Slicing Up the Most Kick-Ass Action Movies of 2010

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Overall, 2010 was a relatively good year at the movies, a promising (yet possibly deceptive) way to start a brand new decade in film. A slew of great drama, prestige and family films saw release in the latter part of a year, when such films are typically prone to emerging. On the action/blockbuster side of things, however, the crop generally wasn’t so pretty, with a few gems standing above the middling rest. These are those films:

5 Salt

This solid yet quite conventional take on the worn out “spy on the run” model (but it’s a woman this time, so that’s new right? It isn’t? Oh, you’re right, sorry.) gets by on some well done, often exciting action, and primarily the arresting lead performance of Angelina Jolie, an actress for whom many would pay to watch sort household bills. Jolie, who does much of her own stunts here, is ably backed up by the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor and Liev Schrieber, both of whom tend to be awesome. There’s really not much more to be said than that, please revisit the introductory paragraph for information on what kind of year this was for action flicks.

4 Machete

Director Robert Rodriguez delivers on the pulpy, trashy promise made in a faux trailer starring Danny Trejo seen in his and Quentin Tarantino’s 2007 double feature collab, Grindhouse. Trejo, whose mountainous stature and hard craggy face have menaced films and TV for decades, plays the hero here, a Mexican federale who is quite conveniently named after his weapon of choice (not that Machete is averse to using whatever he can find, because he is not). Rodriguez, known to coat everything with a thick layer of over the top cheese, finds his talents right at home on this particular material, making it his most enjoyable film since 2005’s Sin City. Its large and likeable cast includes Jessica Alba (not sucking at all!), Michelle Rodriguez, Cheech Marin, Lindsay Lohan (as pretty much herself), Don Johnson, Robert DeNiro (pretty funny) and Steven Seagal (comeback of the year) as the eerily calm villain. Machete cuts right to the fun.

3 Iron Man 2

Some critics found this sequel the 2008 hit thin and cobbled together, but it definitely boasts a few improvements over the old model, such as a better James Rhodes in actor Don Cheadle (who gets to armor up as War Machine this time out), bigger and more memorable action/visuals (something about laser whips bisecting racecars) and an entertaining pair of villains (a scary, Russian Mickey Rourke, a smarmy, funny Sam Rockwell). Robert Downey Jr. again does great work as the cockiest superhero in American cinema, who in this often hilarious installment finds himself under siege from several different angles, thanks to his going public with his secret identity at the end of the last film. Watching his back is undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Black Widow (Scarlet Johannson), who gets an amazing acrobatic fight scene towards the movie’s end. Though such allusions to The Avengers felt tacked on and annoying to some, and it may lack the cohesion and overall freshness of the original, it is infinitely more re-watchable.

2 Kick-Ass

Talented director Matthew Vaughn’s (X-Men: First Class) adaptation of Mark Millar’s ultraviolent comic about a real world geek who gets the notion to patrol NYC as the first actual superhero, to predictably injurious results, was well received for a few very solid reasons. One of those reasons is the screen-devouring presence of Chloe Moretz as foul-mouthed, murderous, tweener vigilante (which also drew some controversy) Hit-Girl, who along with her partner/father Big Daddy (a hilarious Nic Cage) shoot and slice their way through the underworld, showing the titular rookie hero how its done. Kick-Ass features some very well choreographed mayhem as the film escalates further into cartoonish outlandishness, right up to its jetpacks n’ bazookas (really) conclusion. It’s a piece of outrageous and surprisingly heartfelt entertainment.

1 Inception

Christopher Nolan, known for his spectacular reinvention of Batman, took a vacation from Gotham to bring us this classy mind-bender. A film that proved to be an important milestone in Nolan’s progression as a director of action (its fights and chases topping those of even 2008’s “The Dark Knight”), Inception has a fantastic cast that includes Leonardo Di Caprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine, and Ellen Page as well as a fine script by Nolan himself. The sci-fi tale’s intricate, unconventional plot frames some truly amazing sequences, not the least of which is a fight scene involving Gordon-Levitt in a hallway that is constantly switching gravitational orientation, a perfect example of the way this film takes conventional action tropes (fistfights, car chases, gunfights) and turns them on their heads using its own distinct set of logics.

Honorable Mention

The Expendables: There is something to be said for this watchable enough retro-action fest that combines genre giants past (Stallone, Lundgren, Rourke) and present (Li, Statham), that something being that it is watchable enough.


That’s our quite-accurate action list for the year that was 2010. If you just really dug the A-Team and think it should have been represented here, or whatever your deal may be, don’t be shy, let us know.

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