Most critics simultaneously look forward to and dread awards season. We get to see slightly higher quality films, and the studios begin to act a lot nicer towards us -- no more horror remakes that are not screened for the press. But on the downside, a lot of prestige pictures can get tiring. The worst part of all is the extreme length that most films get away with this time of year. Quite a few films this year get close to the three-hour mark, and most of them run longer than two hours. If you look at the history of the Oscar winners, length has always been an important factor. But this does not have to be the case; many award-worthy films have used their time wisely and succinctly.
1. Duck Soup (1933)
Judd Apatow, please take note. While I enjoyed Knocked Up and Superbad as much as anyone, it just won't do to continue making comedies over two hours long. I found many great comedies that run less than 80 minutes, including several from Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, W.C. Fields, and even one each from Jerry Lewis (The Bellboy) and Woody Allen (Zelig). But this Marx Brothers classic tops my list for its uncanny speed and anarchy. It's like watching a crazy lawnmower ripping all over the yard, but at the end of the run, everything falls exactly into place.
2. Following (1998)
Before he became the king of summer blockbusters (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight) and before he made one of my favorite movies (Memento), Christopher Nolan scraped together this equally impressive crime thriller in black-and-white, running just 69 minutes. It jumbles the three acts together over a fractured timeline but very cleverly leaves clues that tie them all back together. Jeremy Theobald plays a man who enjoys following people, but gets himself into deep and unexpected trouble. See also Shane Carruth's exceptional, low-budget time travel head-scratcher Primer (2004).