100 NOT OUT! SOME GREAT FILMS OF 100 MINUTES OR LESS #1 by PAUL LAIGHT
We all love an epic at the cinema; a film which takes it’s time to build up character, plot and suspense. However, to write a great film under 100 or so minutes requires incredible discipline. You need tough, lean writing and a methodical film editor. You need real focus on the plot and an eye to remove the extraneous and zip the story along. You need a brevity and wit in the writing to quickly establish the characters and gain audience empathy. Most of all you need a solid structure, with pace but without losing any depth.
In this little piece, I have a look at some brilliant FEATURE films that represent marvellous examples of fantastic writing all under the magic one hundred minute mark! I imagine most of us have seen these films but if you haven’t then please do so!
12 ANGRY MEN (1957)
Bona fide classic movie adapted from the TV play by Reginald Rose and directed by the legendary filmmaker Sidney Lumet. The claustrophobic nature of a jury arguing over a murder case is brought to the boil by a superlative cast including Henry Fonda, Jack Klugman, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam etc. It’s a real festival of acting full of sweat, anger, guilt and reasonable doubt; all cooked to perfection within a hundred magnificent minutes.
ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)
John Carpenter is a master at producing lean, mean fighting machine movies. This crime film is an unofficial remake of Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959) and represents your genuine-classic-low-budget-one location-siege movie with a ragtag bunch of cops and cons fighting off hordes of street scum hell bent on revenge following the death of a gang leader. The film is a gritty joy full of hard-boiled characters and dialogue with a simple yet pulsating soundtrack written by Carpenter himself.
BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984)
Basically take your pick from a slew of Woody Allen films which always tell a great story around the 90 minute mark. Yet, I chose Broadway Danny Rose as it is a comedy gem hidden amidst the treasure trove of a filmic oeuvre. It concerns a hapless agent with the worst roster of acts in New York and his hilarious run-in with the mob. Beautifully constructed with some cracking characters and one-liners, this is always worth another watch if you have 85 minutes to spare.
“He was kinda funny-looking!” THAT line basically sums up the Coen Brothers take on the kidnapping-police-procedural thriller. It’s a hilarious one-liner that becomes even funnier when delivered in the Minnesotan accent and in fact is a very important part of the plot. This film is memorable because it turns the genre on its head with a dark, funny and human story both stylish and gut-wrenching in equal measures. I mean, the killers are revealed immediately and Police Chief Marge Gunderson (wonderful Frances McDormand) solves the case quickly too. This allows the Coens to concentrate on off-beat characterisations and twist the narrative in any direction they so desire. It’s bloody, funny and moral with memorable characters that stick in the heart and mind.
THE KILLING (1956)
Not the recent Scandinavian TV show but the early Stanley Kubrik crime classic constructed in a newsreel style with an authoritative god-like third person narration. It stars Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook Jnr and Timothy Carey as assorted array of lowdown criminals all combining to pull off a daring racecourse heist. The brilliance is in the metronomic telling of the tale as Kubrik builds suspense and tension throughout with a filmic confidence which would very much become part of his later, and much longer, epics.
MAD MAX: ROAD WARRIOR (1981)
Slight cheat because the titular character was already established during George Miller’s original hard-core low-budget classic. Yet, this is a powerful and brutal apocalyptic Western with cars instead of horses and punk-bandits instead of indigenous Native Americans providing the foes. It smashes along at a wicked pace as hard-bitten and life-grilled Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) fights hell-for-leather to survive in the Aussie wasteland while hunting for gas and food.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
George A. Romero’s low-fi classic is the Godfather of all modern zombie movies. It’s another siege film as a group of various characters become holed up in a Pennsylvanian farmhouse attempting to avoid the living dead’s bloodthirsty clutches. Made literally on a shoestring from money raised independently (no Kickstarter back in those days), it would become one of the most successful horror films ever outside the Hollywood system. It’s grainy, creepy and gory and offers a subversive critique of the politics of the era.
One of my films of 2015 I have now seen it twice and it is like a snake-charmer; I just cannot help but fall for its twisted, hypnotic and serpentine narrative. In my original review a year ago I wrote:
“It may completely fall apart on subsequent viewings but for the running time it offered a lot more than many other star-driven, big-budget movies. . .”
However, I can safely say this brilliant cult time-travel movie based on a classic Heinlein short story called All You Zombies gets better with further viewing and stands up on further inspection. I’m still scratching my head at how it all fits together, but that is part of the pleasure too.
RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)
Oh for the days when Tarantino didn’t have a lot of money and wrote cracking muscular scripts which defy genre conventions and rip along at breakneck speed. His recent epic films are just as entertaining as this heist-gone-wrong thriller but longer and arguably in need of a trim or two. I’ve seen this film many times and it still retains its vice-like power, as the masculine egos clash and kill each other right up to the bloody end.
This is a both a literary and cinematic classic. It’s a snap-shot rollercoaster smash-cut of junkie vignettes which delivers on all sensory and emotional levels; with a cracking soundtrack to boot! From the twisted mind of Irvine Welsh, writer John Hodge and director Danny Boyle takes the seemingly unfilmable book and craft a fizzing, twisted vision of heroin addicts, which stylises the lifestyle with dark humour and a sense of loss at the devastating impact of addiction. Choose life: choose Trainspotting!
I love this film. It’s a real B-movie guilty pleasure with seismic underground monsters attacking a small back water town ironically named Perfection. The action bolts along and it wears its Jaws-in-the-dirt influences hilariously. Most of all I love the characters, notably Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward’s handyman buddies trying desperately to escape their dead end jobs. It’s a fun script with loads of action and great one-liners with Bacon himself having loads of fun without hamming it up.
Take your pick from any number of Pixar classics notably the Toy Story trilogy, however, I have chosen this gem because it is just so damned imaginative and original. I mean, how’d you get a winning narrative out of an odd couple bromance between a grieving old geezer and an overweight Boy Scout. But this film does so in a great story about overcoming grief, companionship and finding comfort in helping others. Most of all it’s funny, touching and heart-toasting and does it all in fewer than 100 marvellous minutes.