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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Which short movies from the last 25 years or so can we consider “great”?

Today’s question comes from reader Dardo, who notes that:

it seems that nowadays every really great movie or important in some way is at least around two hours long. so the question is which short movies (around 90 minutes or less) from the last 25 years you find truly excellent, like you would give them 5/5 or Oscar worthy?

going through my 300+ DVD/blu ray collection I can only name Lost in Translation, Toy Story 2 and Eastern Promises.

There it is: Which short movie — about 90 minutes or less — from the last 25 years or so can we consider “great”? Or are all the best movies in recent years of epic length?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)

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  • Mathias

    Lost in Translation doesn’t count since it’s 96 minutes long. I cannot name a truly great film that was 90 mins or less that was released within the past 9 years or so.

    But i’ve always felt that audiences need more time with a protag to feel a deep emotional connection with him/her and that a great film needs more obstacles for the protage to face than how many can be provided within a 90 min film.

    It’s just too short. And i especially hate it when films are less than 90 mins long.
    I can almost gurantee you that they’ll suck. The Strangers at only 76 mins long was ridiculous and i hear that Bruno is even shorter.

    Someone outta write a law that states that absolutely no motion picture that receives nation-wide distribution should be less than 90 mins long. If people are gonna hire a baby sitter, pay $12 bucks each for tickets, spend 10 bucks each on popcorn and soda, then they deserve at a minimum, 90 mins of entertainment.

  • t6

    Well, I must make two caveats before I dig into this post:

    1) I assume Dardo is eliminating from contention the entire Oscar category of short films? Because there are many, many, many wonderful short films…that also get industry recognition through Oscars. I still remember the brilliance that was Der Schwarzfahrer.

    2) I think the last thing we need to do is further uphold the tyranny of “great.” The Great Men, Great Books, Great Composers. The whole narrative of great tends to marginalize already marginalized groups. It tends to normalize covert values that tend to reinforce the hegemony…and I’m not about that. We need to destroy canon rather than reinforce it. So I’ll offer up a film, but not to canonize it into “greatness.” Rather I’ll offer up a film I think is very good, innovative, does what it does very well, and I think has gained a lot of critical praise.

    Coming in at 81minutes: Lola Rennt…aka Run Lola Run

  • Hank Graham

    I have to answer back to Mathias, with his hatred of movies less than 90 minutes long.

    Would you throw out “Paths of Glory,” at 86 minutes?

    Would anyone want “The War Game” to be a minute longer than its 82 minutes?

    Is “Duck Soup” any less of a masterpiece at 68 minutes?

    Movies should be whatever length works best for them, and there’s no correspondance I see between the length of a movie and how good it is.

  • doa766

    I said around 90 minutes, and on Lost in Translation the credits roll at amost exactly 90

    also this is obviously about feature lenth and not shorts

  • I am assuming you mean “Theatrical Releases” 90 Minutes or less in length. These were the best I could find. It was amazing to me if I was to extend the length to 100 minutes how many more films I could find (many of them better films as well).

    The List:
    Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness: 81 Minutes
    This is Spinal Tap: 85 Minutes
    Toy Story: 80 Minutes (Toy Story 2 was 92 Minutes)
    Blair Witch Project: 86 Minutes (Note I don’t consider this movie all that “great” but it is what they did with it that I consider groundbreaking – Viral Marketing, POV Improv, and Editing all were ahead of their time)
    Pi: 85 Minutes
    Best In Show: 89 Minutes
    Primer: 77 Minutes (About the best film on Time Travel you are ever likely to see)
    Muppets In Space: 87 Minutes (The Best Muppet Film ever made)
    South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut: 81 Minutes
    Idiocracy: 84 Minutes
    Revenge of the Nerds: 90 Minutes (released in 1984 – exactly 25 years ago)
    The Nightmare Before Christmas: 76 Minutes
    MST3k-The Movie: 73 Minutes (I’ve not seen this one, I just found it interesting it was so short)
    Pecker: 87 Minutes (John Water’s Love Letter to Hampden in Baltimore)
    Lake Placid: 82 Minutes
    Chicken Run: 84 Minutes
    The Tao of Steve: 87 Minutes
    Zoolander: 89 Minutes
    Wallace & Gromit-Curse of the Were Rabbit: 85 Minutes (Did you know this won an Oscar in 2005?)
    Borat: 84 Minutes (I Personally HATE this film, but enough people liked it to note it)
    Jesus Camp: 86 Minutes
    Cloverfield: 84 Minutes

    Hon. Mention:
    Grindhouse: A double feature at 3h 11m (avg 95 mins each)
    Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny: 93 minutes
    The Fountain: 96 Minutes (This movie could have been a lot longer but it isn’t and that’s why I noted it)
    The Full Monty: 91 Minutes
    Orgazmo: 92 Minutes
    Waking Ned Divine: 91 Minutes
    A Mighty Wind: 91 Minutes
    Shrek: 91 Minutes

    The WTF Award:
    88 Minutes is 111 Minutes long

  • doa766 (Dardo)

    Graham wrote:

    “Movies should be whatever length works best for them, and there’s no correspondance I see between the length of a movie and how good it is.”

    I would be incline to agree with that yeat there’re planty of around 90 minutes movies coming out each year but very rarely something great, it didn’t used to be like that before the 80s and I don’t know why

    maybe directors now doubt they’ll have the time to let the story breath on 90 minutes or when they see the first 90 min edit and think it’s great they put all the delete scenes back in, I don’t know

  • Brian

    Okay, it’s time for some enterprising empiricist with a copy of Excel and a lot of patience to run a statistical correlation between movie run time and various measurements of success . . . For run time, IMDb could be consulted. For success measurements, you could use global box office totals, number of awards won, and/or the Tomatometer number for critical consensus.

    I’d be willing to bet that there could be a statistically significant positive correlation between length and awards won, since the movies that win the most awards include a disproportionate share of novel adaptations and biopics. Those tend to be long. As for the other measurements, I doubt that you’d find any pattern . . . But it’s impossible to say without checking the facts. I have the copy of Excel, but not the patience.

  • Don’t forget Todd Solondz’s “Welcome to the Dollhouse”!
    88 minutes.

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    A History of Violence. Ninety-five perfect minutes.

  • Bill

    Man from Earth
    The Fountain
    Charlie Wilson’s War
    Good Night, and Good Luck
    Burn Afer Reading

  • Mathias

    Little Miss Sunshine is 97 minutes, so it doesn’t count.
    Juno, although i hated it, is 92 minutes.
    I’m not counting the ending credits here.

    Cloverfield REALLY pissed me off ‘cuz it’s only 75 mins long. I think most wouldn’t mind 15 extra minutes of that daring and eciting film.

    Yes, i know that many of Pixar’s classics are under 90 minutes and so are many comdeies, but i think these two genres can get away with it unlike say a drama, or a thriller. It’s perfectly acceptable for a animated flick or a comedy to be 80-90 mins long, but i still wish 5 extra mins were added to them. I’ve yet to hear anyone say, “It was 90 mins long, but i wish it were shorter.”

    But i still stand by my statement to outlaw all films under 90 mins.

  • Brian

    Matthias, what should be in those five minutes that you’d like to add to . . . whichever movies you happen to be thinking about? How would they make the movie better qualitatively? Can you give an example?

  • Question for you Matthias, is it the lack of entertainment time that you object to? Because a short subject like a cartoon or newsreel (which we don’t do any more but a 10 minute documentary for example) would give an 88 minute movie (to pick a random number under 90) an additional 10 minutes of entertainment time.

    Would that avoid you giving my 88 minute movie a citation?

  • Mathias

    To Brian: It’s not my place to tell Pixar how to spend 5 extra mintues to increase Toy Story 2’s runtime from 85 mins to 90 mins. If i were writing the legislation for this, lawmakers wouldn’t be making the decision regarding content, the filmmakers would.

    It’s seems reasonable to assume that if Pixar can create 85 mins of perfection, they should have no problems creating 90 mins of perfection.

    I don’t think its too much to ask for.;)

    To C. David Dent: No, 88 minute films would get a citation too. I’m not counting newsreels, trailers, commercials or those info-tainment specials most cineplexes run before the movie begins.

    I’m just saying, from the moment opening credits appear to the very instant that the ending credits appear, no film should be less than 90 mins.

  • Brian

    In the case of Pixar, Matthias, those extra five minutes involve a massive amount of computing power and many hours of programmers’ time, not to mention the troubleshooting and repeated rendering to get the images just right. Why waste the resources to add minutes if they’re not necessary for a high-quality product?

    Even in the case of a live-action film, you may be talking about incurring extra expenses for time on set, and all the costs that entails (everything from the “honey wagon” to actors’ salaries), not to mention the film processing, and the time and effort required of editors to cut a film to meet an arbitrary time requirement.

    Yes, of course, most films shoot much more than what ends up in the final cut, so there may not be any extra shoot time necessary. But most editors will argue that everything that’s not in the final cut has been excised for a good reason. Thanks to DVD, we can see lots of “deleted scenes” that offer strong justification for those cuts; “directors’ cuts” and “unrated editions” notwithstanding.

    If the purpose of your proposed legislation is to stimulate the economy by paying a bunch of production personnel for extra work, then you might achieve something there. If it’s to give movie-goers more for their money — and that still hinges on the unfounded assumption that a longer film is more entertaining by definition — then it’s hard to see how driving up production costs is going to help your cause. And a strike by movie editors probably won’t help the state of film entertainment either . . .

  • Mathias

    Brian, don’t act like Pixar has never made a film longer than 90 minutes.

    Finding Nemo – 93 mins.
    The Incredibles – 102 mins.
    Ratatouille – 102 mins.
    Cars – 108 mins.

    Wall-E, a perfect 90 mins. :D

    All the extra expenses you listed can be solved if the writer(s)and director start their production with the understanding that their film will have at least 90 mins of substance. This way, they won’t feel like adding more will hurt the film overall.

    And if they’re still 2 to 5 minutes too short, they can just add a 2-3 min of opening credits sequence and/or a good 2-3 min montage in middle somewhere.

    If they’re over 5 minutes too short, like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist which clocks in at 84 minutes, then it’s the screenwriter’s fault.
    ‘Cause as we all know, 1 page = 1 min of footage.

    I would also add to my legislature that no produced script should be less than 90 pages, just to avoid the problems you mentioned. If writers object to this, tell them to come back with something more substantial than a short film. ;)

  • Hank Graham


    I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree.

    You’re judging art by numbers, and I think that’s inherently wrong, the sort of producer thinking that ends up giving you films made by Michael Bay, and other such ills.

    The really great films are rare, and they get into your head and stick with you, changing the internal landscape of our heads and the way we dream. They can also come in any length or shape.

    Among the most memorable film moments in my life is Fredric Back’s “The Man Who Planted Trees,” a mere 30 minutes in length.

    There is also “Night and Fog,” still, and by far, the best film about the Holocaust anyone has ever made. It’s only 32 minutes long.

    Your complaint doesn’t seem to be about the art, it seems to be a consumer’s complaint, that you want more bang for your buck.

    Hell, despite the shorter runtimes of some of the Pixar films, they’re going back to the Old Hollywood model, and always include a short with the films.

  • Hank Graham

    Oh, yeah–I also have to throw out my opinion that the best movie I’ve seen in the last 12 months is Pixar’s “Up.” Which is only 96 minutes long.

  • Jurgan

    The idea that there’s some “magic length” for movies is just ignorant, and hackish. I don’t think The Nightmare Before Christmas would be a better movie if Tim Burton somehow added fifteen minutes to it. Or, heck, Dumbo is only about 66 minutes long, but it’s one of the greats of the Disney golden age. What you’re asking for is padding, and that rarely helps a film. If an artist is trying to put a movie together, he may very well discover that the movie is too slow. Pacing is an important concern. A movie, book, essay, whatever should be as long as it needs to be to make its point, and not a minute longer. Any attempt to force them into some arbitrary standard is antithetical to the idea of art. The same could be said of ratings, where economic pressure forces directors of adult films to water them down to get an R rating. Artists should be able to make their art however they want, and if people are willing to pay (fully aware of exactly how long it is), then that’s their right as well.

  • Victor Plenty

    Mathias has got to be joking with us. Nothing else makes any sense.

  • Mathias

    Yeah, i’m not being entirely sincere. :)

    For example, i just watched 500 Days of Summer.
    It’s 90 mins long, and a great film.
    Right up there with Coraline, Star Trek and Up.
    I guess i found my answer to MaryAnn’s question.

    There are great films out there that clock in at 90 mins or less.

  • Mathias

    BTW MaryAnn, i look forward to your review of it.

    500 Days is like a bittersweet version of Say Anything for the Gen Y crowd, you should get a kick out it.

  • Pedro

    HELLO!!!People, The Lion King is 89 minutes long according to Imdb!

    Exactly why are we leaving it out!?

    Also, I agree on Toy Story.

    Day Zero – at 92 minutes – and Trainspotting – 94 – would be good additions to the list as well.

  • Pedro

    but the best movies ever are still three hours long each.

    Two Towers.
    and Return of the King.

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