When it comes to long take discussions, it's practically illegal to neglect Scorsese's modern gangster classic. Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) takes his date Karen (Lorraine Bracco) for an impromptu dinner at the Copacabana, taking advantage of the perks of his new career.
The unbroken shot (apparently the result of seven takes) perfectly captures the overwhelming experience, from the bustle of the kitchen, to the impossibly smug glamour of arriving at your own personal table after ducking the queue.
Boogie Nights (1997)
2 minutes 48 seconds
Paul Thomas Anderson's superb porn-industry ensemble opens with an extremely impressive glide through the eponymous nightclub: like
it contrasts the front-of-house glamour with the backstage reality.
An expert with the long take, perhaps Anderson's most impressive trick is saved for pool party scene later on, when the camera somehow follows someone under the water in the swimming pool. It could have been mind-bogglingly distracting if the scene wasn't so engrossing.
Russian Ark (2002)
You might not expect the story of Russia's history to be cool, but it's the audacity of the telling that's pretty much unforgettable here.
Two ghosts wander through St Petersburg's Winter Palace as various historical events unfold, not always in chronological order, in different rooms. After a couple of takes failed due to technical issues, the entire movie was captured in a single shot.
The choreography is astounding, and makes the movie as must see, even if you don't have any particular interest in the historical period.
Children of Men (2006)
7 minutes 34 seconds
Alfonso Cuaron included several notable long takes in this bleak vision of a childless future. Early on there's a joltingly-visceral attack on a car, and an impressive childbirth scene, but it's the climactic street-based battle that really marvels.
Who cares that Cuaron employed some digital trickery to maintain the effect: action sequences have rarely been so involving. The film's gritty realism, and Clive Owen's believable everyman hero, only add to the scene's impact.
Up to 10 minutes
Hitchcock's innovative use of long takes (which were edited to create the impression of a single-shot movie) exemplifies his two key strengths: craftmanship and playfulness.
Dark themes prevail, as a pair of students try to cover up a murder that their former professor is intent on revealing. Cynics will spot the occassional creaks, but the real-time approach and tight premise put plenty of lazy recent thrillers to shame.
5 minutes 4 seconds
Joe Wright's movies have always looked great, but the scale of the famous tracking shot in
is breathtaking. Certain background details were added digitally, but, importantly, it's impossible to spot the joins.
Limited shooting time apparently necessitated the scene, which sees James McAvoy and his fellow soldiers wandering the beaches of Dunkirk, as the gathered army waits to be evacuated.
For a film that mostly depicts the war from a specific, personal perspective, this long take majestically demonstrates the wider ramifications of our protagonists' plight.
90 minutes, multiplied by 4
Experiments of this magnitude should instantly fall flat, but somehow Mike Figgis' managed to deliver a single-take movie, from four perspectives. The split-screen set-up jars initially, but quickly becomes fascinating, allowing you to dip in and out of the quartet of views.
Thankfully there's an interesting story at the core, as relationships are tested during an afternoon at a production company, and Figgis orchestrates the sound editing to ensure that the whole thing has a decent narrative thrust.
The Passenger (1975)
6 minutes 33 seconds
There's no shortage of striking camerawork in Michelangelo Antonioni's existential thriller (an earlier car chase is absorbingly shot), but the
pièce de résistance
comes in the penultimate scene, as the consequences of journalist David Locke's (Jack Nicholson) impulsive identity theft suddenly catches up with him.
As David's death occurs off-screen, the camera slowly pans out of his hotel room, before making an about-turn in the square, and returning to the residence. Not only is it masterful from a technical perspective, it provides the perfect close to a densely thoughtful movie.
Snake Eyes (1998)
Well, if it wasn't for the dazzling opening
would never make it onto any 'coolest' lists. Even if the ace opening (really a neat splice of several takes, joined virtually seemlessly) is at odds with the rest of the movie, there's no denying Brian De Palma's flair.
As bent copper Nic Cage and his Navy buddy Gary Sinise escort a soon-to-be-assassinated US secretary to a boxing match, the shot helps create main-event anticipation while providing an intriguing glimpse behind the scenes. It helps that Cage is at the centre, sporting a Hawaiian shirt and lunatic energy combo that makes it impossible to take your eyes off him.
Shame the rest of the movie can't come close to living up to this opening salvo.
3 minutes 20 seconds
Andrei Tarkovsky was well-known for his absorbing camerawork (the sequence in
in which a car drives into a metropolis is hypnotic), and while his weighty philosophical themes will scare off the popcorn crowd, they're frequently paired with a fascinating premises.
follows the titular 'Stalker' who takes clients to The Room, deep within The Zone, that's said to make entrants deepest desires manifest. The problem is, The Zone affects the travellers psychologically, in an attempt to slow their passing.
This dream sequence isn't the only long take in the film, but with its blurring of colour and sepia tones, and its compulsive imagery and haunting voiceover, it's the most beguiling.
The Player (1992)
7 minutes 50 seconds
Robert Altman was a dab hand with long takes, and the opening of this Hollywood satire is probably his most famous. The technical virtuosity is put to light-hearted effect, as the camera zeroes in on various people strolling across a production lot.
The scene is packed with knowing mirth: Fred Ward's complaining ("The pictures they make these days are MTV, all cut, cut, cut. Welles'
Touch of Evil
's opening shot was 6 ½ minutes long..."), the introductory clapperboard that opens the scene on a choice painting, and tons of snort-worthy (improvised) dialogue that's a goldmine for film aficionados.
An opener that perfectly sets the tone of what's to follow. The goodwill cameos that Altman has in store only add to the effect.
Touch of Evil (1958)
3 minutes 25 seconds
It's the combo of the (now-vintage) style and the cutting-edge technique that makes this a classic opener. Even for jaded audiences, the camera movement and choreography simply demand respect.
The conceit is simple: a ticking bomb is planted in the trunk of a car, which then drives through the Mexico streets to the American border. The camera weaves dexterously through the lively street population, with the omnipresent threat remaining firmly in our minds until the first cut brings the explosive pay off.
La Ronde (1950)
4 minutes 52 seconds.
Max Ophüls' adaptation of Arthur Schindler's play
examines the sexual merry-go-round that is the lives of the characters that occupy the various strata of Viennese society.
Anton Wolbrook's narrator/omnipresent auteur figure gets the story's metaphorical carousel spinning, and flagrantly disregards the fourth wall, establishing the many layers of Ophüls' sublime comedy-drama with peerless style before setting events in motion.
Fernando Meirelles is directing another adaptation of the Schnitzler play, called
, which is due out in 2012. It'll be interesting to see if there are any visual nods to Ophüls' movie.
2 minutes 45 seconds
This side-scrolling fight sequence keeps the camerawork simple to magnify the intensity of the corridor fight scene.
's not short on memorable moments, but this wince-inducing scrap could be the champion.
Recently released from 15 years captivity, Dae-su takes on a bunch of goons armed only with a hammer. Brutal, claustrophobic and visually-exhilarating, the fight exemplifies the punishing intensity that characterises the whole movie.
Hard Boiled (1992)
2 minutes 49 seconds
It's cool to the point of pretty much showing off. In John Woo's peerless Hong Kong action fest, Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung shoot their way through a hospital, in a bombastic, cut-free sequence.
The use of squibs, pyrotechnics, and even the odd moment of slo-mo add up to form an immensely engaging action scene, that grabs the viewer more tightly than 3D ever seems to. Heck, even when the cut comes, it's for an explosive pay-off that's much more satisfying than any of Woo's Hollywood output.
Week End (1967)
7 minutes 32 seconds, interrupted by the flash of a title card
The charming vintage cars would make this scene cool enough in its own right. New Wave maestro Jean-Luc Godard revolutionised the jump cut seven years earlier in
À bout de souffle
, but here he makes extravagant use of the long take.
There's a musical jaunt around a farm that also clocks in around the seven-minute mark, but it's the traffic jam sequence that's the more arresting and memorable. Godard immerses the viewer deep into the frustration of the slow-moving congestion, before a harsh, shocking pay-off.
4 minutes 14 seconds
Any four-minute tracking shot fronted by Nathan Fillion is going to be inherently cooler than your average. The real genius of this shot in Joss Whedon's
spin-off is that it's as engaging for newcomers as it is for hardcore fans.
After establishing the Alliance's dodgy intentions in the movie's opening moments, Whedon (re)introduces us to the crew within the industrial bowels of the good ship Serenity, via a stressed-out Captain Malcolm, who's having a bit of trouble with the Primary Buffer Panel.
It's a superb moment of character economy that makes Marvel's decision to give Whedon
look like a very sensible one indeed.
Soy Cuba (1964)
1 minute 29 seconds, followed by 2 minutes 34 seconds
So, a politically-charged drama about Cuba in a state of transition may not sound like scintillating viewing, but it plays host to some revolutionary camerawork, with the initially-undervalued film finding heavyweight support in the shape of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.
The starkly black and white cinematography is impressive in its own right, but the tracking shot, which follows a funeral procession from street level, before ascending to enter a multi-story building and dropping down again. It's mighty achievement, even when you don't allow for the rudimentary technology at their disposal.
Are there any immensely cool long takes that would have made your list? Recommend your favourites below...
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