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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