A fun 2020 paradox: despite having absolutely nowhere to go, I found my time that could be devoted solely to film-watching to be severely limited. With a three-year-old to entertain and occupy my waking hours, gone were my languid days spent in the thrall of a 163-minute motion picture. If I wanted to fit in a time slot where I could dig into what 2020 had to offer, the runtimes had to be pared down, the experience brutish and short – like a cinematic Bagel Boss. So, if you are like myself, and find yourself strapped for time, here are ten films that run 90 minutes or less that are well worth the watch.
The Assistant (87 minutes, dir. Kitty Green)
In a succinct 87 minutes, Kitty Green makes you feel the pervasive, oppressive weight of a workplace steeped in the toxicity of sexual harassment. We never fully glimpse the cancerous sun at the center of this workplace’s rotten solar system, instead bearing witness to the steady degradation of having to calcify the feeling pieces of yourself in the service of upward mobility/making a living. In Green’s hands, a visit to the HR department is as stomach-churning as the most visceral horror films of 2020.
She Dies Tomorrow (86 minutes, dir. Amy Seimetz)
Despite being ideated and created before our nightmarish pandemic, Amy Seimetz’s surprisingly hilarious psychological thriller feels tailor-made for it. Slowly, steadily, a notion is passed along from person to person like a highly contagious virus (or highly shareable meme, but what’s the difference, really) – “I am going to die tomorrow.” The myriad reactions to this (Fully founded? Completely unjustifiable?) notion make up the meat of these 86 minutes, an existential jaunt that tests the limits of our shared experiences.
Palm Springs (90 minutes, dir. Max Barbakow)
Similarly, what if you only had one day left to live, but you live it over and over again ad infinitum? Coming at the perfect moment in quar where our Groundhog Day-like existences had fully asserted themselves (how to navigate the ‘bad screen to good screen’ transition when they’re the same screen), Palm Springs is a winning riff on the time loop tradition, buoyed by lovely chemistry between Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti (the starting 2 guard on my “don’t chance it, CTRL+C/CTRL+V” all-star team). Comedies: please keep your runtimes under trippy diggies, please and thank you.
Dark City: Beneath the Beat (65 minutes, dir. TT the Artist)
In just a shade over an hour, TT the Artist performs artistic transmogrification – taking what in lesser hands could’ve been a still-entertaining exploration of a musical subculture, instead bringing the entire city of Baltimore to life and exposing its beating heart for the glorious, beautiful thing that it is. Some filmmakers spend hours and multiple films trying to equal the depth of feeling and exploration achieved here.
Dick Johnson Is Dead (89 minutes, dir. Kirsten Johnson)
Kirsten Johnson’s documentary shows that the pathway to deep and loving reference is through the deeply reverent. Using artifice to say something heart-rendingly real, Dick Johnson is a rager against the dying of the light – a celebratory exercise in the face of one of life’s immutable truths.
Gretel & Hansel (87 minutes, dir. Osgood Perkins)
The fact that I saw this film in an actual, real-life movie theater makes it feel like it happened 10 years ago instead of 10 months, but Osgood Perkins’ retelling of the classic fairy tale with a feminist slant is a visually intoxicating experience, told at the perfect length to mesmerize instead of stultify.
Yes, God, Yes (78 minutes, dir. Karen Maine)
As someone who was
- raised in a religious household
- in the 90s
- while obnoxiously horny
I can attest to this film evoking that experience with no small measure of success.
The Twentieth Century (90 minutes, dir. Matthew Rankin)
An oddball recitation of Canadian history with big Guy Maddin energy, The Twentieth Century also works as an example of centrism’s deleterious effect in the political sphere.
An Evening with Tim Heidecker (61 minutes, dir. Benjamin Berman)
Much like with Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and music biopics, any straightforward stand-up comedy performances released in the wake of Heidecker’s highwire act will struggle to justify themselves.
Deerskin (77 minutes, dir. Quentin Dupieux)
Quentin Dupieux tests the tensile strength of the mid-life crisis trope in this tale of a man’s deadly obsession with a bespoke deerskin jacket. *sounds the hot take clarion* I enjoyed Jean Dujardin in this more so than The Artist.