Good Movies under 120 Minutes

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 1:00 am

Films Less than Two Hours Long

Everyone seems to be in a hurry these days, and many folks don’t even have the time to sit down and enjoy a lengthy movie like Lawrence of Arabia or Saving Private Ryan. That’s a real shame, of course, but there is a solution: watch good movies under 120 minutes. You’ll still have enough time to go to the gym, pick the kids up from soccer practice, and send 20 or 30 text messages, but in the meantime you’ll be treated to some first-rate entertainment.

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The Illusionist (2006) – Set in Vienna near the beginning of the 20th century, The Illusionist stars Edward Norton as Eisenheim, a master stage magician who returns home after perfecting his craft in China only to find that his childhood sweetheart (Jessica Biel) is engaged to be married to a villainous prince (Rufus Sewell) of the realm. A dangerous and forbidden romance is soon rekindled, which leads to murder and a climactic magic show in which the spirits of the dead appear to rise. A great option for those who like their romance movies with just a dash of the supernatural. Paul Giamatti co-stars.

Winchester ’73 (1950) – The first of eight collaborations between James Stewart and director Anthony Mann, this black-and-white western classic follows a rare Winchester rifle as it passes through a number of hands. Meanwhile, the rifle’s original owner (Stewart) pursues it and the man who stole it from him (Stephen McNally). While already solid, the film is made even better by early screen appearances from Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, and James Best.

Shaft (2000) – While the Richard Roundtree version will always get more love from critics, this John Singleton update starring Samuel L. Jackson (as the nephew of the original character) features lots more violence, the good looks of Vanessa L. Williams, and both Christian Bale and Jeffrey Wright playing memorable villains. Roundtree reprises his role as John Shaft in a brief appearance, and he’s joined by Dan Hedaya, Toni Collette, Pat Hingle, and Busta Rhymes.

The Pawnbroker (1965) – Sidney Lumet has directed a number of great films (The Verdict, 12 Angry Men, Network), but this adaptation of the Edward Lewis Wallant novel remains among his best. Rod Steiger delivers a star-making performance as Sol Nazerman, a Harlem pawnshop owner who also happens to be an emotionally numb concentration camp survivor. One of the first U.S. films to deal with the Holocaust from the perspective of a survivor, The Pawnbroker delivers an emotional wallop.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) – Johnny Depp sings and Tim Burton directs in this adaptation of the award-winning stage play and musical about a wronged Brit who madly goes about getting revenge on the judge (Alan Rickman) who put him in prison, raped his wife, and adopted his daughter. But Sweeney Todd isn’t content with a single revenge killing, and so he slits a number of throats with his straight razor, while his deranged accomplice (Helen Bonham Carter) converts the bodies into popular meat pies. Also starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Timothy Spall, and Jamie Campbell Bower.

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The Night of the Hunter (1955) – Based on the Davis Grubb novel, this thriller proved to be a major disappointment at the time of its release, and director Charles Laughton would never sit behind the camera of another film. But the movie has grown in popularity over the years, largely due to Laughton’s expressionistic direction and Robert Mitchum’s powerful performance as Harry Powell, a serial killer who masquerades as a preacher. Convinced that his former cellmate revealed the location of stolen money to his children, he marries their mother (Shelley Winters) and sets about trying to coax the secret from them. A major influence on later generations of filmmakers, notably Martin Scorsese and the Coen brothers.

Klute (1971) – Jane Fonda won a Best Actress Oscar for her role as Bree Daniels, a New York prostitute who winds up helping private investigator John Klute (Donald Sutherland) track down a killer. A paranoid romp from Alan J. Pakula, who would go on to direct All the President’s Men and Sophie’s Choice. Roy Scheider (a personal favorite) co-stars as Bree’s former pimp.

Ulee’s Gold (1997) – Peter Fonda channels the spirit of his late father in this well-acted drama about a gentle beekeeper trying to raise his granddaughters and help his daughter-in-law kick a drug habit. To further complicate matters, a couple of associates of his imprisoned son keep coming around, believing that the young man stashed a large sum of cash. Fonda received a well-deserved Best Actor nomination at the Oscars, and a young Jessica Biel co-stars as one of his granddaughters.

Taken (2009) – When he overhears his vacationing daughter (Maggie Grace) being kidnapped over the phone, retired CIA agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) gives the criminals one chance to let her go and save their lives. Predictably, they pass on his generous offer, and Mills wastes no time in heading to Europe and opening up a can of whoop-ass on every swarthy foreigner who crosses his path. Liam Neeson has kicked ass in a lot of movies, but this Luc Besson throwback in one of the best thanks to brisk pacing and Neeson playing it deadly serious throughout. A surprise hit at the box office, Taken proved that the action movie genre isn’t dead just yet (even though it’s been on life support for years).

I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988) – Before he launched the godawful Scary Movie franchise and brought In Living Color to homes across America, director/writer/star Keenen Ivory Wayans turned out this side-splitting parody of the blaxploitaiton genre. He plays Jack Spade, a soldier who returns home after his younger brother overdoses from wearing too many gold chains. This sets up a showdown with an evil white guy named Mr. Big (John Vernon), and Spade’s allies include recognizable faces such as Bernie Casey, Isaac Hayes, Jim Brown, and Antonio Fargas. Keep your eyes peeled for Chris Rock in a hilarious pre-fame role as a cheapskate customer at a rib joint.

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When you find yourself wanting to see a film, but you’re unable to commit more than a few hours, these good movies under 120 minutes will fit perfectly within your schedule. You might even have enough time left over to start watching one of the other titles on this list.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 24th, 2011 at 1:00 am and is filed under Good Movies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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