Last weekend I published a list of great movies shorter than 85 minutes, which I had a lot of fun compiling and got a good response. Now, readers will know that I love a good long movie, so I found it irresistable to compile a list of ten great movies – many of them which I highly encourage you to see – that are longer than three hours that I’ve seen and loved. In alphabetical order, the films are:
La Belle Noiseuse (1991) – 237 minutes
Jacques Rivette’s La Belle Noiseuse is a demanding film. It is famous for its long stretches of time where the painter, Frenhofer, observes a nude female as he paints her, fiercely scratching at a canvas with his brush. There is a lot of nudity in this film, but none of it is sexual. The long and drawn-out sections of the film become operatic after a time. And when Frenhofer’s painting is complete, after days of slaving away at it, his subsequent actions regarding it are stunning. La Belle Noiseuse is quite possibly the best film ever made about art, and not as inaccessible as you might think.
The Best of Youth (2003) – 363 minutes
The most accessible film on this list (even more accessible than the American choices, believe it or not) is the stunning Italian epic The Best of Youth, which follows the lives of two brothers over the course of forty years, observing with grace and speed as they encounter war, strife, and tragedy. An astonishing masterpiece that is a deserving must-see, and is nothing less than wholly engrossing for every minute of its six hours.
A Brighter Summer Day (1991) – 237 minutes
The hardest film on this list to find (and there are a few hard-to-find films), Edward Yang’s as-yet unreleased four hour masterpiece is beautiful, haunting, tragic, stark and heartbreaking. A tale of teenage angst in Asia in the 1960s, the film is coloured with symbols of its era, the music, movies, people and emotions. A Brighter Summer Day is a film so rare it has almost become legend, and to see it is to experience something profound indeed.
Fanny and Alexander (1982) – 312 minutes
As you can tell by the running time, I am talking about the original, full, uncut five hour version of this film, and not the shortened three-hour theatrical release. In the sublime five hours of this, the most beautiful film ever made in my opinion, we will meet countless fantastic characters and join them on a journey through their lives, examining the beauty of childhood and the attraction of magic. An unmissable masterpiece lovingly released by the Criterion Collection, Fanny and Alexander is Ingmar Bergman’s most accessible – and best – film, a magnum opus of a career filled with masterpieces.
The Godfather: Part II (1974) – 200 minutes
Finally, some of you will be thinking. A film I’ve seen! Be realistic – this is the first really easy to find film on this list, and let’s be thankful for that. I honestly believe The Godfather: Part II is a better film than the original, though it took a few viewings for me to grasp that. It is an engrossing, interesting film with a timeless plot and incredible twists, as well as its now famously brutal ending, a powerhouse finale to a film that never lets up.
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) – 201 minutes
If not for the Criterion Collection, we may not have this remarkable work of art available to us. Unbelievably, Chantal Akerman directed this meticulous, incredibly detailed masterpiece at age 25! She was young, but she knew from her own family what life was like being a mother, and infused the OCD-like temperament of many obsessive single mothers, and brought it to life in this incredibly disturbing, stunning film, with cinematography that inspired Roy Andersson and Michael Haneke, and a horrifyingly unexpected ending that shocked many viewers, including myself.
Napoleon (1927) – 235 minutes
Holy fucking hell, I love this movie! Though I’ve only seen the short four-hour version of a film whose longest extant version is five and a half hours, I have fallen in love with it. Napoleon is the greatest silent film ever made, and one of the greatest movies in general. I’ve seen it only twice, but I intend to see it many more times. It is an unfathomably great masterpiece that never wastes a single second, absolutely enthralling all the time.
The Right Stuff (1985) – 193 minutes
An American classic, The Right Stuff is a movie I wish I had been born early enough to have experienced it as a kid, though I missed out by a few years. This is not an action movie, but it is the definition of a great summer blockbuster; it’s a long film, sure, but it’s just absolutely fantastic and never boring. Telling a true story and making it incredibly interesting and thoughtful, with a stellar all-star cast and great direction, The Right Stuff has all the right… well, you know.
Satantango (1994) – 420 minutes
At times depressing and at times hilarious, Bela Tarr’s story of a Hungarian village in turmoil is absolutely fantastic. For seven hours, we stay with the strange and colourful characters of this dark, gritty, decrepit town, and join them in their misery, agony, ecstacy and wonder. The film is unsurprisingly one of my five favourites ever made, and it makes that list for its stunning final thirty minutes alone, the best single sequence of Tarr’s career, and possibly of the 90s decade itself.
Shoah (1985) – 566 minutes
People who have the patience to sit through this nine-hour scream of misery and regret are the truly great people of this world. They will have experienced one of cinema’s most important, expressive and wondrous events. The length is necessary to accentuate the film’s brutal punch, and it packs a big one. Tense, disturbing and at times absolutely horrific, director Claude Lanzmann refuses to use archive footage and shows everything as it is today, making the sights of places where death camps and mass graves used to be look even more terrifying.
There. That’s my list of ten great movies over 180 minutes. What do you think? How many have you seen? Would any of these make your list? What did I forget? Leave a comment below.