LOS ANGELES -- "Cloud Atlas" encompasses six stories over a span of 500 years and features an enormous cast of A-list stars playing multiple roles. This means it's also very long – 172 minutes – and carries with it the ambitions of an epic.
So here are five other movies whose running time adds to their sense of importance. You will surely think of many others, so feel free to chime in. I have all day:
_ "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962): The very definition of an epic. You'll see various running times out there, all of which flirt with the four-hour mark. But the 1989 reconstruction of David Lean's classic wound up being close to its original length of 216 minutes. Breathtaking in its scope and hugely influential with its gorgeously grand, sweeping vistas, it won seven Academy Awards including best picture. There's a lot of ground to cover and Lawrence was a complicated guy. Besides, who wouldn't want to look at Peter O'Toole for that long?
_ "Apocalypse Now Redux" (2001): As if 1979's "Apocalypse Now" weren't long enough, Francis Ford Coppola added 49 minutes of never-before-seen footage and rereleased it as a 197-minute director's cut, the version he always wanted the world to see. This includes more footage of the beach attack scene and the much-talked-about French plantation scene. While it's fascinating to see what Coppola deleted from the original film, he didn't always improve his master work, and at times, he weakened it. (We also could have included the first two "Godfather" movies here, which clock in at 175 minutes and 200 minutes, respectively, and deserve every second.)
_ "Magnolia" (1999): I loved this movie when it came out, and I love it still, and the fact that it's over three hours long only magnifies the enormity of the emotions – the way Paul Thomas Anderson intertwines the various characters' lives and expertly times their highs and lows. It's big and beautiful, fluid and messy – a profound exploration of love and loneliness in the most prosaic of places, the San Fernando Valley. You could spend 188 minutes just sitting on the 101 freeway, trying to get from Studio City to Woodland Hills. This is far more compelling.
_ "Heat" (1995): Michael Mann's crime saga takes on an epic, operatic quality as it sprawls across 170 minutes and throughout Los Angeles. This will go down as Mann's masterpiece – although "The Insider," which is also pretty damn long at 157 minutes, is also pretty great. Everything he does best is on display here: the stylized visuals, gritty violence and complex characters who occupy a murky moral area. Since we're keeping track of time, the coolly precise bank robbery that Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore pull off, followed by that famous shootout in the heart of downtown, comes at the halfway point.
_ "Inland Empire" (2006): Back when I reviewed this, I wrote that it might be David Lynch's masterpiece, or it might be a total mess. What I was sure of was the fact that it changed my mood for the rest of the day – it stuck with me, messed with me – and I couldn't ignore that. While it features many of Lynch's regular players (Laura Dern, Harry Dean Stanton, Justin Theroux) and his trademark disjointed, nightmarish visuals, it's also a defiantly plotless mixture of bunny rabbits, dark hallways and dancing prostitutes. That it runs 180 minutes adds to its hypnotic nature.