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The Best Fight Choreography of 2014

John Wick Keanu

by Vanessa Tottle & Gabriel Valdez

You know what fight choreography is, we know what fight choreography is. Let’s just dive right in.

Oh, and we should warn you that unlike our other Best of 2014 articles, since fight scenes usually involve a big reveal or someone’s death:


They won’t play without you clicking on them, but just be aware of the above if you do.


Chris Carnel, fight coordinator
James Young, fight choreographer

This has stunts and fight choreography across the board – car chases (although the more outlandish stuff is CG), knife fights, wire-assists – you name it, it was in the Captain America sequel.

It was a really good year for practical choreography on film, and Captain America includes much more practical work than any other Marvel film. That blending also requires a great deal of creativity on the part of the stunt and fight coordinators, who wanted something less cartoonish and more immediate and brutal.

(Read the review)


Jonathan Eusebio, Jon Valera, fight coordinators

Are you going to eat those mashed potatoes?

No, I’m saving them for later.

This is the attitude that permeates the creative fight choreography of John Wick. Gun fu has been around for a while, but what Keanu Reeves practices is closer to gun jutsu. He controls the nearest threat with his body, saving him for later, and deals with the furthest one or two or three. It’s completely counter-intuitive and could only work in movies, but it is downright beautiful to watch.

It completely undermines your expectations of how a fight’s going to proceed and using Keanu Reeves as its dancer, John Wick gives us martial arts movements according to a ballet philosophy.

The clip above is the conclusion to a sequence that sees Reeves fight his way through several floors of a club. Each floor has its own dance music, and the pace of the choreography changes according to each genre – slowed down and deliberate in the new age spa, frenzied and tense on the dubstep dance floor.

It’s exceptionally clever, and that’s even before mentioning the fight between Reeves and Adrianne Palicki a few scenes later, which begins like a dance and ends like a brawl.

(Read the review)


Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, fight choreographers

Here is one of the most overlooked movies of 2014, a martial arts film that you could take every action scene out of and still be left with a compelling gang drama. And yet, those action scenes are some of the best ever filmed.

Director Gareth Evans leaves the fight scenes to his choreographers, who also play a lead and supporting character, but he still insists on using long takes that hit certain marks. The fight scenes to him are opportunities to communicate emotion in a way that’s removed from traditional storytelling. They’re filled with visual beats that lay their characters raw in a way that’s shielded during dramatic scenes.

In this clip, for instance, we already know that Hammer Girl is deaf, but when her sunglasses are knocked from her face, it’s revealed that she only has one eye. We stay on this for only a split-second, nothing is mentioned, and the fight doesn’t stop. It’s a heart-wrenching realization that suggests a whole other film’s worth of story, told in a moment, and that turns the end of a henchwoman from one character’s triumph into another’s tragedy.

This is how the film constantly communicates an anti-violence message through some of the most brutal fight choreography ever put in a movie. That’s not to say The Raid 2 doesn’t like cinematic violence. To the contrary, it basks in it, but it uses this to create a message about real-world violence and corruption in Indonesian politics.

We could talk about Iko Uwais’s tight body control and efficient movement, Yayan Ruhian’s loose, wildly animalistic performance, and how every character in the film fights completely differently, but in the end, Evans uses the choreography not as an attraction, but as one more storytelling tool to convey emotion and fill the world of his story in with detail. It has fight scenes that will make you cry. How many films can say that?

What makes the fight choreography in The Raid 2 special isn’t just the insane technical level required of the performers, it’s that the choreography itself tells vignettes inside the bigger story. The narrative doesn’t stop while we watch the fighting. As in dance, the story condenses and intensifies.

We’re always talking about how filmmakers need to invent new “cinematic language” for technical elements on film. The Raid 2 invents brand new language for fight scenes and how they can be used. It’s a rare instance when a film does that this successfully.

(Read the review)

In the lead-up to the Oscars, we’ve named several Best of 2014 Awards, with a special focus on categories the Oscars don’t include:

The Best Stuntwork of 2014

The Best 3-D of 2014

The Best Diversity of 2014

The Best Original Score of 2014

The Best Soundtrack of 2014

The Most Thankless Role of 2014

The 6 Best Super Bowl Ads

by Gabriel Valdez

Let’s get this out of the way first: that was a heart-pounding game. John Legend won the Super Bowl before it even started. Katy Perry gave an average performance and a superb show. If halftime is about excess and tweet-worthy visuals and celebrity, she excelled. Let’s face it – only one performer was ever able to deliver a musical performance instead of an ostentatious show at the Super Bowl, and that was Prince.

One more thing: Always had the best Super Bowl ad. Hands down. Its “Like a Girl” campaign is one of the only advertising campaigns I would ever call crucial. Ads are meant to take away, to make you feel like you need something in your life that you don’t have, to make you feel lesser for not having it. The “Like a Girl” campaign is one of the only ones that makes you feel better, as if you don’t need something more in your life, and that acknowledges its product as completely secondary to a real social message.

I’ll post the full version of the commercial here:

That was the best Super Bowl commercial. End of story. It’s been around for months, though, so let’s talk about the best original Super Bowl commercials, ones which made their TV premier right before or during the game.

5. “First Draft Ever”

My biggest problem with modern advertising is that we tend to focus on setup so much that we forget to deliver the punch-line. In a Super Bowl that tended toward more serious ads, this was the funniest of the night, featuring Doug Flutie, Jerry Rice, a caveman, and the first draft ever. It’s nothing but punch-lines. The 30-second version works a little better, but good luck finding it. The minute-version is still pretty good.

4. “Make It Happy”

Coca Cola is a horrible company with a horrible history of foreign abuses that make a horrible product. But they do make good commercials. This year’s was cheesy and painted in broad strokes, but it stood out for its positive messaging.

It also stood out for its editing – in an evening when Darren Aronofsky-style hip-hop editing dominated the night (it’s named for its philosophy, not for being used much in hip-hop), Coke kept to their traditional David Fincher-style of 90s music video editing. It made the commercial’s rhythm stand out from the hundreds of car commercials that want to make their new car seem like a Requiem for a Dream addiction.

3. “Be More Human”

There was a sudden and decided focus this year to feature women in commercials as more than just trophies. “Be More Human” ran right before the Super Bowl and featured both women and men performing fanatical workouts. But it also showed a woman carrying a man on her shoulders and women doing workouts side-by-side with and just as tough as the men. Some commercials this year did a great job of addressing issues that effect women – domestic abuse and double standards. That’s important, but the other half of the equation is to offer visuals of women as heroes and icons. That’s what this did.

2. “Lost Dog”

This hit me square in the Incredible Journey place in my heart. Budweiser owns the Super Bowl when it comes to delivering commercials that make the eyes water. If only they made beer that didn’t.

1. “Invisible”

Nationwide wins on delivering an ad that’s ostensibly about treating all their customers well, but that’s really about how women and minorities are so often treated as second-class citizens in our society. This was a theme during the Super Bowl this year and while these are all still ads, they really do reflect the changing values in our society. Ads hook onto the most relevant and talked-about messages already present. To be advertised something in a new way isn’t a victory, but to have women finally valued in ads in a way they weren’t before does speak to how the conversation about feminism has changed over the last few years.