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Crash! Boom! Pow! The 15 Best Action Sequences Of 2013

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist December 23, 2013 at 9:05PM

It seemed as though 2013 was positively clogged up with major "event" movies, each one bigger, louder, and more expensive than the last. Every week some new gargantuan thingummy was trying to one-up the previous week's path of destruction. While many of these movies turned out to be numbing and dull, there were still a few that were actually pretty dazzling, or at the very least featured one truly outstanding sequence that caused you to drop your popcorn or spill your oversized soda in pure, unabashed delight. Almost every big movie in 2013 was marketed at 13-year-old boys; the very best of them made you actually feel like you were 13 again, if only momentarily.
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The World's End

11. The Fight in The Beehive - “The World’s End” 
A funny thing happened between Edgar Wright shooting "Hot Fuzz" and "The World's End," the second and third films in the Cornetto trilogy. The British director went to the U.S, teamed up with "The Matrix" cinematographer Bill Pope and Jackie Chan collaborator Brad Allan, and made "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World," becoming one of the worlds best directors of fight sequences in the process. It's an immediate and obvious boon to "The World's End," which has three cracking, splattery fight sequences that pit the bar-crawlers against the 'smashy-smashy-egg-men,' as Nick Frost's Andy so memorably christens them. All three fights are instant classics, but as much as we love the one-take close proximity bathroom brawl that kicks things off, and the briefer throwdown with the twins in a smoking garden, it's the confrontation in The Beehive that's the biggest and the best. Realizing that one of their own has been turned by the Network, fronted by Pierce Brosnan's dope-smoking teacher, Gary (Simon Pegg), Andy (Frost), Steven (Paddy Considine), Sam (Rosamund Pike) and Peter (Eddie Marsan) make a last stand against the blanks, and it's breathtaking, dense stuff. Each character fights in a way that's entirely reflective of their character (i.e. Marsan pretty much runs and hides, former rugby star Frost is a hulking brawler), but the fragility of their adversaries lets the action become heightened and graceful without turning them into superheroes (and as ever, it makes a huge difference that it's clearly mostly the actors themselves getting stuck in). Wright's fluid camerawork gives the action space to breath without losing punch, and it's just crammed with memorable gags and detail, so much so that you'll miss much of it the first time around—Pegg's attempt to finish his drink while fending off foes is a meld of Jackie Chan and a great Looney Tunes cartoon, and a gorgeous bit of physical comedy amidst the carnage. It's a few minutes in which a group of drunk middle-aged British men became the most memorable action heroes of the year. 

The Lone Ranger

10. The Train Chase From "The Lone Ranger"
Up until the last thirty minutes or so, Gore Verbinski's "The Lone Ranger" was, at the very least, an incredibly strange, darkly comic, and hugely expensive western that had moments of intermittent beauty and excitement. And then the last thirty minutes starts and it becomes near-brilliant for the simple reason that the last thirty minutes of the movie is occupied by the train chase. The movie is built around a mystery involving a railroad baron, the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, a reptilian bandit, cursed silver and a tribe of Native Americans, and so it makes sense that the climax would take place on the rails (after a fictionalized version of the golden spike ceremony that cemented the real railroad's transcontinental dominance). Tonto (Johnny Depp) has stolen one train, The Constitution, full of silver, while the villains (led by Tom Wilkinson) board the Jupiter, a swifter passenger train, and give chase. Verbinski constructed the chase with the full intention of creating the "greatest train chase ever," and he's succeeded: between the trains, which crisscross on zigzagging tracks, the fact that the Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) rides a horse on top of one of the trains (and then has a gunfight between the carriages), and then that the whole thing comes to a head on a dynamited bridge… Well, it's kind of one of those things that has to be seen to be believed. It's exciting, it's funny, it's gorgeously staged (with major help from Industrial Light & Magic), and it's so good that even those who think the film is utterly worthless have to begrudgingly agree that its last thirty minutes are something quite special.

World War Z

9. The Israeli Invasion From "World War Z"
Like so many great action sequences, this heart-stopping moment from "World War Z" is constructed around a sly joke: that in this post-zombie world, Israel has remained uncontaminated because they have built a towering concrete wall to keep out the walking dead. (A similar idea is explored in "Pacific Rim," only there it's given the name the Wall of Life and used to keep out giant scary monsters, without the satirical edge.) Brad Pitt, as the former UN official brought in to try and untangle the mystery of how, exactly, the outbreak got started, is being taken around and told how the wall works. Israel knows a thing or two about walls, the character notes. As this is going on, there's some kind of public prayer about to begin. The feedback from the microphone that is being used sets off the zombies outside of the wall, who start to climb up one another like a giant, horrifying nest of army ants. Pretty soon they're over the top of the supposedly impenetrable wall and all hell is breaking loose (even more hell breaks loose on the unrated Blu-ray edition—yum!) Even though the visual effects in this sequence, mostly handled by the wizards at Industrial Light & Magic, sometimes look unrealistic, it doesn't really matter. There's a feeling of overwhelming, claustrophobic dread and it's easily one of the scariest, most apocalyptic moments in the entire film. 

Lone Survivor

8. The Firefight from “Lone Survivor”
Peter Berg’s often jingoistic paean to supporting our troops is an interesting paradox. It’s not very good and not much of a movie (there’s barely a story other than capturing an event), but it’s one of the most intense movie experiences of the year. As our own Gabe Toro said, making us laugh around the water cooler, “It’s literally like being shot at for two hours"—facetious and yet totally accurate. In fact “Lone Survivor"'s action sequence, “the firefight” as we call it, is essentially 75% of the movie. It feels like one 2-hour action sequence and it is absolutely grueling.  As elite SEAL Team members, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch and Taylor Kitsch go on a mission to kill a notorious Taliban leader, they are found on a ridge by a Taliban army and are shot to pieces and cut to shreds. It is brutal. The soldiers are pummeled beyond recognition, shot to bits, and TWICE have to jump off rocky cliffs to escape their foes (only to get pinned down again). It’s arguable whether the action sequences in “Lone Survivor” are elegantly shot in the way that one usually thinks of a graceful action sequence composed by say, Michael Bay. But what’s undeniable, regardless of whether you like the movie or not (and many of us didn’t), is just how excruciatingly torturous it is to watch and experience. Credit Berg, his editors, sound designers and team for making you feel like you to should run for your life and scurry for cover as bullets whiz by your face.  Not hyperbole: pound for pound for intensity, this long action sequence in “Lone Survivor” rivals the storming of Normandy in Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” though obviously the main difference is that Spielberg’s film is a modern-day classic and Berg's won't be making any non-Red State-r’s top 10, except maybe in a list like this. It’s not particularly pretty to watch and some might argue it’s overlong, but no one said a real firefight was a walk in the park.

This article is related to: G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Oblivion, Man Of Steel, The Wolverine, World War Z, The Lone Ranger, The World's End, Lone Survivor, Pacific Rim, Iron Man 3, Gravity, Captain Phillips, Fast & Furious 6, The Grandmaster, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Best Movies of 2013, Features, Feature, Best of 2013


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