Friday, July 18, 2014

Top 10 Shortest Long Movies

There’s something to say for a movie that takes up a lot of time without feeling like it takes up a lot of time. I love seeing a long movie and, upon reaching its conclusion, being amazed by how much time actually elapsed. Such is the case for the films below, a handful of my favorite movies that breeze by despite their length. Please note: my rule of thumb for “long” was any film over 160 minutes.

JFK (1991)  189 minutes

Of the four biopics on this list, JFK is easily the most verbose of the bunch. Oliver Stone’s manic thriller rarely pauses to let us process all the information it throws our way. This, matched with the film’s breakneck, Oscar-winning editing, helps make the film endlessly compelling. Hell, even the extended closing court scenes fly by.

Malcolm X (1992)  202 minutes

Much of Malcolm X’s narrative speed is thanks to the real life evolution of its title character. From street thug to radical Civil Rights leader to peaceful idealist, Malcolm X lived a layered life that couldn’t nearly fit into a two hour film. Spike Lee wisely gave his movie room to breathe, resulting in one of the best, most audacious biographical films ever made.

Casino (1995)  178 minutes

The first half of Martin Scorsese’s Casino is some of the most intelligent, entertaining and fast paced filmmaking I’ve ever experienced. But we’ve all seen enough crime movies to know that with the rise must come the fall. And because the rise in Casino is so goddamn amusing, the film risks falling flat when it adopts a more somber tone in its second half. It’s a threat that ruins so many crime films, but one that Casino manages to avoid.

Heat (1995)  170 minutes

Michael Mann’s best film is an epic crime masterpiece that zooms by every time I watch it. It never gets old, this one.

The Thin Red Line (1998)  170 minutes

Look, I get it. I get that some of you consider The Thin Red Line to be a tireless bore. You see no need for the soliloquy-laden narration, the extended shots of nature, and the endless moments of characters staring and thinking. And if that’s the way you feel, then… that’s the way you feel. Me? I’ve seen The Thin Red Line more than any other film on this list. I’ll never grow tired of it and I will never be bored by a single moment of its running time.

Magnolia (1999)  188 minutes

There are many great films that take place over the course of a single day, but few of them are longer than three hours, and none of them, for my money, move by as quickly as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. This film is a frenzy fever dream of emotion, and I can’t get enough of it.

Zodiac (2007)  162 minutes

Zodiac is a bit of a cheat here, as the theatrical version ran 157 minutes. But the must-own Director’s Cut Blu-Ray/DVD comes in at 162 minutes. It’s the superior version of the film, and the one I’ve seen more times. One of the things that’s so cool about this movie is that it could end when Robert Graysmith and Dave Toschi meet at the Dirty Harry premiere. Instead, David Fincher ingeniously fades to black and begins a minute-long montage of songs and sound bites that describe the era. “Four years later” appears on the screen, and we realize that the movie is far from over. Thankfully so.

Django Unchained (2012)  165 minutes

On average, Quentin Tarantino’s films run 136 minutes long (155 minutes if we count Kill Bill as just one movie), but Django Unchained is by far his longest. With its grand set pieces, centuries-old setting and routinely long-winded Tarantino speak, the film moves by a lot faster than it should. But in my Tarantino-obsessed world, the longer the better. Here’s to hoping The Hateful Eight clocks in at three hours.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)  180 minutes

Martin Scorsese is certainly no stranger to epics. New York, New York, The Last Temptation of Christ, Gangs of New York and The Aviator are all well over two and a half hours long. But the thing is, those movies feel long, whereas his lengthiest picture, The Wolf of Wall Street, feels like one of the briskest films he’s made yet. If you choose the correct subject matter and pace the film properly, there’s no need to cut out early. And seriously, how the hell didn’t Thelma Schoonmaker earn a Best Editing Oscar nomination for this film?

Boyhood (2014) – 166 minutes

Not since Magnolia has a movie gone by as fast as Boyhood does. As I stated in my glowing review of the film, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is nearly three hours long, but could be double that. It’s a fascinating experiment of time, one that I’ll be discussing regularly throughout the rest of this year. What a ride.

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64 comments:

  1. With the exception of Zodiac (as I still haven't seen the director's cut) and Boyhood (which I haven't seen), I totally approve of that list since it manages to play into the idea of pacing and how to make a long film feel shorter. My one complaint about The Wolf of Wall Street is that..... it wasn't long enough. I was having too much fun watching that film.

    One film that I think should be in the list though I'm sure many will disagree with me is Jeanne Dielman 23, quai du commerce 1080 Bruxelles. It's a 201-minute film but for some reason, it didn't feel like it at all since I was so engrossed by the story and the daily rituals of the titular character. It's a film that I think more people should see.

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    1. I would disagree with the inclusion of Jeanne Dielman but I do understand the appeal of it. Frankly I would've thrown in Stalker or Andrei Rublev from Tarkovsky. Those films just fly by in my opinion.

      Honestly I'm surprised by there being no Godfather (I or II) on here. Those are films that I think go by far quicker than any movie Tarantino has ever made (that's a sentiment I know many will not share). Also gotta love Magnolia. That's one of the fastest three hours to pass by while watching a movie. That one just doesn't get old, the more times I see it, the faster it appears to pass me by. Haven't seen Boyhood yet but soon I will and I will have conquered this beast of a movie!

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    2. void: Fucking love what you said about Wolf... I had a blast watching that damn flick. Easily could've been longer, which speaks so highly of the film.

      both of you: I agree that Jeanna Dielman is a ballsy choice, but I do love that film. I'm one of those weird people who thinks the mundane can be really compelling. One reason I love Richard Linklater's films so much.

      mask: I assumed I'd get some blowback for not including either (or both) of The Godfather films, but I've personally also thought those movies felt long (Part II especially). This is not, however, a critique against those films in any way. I love long movies that feel long - one of the reasons I admire Bergman so much. But Heat, Casino, Magnolia... those are films I can put on anytime. I have to prepare myself for The Godfather. Settle in and really devote the time. Just my opinion of course, but that's why those films were left off here.

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  2. Of the six I've seen on this list, I agree with your assessment on all but one. And it's always good to see love for Spike's Malcolm X and Heat, two of my all time faves. The one I differ on is Zodiac. The first half to two-thirds sizzled, but I thought it dragged mercilessly through it's last hour or so. Great job.

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    1. BTW, I meant to add that three hours also flew by while watching Blue is the Warmest Color.

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    2. Oh that's interesting about Zodiac. But yeah, I do agree that the final third of that film completely changes pace. Which is kind of what I was talking about... in less confident hands, that entire sequence would've been cut. But I dig that Fincher changed course and took the film in a different direction.

      Also, good call on Blue is the Warmest Color. I did feel that that film was long, particularly its first hour. But I loved it all the same.

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  3. Wow, I didn't realize Heat was that long. Certainly didn't feel like it.

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    1. That's awesome man. Love hearing that!

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  4. As I've gotten older, all I want to do is see a movie in one shot. No finishing the next day, no constant pausing - I hate that shit. But now I have kids, and short of becoming completely nocturnal, I can't do it. Consequently, the last five years of my life, I've found myself watching nothing but sub-100 minute features. And a lot of those....well, they aren't that good.

    So, it's great to see many of my favorite films from my past on this list. Every one of these 'epics' do feel like a breeze, mainly because I'm so excited to be spending time with them. Well, and the fact that they're simply great films. I'd love to conquer The Thin Red Line (and Zodiac - fuuuuuuck!), I'm honestly intimidated by those runtimes.

    I actually was thinking I should compile a list of the best movies under 90 minutes...but I know this guy who is waaaay better at that type of thing. Great post, AW.

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    1. I don't have kids, but I totally get what you're saying here. I've always thought it best to finish a flick in one shot. But with age comes increasing distractions, so it's definitely harder to crank out a three hour plus film in one sitting. I can't speak highly enough of The Thin Red Line... if you're ever able to block off three hours, I'd recommend making that one your next watch. It's in my Top 20 of all time. Ah, so good.

      Here's the link to my list of 15 great films under 85 minutes. It's a bit of an old list, but I still dig all the flicks here. Hopefully you find some worth watching! (There are some great films listed in the comments as well.)

      http://www.andsoitbeginsfilms.com/2012/03/15-great-movies-under-85-minutes.html

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  5. Heat is the best example. The way that it flows through the three-act structure and puts the huge shootout right in the middle is brilliant. JFK and Malcolm X are also a lot less daunting because of the superb filmmaking behind the camera. Magnolia is also a perfect choice. I saw that twice in the theaters in the same week, and that rarely happens.

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    1. I saw Magnolia twice in the theater too! Like, days apart. My dad and I saw it the weekend it came out, and we didn't really like it. But four days later he said, "You know, I can't get that goddamn frog movie out of my head. Want to see it again?" Love it.

      And I agree that putting the huge shootout right in the middle of Heat is brilliant. Most movies of that kind end with big shootouts. But that flick has a lot more to tell us.

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  6. This is an amazing list, i love every movie on here except for Boyhood, mainly because I haven't seen it. After reading this, I cannot decide what long movie goes by the quickest for me. I mean Heat goes by in a flash, I put it in and it is already done. But that same exact thing happens with Casino, Wolf of Wall Street, Django, and one that is not on here that goes by so fast is The Good the Bad and the Ugly. That movie is so packed with action and unforgettable scenes it goes by so quickly. I think it makes your 160 minute rule (I believe it is 1 0r 2 minutes away from 3 hours). All these films fly by, and so do the other ones on the list. Malcolm X and JFK never went as fast as the others on the list for movie, but that doesn't make them any worse or anything. Thin Red Line is a movie that I love (maybe more than Saving Private Ryan even) but I don't get the flying by feeling to the degree that I do with something like Casino. Anyway great list, these are some of my favorite types of movies to watch, the really long ones that seem to last no time at all, great list once again.

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    1. Thanks Geordan! Really glad you dig the list man. Ranking this list seemed somewhat futile, but if I did rank them in terms of how quickly they fly by, Magnolia would've been first, followed by Heat. The Thin Red Line would've been ranked last (even though it's my favorite film on this list). See - futile. Ha.

      The Good the Bad and the Ugly fits the criteria for sure. That one (like The first two Godfather films) is a movie I love, but one that I do feel its length. Still, a great film.

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  7. This is a fantastic list! Every single movie on it is incredible and it is a true testament to everyone involved (especially the directors) that they all managed to go by so quickly. I would also add Blue is the Warmest Colour, because that certainly did not feel like 3 hours. I cannot wait to see Boyhood!!

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    1. Thanks Aditya! So happy to hear that you agree with the picks! I should watch Blue is the Warmest Color again. I'm curious to see how quickly it flies by.

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  8. Malcolm X was 202 minutes? That movie did not feel that long at all to me! There's a lot of greats here, Wolf, Django, Zodiac. Great idea for a list!

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    1. Thanks! I do think Malcolm X flies by because X himself changed so much over the years. If the character stayed the same, that would've been a laborious 202 minutes.

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  9. Ooo nice list.

    Wolf *definitely* didn't feel that long. Heck, I would not have minded watching another 2 hours of Jordan's shenanigans. Casino and Heat too felt pretty fast-paced for the running time. I remember being scared about Blue is the Warmest Colour's running time is but barring the sex scene, it did not feel long to me at all.

    Well, here I make the joke about how every Bollywood movie is 4 hours long etc etc. (they're not though). Having said that, my favourite Bollywood film, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge is 195 minutes and I don't think that's long at all :P Also I saw both parts of Gangs of Wasseypur which was 5+ hours and I was completely entertained and hooked the entire time. You should check those out. I think you'll really like them. They are obviously inspired by Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola but like with an Indian masala twist.

    Can't wait for Boyhood!!

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    1. Thanks Nik! You've made me really curious about Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Gangs of Wasseypur. Thing is, I have no idea how to actually get a hold of Bollywood films. Any tips? Thanks for the reccos!

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    2. Oh I don't think DDLJ will be your cup of tea but do check out Wasseypur. You could ask SDG how to get them since he lived in the US. I know for a fact that he's a huge fan of those too.

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    3. Okay cool, I'll ask him. Thanks!

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    4. DDLJ is a really epic love story, and it is also one of my favourite Bollywood films. I agree with Nikhat though, it might not be your cup of tea (musicals :P), but it is definitely worth checking out all the same. If you do like it, then I suggest Devdas, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (all of which are long, have epic musical numbers and all of them have Shah Rukh Khan as the leading man). I haven't seen Gangs of Wasseypur, but I've heard good things about it.

      Nikhat, have you by any chance seen Queen with Kangana Ranaut? I've also heard that it is amazing, and I was wondering what you thought of it (that is if you've seen it)?

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    5. I'm so vastly unaware of Bollywood films. The few I've seen were ones that successfully crossed over to the states. But I'm interested in giving some a spin!

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    6. At least you have seen a few! Which ones are they?

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    7. Oh god, I don't even remember. This was like 12 years ago. Hmmm... I'll try to remember though.

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  10. This is a good example of how peoples perception of time is influenced by a whole series of factors that have nothing to do with chronemics. If you are interested in what is in front of you, the passage of time is barely noticeable. If you are uninterested, of as some here have said "bored" by what you see and here, a movie may feel interminable. You yourself noted on the Thin Red Line comment that it is subjective. A short bad movie will feel to long and a good long movie will hardly feel long at all. The Godfather films never feel long to me, and The Wolf of Wall Street went on, and on and on, for me.

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    1. Yeah exactly, it's all subjective. But it's so interesting to me that a great three hour+ movie can go by much faster than a bad 80 minute movie. Funny how that works.

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  11. Alex, your lists never cease to amaze me. Such a great idea for a post! I love it when I watch a really LONG film that's so damn great that can make me not even realize the amount of time that has passed. That was definitely the case with all of the three monumental LOTR films (which I know that aren't your cup of tea), but even more (can you imagine?) with Peter Jackson's "King Kong". When it ended, I felt like I didn't want to leave the theater or something, so this would be undoubtedly my first choice for a similar list. I love your picks on the whole (it would be unthinkable if TWOWS was out, so I'm glad I saw it in), but "Magnolia" really stands out for me. Again, the idea was amazing. As well as the execution! Well done, buddy. Fantastic post.

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    1. Thanks Stergios - you're the man! You know, I actually thought Jackson's King Kong was pretty good. I saw it twice and didn't have a problem with it. Interestingly, my favorite scene (the bugs in the cave bit) didn't even feature Kong! But hey, if it works, it works. Thanks again for the kind words my friend.

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    2. Oh yeah, the scene with the bugs was really awesome. My favorite scene is towards the end, that quiet moment of spinning around on the ice of a New York City pond. So damn touching.

      You know, I'd like to make a suggestion for a post and I'd really like to know what you think of: The best acted films ever. I'd love to see your picks on a list like this. You know, not focusing solely on a single performance, but having a whole list of great performances in the same film. Quite unusual as a topic, don't you think? I searched online for similar posts on blogs, articles on sites, but didn't find as much as I wanted. I saw again "Notes on a scandal" the other day and God, it's like the screen was ready to explode fromt the acting all around (Dench, Blanchett, Nighy). P.T. Anderson's "The Master" would also be a great pick I think. Or "American Hustle". And "Baby Doll", which I wouldn't probably have seen these days if it hadn't been for your terrific post for the late Eli Wallach could fit quite well.

      Anyway, I'm sure you most likely have a million lists in works or in your mind for quite a long time, but I'd just like to suggest a topic for a post that personally I would find really interesting. If you're not interested, it's all fine. You know how much I adore your blong and that's just a topic I'de be interested in reading.

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    3. Oh man, that's such a good topic, but so hard to narrow down. I think Best Ensembles would be fun, but just straight up best acted... I'll definitely have to think about that one for a while. Great idea!

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    4. It's funny that I was thinking the exact same thing and I really hesitated in suggesting that. But on the other hand, it would be a pretty worthy challenge, right? Yeah, best acted would really need much work, but you clearly put so much work and passion for every single post in your incomparable movie blog that I think you'd nail it again. Your knowledge, humility and articulate writing style speak volumes to your readers. Anyway, can't wait for your next post! Keep up this phenomenal work!

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    5. Thanks buddy! And yeah, occasionally with lists, the challenge of creating them is half the fun. I'll have to put some thought into this one here.

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  12. Wow, an unexpected topic, but that's what makes your blog so great. This is a very interesting list, and some really good films to boot. Sadly I feel runtime a little too well in most cases (I loved every second of Django Unchained, but I did feel 2.75 hours. Same with Zodiac.) although I 100% agree with you on Magnolia. I had no idea it was that long. However, (just my thoughts, I know there are a lot who disagree with me on what I'm about to say) I didn't care much for The Thin Red Line (I just don't like Mallick) and I downright hated Wolf of Wall Street, which really dragged on and felt boring to me. Again, that's just me, and I know there's a lot of people who disagree with me. But, dammit, I can't wait for Boyhood, but it's not playing very close to me (well, it's in San Francisco, but that's still a really long drive). All in all, good work!

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    1. Thanks man! Hey, as I always say, we like what we like. I understand why Malick isn't for you, and I also get why you don't like The Wolf of Wall Street. No argument from me. I'll be really curious to hear you thoughts on Boyhood. I imagine it'll be wide released soon. It deserves a full push. What an experience, that one.

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    2. I'm surprised Boyhood doesn't have a wider release, since I keep hearing it called the best film of the year, but I suspect it may be what I like to call a "trickle-down", and they're just releasing it to a few more theaters at a time (so it kind of trickles down, eh?), but when I see it, I'll be sure to tell you. I just hope I don't get too hyped up.

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    3. Yeah their marketing plan is definitely one based on word of mouth. Indie summer releases are interesting that way. All about gaining that steady buzz.

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  13. Great list! I can't say that I feel like these movies were song (I've only seen two) but I never expected Django Unchained to be almost three hours long. Guess it proves how much Quentin can keep the momentum going in his movies!

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    1. Thanks Katy! Django really does fly by, doesn't it? Even when it slows down for a long winded conversation, it still cruises.

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  14. I can't wait to see Boyhood! Maybe it will make its way to my neck of the wood, at some point.

    I was surprised to see Django on this list, because the movie truly feels shorter than most of his other work. Quite a surprise!

    On the other hand, The Wolf of Wall Street could have been cut in half, as far as I'm concerned. I couldn't wait for it to end. Although I loved DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, I just hated the movie.

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    1. It's so interesting to see the polarized split for The Wolf of Wall Street here. And hey, all good. What works for some doesn't work for others. Seeing as how Boyhood is being so critically revered (and soon to make back its budget), I imagine the studio will push it out to more theaters. Hope it comes your way soon!

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  15. Whenever I hear that the movie I'm going to watch is rather long I don't get too thrilled about it, but a lot of films need a long length and I think Heat and Magnolia are great films because the tension is built from an expansion of time.

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    1. Exactly! It's true, some material dictates a long running time. Just the way it goes. And if executed well, it somehow leaves us wanting more.

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  16. I'd have put both Seven Samurai and Lawrence of Arabia on here. I've watched both multiple times and have never once thought about the passage of time. The only one on your list I'd disagree with is The Thin Red Line. I could only take about an hour of seeing trees blowing in the wind and then I wanted something to actually happen. That film dragged for me.

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    1. Love both Seven Samurai and Lawrence of Arabia, but I do feel their length. Which is not a critique at all, just the way I feel. In fact, I should revisit both of those soon.

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  17. Zodiac feels short.. like.. during all those 5 times, it still feels short and I mean, that's saying something, right!? I need to get my A-game on with watching back movies because I've got no idea what to say about some of these, though, I must disagree with Django just a tiny tiny bit.. for me, I loved it, but I do feel the length of it. Especially on a second viewing.. I guess for me, Tarantino is heavy sometimes, and that translates.

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    1. I've seen Zodiac a lot too, and yes, that is definitely saying something! A lot of people have trouble with QT's heavy handedness, so fair point there. I'm glad you enjoy the movie as a whole though.

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  18. Loved so many of these films and am pretty sure I'll be including "Boyhood" soon but my faves are "Heat", "Casino" and "Wolf of Wall Street". I know they're long on the clock but never felt like it to me--except at the premieres of the first two, nerve-racking experience prepping for premiere parties for movies that take nearly half a business day to seat for and show! But with those casts, who could dream of complaining?

    Great idea and fun list...definitely need to revisit some of these and maybe the Godfather(s) too!

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    1. Yes, no complaining about that! :) But really, that's just so cool. I cannot imagine - ahh.

      Can't wait to hear your thoughts on Boyhood. Hope it comes your way soon!

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  19. Great list, man. Out of the ones I have seen, none of them felt like three hours at all. I especially agree with Magnolia, which just flew by.

    A couple others that come to mind are Hoop Dreams and Nashville.

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    1. Thanks buddy. I did consider Nashville (and Short Cuts), but I honestly haven't seen either of those in far too long. Nashville is one that I need to revisit ASAP. Hoop Dreams, however, is a great, great call. That one just flies on by. Whatta film.

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  20. Oh this is brilliant. I think with Scorsese and Tarantino and the fact that their movies are so long yet so entertaining is just another proof of their talent - the writing, characters, direction, everything is so masterful you don't want those movies to end. Wolf is one of the very rare movies I was not bored for a second, I could watch Casino every day and Tarantino's films are just so insanely entertaining.

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    1. So happy you like the list! Casino isn't Marty's best film, but it's definitely the one I can watch on repeat the most easily. For me, it even rivals Goodfellas in that capacity. That baby just moves.

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  21. Love Exposure is like 4 hours long but I loved every minute of it. It cruises by.

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    1. Nice man, I'll have to check it out.

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  22. Brilliant list! Couldn't agree more with these picks, except I haven't seen Boyhood and really need to rewatch JFK and Zodiac.

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    1. Thanks! I'm dying to hear your thoughts on Boyhood. What a film. Will easily be my favorite of 2014. No question.

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    2. Yeah, my favorite of 2014 so far as well. It's amazing! Hawke and Arquette are great, but I'd love for Coltrane to get some serious awards traction as well.

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    3. Oh me too. I loved everyone in that film.

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  23. Two by Scorsese. Wow. Anothers that could count in this list? For me ALL the Tarantino films. All are brilliant, fast and smart, I love them all.

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    1. Yeah, QT does make fast long movies, but Django is the only one longer than 160 minutes, which was my rule for this review.

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  24. "how the hell didn’t Thelma Schoonmaker earn a Best Editing Oscar nomination for this film?"
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMrKW65qC6Y

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