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J.D.'s Top 10 Great Movies No One Should Have to Watch More Than Once

by JD Warnock on April 8, 2008

in Top 10s

I really enjoyed Eric’s list last week of Top 10 Great Movies No One Should Have to Watch More Than Once. I couldn’t pass up the chance to weigh in, so here’s my take on the same topic. The following is a list of films that I have true affinity for, or appreciation of. However, they are all films that I would choose not to watch more than once, often because the experience the first time was so powerful and emotional that I simply don’t want to take that particular journey over again.

10. An Inconvenient Truth (2006) Al Gore Climate Change Global Warming An Inconvenient Truth

At this point, it seems we may have nearly crested the initial hurdle of getting the hold-outs in big business and Washington to admit there is a global climate problem. Somewhere in the mess a small part of that acceptance may have been spurred on by “An Inconvenient Truth,” the cinematic representation of the lecture series that former Vice President Al Gore has given thousands of times in his massive effort to alert the country to this crisis. “Truth” was justifiably criticized for it’s heavy-handed presentation of Gore as an environmental hero, as the film spends ample amounts of time talking about his work and vision. I personally have no problem with that. I think Gore stepped out and stepped up in a big way, risking or consciously tossing away any shot he had at seeking a future Presidential nomination in order to bring attention to a catastrophic problem that needed the right face to force the issue into the light of day. That said, like many documentaries, “Truth” need only be viewed once to appreciate the message and the rigorous science behind it.

9. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) All Quiet on the Western Front War Oscar Winner 1930

This revolutionary film falls solidly into the category of films required for film and cultural literacy. The 1930 Oscar winner for Best Picture and Best Director (for Lewis Milestone) stirred up such a fuss in Germany that it drew the attention and ire of the Nazi party and Joseph Goebbels, who successfully launched intimidation campaigns in Germany that prevented German audiences from viewing the film for years after its initial release. “Western Front” presents a bleak and tragic view of war and the ultimate cost to the human beings forced to fight it. There is little doubt of the impact “Western Front” has had either directly or indirectly on every war film that has come after. There is also little doubt that unless you’re a film student or film historian, that at 138 minutes, “Western Front” is an experience best acquired with a stout heart and a one-time ticket.

8. The Piano (1993) The Piano Holly Hunter Harvey Keitel New Zealand

Holly Hunter’s extraordinary performance in “The Piano” won her a well-deserved Oscar. The film also garnered Oscars for Anna Paquin (Best Supporting Actress) and a best original screenplay for director/writer Jane Campion. The film is an exquisite masterpiece. However for this classic, the emotional fee far exceeded the one at the box office. Whether the trauma stems from the wrenching script and story, or the frank and startling sexual imagery, “The Piano” lingers long in the mind years after the experience in the theater. We wouldn’t get a better look at the majesty of New Zealand until Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but despite my lifelong affinity for that country and it’s exports I haven’t been able to bring myself to go back to “The Piano.”

7. Philadelphia (1993) Tom Hanks Philadelphia AIDS Denzel Washington

Honestly, when I think about the movie “Philadelphia,” the first thing that actually comes to mind, is the theme song by Bruce Springsteen – which wasn’t so much a good song, but one that stuck to your brain like a paper sticker and refused to come off. I, of course, quickly move on to the brilliant and gutsy performance by Tom Hanks. Some film fans tend to think of Hanks as someone who is predictable or plays it safe, but his choices and characters say otherwise. Hanks’ career of successes sometimes overshadows the grace and skill with which he embodies lasting and meaningful characters, and his work as Andrew Beckett in Jonathan Demme’s “Philadelphia” is no exception. This film brought much-needed attention to the plight of victims of AIDS struggling with the disease and experiencing ignorance and discrimination. Despite the hopeful messages at the film’s conclusion and the remarkable bravery of the Beckett character, the themes in the film are so heavy and sad that I believe this film would be extremely tough to get through a second time.

6. Closer (2004) Closer Portman Owen Roberts Nichols Law relationships

Director Mike Nichols takes us farther inside a set of damaged relationships than anyone should ever venture to go. Talk about an experience that left you feeling physically and mentally brutalized– the manipulation and devastation of the couples and characters aptly played by Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, Jude Law, and Julia Roberts was exhausting. I have absolutely no interest in reliving the brief, tiring moments I spent watching the lives of these four people as they tear themselves and each other to shreds. Nichols is a master craftsman and, at one time, a comedian, so its no surprise that “Closer” shows off his ability to navigate the dark side of humanity with razor-sharp results.

5. Full Metal Jacket (1987) Full Metal Jacket Stanley Kubrick Modine D'Onofrio war

I admit I’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” more than twice, but I wish I had seen it just once. Burned permanently into my head are Private Pyle’s (Vincent D’Onofrio) suicide sequence, and the scene in which Matthew Modine’s character Private Joker confronts the female sniper who just killed Cowboy. Kubrick’s look at Vietnam was all-inclusive. In “Jacket,” not only does he take on war itself, but also the institutions of the military and the methods used to create soldiers.

4. Rescue Dawn (2007) Rescue Dawn Bale Zahn Laos Vietnam war

The war films just keep coming. The only reason to go back to the grueling horror of “Rescue Dawn” would be for the truly inspired and hard-fought performances of Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, and Jeremy Davies. “Dawn” director Werner Herzog returns to the non-fiction material he made a documentary about called “Little Dieter Needs to Fly” (1997), only here he has taken some fictional and cinematic liberties with the story – much to the dismay of the families of the men being represented.

3. Dancer in the Dark (2000) Bjork Dancer in the Dark

Much has already been said about this film in Eric’s Top 10 “Only Once” list from last week and in the comments from our friends in Scene-Stealers-land. This film is incredibly manipulative, and to extreme effect. I honestly can’t recall needing to remove myself from the presence of other people in order to recover from a film experience like I did here. Bjork is amazing and the choreographed musical scenes and music in the film are extraordinary, but I never want to feel that way again. “Dancer” is a profoundly painful cinematic journey and I recommend it sparingly, despite its exceptional qualities.

2. Schindler’s List (1993) Schindler's List war holocaust Neeson Spielberg

Stephen Spielberg’s masterpiece “Schnidler’s List” needs no explanation or synopsis. The skill with which this film was made, both in front of, and behind the camera lens, was equal to the task of telling the hidden stories of those whose lives were lost or forever altered by the Holocaust and those priceless few who fought to save them. This is a remarkable piece of cinema that won 7 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director for Spielberg, but this is also a rare and nearly perfect film– one that many people, including myself, have only the heart to watch once.

1. United 93 (2006) United 93 Paul Greengrass

Director Paul Greengrass undertook a seemingly insurmountable task in the telling, in real time, of the minute-by-minute story of the passengers aboard United Flight 93 on the morning of September 11, 2001 and the people on the ground fighting to understand what was happening in time to make a difference. “United 93” is a phenomenally challenging film that pushed the boundaries of filmmaking in its style and creation. I believe “United 93” is to date, the most profound cinematic accomplishment made specifically in reaction to those unthinkable tragedies. While I have a tremendous amount of respect for the film, I haven’t dared go back. “United 93” speaks directly to the power of film and storytelling, and to the value of telling all of our stories– even those that are this overwhelming. Even if the tragedy is senseless, telling the story of those who lived it, is not.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Reed April 8, 2008 at 3:53 pm

Another excellent list, J.D. United 93 is has to be the quintessential Great Movie No One Should Have to Watch More Than Once. Nor would they want to, excellent though it is. However, I have seen Philadelphia a number of times, and will surely watch it again. It’s a tearjerking downer, but such an impactful movie – kind of like Brokeback Mountain (though I’ve only seen that one once so far). But in the repeated viewings, you focus on things like his family and relationships. It’s still an impossibly sad tale, but you end up viewing his life and celebrating the man. And Demme sets us up to do that perfectly with the ending going to the home movies of him when he was a kid. An added bonus, it spawned this brilliant SNL commercial:


2 Jose Hernandez April 9, 2008 at 6:16 am



3 Phil April 9, 2008 at 12:49 pm

“Magnolia” is a joyous experience; I’ve seen it many times.


4 Alan Rapp April 9, 2008 at 6:19 pm

No way Jose – Magnolia is a terrific film, not one that you want to watch weekly by any means, but still one that can be enjoyed multiple times. Still my favortie PTA flick.

As for your list JD – Applause for including United 93 though for slightly different reasons as I consider it one of the most overrated films of the past five years. Kudos for Schindler, Full Metal and Philadelphia, all great films I wouldn’t really relish sitting through multiple times.

I have to disagree with you on Rescue Dawn which I’ve come close to picking up on DVD a couple of times. Closer is a hard one, the first time I saw it I felt it was one of those films I wouldn’t wish to sit through again, but it’s now a part of my collection. For me it’s more of a “movie you watch once a year” films. And I never found An Inconvenient Truth heavy-handed and it’s mix of humor, fact, and a call to action that lends itself to multiple viewings. Of course I loved the film (enough to make it my #2 film of 2006).


5 Annabelle April 10, 2008 at 5:06 am

The Woodsman (2004) doesn’t exactly inspire a re-watch.


6 C.Tolle April 11, 2008 at 2:44 pm

Saving Private Ryan put an adequate crease on my brain. A. Goldberg’s death scene and G. Ribissi scene in which he talks about his mom have all left their mark. It was a really good film, but I think I could’ve lived without the deep sadness that hung over me for about a month or so.


7 brian April 13, 2008 at 1:20 am

Funny Games.


8 Theeruditefrog April 23, 2008 at 5:45 am

Se7en – brilliant, but no need for more.


9 Eboni Waldburg April 27, 2008 at 10:55 am

What about Requiem for a Dream and Leaving Las Vegas? Both were grueling but must see movies.


10 Darville April 30, 2008 at 6:03 pm

Once Were Warriors.


11 Atlas May 28, 2008 at 6:00 pm

Gone Baby Gone, That movie was messed up, I wouldn’t watch it again but recommend it to friend to watch once.


12 PoolOfDarkness May 29, 2008 at 1:02 am

Wow Eboni, you read my mind. “Requiem” left me feeling absolutely depressed, as did “Leaving Las Vegas,” though I think it is Nick Cage’s best work.


13 Tbonez May 29, 2008 at 4:18 am

The Usual Suspects
Once you know that (SPOILER!SPOILER!SPOILER!) Kevin Spacey is Keyser Soze that sums the film up jost fine. The only reason to watch it again is to get the refrences that point to him being Keyser Soze


14 lambman May 29, 2008 at 11:14 am

I found Closer far better on a second viewing and Dancer in the Dark is basically a Christ story so haven’t we all seen that a million times anyways? The music in Dancer in the Dark is great and worth watching multiples times to see the beautiful musical numbers, I rewatch “I have seen it all” over and over on the DVD

However, Von Trier is the master of great one viewing movies. I just can’t sit through “Breaking the Waves” or “Dogville” again even though I own and recommend both films they are great, but they are difficult.

The original Funny Games is another, awesome movie, but just can’t go throught that horrifying experience over and over


15 John May 29, 2008 at 12:11 pm

Grave of the Fireflies (you have to see it once, otherwise it’s like the anime Schindler’s List, no need to live the horror twice)
Grace is Gone (Cusack is so friggin’ amazing but wow, is this depressing.)


16 Mike De Luca May 29, 2008 at 1:23 pm

I have seen “Full Metal Jacket” upwards of 13 times or so. And I never fail to be chilled by Joker’s encounter with the sniper, or cracked up by the lewd encounter with the hooker. Hartman’s jibes always cause me laugh inappropriately, and then I, without fail, feel chastened by the growing extremity of Pyle’s plight. And God, it is a beautiful film, beautiful and horrifying, with chewed-up, bombed out building in a grey and desolate urban hell, the fires at night flickering in the distance, as men stalk across a lot, just mere shadows in the foreground, chanting the lyrics to the Mickey Mouse song. “Does this mean Ann-Margret isn’t coming”? I keep coming back to Kubrick’s bit of Vietnam madness, time and again.


17 Charlie May 30, 2008 at 11:34 pm

Sophie’s Choice


18 Annie May 31, 2008 at 8:43 pm

As soon as I saw the title to this list, my immediate thought was “Schindler’s List”. I saw that movie while I was pregnant with my daughter and forever burned into my memory is the only color shown – that of the little girl in the pink coat. I couldn’t stop crying and almost had to leave the theatre. I have yet to watch it a second time.


19 sunflower June 9, 2008 at 11:59 pm

i would watch shindlars list again, i went to it in high school as a field trip and some kids couldn’t help but laugh, now i know that may be appalling but they couldn’t help it, and they were embarrassed by their own action, i was not laughing and i was one of the one’s that glared back saying shut the fuck up this is effecting me, so if it were presented in a public forum like a small theater, such as the nickalodian in my home town, i would, or should i say would consider going, however, i do agree very much


20 hello June 16, 2008 at 2:24 pm

“The English Patient”


21 Abby April 12, 2011 at 9:02 am

Oh, man, I’d almost forgotten about “Rescue Dawn.” I believe I cried during one particular scene…

Come to think of it, “Up” is a movie I don’t really like revisiting because of that famously emotional opening sequence. I saw it about a year after my grandfather passed away, and it still gets me weepy. Generally speaking, if a movie produces tears, I don’t need to see it again. I’d rather not have to deal with the emotional fallout more than once.


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