Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Best of the beasts

I watched Spartacus over the weekend.

All 3 hours and 16 minutes of it.

Which is pretty challenging when you're trying to watch it during the day while also taking care of a baby. I sometimes feel guilty watching things on TV while babysitting, because he'll get exposed to TV plenty fast without our help. However, I feel a lot more guilty when my wife is around. Fortunately, she was out for most of the morning/early afternoon on Saturday, so I had plenty of time to finish the whole thing, especially factoring in his hour-long nap.

It got me thinking about really long movies in general, how they almost have to be really good for us to be willing to sit through the whole thing. Spartacus was no exception.

And that made me wonder which really long movies I like most, a potential topic for my Flickchart Tuesdays series. (I took last week off, sorry.) For the purposes of this discussion, I'm considering "really long movies" -- or "beasts," for short -- to be movies at least three hours in length.

Because it takes a certain type of movie to get the studio's blessing on a 3+ hour running time, I figure it will take awhile for me to even get a top 20 (ten to be discussed, ten just to be referenced). I mean, I may have only seen 20-30 movies that are even that long.

But given my thesis that 3+ hour movies are usually good, I'm interested in expanding my usual focus today beyond a top 20. In fact, since it's easy to quickly determine which movies even have a chance of being that long, meaning I can make rather quick work of this, I think I'll go through my whole list. After all, isn't it almost more interesting to figure out which three-hour movie I found to be the most tedious, rather than the best? On which movie did I spend the most time for the least return?

As you may know by now, the rules for this exercise are that I don't know what movies will come up as I roll on down through my Flickchart rankings. I just choose the topic and go, hoping I don't embarrass myself along the way.

One note: Spartacus itself will be conspicuously absent from this list. I have the following personal Flickchart policy: I don't add a movie into my Flickchart until it's been a month since I've seen it. That allows me some time to step back and have some perspective on the film before I decide what's better than it, and what's worse.

Here we go ...

1. The Seven Samurai (1954, Akira Kurosawa). Running time: 204 minutes. I saw Kurosawa's greatest masterpiece for the first time in film class in high school. I believe it took the whole week's worth of classes, and possibly then some. My second viewing was of the more traditional variety, though it was still in an academic setting -- it was shown as entertainment in a classroom on a Saturday night in college. This was my freshman year, possibly before I discovered beer. Flickchart: #38

2. Schindler's List (1993, Steven Spielberg). Running time: 200 minutes. My only screening of Schindler's List was of the normal, theatrical variety. Except there was nothing normal about what I was seeing on screen. Don't remember it feeling like 3 hours and 20 minutes, and never had to leave to go to the bathroom. (If I had, it wouldn't have been until the end, and only if I'd needed a Kleenex.) Flickchart: #54

3. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002, Peter Jackson). Running time: 179 minutes. And here, at #3, I already get caught cheating. The second (and best) Lord of the Rings is one minute shy of three hours. Oh well. This is my list and I can make whatever exceptions I want. I had not been a huge fan of the original movie, but The Two Towers brought me fully on board to the LOTR phenomenon -- as well as making me go back and appreciate the first. Flickchart: #70

4. Dances With Wolves (1990, Kevin Costner). Running time: 181 minutes. The first beast on this list I watched entirely in a home setting. I remember getting so emotionally invested in this story (and what a payoff at the end), in the basement of my childhood home, that I doubt I noticed the passage of three hours. And this after I'd spent the entire Oscars scoffing over the fact that Costner's movie was picking up all the awards, over two sentimental favorites (Ghost and Awakenings) and one certified masterpiece (Goodfellas). Flickchart: #84

5. Titanic (1997, James Cameron). Running time: 195 minutes. Yes indeed, Titanic is in my top 100 overall. But if Flickchart had existed in 1997, it probably would have been #1. I was simply in love with this movie when it first came out, and I refuse to throw it under the bus now. Still one of the great spectacles ever filmed, with a degree of difficulty that's off the charts. One of the phenomena about Titanic, if you loved it like I did, was that you specifically did not notice 3 hours and 15 minutes passing you by. If you didn't love it, it probably seemed interminable. Flickchart: #98

6. Malcolm X (1992, Spike Lee). Running time: 205 minutes. Another movie that blew me away. I do, however, remember the full passage of 3 hours and 25 minutes -- I just didn't care. Still, I remember my friend Susan and I emerging from the theater feeling exhausted. What part of that was the length of the movie and what part of that was the vividness and brilliance of Lee's filmmaking, it's hard to say. Flickchart: #162

7. Short Cuts (1993, Robert Altman). Running time: 184 minutes. Fresh of a high from The Player, I dove into the theaters to see Altman's Short Cuts and was not disappointed. (I'm kind of amazed how many of these really long movies I had the stamina for seeing in the theaters back in the early 1990s -- or it could just be that they don't make 'em that long anymore.) The length of Altman's adaptation of Raymond Carver's short stories may have been blunted by the fact that there were so many different storylines to follow. Flickchart: #201

8. Lawrence of Arabia (1962, David Lean). Running time: 202 minutes. My one condition for eventually seeing Lawrence of Arabia, which finally happened about six years ago, was for me to be able to appreciate its massive scope on a big screen. I finally got that opportunity when the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) played it one night, and my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I went. I believe there was an intermission and I believe we stumbled out afterward, exhausted but amazed. Flickchart: #216

9. Gone With the Wind (1939, Victor Fleming). Running time: 222 minutes. I went to college in Maine, and chose to stay on campus for the snowy first week of a two-week spring break my sophomore year. Being basically snowed in really helped in my first screening of Gone With the Wind, which occurred in one sitting at a friend's house, which I remember as feeling like five hours long. Not to say it wasn't an amazing feat of cinema, just that I could feel it eating the life out of me bit by bit. Of course, that's still good enough to be Flickchart: #314

10. JFK (1991, Oliver Stone). Running time: 189 minutes. The first beast on this list where I have no memory of the circumstances of my viewing. I know I didn't see it in the theater, but the rest is hazy. I guess that's an appropriate way to wrap up the discussion portion of my top ten films over three hours long. Flickchart: #323

And now numbers 11-20:

11. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003, Peter Jackson). Running time: 200 minutes. Flickchart: #349
12. The Godfather Part II (1974, Francis Ford Coppola). Running time: 200 minutes. Flickchart: #425
13. The Deer Hunter (1978, Michael Cimino). Running time: 183 minutes. Flickchart: #483
14. Ben-Hur (1959, William Wyler). Running time: 212 minutes. Flickchart: #554
15. Magnolia (2000, Paul Thomas Anderson). Running time: 188 minutes. Flickchart: #682
16. Gettysburg (1993, Ronald F. Maxwell). Running time: 248 minutes. Flickchart: #747
17. Nixon (1995, Oliver Stone). Running time: 190 minutes. Flickchart: #754
18. Grindhouse (2007, Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino). Running time: 192 minutes. Flickchart: #772
19. Hamlet (1996, Kenneth Branagh). Running time: 242 minutes. Flickchart: #852
20. King Kong (2005, Peter Jackson). Running time: 187 minutes. Flickchart: #1012

And because there are so few more in total:

21. Fanny & Alexander (1982, Ingmar Bergman). Running time: 188 minutes. Flickchart: #1144
22. Inland Empire (2006, David Lynch). Running time: 179 minutes*. (See variance allowed for The Two Towers). Flickchart: #1759
23. The Great Ziegfeld (1936, Robert Z. Leonard). Running time: 179 minutes.* Flickchart: #1847
24. Wyatt Earp (1994, Lawrence Kasdan). Running time: 189 minutes. Flickchart: #1916
25. Pearl Harbor (2001, Michael Bay). Running time: 183 minutes. Flickchart: #1959
26. Cleopatra (1963, Joseph L. Mankiewicz). Running time: 246 minutes. Flickchart: #2263 27. The Thin Red Line (1998, Terence Malick). Running time: 180 minutes. Flickchart: #2453

So I've only seen 27 films that cross the three-hour mark, of the 3,271 titles I currently have ranked in Flickchart. That's an extremely small number, which shows you just how rare three-hour movies really are. In fact, it's really only 24, since there are three movies on this list that I rounded up to three hours from 2:59. Though that goes back up to 25 if you include Spartacus.

For the most part, it seems like I considered the extended pressure on my butt cheeks to be worthwhile. My top five three-hour movies are all in my top 100, and my top 20 three-hour movies are all in the top third of my rankings. Only two three-hour movies -- Cleopatra and The Thin Red Line -- are in my bottom third. And that assessment of Thin Red Line may be too harsh. Let's just say I really disliked Malick's return to cinema when I first saw it, and only grudgingly respect it more now that I've seen it a second time.

Funny, even writing up this list exhausted me a little bit.

Tune in next week for more Flickchart nuttiness.

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