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Ranking The 20 Greatest, Most Celebrated Long Takes

Photo of Jessica Kiang 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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10. "The Sacrifice" (1986) Director: Andrei Tarkovsky DP: Sven Nyqvist

There's no list on earth that could do justice to Tarkovsky's shotmaking (look at the burning barn in "Mirror" or the dream sequence in "Stalker" or the hypnotic driving scene in "Solaris" or all of "Andrei Rublev" etc etc). So we're going to go with this scene from the Bergman-indebted (shot in Gotland by Bergman collaborator Nyqvist) "The Sacrifice," Tarkovsky's last film. This 6 min shot is actually his second longest (the first is at the beginning of this film), but famously required the rebuilding of the house after the camera stalled. We're still not sure we understand how he manages to imbue what could be ridiculous, Benny-Hill-esque long-shot running-about with such tragic, aching mood, but then we could spend our lives trying to decipher Tarkovsky's skill. And probably will. 

9. "Magnolia" (1999) Director: Paul Thomas Anderson DP: Robert Elswit

As clearly pointed out in this video deconstructing PTA's steadicam use, there's no film of his within which we couldn't find an example of the long tracking shot. But we're plumping for "Magnolia," even over the two spectacular "Boogie Nights" examples because as terrific as they (and the lesser-known one from "Hard Eight") are, they feel quite indebted to their influences, Scorsese in particular, and it's really "Magnolia" that feels like it's doing completely its own thing. The fluidity of this inquisitive, restless shot establishes character and location yes, but mostly acts an encapsulation of a film that's all about labyrinthine relationships between people struggling to connect, but only ever passing by.

8. "Touch of Evil" (1958) Director: Orson Welles DP: Russell Metty

The literal ticking time bomb of Welles' opener to his Charlton Heston-starrer is as good a reason as anyone's ever discovered for an extended take, with added epic feel coming from the wild variance in scale from the close up of the bomb to the high angle crane shot that picks up Heston, then loses him then picks him up as his path interweaves with that of the doomed car. It's an insanely complex shot that of course Welles makes look as effortless as falling off a log, though a sight more graceful, before it culminates in a kiss that is also an explosion. It's an amazing, peerless symbiosis of form and content. 

7. "Weekend" (1967) Director: Jean-Luc Godard DP: Raoul Coutard

One of a series of perfectly self-contained moments that characterize Godard's experimental black comedy thingummajig (in fact we'd suggest that the film is more comprehensible, and certainly more watchable if viewed as a collection of vignettes rather than a coherent feature, which it ain't and don't want to be), the 7-minute long traffic jam is probably the director's most famous shot. Not especially complex in terms of camerawork (it is just one long sideways track) nonetheless as it follows the line of cars we get these terrific little voyeuristic glimpses of the lives of the occupants, sometimes comical, sometimes odd, and it's all very Tati-esque and charming. Until the bodies and the tire tracks through the blood. 

6. "Oldboy" (2003) Director: Park Chan-Wook DP: Chung Chung-Hoon

And from one classic lateral track to a more modern version—Park's awesomely violent original "Oldboy" just oozes style all over, but this corridor fight really felt like something we'd never seen before. Again, complex in its choreography and set design (and amazing lighting technique to make things comprehensible but also chiaruscuro-beautiful, like a Caravaggio) rather than its simple side-to-side camera movement, it's 2m 40s-ish of sheer badassery that will forever remain simply one of the coolest things we'd ever seen in a cinema. 

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


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