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Laremy Legel

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Member of the BFCA and OFCS, writer of criticism, noted interviewer, box office oracle, walker of dog named Bugsy, Qui audet adipiscitur.

Is Bigelow Our Best Action Director?

When news of the horrific snubbing of Kathryn Bigelow by The Academy came down, we immediately looked around for ways to provide her some solace. Should we do a “Hurt Locker” live blog? How about a “Point Break” stage play? Once we realized both of those had already been done, we decided to investigate other accolades, ones that didn’t rhyme with “Mest Girector Jominee.” Hmmm, we thought, what about the title of “Best Action Director”? Does that fit a woman who is clearly at the top of her game? Let’s go that route!

A point in Kat-Big’s favor is that the action genre is in a state of shambles. Sure, there are plenty of comic book films you could label as “action,” or young adult novel adaptations that have moments of action embedded within. But purely visceral heart-thumping cinema? It is hard to find these days, and the pushers of pulsating moments of peril are at all an all-time low. Which means the title of “Best action director” is wide open! Here are the contenders for Bigelow’s rightful crown:

J.J. Abrams
Pros: “MI3″ and “Star Trek” are worthy adversaries.
Cons: “Super 8″. There aren’t any decent action films starring children this side of “Goonies”.
Overall Action Rating: Eight out of 10. Abrams is legit.

Michael Bay
Pros: “The Rock,” “Bad Boys,” and “Armageddon” formed an action triumvirate the likes of which the world had never seen.
Cons: “The Island,” “Transformers,” and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” formed an action triumvirate the world would prefer to forget.
Overall Action Rating: Seven out of 10. Which Michael Bay can we expect these days? The one that’s phoned in the past decade? Or the one that’s bringing a stripped-down “Pain and Gain” to theaters, hoping to reclaim his title?

Peter Berg
Pros: “The Kingdom” is underrated! “The Rundown” is underrated! “Battleship” and “Hancock” are … oh, okay, I now see the problem with his candidacy.
Cons: Our culture may never come back from the scourge that was “Battleship”. The Mayans didn’t get us, but Berg’s alien robots from the sea did irreparable damage.
Overall Action Rating: Five out of 10. He once was glorious, but it’s been five years. What have you done for us lately, Peter?

James Cameron
Pros: “True Lies” and “Terminator 2″ may be the best action films we talk about all day.
Cons: “Avatar” had more sermonizing than action, and Cameron only makes one film every six years. That’s not enough action for us action junkies.
Overall Action Rating: Five out of 10. He used to be the king, but he abdicated the throne. Also, James Cameron does what James Cameron does because he’s James Cameron. Man, that clip never gets old.

Joe Carnahan
Pros: “The A-Team” and “Smokin’ Aces” remind us of a simpler time, when action films used to crush it.
Cons: “The Grey” didn’t have nearly enough wolf-y action. It was all full of feelings!
Overall Action Rating: Eight of 10. I still believe in the Carnahan, I still believe.

Rob Cohen
Pros: Ooooh, “xXx” and “The Fast and the Furious.”
Cons: “Stealth” and “Alex Cross”? Why must every action director take a hard turn toward mediocrity?
Overall Action Rating: Five out of 10, but we hope he makes it back.

Jon Favreau
Pros: “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2″ are the strongest bullet points on his resume.
Cons: Then you have “Cowboys & Aliens” – not the strongest bullet point on any resume.
Overall Action Rating: A solid six out of 10. His case would be augmented by a huge action film, and luckily he’s working on “Jersey Boys”.

Paul Greengrass
Pros: His contributions to the “Bourne” franchise were sizable, and his framing of action scenes is quite strong.
Cons: “Green Zone” was a huge letdown, wasn’t it?
Overall Action Rating: Only four out of 10. It’s starting to seem as though he just inherited a great franchise and maintained the quality.

Justin Lin
Pros: “Fast Five,” “Fast and Furious,” and “Tokyo Drift”. This may be the best action series going, topping “Transformers” and “Die Hard”.
Cons: “Annapolis” is almost worth watching to to see the the lows James Franco can hit on screen.
Overall Action Rating: Seven out of 10. If Lin shows ability outside the “Fast and Furious” franchise he’d be eligible for to top slot. But as the last one made $626 million worldwide, he’ll have plenty of financial incentives to just keep cranking those titles out.

McG
Pros: There was a time we thought “Charlie’s Angels” heralded a bright new star on the action scene.
Cons: Everything else, especially the mess that was “Terminator: Salvation”. Also, he should have to go by his real name, at least until they let me go by “McDuck”.
Overall Action Rating: Two out of 10. The ship be sinking.

Christopher Nolan
Pros: “Inception” was a taut thriller, and “The Dark Knight” is the best superhero film that ever was.
Cons: Superhero films have a hint of surrealism which true action films avoid. Action is about real “life and death” situations, and a guy in a cape takes you out of that place. Think “Cliffhanger” vs. “Superman” and you’ve got the disconnect.
Overall Action Rating: Six out of 10, but only because he doesn’t really fit in the genre, though he could if he felt the need.

Guy Ritchie
Pros: “Snatch” is amazing. Have you watched “Snatch” lately?
Cons: “Sherlock Holmes 2″ confirmed a few of our deeply held fears about Ritchie, namely that he might be addicted to slow motion.
Overall Action Rating: Seven out of 10. The man gave us the original and well conceived “Sherlock Holmes” plus the aforementioned “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels”. That’s heap of action.

Ridley Scott
Pros: “Gladiator” and “Black Hawk Down” are probably his strongest entries into the record.
Cons: Well, he’s really more of a sci-fi fellow.
Overall Action Rating: Six out of 10, but only because he doesn’t particularly care about being a better action director.

Quentin Tarantino
Pros: “Kill Bill” had some exceptional fight scenes, remember that one in the garden?
Cons: Tarantino loves tension, but the “action” genre feels a little bit beneath him, as he simply adores complex story arcs.
Overall Action Rating: Three out of 10. Quentin doesn’t make action films, he makes dramas that have some wild and crazy scenes within.

Paul Verhoeven
Pros: He directed the original “Total Recall,” the good one, plus “Robocop”. He’s also got “Starship Troopers” to his resume if you’re feeling particularly generous.
Cons: “Showgirls” and “Basic Instinct” are reason enough to exercise complete veto power here.
Overall Action Rating: Four out of 10, especially because he’s largely abandoned stateside filmmaking and broad action films.

Len Wiseman
Pros: “Underworld!” “Live Free or Die Hard!” This guy is a shoe-in.
Cons: The “Total Recall” remake. Ugh, see what we mean by the whole “action genre in shambles” take?
Overall Action Rating: Three out of 10. He’s rebooting “The Mummy,” a formally proud franchise that was recently reduced to rubble.

And finally we get to it. She may be on the outs with The Academy, but is she strong enough to take out the rest of these interlopers?

Kathryn Bigelow
Pros: “Point Break,” and the “The Hurt Locker” form her pedigree.
Cons: Technically, as a Best Director winner, she’s above the label. But “Zero Dark Thirty” has the best action scenes of the year, and she’s managed to fuse drama with action to create an entirely new style of film.
Overall Action Rating: Nine out of 10, and the crown!

You’ll finally get a chance to see “Zero Dark Thirty” this weekend, here’s hoping you come down on the same side!


Categories: Features

Tags: J.j. abrams, James cameron, Kathryn bigelow, Mcg, Michael bay, Peter Berg, Rob cohen, Zero Dark Thirty

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