best long shots

(Welcome to /Response, the companion piece to our /Answers series and a space where /Film readers can chime in and offer their two cents on a particular question.)

Earlier this week, the /Film team wrote about their favorite “oners” (or long takes) in movie history. We then opened the floor to our readers: which long shots leave your completely breathless? And you let us know!

We have collected our favorite answers (edited for length and clarity) below. Next week’s question: what is your favorite movie car chase of all time? Send your (at least one paragraph, please) answer to slashfilmpitches@gmail.com!

The Adventures of Tintin

Long takes are one of Steven Spielberg’s favorite methods, and he does them well, utilizing them in most of his films, but none so bold and extravagant as the oner from The Adventures of Tintin. I have a slight bias in liking this film, being an avid fan of Herge’s classic comics from an early age, but this scene is one that should not go unnoticed by film enthusiasts whether they like the film or not. Within the five-minute scene, Spielberg keeps the audience on their toes from the minute the chase is on, adding dilemma after dilemma and numerous obstacles for both the heroes and the villians, throwing in different objects like a tank and an overflowing dam to thrilling effects. He utilizes the city of Morocco to its fullest extent, as the buildings and architecture are used inside and out, as the characters either go above, below, or even through them. It is Spielberg playing to our child, and within those breathtaking five minute,s we remember a time when we made up scenarios such as this with our toy cars and blocks. (Samuel Morales)

Atonement

I have yet to witness a singular scene of any film, past or present, so poignantly remarkable as the Dunkirk evacuation in Joe Wright’s Atonement. After a perilous journey to reunite with his battalion, Robbie (James McAvoy) approaches the shores of Dunkirk. Finally, he can go home, away from the hell he was never supposed to be in. Finally, he will be reunited with his love. Finally, all that was torn apart will come together once more. Climbing over the precipice of what is to be his salvation, he discovers something else entirely.

The sheer technical achievement of what happens next is something to behold: the thousand-plus extras drifting in and out of frame, grand set pieces silhouetted against a hazy dusk, chaos in every field of view, and Dario Marianelli’s Elegy for Dunkirk making its first, haunting whispers. Wright refuses to cut once, allowing the audience to be enveloped within the surreal environment.

The sweeping spectacle of it all is immediately evident, but it’s within the context of the entire narrative that this scene becomes all the more powerful. McAvoy’s performance carries every nuanced implication within his gaze. Over time, we realize that the stunning cinematography, the heart-wrenching elegy, and the impeccable choreography of these few minutes were only a façade for the ultimate truth that was hiding underneath. (Justin Schroeder)

***

It is difficult to imagine a more effective way of expressing the hopeless, frustrating, circular futility of being trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk during World War II than through Joe Wright and Seamus McGarvy’s mesmerizing staging of the “Elegy for Dunkirk” sequence in Atonement. Set against the haunting chords of Dario Marianelli’s score, the sequence manages to encompass close-ups and wide shots without cutting, creating an effect that is simultaneous epic and intimate. The moment is about Robbie (James McAvoy), but it is also about every man stuck on that beach who is unable to escape. Wright has peppered the sequence with a recurring circular motif, displaying round gazebos, ferris wheels, Merry-Go-Rounds, bicycle wheels and more. Everything emphasizes stagnation and claustrophobia even in a wide space, circling round and round back to where the soldiers started from. The shot’s colors are desaturated, but still aesthetically pleasing, and the simultaneous foreground and background actions are stimulating, but do not distract from each other. Atonement is a generally stunning film, but its Dunkirk long take is its high point. Many films have featured stunning long takes, but few pack the emotional punch that Atonement’s Dunkirk shot does. (Will Mavity)

Boogie Nights

My favorite long shot in film is from Boogie Nights, where Little Bill (William H. Macy) discovers his wife cheating on him and the camera follows him getting a gun from his car to kill his wife and then himself. What fascinates me so much about this long take is that the first time you watch it, you don’t know exactly what’s running through his head. He greets others as he walks around the house to find his wife before the New Years Eve countdown. He hasn’t lost his cool, but there’s some worry over what he’ll see next. Once he finds his wife cheating, the camera follows this sullen man as he decides this is the last straw. The way the camera follows him, a darker feeling takes over the scene. The long take captures him finally confronting his wife in a violent fashion before taking his own life, all before the new year. All this mood is created by an incredible long take, that perfectly launches the next chapter in the film’s story. (Nicole Vargas)

Bound For Glory

Bound for Glory, the biopic of Woody Guthrie directed by Hal Ashby, is considered a pivotal film for its use of the lengthy tracking shot (and its Oscar-winning cinematography by Haskell Wexler). In the early 70’s, a harnessed camera mount was invented that simultaneously combined the reliability of a tripod, the fluid motion of a dolly shot, and the independent flexibility of handheld filming. The breakthrough, of course, came to be known around the world as the “Steadicam.” It revolutionized cinematography creatively as well as economically, and Bound for Glory marked its first use in a feature. A famous shot of the film involves an angle high above a packed labor camp, upon which the camera slowly descends, meeting Woody (David Carradine) as he ties his shoe in the back of a truck. The cameraman then steps off the crane to follow the actor as he ambles through the crowded site, past barrels, under a tent, around poles, then upstream through a mob of hundreds before stopping for dialogue. It was a groundbreaking shot. By the end of the decade, filmmakers were designing elaborate sets that could only be shot with the Steadicam, as was the case with the outdoor maze in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. (Stefan Palko)

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