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Ranking The 20 Greatest, Most Celebrated Long Takes

The Playlist By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist March 27, 2014 at 2:39PM

This weekend, “The Raid 2” opens, in all its chop-socky glory, in limited release and will expand in the weeks to come. Continuing on from the original “The Raid,” though by all accounts (ours included) creating fight scenes even more fluid and flabbergasting than its predecessor (which was pretty much all one fight scene), it employs many takes of above-average length to give an extra edge of realism and dynamism to the old ultra-violence. This approach characterized Gareth Evans' shooting style last time out too and still feels like a refreshing counterpoint to the hyper-kinetic Michael Bay school of editing, which often feels like it’s hiding as much as it’s showing.
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15. "Paths of Glory" (1957) Director: Stanley Kubrick DP: Georg Kraus

This early example from Kubrick is not his longest shot nor his most complex, but it does brilliantly illustrate how longer takes can be used to bolster storytelling, rather than remove you from it. The camera glides effortlessly as the general, oozing condescension, delivers his "morale-boosting" words to grateful, doomed troops, until we butt-edit up against a close up of the shellshocked, silent man who is not reading from the same script, and the hypocrisy is abruptly laid bare. (Course, we could easily have included the opening from "A Clockwork Orange" or the shots following Danny on his tricycle in "The Shining" or any of several sedate takes in '2001' etc.) 

14. "The Secret In Their Eyes" (2009) Director: Juan José Campanella DP: Felix Monti

Another prime example of a long take (it clocks in at 5 mins) that is totally justified on a story level, this is an absolutely bravura sequence from the terrifically entertaining 2009 Best Foreign Film Oscar winner. Established by a wide "helicopter" shot of a packed football stadium, we fly in to close up on our heroes in the stands, swim in and out of the crowd as they embark on their impossible search, before it morphs into an extended chase during which the subject is found, then lost, then found again, before ending up in a panting heap on the middle of the football pitch, mid-game. Completely breathless, exciting filmmaking that is so immersive you lose yourself within it.

13. "Snake Eyes" (1998) Director: Brian de Palma DP: Stephen H Burum

Throw a dart at a de Palma movie and chances are you'll end up in the middle of a long take—the director's filmography is lousy with them, and the occasionally dubious quality of the surrounding films (naw, we love him really, here's our retrospective) means that sometimes not for the best of reasons, they do stand out. And there's none that exemplifies that paradox (interesting shot; subpar movie) more than this 12-minute sequence from terminally silly Nic Cage thriller "Snake Eyes," (which, yes, has concealed cuts hidden in whip pans and what not, but the effect is still pretty seamless). Except maybe the beginning of "Bonfire of the Vanities" but we drank to forget that film.

12. "The Protector" (aka "Warrior King" aka "Tom Yum Goong") (2005) Director: Prachya Pinkaew DP: Nattawut Kittikhun

"Where's my ELEPHANT?" may still be our favorite recurring line of dialogue from any martial arts movie ever, but no list of this sort could fail to take note of the amazing staircase fight from this Tony Jaa movie. Playing out like a brightly lit, more humorous version of the original "The Raid" in miniature, in just under four minutes Jaa works his way up multiple flights of stairs dispatching anyone he meets in unmistakably non-stunt-double form. The vast landings and prevalence of bamboo dividers through which people can be thrown is obviously stagy, but when the results are this much fun, who cares?

11. "Gravity" (2013) Director: Alfonso Cuarón DP: Emmanuel Lubezki

The most recent entry on our list is also one of the longest: the 17-minute long sequence that starts the multi-Oscar-winner in such unforgettable style. With directors often employing longer takes as beginning or end shots (the rhythm of the film being less disturbed that way) this may go down as one of the most brilliant "establishing shot"s ever: I mean, how does one evoke a sense of geography where there is no geography? Lulling us into a sense of weightless safety before terrifyingly shattering that comfort, this stunning shot's length has only one drawback: humans can't actually go 17 minutes without breathing. The last 3m20s of that sequence is below:

This article is related to: Features, Feature, Gravity, Children of Men, GoodFellas


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