Compact Movies – and ten of the best

They say they brevity is the soul of wit. It’s also the soul of the modern film viewer’s attention span and bladder capacity. 

Although longer movies will always be embraced when filmmakers can justify their timespan – Roger Ebert famously said that “no good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough” – modern viewers often avoid longer films, a casualty of our busier lives. The idea of sitting through Gone with the Wind’s nearly four-hour runtime, today, brings most of us out in hives.

I don’t believe it’s a concession to the fast pace of modern life to celebrate films that are shorter – instead, it’s a reminder that some artists can move and inspire us in barely the length of a train journey. Isn’t it better to have a small slice of cake than no cake at all?

Rather than short films, let’s call them compact movies. Full length features that give equal time to a variety of themes and a kaleidoscopic cast of characters without giving short shrift to any of them. Here are ten of the best, in no particular order, all under 90 minutes.

Modern Times (1936) – 87 minutes

One of Chaplin’s masterpieces (City Lights and The Great Dictator of course make the cut). A hilarious and touching paean for a lost age.

The Killing (1956) 85 minutes

Among the earliest of Stanley Kubrick’s films, this one is cheap, nasty and unforgettable.

Rashomon (1950) 88 minutes

One of the first Japanese features to make an impact on the Western world of cinema, Kurosawa’s period tale dares us to imagine that three stories can be true, and false, all at once.

Love and Death (1975) – 85 minutes

Woody Allen’s broad-strokes takedown (and celebration) of epic Russian literature is an underrated gem.

Fantastic Mr Fox (2009) – 88 minutes

The other Wes Anderson stop-motion feature which followed the lives of animals and had no right to be so good.

Tangerine (2015) – 88 minutes

The ultimate in indie-movie economy – filmed on location, with an iPhone, using non-professional actors, and sustained by a great idea and a flawless script. 88 minutes is all it needs.

Fruitvale Station (2013) – 85 minutes

Before Creed, before Black Panther, Ryan Coogler announced his unique cinematic voice in this devastating true-life story. You will cry.

My Neighbour Totoro (1988) – 87 minutes

Above all else, Totoro is an 87-minute reminder that magic really exists.

Persona (1966) – 84 minutes

Ingmar Bergman takes us inside the human mind and back again, and does it in half the runtime of a Transformers film. That’s Swedish efficiency for you.

Any classic Universal monster movie (circa 1 hour 15 minutes)

Speaking of ruthless economy, pretty much any of the great monster classics from Universal’s golden age comes in at under 90 minutes – The Invisible Man runs to 71 minutes, while Bela Lugosi’s Dracula is relatively bloated at 85 minutes. If you’ve not seen Universal’s run of great monster movies – from Bride of Frankenstein to The Wolf Man – you’re in for a great Saturday.

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