Sunday, January 25, 2009

Eight days of favorite films I: Action/Adventure

Way back on my defunct blog Section 241 I once wrote a post about the American Film Institute's list of the 100 best genre films. I disputed their definition of "genre," as well as the few genres they chose to represent. Having already aired all of that, I thought I should delve into what I consider great genre films.

Over the next 8 days I'll be listing my 10 favorites from 8 genres: Action/Adventure, Science Fiction, Comedy, Mystery/Suspense, Drama, Horror, War and Fantasy. I would have liked to represent Musicals, Westerns & Documentaries as well, but I had a hard enough time filling out the top 8 genres (but for the record my number one favorites of each genre are respectively Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), High Noon (1952) and March of the Penguins (2005)).

To begin, I'll cover Action/Adventure. It is tricky to divide films into genre because some films could fit comfortably into multiple genres. I'll explain some of my rationalizations and other thoughts after the list:

  1. The Dark Knight (2008)
  2. Die Hard (1988)
  3. Leon - the Professional (1994)
  4. The Man Who Would be King (1975)
  5. The Seven Samurai (1954)
  6. Batman Begins (2005)
  7. Iron Man (2008)
  8. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
  9. The Untouchables (1987)
  10. Batman: Mask of Phantasm (1993)

Well, it's clear that I like Batman films, if nothing else. Rather than create an animation genre I chose to distribute my favorite animated films amongst whatever genre they fit best. I also considered a super hero genre, but ultimately decided that super hero films were best described as a sub-genre of action/adventure and left it as you see.

It's interesting to see the kinds of heroes who make up my favorite action films; some of them aren't entirely heroic, notably a murderous hitman (Leon), two rogues who con their way into a kingdom (Man Who Would be King) and a weapons maker who has a *literal* change of heart (Iron Man). But the others are more or less straight arrow good guys - a philanthropic millionaire who besmirches himself for the greater good (Batman), a treasury agent out to get Capone (Untouchables), a bandit who robs from the rich and gives to the poor (Robin Hood), the titular Seven Samurai who defend a doomed town and a cop who fights his way through a building of heavily-armed men to save his wife (Die Hard).

It's also interesting that four of these have downbeat endings where the hero either dies accomplishing his task (Leon), achieves his task but pays a heavy price (Seven Samurai, Dark Knight) or outright loses everything (Man Who Would be King).

So what do I enjoy in an Action/Adventure film? Usually it's a singular protagonist who is bold enough to take on an impossible challenge, likely because of his particular worldview (there are 7 protagonists in the Seven Samurai but Kikuchiyo clearly takes the cake; his status as a non-samurai makes him more fallible than the others but also more worldly-wise). I enjoy a well-coreographed fight scene (which is hard to come by in some major action films, sad to say) but I'm happiest with films where there's a ticking clock - only so much time for the hero to beat the odds or be beaten. Interesting heroes; tense moments; exciting action sequences; I'm easy to please.

Tomorrow: my 10 favorite science fiction genre films.

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