Our All-Time Favorite Long Takes in Movies

GRAVITY

Every week in /Answers, we attempt to answer a new pop culture-related question. This week’s edition asks “What is your favorite long take in movie history?” As always, we have submissions from the /Film writing crew and podcast team, along with a special guest. This week, we are joined by Life director Daniel Espinosa.

If there’s a long, uninterrupted shot that really blows your mind, please send your thoughts to slashfilmpitches@gmail.com for a chance to be featured on the site. Find our favorite long shots below!

Daniel Espinosa: Touch of Evil and 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days

Touch of Evil, man. Can’t get around it. It’s also noir. It’s so effortlessly done. Then you go to Goodfellas, of course, but Touch of Evil makes you go, “How the fuck did they do that?” Imagine how big the cameras were back then. They were huge.

Another great oner, one I admire a lot, is from 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. […] It’s great. The whole movie is just oners. It’s like 18. Every scene is a oner. Sometimes the oner is not that pretentious, you know, it’s just two persons in a room. The way they move around is what makes it feel like a dynamic shot. It never changes its position. To do that is just mind-boggling.

(Read our full interview with Espinosa here.)

Jeff Cannata: Annie Hall – “Jew Eat?”

There are many flashy one-takes in cinema history. Incredible action scenes that dazzle with choreography that seems to go on and on; brooding. Tension-filled tracking shots that linger on characters and maintain anxiety. Amazing how-did-they-do-that flourishes that spin and soar over a scene, or follow beyond apparent borders to draw us in. I love and admire all of these.

But my favorite – the closest to heart – is a shot that does none of this.  It is simple and weird and brilliant. It is in Annie Hall, one of my 3 favorite films of all time, and it is the scene when Alvy SInger and Rob are walking down the street in New York and Alvy is complaining about perceived anti-semitism.  It’s the famous, “Jew eat?” conversation. The camera sits on the sidewalk, waiting for them as they walk. We hear the conversation before we ever see who is talking. We hear it as if we are right there next to them.  They don’t sound far away or approaching – they are present, clear as day, but not visible.  Eventually we see the two figures in the distance, far down the street. Still the camera stays put. Waiting. A static, patient shot. Finally they make to the camera and then, as they get perfectly framed and about to pass, the camera joins them, moving, tracking with them down the street.

It is such a brilliant, unexpected move. The viewer is forced to wait and then surprised to be with them. It is as if we are coming along for this interesting, funny conversation, as if we, the curious eavesdroppers, are allowed to tag along.  I love how quirky and bold this choice is, how it makes me feel as the viewer. Say what you will about Woody Allen the man, but I adore his films – this one above all – and this shot has never left my mind since the first moment I saw it.

Christopher Stipp: Goodfellas – The Copacabana

It’s tough to find visual weight for many of the films we watch as viewers – our protagonists often live in a world that is completely their own. But in that Copacabana tracking shot in Goodfellas, we were given the feeling of what it truly feels like to be the lead character, and how the doors literally open for him as he walks through them.

With all the technical logistics that went into this moment (eight takes in all and then they broke for lunch), it’s easy to admire the technique and simply forget how it fits in perfectly to Henry Hill’s persona. Everything Hill commands from the moment he walks onto the street with his lady around his arm falls into place because that’s the kind of control he possesses. There are no doors he cannot walk through and there isn’t anything that will stop him from going where he ultimately knows he wants to be: front and center. It’s so elegant in its masterfully blocked movements that it doesn’t feel like a visual gimmick. It’s Hill personified. Always in motion, always moving…until he isn’t.

Peter Sciretta: Gravity – The Opening Scene

For my favorite action scene, I already wrote about the car attack scene in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. I’ve always been a huge fan of long-take tracking shots, which seem to have become more popular in the mainstream over the last few years. There are so many great ones, from Cuarón, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese and so many others.

To keep things a bit different, I’ll go with a different Cuarón’s film: Gravity. The opening sequence is such a masterclass in filmmaking. It sets up the characters, the geography, the physics of the world, and then throws them all in your face just minutes later after, using the presentation to escalate the tension. I nearly had a panic attack watching this movie. And yes, I realize this sequence is not a traditional one-shot sequence as its composed of many different layers of live-action and computer generated visual effects. However, the experience of the one continuous shot, and the the filmmaking behind it, is too impressive to care otherwise.

Jack Giroux: Happy-Go-Lucky – The Ending

Mike Leigh’s final long shot lets you soak up every second of a moving conclusion. The long shot doesn’t ever pull you out of the ending, either, making you think, “Gee, I wonder how they did that,” or, “Yes, I, too, have seen Goodfellas.” Over the course of the three-minute shot, the camera – which invisibly goes from a camera on a boat tracking Poppy (Sally Hawkins) and Zoe (Alexis Zegerman) to a finishing crane shot – is graceful, not intrusive.
It’s not the technical feat that leaves my mouth hanging open in wonder, though; it’s Poppy, and how Leigh captures her beautiful spirit in the final long shot. Even when the crane goes higher and Poppy paddles further away, she’s still absolutely radiant. The last shot is as warm and as full as life as Poppy.
Happy-Go-Lucky’s long shot features one of my favorite happy endings, in which no amazing, life-altering event occurs. It’s a character simply enjoying a lovely day with a friend, which is a beautiful and happy enough ending for Poppy and Leigh. I didn’t see Happy-Go-Lucky until only a year or so ago, but I haven’t let go of the feeling the final long shot left me with, and I hope it never goes away.

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