January 27, 2012

Top 5 Long Movies


This week, I finally bore down and watched the 1939 epic Gone with the Wind, which clocks in at an imposing 233 minutes. Anticipating next week's post, I've prepared a list of long movies that are worth the investment. These aren't impressive one-timers like The Ten Commandments or Gandhi that I'll likely never watch again. Instead, they're memorable choices where the hours disappear before you know it. It rarely takes more than one sitting to get through them, even on repeat viewings. I know that any respectable film lover shouldn't worry about length, but I admit that it comes into play when choosing a film. There are movies that deserve their length, while others like The Postman are two-hour stories extended to attain a loftier status. A bad 90-minute movie is irritating, but an awful choice becomes much worse once it crosses the two-hour mark. Let's get to the picks before my rambling sends you scurrying for the exits!


Honorable Mention, The Seven Samurai (1954)
Length: 3 hours, 27 minutes (restored version)
Akira Kurosawa's directed several long films that are still remarkable (Ran is another great choice), and the key is the way he structures the plot. The Seven Samurai is deliberately paced, but it never feels slow because the material keeps adding new elements of the story. We're introduced to each of the samurai, discover the unfortunate plight of the villagers, and then get into the actual mission. It's a classic three-act structure that builds up wonderfully to the big confrontation at the end. It takes serious talent to keep viewers engaged for more than three hours, especially modern U.S. audiences. This film keeps you on the edge of your seat right until the final battles for the noble, possibly doomed warriors.


5. Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
Length: 10 hours, 26 minutes (DVD extended editions)
Although they're actually three separate movies, this is a trilogy the feels like one very long film. I know there are some vocal detractors ("three movies of people walking!"), but it really works for me. Peter Jackson's recent work has gone off the rails a bit, but he deserves credit (along with his co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens) for this grand adaptation. The casting is excellent across the board, especially Ian McKellan as Gandalf, Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn, and Sean Bean as Boromir. This is a grand epic that still finds a way to make its characters the center point, even in the hell of a massive battle.


4. Malcolm X (1992)
Length: Three hours, 22 minutes
Spike Lee has never received enough credit for being a great filmmaker, and a prime example is Malcolm X. The controversy sometimes overwhelms his movies, which is really too bad. Denzel Washington gives the best performance of his career and makes us relate to every step of Malcolm's life. His progression from a street hustler in Detroit to a legendary activist succeeds because it follows each step along the way. Lee needs more than three hours to provide a complete picture of Malcolm that's effective to a variety of audiences. It's a crime that Lee wasn't recognized with a Best Director nomination at the Oscars. His confident directing sells every moment and keeps us engaged throughout the extended running time.


3. Heat (1995)
Length: Two hours, 50 minutes
The shortest film on this list, Heat maintains an epic feeling while exploring the inner lives of high-class criminals and the detectives that chase them. Robert De Niro and Al Pacino have rarely been better and make both guys likable and interesting characters. Michael Mann was born to direct this film and presents Los Angeles beautifully, especially during the night scenes. The highlight is the big shootout in the busy city streets after the heist goes sour. These guys won't hesitate for a second to do anything when the "heat's around the corner".


2. The Godfather (1972)
Length: Two hours, 55 minutes
The obvious choice on the list, Francis Ford Coppola's gangster saga still manages to surprise 40 years  (wow!) after its initial release. Marlon Brando takes an oddball approach to Vito Corleone and makes him a classic character. Watching Al Pacino morph from the innocent son outside the family and into a hardened killer is another highlight. There are far too many classic scenes and characters to mention in this short description. The Godfather is one of those movies that feels too brief even as it nears the three-hour mark.


1. Magnolia (1999)
Length: Three hours, eight minutes
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the few directors who still hasn't missed. In fact, all his movies fall into either the really good or legendary categories. My favorite is Magnolia, a sprawling look at a group of characters struggling to deal with their past demons and creating a few new ones. Tom Cruise has the flashiest performance and shines as the nasty guy with serious issues with his father (Jason Robards). John C. Reilly, Melora Walters, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and many others are excellent in this ambitious story that never hits a wrong note. Anderson keeps the pace rolling along for more than three hours and crafts a stunning film that only grows stronger on repeated viewings. Supported perfectly by the songs of Aimee Mann, he takes plenty of chances (characters singing, raining frogs, and more), but it all works.

Next, week, I'll close the marathon and find out if I give a damn about Gone with the Wind.

18 comments:

  1. Another one of my favorite long movies is The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Whenever I'm watching it, it never feels as long as it is.

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    1. Dave, that's a great choice. I really need to sit down and watch that movie all the way through. I've basically watched all of it, but never in one sitting. Thanks!

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  2. I completely agree that a well made movie can make you not even realize the amount of time that passes. I have almost watched the whole extended edition of The Lord of the Rings at one time. I watched the first disk (of 6) one evening, then watched the remaining five the next day.

    Seven Samurai would probably be at the top of my list. I'm afraid I don't share your enthusiasm for Magnolia. I would drop it from the list and replace it with Lawrence of Arabia (3 hours 37 minutes.)

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    1. Chip, those LOTR films are addictive for sure. I haven't gone through them at that level, but I've spent a lot of time watching them.

      I need to give Lawrence of Arabia another chance. I watched it a while back and struggled through it, despite the impressive cinematography.

      Thanks!

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  3. Seven Samurai was the first "long" movie that really captivated me. Lord of the Rings, Heat and The Godfather I&II (haven't seen III yet) are all terrific as well. Last year I watched Once Upon a Time in the West and Schindler's List for the first time -- both would probably make a list of my own. Nice post, Dan!

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    1. Thanks Eric! Once Upon a Time in the West is near the top of my list of films that I still need to see. I considered Schindler's for this Top 5, but it fell just short.

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  4. Krzyztof Kieslowski's Dekalog is technically 10 short films, but they fall under one umbrella. If you haven't seen them, they are very much worth your 7-8 hours. All of them are good and some are truly incredible.

    I'm with Chip on this one, too. I can't speak to Magnolia since I haven't seen it, but I'd put Lawrence of Arabia on this list in a heartbeat.

    The two-hour-and-forty-three-minute Les Enfants du Paradis is maybe a little short for your list, but it's another longish film worth your time.

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    1. Steve, I have seen all but the last few short films in the Dekalog, and they were good, but I didn't think about them for this list because there were split into shorter movies. I haven't seen Les Enfants du Paradis, so I'll definitely have to add that to the list. Thanks!

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  5. GREAT list. All of them (aside from the LOTR films, which I will never like), move extremely fast, and I never grow tired of time. Magnolia may indeed be the fastest three hours ever.

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    1. Thanks Alex. I know that Magnolia is pretty divisive, so it's cool to hear that you're a fan. I watched it twice in the theaters and a few more times on DVD, and it still flies by.

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  6. Nice list Dan. Heat is one hell of a movie and always find myself watching it when it's on TV. It really doesn't feel as long as its run time suggests.

    Somehow, I haven't seen Malcolm X yet. Adding it to the Netflix now :)

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    1. Castor, I'm glad to hear that you're adding Malcolm X to the Netflix queue. It's definitely worth checking out and isn't given the attention it deserves (in my opinion). Thanks!

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  7. Some great choices! I have several very long movies in my collection which I still have to see. Something like Das Boot and Red Cliff are still in my collection unwatched.

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    1. Nostra, Das Boot has been on my to-watch list for a long time. Every time I decide to narrow it down and watch a few movies, it always gets edged out. I've heard good things about Red Cliff but haven't caught it yet either. Thanks!

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  8. Good idea for a blogpost, Dan! Love Magnolia, doesn't feel like 3h. I agree with Eric, Schindler's List is right up there for me too, and not forgetting The Bridge on the River Kwai. Hmm, Titanic as well for me. The Abyss is also about 3 hours, the directors cut version. Apocalypse Now and JFK also come to mind. Inland Empire? I better quit now, or else I'll never stop ( :

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    1. Chris, I strongly considered The Abyss, a movie that I enjoy more than most people (especially The Director's Cut). JFK and Apocalypse now are both great choices. I did enjoy Inland Empire; I saw it at a local college film series, and it was hypnotic at times. Like you say, there are too many options. Thanks!

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  9. Great list, I always think it's not about the length of the film, it is about how intrigued it keeps you

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    1. Thanks! I definitely agree with your point. There are some movies that are 80 minutes and feel like an eternity.

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