Violence is a funny thing. Few of us actually enjoy participating in it, but most of us will at some point thoroughly enjoy watching it in a movie. Ah, the magical catharsis of cinema!

The movies are replete with scenes of battle. Fight scenes are the meat and potatoes of the action genre, and most thrillers will either end on one or throw a couple in somewhere. Picking only ten was always going to leave this list with a whole heap of contenders unfairly cast aside, but there’s no way I’m going to sit here and write fifty of these bastards.

So here are my favourite ten. For the sake of making the choice easier, I’ve left out battle scenes between entire armies. Perhaps another time. Please feel free to add your own top ten, if you have one, or simply chastise me for omitting your single favourite. Maybe we can settle it outside.

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10. John Smith v Jane Smith

Mr & Mrs Smith (2005)

After five (or six) years of a slowly stagnating marriage, John and Jane Smith discover that not only are they both secret super-assassins, apparently using the marriage as cover, but they are also each others’ next target. Possibly the most contrived set-up in this top ten, but who cares? The resulting gun-play, fist-fight and kitchen utensil carnage as the Smiths (the couple, not the popular 80s band) do bloody battle in their big, suburban house is great fun.

Probably Jennifer Aniston’s favourite movie scene ever, as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie convincingly beat the crap out of each other. I wonder if they’re like this in front of the kids.

And the winner is: There’s make-up sex. Everyone’s a winner with make-up sex!

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9. Channel 4 News Team v Evening News Team v Channel 2 News Team v Public News Team v Spanish Language News Team

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy ( 2004)

Legendary news anchor Ron Burgundy and his team are out on the town, on their way to cheer themselves up by shopping for suits, when they find themselves confronted by several rival teams, all looking to take each other down. In the world of syndicated news broadcasting it’s best to be armed. Clubs, chains, machetes, hand grenades and even tridents can be the divide between life and death. Just don’t touch the hair or the face.

Featuring more cameo appearances than an entire season of Saturday Night Live, the news team street fight proves that even clueless, musky-smelling morons can be heroes.

And the winner is: Burgundy and his Channel 4 News Team are gonna straight up murder your ass.

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8. King Arthur v The Black Knight

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

During his noble quest for the Holy Grail King Arthur encounters the dread Black Knight, guarding a bridge (or a small plank of wood over a pathetic stream). Refusing to allow the King past, a mighty battle ensues. Well, mighty-ish. Actually, it’s just silly.

Arthur severs the Knight’s arms, only to be told that it’s just a scratch as the undeterred Knight then resorts to kicking the King’s ankles. Even having both his legs lobbed off doesn’t dampen this warrior’s ire and Arthur eventually gives up and leaves the wriggling torso of his foe behind, crossing the plank to cries of, ‘Come back here you yellow bastard! I’ll bite your legs off!’

And the winner is: Arthur, of course, although the Black Knight is having none of it. ‘Let’s call it a draw’. Loony.

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7. Ripley v Alien Queen

Alien (1987)

A classic bitch-fight and one of those David and Goliath moments when you know you should put your money on the smallest. Having escaped and nuked the planet LV421, with all its nasty little xenomorphs, Ripley returns to her ship to find a very pissed Queen has hitched a ride and is looking for a rumble. Never one to shy away from an invitation, Ripley grabs a mechanical power loader and gets busy.

Limited by the effects of the time, much of the action is seen only at head height, but it’s still one if the coolest, and most original, brawls in cinema.

And the winner is: I’ll give you three guesses, and since there’s only two participants, if it takes you three guesses you’re a moron.

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6. Léon v Half the NYPD

Léon (1994)

Having seriously pissed off both the Mafia and a corrupt New York cop in his quest to avenge the murder of 12-year-old Mathilda’s entire family, hitman Léon and the girl find themselves besieged in a hotel room with half the city’s police force trying to find a way in. Luc Besson’s perfectly choreographed scene sees the wily Italian allow a group of officers into the room, only to shut the door behind them and take them all out, unseen.

When the door reopens, the next group of hapless cops find themselves face-to-face with the slippery assassin, as he hangs upside down in the doorway. Inspired!

And the winner is: In this particular round, Léon. But give the guy a break, there’s a lot of people out there.

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5. Neo and Trinity v A Small Army

The Matrix (1999)

Keanu Reeves may not be the greatest actor in the world, but at least he looks good running in slow motion with a machine gun. And Neo and Trinity may have stupid names, and rarely crack a smile, but when it comes to tearing up a building lobby full of security guards and a SWAT team, they don’t even have to take off their cumbersome long coats or remove their sunglasses indoors. Oh, to be so cool.

With lots of slow-motion gunfire, running up walls and picking up M16 rifles while performing cartwheels, this was one of the most refreshingly executed fight scenes for years.

And the winner is: Never underestimate people who dress only in black. Neo and Trinity don’t even get a scratch on their sunglasses.

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4. George Nada v Frank Armitage

They Live (1988)

John Carpenter’s last great movie contains a strong contender for the longest fist-fight (outside of a boxing ring) in any movie. Ever.

After discovering that the American elite are all aliens in disguise, controlling a docile population with consumerism and subliminal messages, Nada is understandably keen to share his revelation with someone. Unfortunately, the aliens can only be seen with special sunglasses and George’s co-worker Frank isn’t feeling particularly co-operative. Cue a hilarious, brutal, six-minute brawl in a back alley as George and Frank bludgeon each other to bloody pulps.

And the winner is: Let’s just say Frank ends up wearing the damn glasses.

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3. Indiana Jones v Big Nazi Guy

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

He’s already been through the mill and has a gruelling truck chase to come, but first our intrepid archaeologist has to deal with the imposing Nazi mechanic who stands between him and the Ark-carrying plane. Tired, dusty and visibly fed-up with throwing punches, Jones proceeds to get the shit kicked out of him.

Clearly not a student of Eastern combat philosophy, Jones is a brawler and has no qualms about using wrenches and a little arm-biting in an attempt to overcome the German behemoth. All to no avail. Not even a sudden flurry of professorial jaw-socking is going to slow down this Teutonic brute.

And the winner is: Indiana Jones, with no small help from a whirring propeller blade. Look out, behind yo…never mind.

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2. Yu Shu Lien v Jen Yu

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Ang Lee’s sumptuous epic features a whole bunch of fantastic fight scenes, but the greatest is the lengthy dust-up between Michelle Yeoh’s noble Yu Shu Lien and Zhang Ziyi’s angry young Jen Yu. Jen is armed with the indestructible sword, Green Destiny, and Shu Lien breaks an insane array of different weapons against the sword in an attempt to defeat the petulant child.

The breathtaking scene is so beautifully choreographed it’s more akin to a dance than a battle. And, let’s face it, there’s nothing sexier than watching two graceful women locked in passionate combat. Or is that just me? Whoops.

And the winner is: Jen does a runner eventually, so we’ll give it to Shu Lien by default. Yay!

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1. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn v Darth Maul

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)

This is what we turned up for. The single greatest lightsaber fight in the entire franchise. Having sat through two hours of trade disputes, Natalie Portman’s clown make-up, petulant little Anakin’s feeble attempts to endear himself to us, and Jar Jar Bloody Binks, die hard Star Wars fans were treated to this triple-header between Jedi and Sith.

Horny badass Darth Maul takes on two Jedi with the aid of his indescribably cool double-ended sabre. The glowy blades whirl around like the original trilogy’s fight scenes on fast forward. This was the moment when cool got a little bit cooler. Magic!

And the winner is: Having dispatched Jedi Master Qui-Gon, Darth Maul gets his ass handed to him by a mere apprentice. Fail!

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I was born in the year 1970, which means I was an active human presence on this planet through that entire decade. However, other than Star Wars, the better episodes of Doctor Who and a few fashion traumas, there isn’t a great deal I remember about the Seventies. So, when nostalgia comes calling for me, it comes bearing the stamp of the 1980s. And when my nostalgia turns to movies, one year stands out above the other nine: 1984.

What a year for the summer movie that was. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins, Beverly Hills Cop, Star Trek III, The Terminator. Oh boy, oh boy, it was a feast of flavoursome seasonal celluloid. And the icing on the summer cake turned out to be a tasty confection called Ghostbusters. It was one of those mysterious and elusive creatures, the Sleeper Hit™, coming out of nowhere and stealing the summer.

I seem to remember spending the best part of the summer of ’84 standing outside the local 3-screen cinema. I was 14 years old, and beginning to gain more traction in that tug of war for more freedom with my parents, and going to the cinema was the activity of choice for a lot of us. Sure, you could hang out at the park, but the cinema was better. Well, it was to me, anyway. Come on, the cinema had movies. The park had grass and a fountain. It was a no-brainer. Yes, I was one of those peculiar teenage guys that sat in the darkened cinema, girlfriend at my side, with every intention of actually watching the movie. I did not go there to snog and cop a feel. That’s what the park was for. Okay, I may have made an exception with Out of Africa, but it was long and boring as a dog’s ass.

Spengler, Stantz, Venkman and Zeddemore - love those surnames.

So, yeah, Ghostbusters. Sorry, may have drifted from the point there. Nostalgia will do that to you. I remember the summer of ’84 was the summer of Ray Parker Jr. asking you who you were gonna call. And then telling you. Incessantly. I confess to you here and now and with no sense of shame…well, maybe a little, that I bought that damn record. Oh, give me a break, it was catchy. A lot of people bought it. And like a lot of people, Ghostbusters blew me away on that first viewing.  It was witty, original, the special effects were fantastic and I think even my girlfriend stopped wondering why I wasn’t trying to put a clumsy arm around her. Maybe we went to the park afterwards, I can’t remember.

With most movies which you saw for the first time all those years ago, you don’t really recall the event. You just know you saw them at the cinema. However, I can remember vividly watching Ghostbusters. We were sitting on the right hand side, near the back (but not right at the back, which was reserved for couples who should have been at the park). I remember the opening scene, the appearance of Slimer, and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man all from that particular angle. Isn’t that strange? I don’t recall what I was wearing but, this being 1984, that’s probably for the best.

So much better than watching a fountain in the park.

One more thing that I will always remember, with absolute fondness, is the Ghostbusters novelisation, by Larry Milne. I read a lot of novelisations back then, but this one was by far the best. It was written in the present tense, which was rare for that kind of book, and somehow this made it even funnier than the movie itself. It had such a dry humour to it. It could have been written by Bill Murray. I must have read that book three times, at least. When my girlfriend wasn’t around, of course.

Some films travel with you through time, always remaining in step with you, never triggering feelings of nostalgia. Ghostbusters will always be like an old song to me; a song that takes you back to your youth, and the summer you spent exploring new freedoms and discovering movies that you would love for life.

George Orwell was right about a lot of things, but for me 1984 was a great year.

The Movie

Raiders of the Lost Ark is my all time favourite celluloid experience, bar none. There’s no other movie like it. Any collaboration between George Lucas and Steven Spielberg had a high chance of providing something special, and although none of the sequels lived up to the magic of this first crack of the whip, Raiders was a shining nugget of movie gold. There are certainly other movies that have connected with me more on an emotional or intellectual level, but no film quite gives me the pure chills, the goosebumps, that I get from Raiders of the Lost Ark. No other movie so effortlessly reminds me why I love cinema quite like this one. And no scene is a better example of why than the opening scene.

The Scene

South America, 1936. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and his companion Satipo (Alfred Molina) have located a remote, hidden temple. We’ve already had a taste of what kind of character this guy in the hat is after he’s seen off an armed traitor in his group, using just a bullwhip. Classy.

The two men enter the temple…

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Why I Love It

The Idea

What an opening scene for a movie. What a way for a character to introduce himself. What a piece of pure, unpretentious, fluid cinema. There are few directors so adept at making the ridiculous seem plausible like Steven Spielberg, which is what made him the perfect choice to make Raiders of the Lost Ark. The idea was to bring back the old Saturday morning adventure serials, with their cliff-hanger endings and preposterous scrapes. In this, they succeeded and then some. The opening scene immediately drops us into Indiana’s life at its most exciting, almost as if we have just caught the end of last week’s episode.

The Icky Factor

Spielberg understands that as well as ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’, audiences also enjoy the odd ‘yuk!’ The Indiana Jones movies are crawling (literally) with moments such as these. Having already given us an army of tarantulas, we are then treated to the nasty fate of Dr Jones’ predecessor, Forrestal. He even makes squelchy noises as his decomposing head turns Indiana’s way. Yes!

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Walking the Traps

A bunch of faces which shoot poison darts? No problem. Just don’t tread on the darker, diamond shaped stones. This should seem like a breeze when you think about it, but thanks to Spielberg’s slow tracking shot along the wall of faces, and John William’s steadily building score, it seems more like the worst ever drink driving test.

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The Intimate Zoom

Having reached the Golden Idol, Indy stops for a moment. With Williams’ music reaching a crescendo, Spielberg takes time for a slow zoom onto the Archaeologist and his prize. For Indiana Jones at that moment, there is nothing in the world but he and the Idol. It’s the perfect little moment of character illustration. Then, we pull out again and it’s back to business. Gives me a shiver every time.

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Ford Falls Over

The boulder rolling down toward Jones has long since become an iconic image, but what I love about this part is the fact that, having done 10 takes of Harrison Ford outrunning the huge fibreglass ball, Spielberg kept the one take where Ford fell over. It gives the scene a little sprinkle of authenticity, and I’m sure the panic on Ford’s face is genuine.

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Trivia

There is a continuity error at the beginning of the scene. As Indiana Jones and Satipo enter the temple, they pass through a huge cobweb. When Jones leans downwards to walk through the web, there are spiders clearly visible on his back. Cut to a shot from behind the pair, and we can see that Indy’s back is now clear. Then Satipo notices spiders on Indy’s back! Magic South American disappearing tarantulas or Continuity Editor’s day off?

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It doesn’t matter, of course. One small continuity error can’t stop this being my favourite scene from my favourite movie. Long may it give me goosebumps and bring a cheesy smile to my face!

Now, this really was a difficult one. I could have made this a top 50 and still struggled with who to include and who to leave out. Ah, the agony of choice. But, the fact that I have other things to do means I’ll just have to stop agonising and post the damn list.

Enjoy, and please feel free to add your own suggestions.

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Allison Reynolds – Ally Sheedy

The Breakfast Club

The basket case. Allison is moody, withdrawn, a compulsive liar and by far the most fun member of The Club. She has the fewest lines but says a thousand words with each scowl from her hair-covered eyes. Allison is the perfect teenage enigma; she wants to be found but there’s no way she’s going to make it easy for you. Fact: she looked better before Claire’s makeover.

Greatest moment: The Cap’n Crunch cereal sandwich followed by defiant chewing.

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Amélie Poulain – Audrey Tautou

Amelie

Everyone needs an Amélie in their life. The self-appointed guardian of the hopes and dreams of those around her, Amélie avoids her own life by repairing the lives of others. If you could get near her without her freaking out, hanging out with Amélie would be a blast. Shy, imaginative and unbelievably cute, there are few characters in the world of cinema that deserve their happy ending as much as she does.

Greatest moment: The garden gnomes.

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Dory – Ellen Degeneres

Finding Nemo

Okay, so she’s a fish but she’s a female character, isn’t she? And fish or not, Dory is just lovable. Yes, she’s absent-minded and she talks a little too much. In fact, she’s the kind of character who would probably drive you insane eventually, but contained within this hour and a half of Pixar magic, Dory is golden-hearted, wilfully optimistic and totally endearing. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.

Greatest moment: Speaking fluent whale.

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Ellen Ripley – Sigourney Weaver

Alien, Aliens, Alien3, Alien Resurrection

Quite possibly the toughest woman in the history of the universe, Ripley has watched a succession of men fall prey to the alien creature which then falls prey to her. Four times over. Not content with facing down the ‘perfect organism’, Ripley also busies herself tearing multi-national corporate power a new asshole. And she still finds time to satisfy her maternal instincts.

Greatest moment: Grabbing a power-loader and opening a can of whoop-ass on the Alien Queen.

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Laine Hanson – Joan Allen

The Contender

Senator Hanson is an example to all politicians. When her confirmation as Vice President is hampered by accusations of sexual indiscretion from an opponent, she chooses her principles of privacy and good politics over a defensive cry, refusing to deny or confirm the accusation in the face of overwhelming pressure to play the game. Hanson wins the day.

Greatest moment: Putting the President himself down when he asks her for the truth.

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Marge Gunderson – Frances McDormand

Fargo

Marge Gunderson is pure magic. At first glance she may come across as a simple, heavily pregnant, small-town policewoman but underneath that docile and well-mannered exterior are the instincts and tenacity of a bloodhound. Sharp as a razor, she sniffs out guilt with a mixture of amiable conversation and stern politeness. Underestimate Marge Gunderson at your peril.

Greatest moment: Telling off killer Gaear Grimsrud as he sits sulking in the back of her car.

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Marion Ravenwood – Karen Allen

Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

From the moment we meet her, running her own bar in Tibet, Marion is the only one keeping up with the Jones. Frankly, the adventuring archaeologist never stood a chance. Over the course of two movies she saves his life, machine guns a truck full of soldiers, survives a 50-foot plunge and the wrath of God, drives an armoured car off a cliff, has Jones’ son and then finally marries her man. You go, girl.

Greatest moment: The drinking contest.

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May Canady – Angela Bettis

May

She doesn’t mean to be weird, she just hasn’t had much practice socialising with anything other than the doll her mother gave her when she was a lonely child with a lazy eye. May tries hard to find a true friend, but makes all the wrong choices and it always ends badly. She doesn’t take the rejections very well. What was that her mother said? If you can’t find a friend, make one. Look on the bright side, at least May is creative.

Greatest moment: May gets dressed up for Halloween.

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Muriel Pritchett – Geena Davis

The Accidental Tourist

She’s a little eccentric and has a questionable sense of fashion, but Muriel Pritchett is the kind of woman who understands exactly what’s important in life. And she’ll always be there to remind you that you’re taking yours too seriously. Even it if it means following you halfway across the planet to do so. Also great with dogs.

Greatest moment: Condensing her entire outlook on life into the simple act of adding extra pickles to her Burger King Whopper.

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Sarah Connor – Linda Hamilton

Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day

From diner waitress to the saviour of mankind in two movies. Not too shabby. Okay, that’s via the psychiatric ward, but when you start spouting off about the time-travelling, killer robot that chased you through the 80s, you’re bound to get a negative reaction. Mind you, by the second movie, it’s a brave man who gives Sarah Connor a negative reaction to her face. Just look at her. Would you tell her she needs to lighten up a bit?

Greatest moment: Escaping the asylum.

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Note: Click on all the images to see them full size.

If you love movies as much as I do, there’s a good chance that you love movie posters too. You probably have them on your walls, use one as your desktop wallpaper, and perhaps even collect movie posters like some people collect Picassos. I have a few myself, and why not? Some movie posters truly are works of art. Or at least, they used to be. Perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps I’ve got another case of that rose-tinted nostalgia-vision, but it seems that the hand-crafted movie poster has become an endangered species.

Growing up in the eighties, I spent my childhood in awe of the great movie poster illustrators, the artists whose work embellished the films I worshipped. I was a budding artist as well as a movie fanatic, and the eighties may have been the heyday of the movie poster artisan. It was, I see now, the perfect time for me to grow up in. Part of the excitement of any new movie, particularly those by the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, was that first glimpse of the new artwork by Drew Struzan or Richard Amsel. These were artists who created posters upon which their signature was redundant. You knew who had created it simply by the style of the illustrations. They were in a league of their own, and in my opinion will remain so.

Star Wars reinvigorated the movie poster, accentuating the concept of the one sheet as a collectible piece of artwork. That’s not to say movie posters weren’t collectibles before then but, as it did with so many other things, Star Wars set the bar a little higher. The movie poster was suddenly romantic and energetic again, and the best designs for Star Wars ably captured the film’s wonder, sweep and spectacle. The posters were not just promotional tools, but important artistic creations in their own right. Perhaps, the most famous is the image of heroic Luke Skywalker, complete with accentuated physique, holding his lightsaber aloft, with the giant head of Darth Vader in the stars behind him. Known as Style A, this was a poster design interpreted first by Tom Jung (who would create posters for all three of the original Star Wars trilogy) and then by The Brothers Hildebrandt, with dramatically differing styles.

Drew Struzan’s poster for the film, in collaboration with airbrush artist Charles White III, was a nostalgic piece harkening back to the Saturday morning serials upon which the movie was based. It has a torn poster on plywood effect that only came about because the original design had no room for the movie credits. The romantic design ethic continued with The Empire Strikes Back. Roger Kastel illustrated the classic poster for the Star Wars sequel (see below), having previously created the iconic image for Jaws. Again, it is an evocative illustration encompassing a montage of scenes and characters. The fantasy and romance pours from the poster and the colours beautifully reflect those of the movie. Tom Jung also created his own poster for the movie, featuring a striding Darth Vader holding out his hand, a pose reflecting the movie’s famous and oft-quoted line, ‘I am your father’.

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Richard Amstel produced two wonderful illustrations for Raiders of the Lost Ark, having earlier worked on the poster for Flash Gordon (above). The Indiana Jones series, a natural successor to the romantic nostalgia of Star Wars, followed suit in utilising great artists to render promotional materials. Amsel’s work on Raiders still ranks among my favourites of all time (see his alternative version at the top of this page). The beautifully realised image of Harrison Ford lifting out of the sandstone (a mix of watercolour, acrylic, airbrush and coloured pencils) is not only iconic, but sets the tone and setting of the film perfectly. Again, Drew Struzan was given the chance to create his own design for the film, for its 10th anniversary re-release. Sadly, Richard Amsel died in 1985, only thirty-eight years old. Struzan then became the go-to guy for the Indiana Jones movies, as well as many others connected with the Spielberg/Lucas machine, such as the Back to the Future trilogy and the Star Wars prequels.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that there were many great artists working during this period. John Alvin created the famous poster for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial which portrays the fingers of the alien and Elliot touching. The idea paid homage to Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam (suggested by Spielberg). Alvin was also responsible for the paws emerging from a box for Gremlins and the original poster for Blade Runner. Bob Peak created the art for each Star Trek movie poster, throughout the eighties. They, and many more like them, are the reason why movie memorabilia from that period is among the most sought after.

These days things are different. The ease and speed at which a poster can be knocked together using Photoshop means beautifully hand-rendered movie posters are a far rarer beast. To the men signing the cheques, it’s far cheaper to hire someone to sew together a couple of head shots or do a photo montage on the computer. I understand it, this is a business after all, but there was something about those old posters that fired the imagination and stoked the sense of wonder as you awaited your first screening of the next celluloid dream. They produced the kind of artwork that cannot be achieved with a mouse and keyboard, any more than an Impressionist masterpiece can be. The industry no longer seems to need the artists the way it once did, and it is always sad when an art form becomes surplus to requirements.

Struzan is still working, however rarely, and still producing immaculately hand-drawn posters. Hellboy was graced with his work along with, naturally, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. However, the golden age of he and his peers is long gone. At forty, I may grumble about my age, but I will always be grateful to have spent my formative years during the heyday of these unsung artistic giants. And I will always remember how I was just as influenced and inspired by the artistry they used to promote the movies as I was by the movies themselves. Thank you, guys.

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Drew Struzan’s website

A wonderful site dedicated to the work of Richard Amsel

Tom Jung’s page at IMP Awards

John Alvin’s website