127 Hours (2010)
Danny Boyle writes and directs James Franco in this gripping solo drama, retelling the true story of rock climber Aaron Ralston who becomes trapped in a remote Utah canyon when a boulder falls, crushing and trapping his right hand – the film’s title refers to the length of time he spent trapped.
With clever use of hallucination and flashbacks as Ralston's condition deteriorates, Boyle crafts a fascinating film from the limited tools a man trapped under a rock offers and was rewarded with six Oscar nominations, including Best Actor for Franco and Best Picture.
The scenes where a dehydrated Ralston realises that his only chance of survival is self-amputation of the offending body part will stay with you long after the final credits roll.
Frank Marshall directs another based-on-reality survival drama, this time telling the tale of a Uruguayan rugby team and their friends and families, whose charter flight crash landed in the Andes in 1973. Ethan Hawke heads the cast, while the real-life character he plays, Nando Parrado, served as a technical consultant on the film. John Malkovich narrates the film as an older Carlitos Paez, a fellow survivor alongside Parrado.
The survivors were eventually rescued after a 72-day ordeal in sub-zero temperatures when Parrado and his team mate Roberto Canessa successfully completed a 10-day trek out of the mountain. The 16 survivors were forced to eat the flesh of their 29 dead comrades to survive in the meantime.
The Grey (2011)
Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo and Dermot Mulroney head the cast in this story of Alaskan oil workers stranded in the freezing Alaskan wilderness following a plane crash, and stalked by a vengeful pack of wolves. The film reunited the team of director Joe Carnahan, producers Ridley and Tony Scott and star Liam Neeson, who had previously collaborated on the less well-received, 2010 action-comedy remake The A-Team.
The Grey found a much better reception with critics and audiences alike, although it did run into trouble with environmentalists, who called for a boycott of the film when it was revealed that the producers had bought two grey wolf carcasses for the cast to dine on, to help "get into character".
Baltasar Kormakur's film about the 1996 Everest Disaster, when eight climbers died in a blizzard while trying to descend from the mountain's summit, brings together an all-star ensemble cast including Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley, Emily Watson, and Jake Gyllenhaal, but it's Salvatore Totino's stunning cinematography, rather than the performances or a particularly impressive narrative, that really steals the show here.
That could help explain why 78 per cent of the film's opening weekend box office receipts were for IMAX screenings with a record-breaking US$7.2 million weekend haul in the giant-screen format.
Touching the Void (2003)
Kevin MacDonald's docudrama reconstructs Joe Simpson and Simon Yates' disastrous attempt to climb the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. The pair reached the top but then a huge storm developed, making their attempted descent almost impossible. Simpson breaks his leg after a fall, then the pair are separated after Simpson suffers another fall. Yates assumes the worst and save himself. Simpson, however, has survived and must get himself to safety despite a broken leg and frostbite.
It won the 2004 Bafta for Best Film and The Guardian described it as "the most successful documentary in British cinema history".
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