3. Russian Ark (2002)
A disembodied Russian narrator and a 19th Century aristocratic French tourist wander the halls of the Hermitage and meet the artists, courtiers and historical figures who have inhabited St Petersburg’s Winter Palace over the centuries.
Russian Ark is a genuine 99 minute single take that took 4 attempts to pull off during the single day the Hermitage could be entirely closed for filming. Just acknowledging the sheer volume of people in period dress moving around the space is impressive, but when you add choreography, split-second timing and ambitious camera movements to the mix it becomes a truly dazzling achievement.
Don’t come expecting a straight period drama, Russian Ark being more like an arthouse episode of ‘Doctor Who’ with two travellers displaced in time interacting with great people and important artworks from hundreds of years of St Petersburg’s history.
4. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
An erratic former Hollywood star struggles to stage a challenging play where he is to take the lead role and direct, all the while losing his grip on reality as his superhero alter-ego (from his movies) belittles him and his life choices.
Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s hypnotic single-take film tells a day’s worth of story in two hours so of course it has some edits and time-jumps that are smoothed over with digital wizardry, but never leaving the action definitely helps to keep you engrossed in the characters and their experiences.
The imagined one-shot here always keeps us in Michael Keaton’s actor’s unravelling headspace as his stress levels spike and his sense of reality comes undone, providing a fascinating peak at the precision backstage workings of Broadway shows along the way.
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5. Victoria (2015)
A Spanish woman’s night out in Berlin takes a turn when a group of guys convince her to help them on a job for a local gangster and soon prove to be in way over their heads.
Probably the most impressive single take on this list, Victoria was done for real and runs for around 130 minutes (completed on the third attempt). It involves travelling over a sizeable distance of the German capital, marshalling a cast and crew moving across the city, and arranging early morning road shutdowns.
Victoria has you thinking that the story is going in one direction, so you brace yourself for another story where a young woman going off with a group of men at night is taken advantage of sexually, but unexpectedly they instead guilt-trip her into helping them out on a heist and she proves the most level-headed of the group and best at improvising when the job goes terribly awry. This is engrossing, compelling, almost unbearably tense stuff.