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Tom Cruise in a still from Magnolia (1999), which has a runtime of 188 minutes.

Five great long films that’ll really kill Covid-19 lockdown time

  • Got three hours to spare? Of course you do. Dig into these excellent extra-long, three-hour-plus films including The Irishman, Magnolia and Barry Lyndon
  • If you’ve really got the time, get stuck into the extended version of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which clocks in at over four hours
Asian cinema

With lockdown dragging on and the cinemas still closed, here are five extra-long films to really help you pass the time.

1. Barry Lyndon (1975)

Based on William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1844 novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon, this immaculate period drama is one of the most Kubrickian films that Stanley Kubrick – a director for whom social distancing was more stylistic choice than medical necessity – ever made.

Set during and after the 18th-century Seven Years War and, at 187 minutes, just slightly shorter, it charts the rise and fall of Irish rogue Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal). But as ever with Kubrick, it’s not the what, but the how.

Designed to look like a William Hogarth painting and narrated in donnish tones by Michael Hordern, the film is so deliberately paced and flawlessly designed that legendary critic Pauline Kael called it a “coffee-table movie”. Certainly John Alcott’s Oscar-winning cinematography, which uses only natural light and candlelight, gives it an extraordinary painterly quality.

Although it disappointed upon release, the film has been reappraised over the years and is now considered one of the director’s most distinctive works. Not only that, it’s Martin Scorsese’s favourite Kubrick movie.

2. Magnolia (1999)

After Boogie Nights (1997), itself a not-inconsiderable 155 minutes long, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson set out to make something simple he could shoot in 30 days. The problem was, the script kept blossoming like the eponymous flower. Lasting 188 magnificent minutes, and making every second count, Magnolia is an intimate epic that exceeds all expectations.

The film dramatises an eventful day and night in the lives of a series of loosely connected residents of California’s San Fernando Valley and stars the cream of indie acting talent, from Julianne Moore to John C Reilly. Tom Cruise, as tortured pickup artist Frank TJ Mackey, tries twice as hard to keep up, and earned an Oscar nomination for his efforts.

If the film has a message, it’s how the connections between us can ultimately outweigh the damage. This is illustrated – spectacularly – when the entire cast start singing Aimee Mann’s Wise Up.

“I really feel that Magnolia is, for better or worse, the best movie I’ll ever make,” Anderson said. No kidding.

3. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

The third and final part of Peter Jackson’s trilogy won big at the 2003 Oscars, where it became the first fantasy film ever to be named best picture, netting a record-equalling 11 awards.

The behind-the-scenes stats are suitably huge too. Clocking in at a bottom-numbing 201 minutes (252 minutes if you watch the extended cut), the film was shot all over New Zealand by 10 different units and features 1,488 special effects shots – three times more than The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and twice as many as The Two Towers (2002).

You know the plot already – it’s the final stages of Frodo (Elijah Wood) and friends’ quest to reach Mount Doom and destroy the One Ring – so the biggest surprise is Jackson’s seeming inability to finish the story soon enough. In reality, the editing process was so frantic that Jackson hadn’t seen the entire finished film put together until its premiere in New Zealand’s capital Wellington. His verdict? “Yup, it’s pretty good.”

4. An Elephant Sitting Still (2018)

This moving, multilayered Chinese drama from novelist-turned-director Hu Bo plays out like an even more punishing Magnolia. Over the course of 234 minutes, it follows three lost souls through a single fateful day.

Based on Hu’s own short story, the film’s title comes from the rumour that there is a circus elephant in the northern Chinese city of Manzhouli that simply sits and watches the world go by, ignoring the pain and suffering around it.

Against the frosty, unforgiving backdrop of northern China, troubled teenager Wei Bu (Peng Yuchang), his classmate Huang Ling (Wang Yuwen) and his elderly neighbour Wang Jin (Liu Congxi) join together to visit Manzhouli and escape the problems of their own lives.

If only its director had managed the same thing. Despite the film winning prizes in various territories (including the best picture honour at the Golden Horse Awards), and receiving praise from the likes of Wang Bing, Gus Van Sant and Ang Lee, Hu committed suicide at the age of 29 just after finishing it.

5. The Irishman (2019)

Some 35 years in the making, and featuring a central cast with an average age of 77, The Irishman is Martin Scorsese’s longest and most expensive film to date, costing US$200 million and lasting 209 minutes.

Judging by those figures it should be an ode to excess like his earlier mob films Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995), but instead it’s a much more reflective, mature work, focusing on the life and crimes of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro).

As reported in Charles Brandt’s book I Heard You Paint Houses, Sheeran was a truck driver who became a hitman for Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), a mobster with connections to union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).

Scorsese has always made long movies that avoid tedium, and The Irishman, his first film for Netflix, is no exception. At first it can be distracting watching De Niro and co being digitally de-aged by several decades, but by the end you’ll feel like the opposite has happened to you.

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