, cue the Wagner.
1. APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) – Air Cav Sequence
“I love the smell of napalm in the morning…”
Combine the gusto that I spoke about from SCARFACE with the realism of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, and you have this unique amalgam courtesy of director Francis Ford Coppola. Robert Duvall, in the quintessential scene-stealing role, as Lt. Col. Kilgore, leads his squadron of fighter choppers, known as the Air Cavalry, into the vein of the heart of darkness. With a divine soundtrack, Ride of the Valkyries, courtesy of Wagner (ironically enough, one of Hitler’s favorites), this scene is set in motion as the Viet Cong flee for their lives like God Himself is raining down upon them. I’ve studied this countless times, and with each viewing I grow more amazed at the immaculate technique involved here. Unfortunately for the film, the tone drastically shifts after this sequence, and it’s difficult to catch your breath, even for the remainder of the movie. Besides, most of the audience is so hyped up and ready to go that the masterfully crafted psychodrama that follows is almost a letdown. Hard to believe with eye-popping performances from Brando, Hopper, and Sheen, that anything could be a downer, but this is the ultimate testament to the air cav sequence and why it is perhaps the greatest action sequence ever filmed.
The Squib Central Ass Kicker of the Week Award: THE MATRIX RELOADED. Why? Did ya see that box office, bro?
Next Week at Squib Central: Getting to the bottom of Michael Mann’s HEAT once and for all, including a look at a volume of BFI MODERN CLASSICS by Nick James. All that, plus some reader mail.
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