Let’s face it, short-form content is the way of the future. With the rapid news cycle, social media trends and gloomy speculation of dwindling attention spans, not everyone is up to sitting through 3+ hours of some of the classics like The Godfather anymore. Long runtimes can seem daunting and inaccessible to many moviegoers.
With the success of Avatar: The Way of Water being an outlier, long films are typically not doing numbers in the box office, such as the recently released 3-hour film Babylon. Shorter movies can present their ideas in a more efficient and economical way, a style that is preferred by many. The Letterboxd Top 250 list is a great highlight of this, as it showcases that even the diverse taste of its users can appreciate a movie that uses its time wisely.
10/10 ‘Brief Encounter’ (1945) – 86 Minutes
A meditation on happenstance love, Brief Encounter follows two people as their casual friendship develops into something more fulfilling than expected, which has consequences both on themselves and the lives of the people they love.
Director David Lean may be more known for directing the immensely crafted epic Lawrence of Arabia, which itself is almost four hours long. Yet Brief Encounter, an 86-minute picture that is appropriately titled, is equally endearing with its touching pathos.
9/10 ‘Where is the Friend’s House?’ (1987) – 83 Minutes
Where is the Friend’s House presents about as simple of an idea as they come. The entire film revolves around an 8-year-old boy and his quest to return his friend’s notebook that he took by mistake, otherwise his friend will be expelled from school. That’s about it, yet there is beauty in this directness.
Working through a deceptively simple premise, the film has much to say about human kindness, empathy and loyalty to each other as people. The childlike persistence to do the right thing, no matter the strife, is genuinely touching and poignant. Nobody captures emotion quite like Abbas Kiarostami in his catalog of equally profound and often existential films.
8/10 ‘Persona’ (1966) – 83 Minutes
In a whirlwind 83 minutes, Persona explores a young nurse looking after a stage actor who is seemingly healthy but refuses to talk. As the nurse confesses her secrets to her mute patient, she soon realizes that their personalities are merging. From there, the film untangles into a surreal tapestry of bizarre scene after bizarre scene.
Persona is easily Swedish director Ingmar Bergman at his most radical, expressing themes of duality and identity with forceful confrontation. Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann both give challenging and rewarding performances, and after appearing in multiple Bergman films, these dual roles may be their most memorable.
7/10 ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’ (1928) – 82 Minutes
Shockingly released almost 100 years ago and still holding modern influence, The Passion of Joan of Arc recounts the nonfictional story of Joan of Arc, who is subjected to inhumane treatment by officials from the church for claiming to talk to God. She is unfairly burned at the stake, an act that forever makes her a symbol of individualism and freedom.
Expression in the silent film era was everything, and the raw emotion exuding from Maria Falconetti in her portrayal of the titular martyr is enough in itself to warrant the film a top spot in the Letterboxd Top 250.
6/10 ‘Perfect Blue’ (1997) – 81 Minutes
Perfect Blue is an exceedingly disturbing surrealist horror film that was the directorial debut of acclaimed anime director Satoshi Kon. It follows Mima Kirigoe as a famous pop star who thrives to turn the trajectory of her career to acting only to face both failings of the industry and an increasingly deteriorating mental state.
Instead of explaining how it must feel to be losing touch of reality, this film instead shows it, and often plays as an importantly upsetting and confusing watch that is perfect for the horror genre. Complimenting this is an acute characterization of the sensitive but headstrong protagonist that stands as a twisted self-actualization of celebrity expectation. Perfect Blue was also ahead of its time by exploring celebrity worship extended through the use of the internet, which had only been growing popular in the mainstream for two years when this was released in 1997.
5/10 ‘Before Sunset’ (2004) – 80 Minutes
With warm chemistry from its two leads Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, Before Sunset is the follow-up to Before Sunrise in where Jesse and Céline meet and try to find love again for the first time in nine years (both in the movie and in real life, with that much time passing in between releases).
Before Sunset is a bit of an anomaly in The Before Trilogy as it runs much shorter than the other two entries, but that doesn’t mean it lacks any of the same emotional punch. Richard Linklater is an intimate director that loves to highlight human emotion, and it’s done exceptionally here.
4/10 ‘The Man Who Sleeps’ (1974) – 77 Minutes
Narrated by Shelly Duval in the English version, known for her memorable role of Wendy Torrence in The Shining, The Man Who Sleeps works within the dread of paranoia when an unnamed university student, referred to as “you” in narration, suddenly quits attending school, cuts out his friends, and begins to live isolated without any human interaction.
With a concept so simple, it’s the daring decision to put the viewer directly into the lonely narrative that makes this 1974 drama stand out. It also is notable for sticking exactly to the novel source material, word for word, a difficult achievement many movies based on books fail to do.
3/10 ‘The Young and the Damned’ (1950) – 77 Minutes
The Young and the Damned follows a group of juvenile delinquents as they lead violent, criminal lives in the decaying slums of Mexico City. Over the course of the film the leader of the gang, Pedro, has his morals gradually corrupted by the people around him.
A brutal look at 1950s poverty in Mexico, this obscure spot on the Letterboxd Top 250 is likely acclaimed for being directed by early auteur Luis Buñuel. His films, such as Belle de Jour and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, tend to have a surrealist focus, yet The Young and the Damned is conversely quite grounded and visceral.
2/10 ‘It’s Such a Beautiful Day’ (2012) – 62 Minutes
An existential journey with enlightening results, It’s Such a Beautiful Day is actually a feature-length (kind of, at only 62 minutes) combination of three Don Hertzfeldt short films. It plays as an hour-long exploration of the main character Bill, who struggles with memory loss and surreal visions of his life.
Despite being so short, the film received numerous “Best of 2012” awards for its offbeat humor contrasting with serious philosophical ideation. It’s Such a Beautiful Dayis an underrated film that has a unique, stunning style, and thoughtfully asks big questions while providing levity to avoid being overly somber.
1/10 ‘Sherlock, Jr.’ (1924) – 45 Minutes
A physical comedy feat that astounds almost 100 years after release, Buster Keaton is riotous in Sherlock, Jr. as one of the first comedians who was also an action star. Here, he puts his aspirational but amateur detective skills to work after being framed for theft.
Silent comedies are not going to be for everyone, but the physical performance given by Keaton is impossible to ignore. His rambunctious expressions and impressive stunt work makes Sherlock, Jr. worthy of the Letterboxd Top 250 despite only being 45 minutes long.