Sometimes when you sit down to watch a film, you spot the runtime, shudder, and put TV on instead. Admit it. The amount of times my cursor has contemplatively hovered over Seven Samurai before hastily sticking on yet another episode of Gilmore Girls is near-on shameful. I’m far more likely to actually try out a film recommendation if I know that I won’t have gone grey by the credits. With this in mind, here’s a list of ten films under 90 minutes long—from shocking cult classics to family-friendly anime.
Paris Is Burning (1990)
Reading, shade, vogueing, realness, werk, bringin’ it to every ball : if you’re familiar with these phrases from RuPaul’s Drag Race, now’s the time to see where it all stemmed from. In this groundbreaking documentary, filmmaker Jennie Livingston documented the opulence of New York’s ball culture and the African-American, Latino, gay and transgender communities who were an integral part of it. It’s sad to watch in 2020 knowing that many of the documentary’s subjects died young, many from AIDS, but Paris Is Burning nonetheless remains a heartwarming and inspiring look at the way we can choose our own family.
Featuring a baby Robert De Niro in his first leading screen role, Greetings is a low budget satire about three friends trying to avoid the Vietnam War draft and getting up to mischief along the way. The first ever film to receive an X rating from the MPAA, its short runtime is packed with silly, funny, episodic antics, a great score, and stylish camerawork from director Brian De Palma.
Perfect Blue (1997)
A disturbing psychological thriller that went on to (heavily) influence Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue feels way ahead of its time. In it, Mima Kirigoe is the popstar-turned-actress who becomes increasingly distressed by a stalker who isn’t pleased with her career change. A fascinating rumination on rabid fandoms, internet culture and paranoia.
Faces Places (2017)
In a touching ode to the importance of the ordinary, this Oscar-nominated documentary from filmmaker Agnès Varda and muralist JR is about making connections in the most unlikely of places. Meeting the inhabitants of small villages and communities in rural France, the documentary soon becomes a ruminative and emotional look at the connections we form with the environment and faces around us.
Brief Encounter (1945)
A respectable yet bored suburban housewife, Laura, has a Brief Encounter (geddit) at a train station one day with a handsome doctor called Alec. A friendship soon develops into an affair, and the pair struggle to navigate their attraction to one another and the adulterous situation they find themselves in. It’s a super simple but beautifully done film, teeming with romance. But what is striking is its insularity—how, with World War II still raging as they filmed, Lean chose to create a film about individual, personal woes, never taking away from how this too can be catastrophic.
Stop Making Sense (1984)
Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia) set a new standard for the ‘concert film’ with Stop Making Sense. This live performance of Talking Heads, filmed during their 1983 tour of album Speaking in Tongues, is equal parts infectious and cinematic. Singer David Byrne truly is “a real live wire” in this elastic, transfixing performance, from the unusual dance moves to his infamous giant suit.
Before Sunset (2004)
This is technically cheating, because in order to watch Before Sunset, you need to watch Before Sunrise, which is actually 105 minutes long. My bad. Hell, I may as well recommend the entire trilogy. It’s rare these days to find films that are quiet and slow and minimalist, yet still scream and shout with so much feeling. Linklater’s Before trilogy follows Jesse and Céline as they walk and talk around a different city, debating love, life, and their feelings for one another. All three films are wonderful (and need to be watched in chronological order), but the second, Before Sunset, has to be my favourite. All three films are gorgeous, poetic, romantic, and all superlatives in-between. I can’t recommend them enough.
Beau Travail (1999)
Set in Djibouti, Claire Denis directs this film about a French Foreign Legion group training on scorched landscapes under the command of Sergent Galoup. A fascinating look at masculinity, nature, and the entwining of the two, the soldiers’ fierce yet balletic movement contrasts with searing, unspoken emotions raging between them. Beau Travail also features one of my favourite endings in the history of cinema.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
My Neighbor Totoro can only be described as a tonic for tough times. The film tells the story of two young sisters, Satsuki and Mei, and their interactions with friendly wood spirits in postwar rural Japan. It’s almost plotless, taking place largely from a childlike perspective, but is imbued with a real sense of profundity and love. I’ve had the soundtrack playing on Spotify all week; the animations are just gorgeous, with the rendering of rainfall so soothing. Watch it (with Japanese audio) on Netflix whenever you feel you need a little pick-me-up—you won’t regret it.
Not to be confused with 2005’s Crash, this very different Crash is a piece of perversity that challenges you to search for meaning among all the mania, following a group of misfits who are sexually aroused by car crashes (symphorophilia). Combining Cronenberg’s characteristic body-horror with a study of technology and Freud’s death-drive, Crash is a bizarre watch, but to many, a masterpiece.
Words by Steph Green