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15 of The Longest Films That Are Absolutely Worth The Investment

14 September 2015 | Features, Film Lists | by Tom Jackson

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Art films have often been unfairly burdened with the stereotype that their running times are punishingly over-long, designed purely to bore the uninitiated viewer into a sort of catatonic submission. Of course now such a correlation between a film’s length and its art-house credentials no longer holds.

Modern block-busters (read: celluloid energy drinks) such as Avengers: Age of Ultron (2014) and Furious 7 (2015) are straying into the 2 and-a-half hour mark, a running time once squarely associated with art cinema, with noisy abandon.

Length of film no longer distinguishes type of entertainment. But what of the rare selection of films that go far beyond the 150-minute mark; films that run to four, five, even ten hours? They intimidate us with their temporal weight, with running times that can be off-putting even to the most ardent cinema fan.

This is a list concerns some of the longest feature films ever made and why they deserve to be viewed by anyone serious about film appreciation. These are films that display the wonderfully malleable relationship between time and cinema; some display vast historical panorama with glorious bombast, some focus on the changing fortunes of a single family, some focus on the events of just a few days. All are important moments in the history of the medium, and are not to be missed.

 

15. Love Exposure (2008)

Running Time: 3h 57m

love-exposure

With lines like “be erect with your heart” and “I raped him beautifully”, Love Exposure announces itself as one of the strangest, crudest, and most controversial films of the last ten years. The beginning of the film follows Yu, the son of a Catholic priest, as he searches for his Maria, the one true love of his life, in order to fulfil his late mother’s dying wish.

This simple set-up is soon marginalised as Sono’ four hour epic breathlessly expands, through a kaleidoscopic eruption of sub-plots and flashbacks, into something much more complex, and much, much less rational. We are introduced to malevolent religious cults, the ‘art’ and ‘artists’ of up-skirt photography, and lurid, disturbing dream-sequences.

The cinematography is as restless as the narrative itself, as the camera jerks, swivels, and zooms in order to keep up with the frantic action. Like secondary protagonist Noro, Love Exposure dresses like a punk. It is a brash, loud, wilfully offensive work that is as uncontained and as visceral as the arterial fountains of blood that are sprayed across the film.

The film is a non-stop barrage of pulpy action sequences; hysterical, fidgety performances; and utterly ridiculous plotting. And yet it is totally entrancing. The film exudes an indefinable charisma, an unshakable self-confidence despite the fact that it is, at its heart, a complete and utter mess. The filmic equivalent of a cocaine-laced double espresso.

 

14. Seven Samurai (1954)

Running Time: 3h 27m

akira-kurosawa-seven-samurai

Akira Kurosawa’s samurai epic pioneered many technical, and narrative, aspects of the medium that we now take for granted. It is an elemental work, embedded within a deep sub-strata of cinema’s archaeological make-up.

The story of the seven samurai, a group of disparate heroes banding together to protect a remote farming village in the pre-shogunate era of Japan’s history, seems so familiar, so unassumingly part of cinema’s narrative tradition, that we can easily forget that Kurosawa actually introduced such a narrative arc to film.

Furthermore, the film is arguably the most thrilling, breath-taking example of the way in which the medium can aestheticize combat, and death itself; the final rain-drenched battle sequence has rightly been enshrined as one of cinema’s most beautiful moments. It is hard to grasp just how influential Kurosawa’s ambitious, innovative multi-camera set up in Seven Samurai has been in the course of film history.

 

13. The Leopard (1963)

Running Time: 3h 25m

The Leopard (1963)

Luchino Visconti’s gorgeous, sweeping, historical epic has a strange number of parallels with Coppola’s The Godfather (1972). Both chronicle the changing fortunes of a prominent Sicilian family as they face the irrepressible tide of history, both employ a wistful, melancholic Nino Rota score, and both are endowed with an earthy-brown colour palette , suffused with yellows and browns that seem to coat the screen with a sepia-toned filter.

The Leopard concerns the waning power of the Sicilian aristocracy during the tense and uncertain period of Italian Unification and the rebellions of Giuseppe Garibaldi. In the tradition of grand historical epics (War and Peace, Gone with the Wind), this historical upheaval is charted through the trials and tribulations of one particularly prominent family.

In the case of The Leopard, it is through the eyes of aging patriarch Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina, and his roguish, charming nephew Tancredi (played by Burt Lancaster and Alain Delon respectively).

The wide-angle cinematography of Giuseppe Rotunno displays stunning pastoral vistas and grand ballrooms that burst with an extravagant, rococo-style colour palette. These sensual delights are interwoven with the profound, sombre reflections of the Prince as he realises that his family’s aristocratic prominence is slipping inexorably into decline: “my unhappy generation straddles two worlds and is uneasy in either”.

As the Prince falters in health, we realise that he is the living embodiment of an old, tired order; one that destined to be swept away.

 

12. Mysteries of Lisbon (2011)

Running Time: 5h 30m

Mysteries of Lisbon (2011)

Moving from one period-drama to another, Raúl Ruiz’ masterful Mysteries of Lisbon is a four and a half hour epic that is truly Dickensian in its narrative breadth. The story, set in Portugal in the 1860’s, initially focuses on an orphan João and his search to discover the truth about the identity of his parents; this initial mystery is the narrative catalyst for a multitude of flashbacks and a dizzying array of narrational voices.

The film, much like The Leopard, focuses on the machinations of the aristocratic class, and is thus replete with an opulent set design; although unlike The Leopard’s effervescent colour palette, Ruiz’ interiors are lit with the cool, prominent shadows of a Dutch genre-painting.

This lighting scheme is complemented by a roaming camera that commands the profilmic space with unquestionable authority. While Ruiz’ work is certainly more formally and stylistically austere than Visconti’s, strange manipulation of focus and spatial perspective leaves the film feeling like a hazy, oneiric, fairy-tale.

Towards the end of the film, a character remarks “what to us are the things of life are enormous tragedies to the nobility”. Mysteries is not just a sprawling melodrama but a comment on the nature of melodramatic storytelling; indeed each narrative episode is introduced through a toy opera house in which the characters appear on its stage as static, card-board cut-outs.

The film manage to maintain an intelligent, distinctly post-modern perspective while simultaneously creating a wholly credible, and involving, cinematic universe.

 

11. Das Boot (1981)

Running Time: 4h 53m (Uncut Version)

JÜRGEN PROCHNOW (Kommandant), "Das Boot", 1981. 31240/#

Das Boot is one of the greatest actions films ever made. Not many entries on this list can be classified within a genre category, but Wolfgang Petersen’s U-Boat epic is high-octane cinema at its most thrilling and immersive.

Petersen creates an almost-unprecedented sense of place as he documents the fictional exploits of U-96; the film provides an utterly convincing portrait of the blood-and-sweat drenched physicality of war, as well as the humanity, and comradery that emerges from the intense confinement of life on-board a submarine.

Das Boot may be a war film, but it is not about vilification nor is it particularly about valorisation; it is instead a brutally effective document of maddening claustrophobia, crippling exhaustion, intense boredom, and waning loyalty. Jürgen Prochnow’s performance as the ship’s Captain is particularly notable; the strange, almost unreal dichotomy between the unmistakable authority of his commands and his increasingly waxen skin and fatigue-lined face is a feat of performance and make-up.

Jost Vacano’s technically astounding cinematographic design has the camera bolting through the cramped compartments of the ship with remarkable freedom. These bravura tracking shots are coupled with expertly designed action sequences that manage to maintain a sense of spatial coherence despite a frame crammed with jostling bodies and screeching equipment.

Das Boot pulls off a remarkable thing in boasting a 209 minute running-time, and sustaining an acute, palpable tension throughout. Such an achievement makes the film a rare and memorable experience.

 

 

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  • Johann S.

    The Human Condition

  • I Am

    Without Out1 this list is incomplete…

  • Class055

    great piece…but the first film you ever saw was ‘Toy Story’? That must make you 12? I’d keep that a secret!

    • Andre Lars

      Actually Toy Story is from 1995, 20 years ago, so technically if he’d watched at the theater, he’s older than 20

      • Class055

        Wow 20 years already, my first cinema experience other then sat morning kids cinema was ‘you only live twice’ aged 6 1970

        • Iván Solorio (SanS)

          good for you

          • Class055

            ‘Toy Story’!……I’m still laughing

    • Martin

      Why you think his age conditions his Knowledge? life experience isn´t everything

  • Gaétan

    Mysteries of Lisbon takes 4 h 30, not 5

  • Kishore R

    Lord of the rings trilogy surely has to be a part of this

  • denis24

    Novecento

  • shane

    Just watched The Sand Pebbles. Three hours and I wouldn’t trim a frame.

  • Andy Kubica

    Lawrence of Arabia, Gone with the Wind, Gettysburg and Gods & Generals. LOTR extended cuts.

  • Klaus Dannick

    Berlin Alexanderplatz. I never saw it, but its length is legendary.

    • Nick Owens

      Berlin Alexanderplatz is a miniseries of 14 parts.

      • Klaus Dannick

        It was released theatrically in the US.

        • Nick Owens

          It’s still a miniseries.
          When it was released thatrically in the US, they showed a few parts per night.

  • Matthew Benbenek

    Good list. Not sure how the ranking worked but Seven Samurai and The Leopard are much better than most of the others.

    Would add The Human Condition, LOTR Trilogy, The Decalogue, Lawrence of Arabia, The Iceman Cometh, Gone WIth the Wind,

  • Joe Trudnak

    I was waiting to see Titanic on the list so I could throw my phone through the window.

  • 1900 or Novecento from Bertolucci with De Niro, Depardieu, Sutherland and Burt Lancaster maybe? 5hours and 20 minutes

    • Vincenzo Politi

      I was thinking about Novecento too. When the Best of Youth came out, people said it was the “ideal sequel” of Novecento: in fact, while the latter movie tells the story of Italy from after WW1 to post-Fascism, the previous tells us what happened next (the economical boom, the ‘new’ psychiatric movement, the years of terrorism and of the Red Brigades, the assassinations of Falcone and Borsellino and so on).

  • Jason Siegel

    No love for the Cecil B. DeMille epic THE TEN COMMANDMENTS?

  • Vincenzo Politi

    I remember watching the Best of Youth for the first time. I told to myself that I was going to break it in two or probably three part. I ended up watching it in one sitting: once you begin, you simply cannot stop!

    • Sahl

      The same happened here, even I watched it again the very next day!!

  • Wendell

    Happy to see Seven Samurai, Das Boot, and Once Upon a Time in America. That last one is one of my all-time favorites. Some other 3+ hour films I love:

    The Godfather Part II (the original is just shy of 3 hrs)
    The Deer Hunter
    Malcolm X
    Schindler’s List
    The Wolf of Wall Street (hits 3 hrs on the dot)
    King Kong (’05)

  • Ted Wolf

    Gance’s Napoleon

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  • Carlos Alp

    The Human Condition SHOULD be in that list, a total masterpiece.

  • Darren

    Excellent list

  • luke

    Branagh’s Hamlet would make it in my personal list 🙂

  • Vasilis Moschos

    The travelling players, by Theo Angelopoulos

  • Steve O’Rourke

    Our Hitler.

  • I have only found the eight-hour version of Shoah
    🙁

  • javier bulacio

    Hi! I would like to add “Historias Extraordinarias” of Mariano Ginás.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1225831/

  • John Vincent Tuban

    Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis by Lav Diaz