Top 5 “One Time” Movies

As follows are my top 5 “one time” films. What does that mean? That means films that may be too disturbing or bleak for a 2nd viewing. There are a few criteria that I should go over before delving in. These aren’t necessarily movies that I wouldn’t watch more than once, but films that I think the average American wouldn’t want to watch a 2nd time. That said, they a) have to be a movie worth watching a first time (i.e. no movies that are just disturbing for the sake of disturbing and don’t have much other redeeming qualities, I am looking at you) and b) have to be a movie that the average American would actually make it through the first time (so no Salo: the 120 Days of Sodom, Irreversible or Mysterious Skin, all great movies but I am guessing most might people turn them off at a certain point). Also I am leaving out rape revenge movies (Straw Dogs, Last House on the Left, I Spit on Your Grave), those belong in a whole category of their own. I know that I am being vague and generalizing by saying “the average American”, I’ll let you come up with your own description for one that might entail. I will do my best to use the word “bleak” conservatively.

5. The Panic in Needle Park – Jerry Schatzberg (1971)

You know that you are in for a treat when the tagline for the movie you are about to watch is “God Help Bobby and Helen”. The Panic in Needle Park is the only film on this list that I myself would probably not watch a 2nd time. Al Pacino and Kitty Winn play a couple of star crossed lovers that are caught in the grasp of the heroin crazy of the early 70’s in New York City. Pacino’s character, Bobby, befriends Winn’s character, Helen, at his drug dealer/her boyfriend’s place (played by an almost unrecognizable baby-faced Raul Julia). Bobby is a fast talking small time crook and Helen has the naiveté of a 5 year, so when he shows up to cheer her up after her abortion she is in for the long haul. Bobby shows her the ropes of the street and before long she learns first hand why they called Sherman Square “Needle Park”. About 15 minutes into this film you get the idea that things aren’t going to start looking up for this couple anytime soon. Jail, prostitution, betrayal and a enough drug use to make Trainspotting seem like an after school special soon follow. What makes this film worth watching is the time period that it captures. Inspired by an article in Time and a series of documentaries on drug addiction, the director and cinematographer used a cinéma vérité-style to add a sense of reality that was popular in the New Hollywood movement at the time. In doing so Pacino and Winn take a back seat to New York City as the real leading role in this film. As the film progresses and we see the couple get further and further lost in their addiction and self destruction, the city itself becomes more ominous and over powering. I would put The Panic In Needle Park up there with Taxi Driver of New York films of the 70’s. Along with the sense of claustrophobia and over all bleakness, there are a few other elements that might make one 2nd guess at taking a 2nd watch. This film has the prestigious honor of being the first movie to show actual footage of intravenous drug use, and let me tell you, they do not use it sparsely. Even more jarring than that is the soundtrack, or lack there of. There is no music except for a radio here or there, instead the sounds of the city and its inhabitants are all we are given to listen to.   After viewing this film, Coppola was convinced to cast Pacino in the Godfather. Kitty Winn went on to win Best Actress at the Cannes film festival for her portrayal of Helen. After she was offered many high profile roles and famously turned down the chance to reunite with Pacino in the Godfather and play Ripley in Alien.

4. Happiness – Todd Solondz (1998)

I was very hesitant to put this film on the list just for the fact that I have seen it half a dozen times. For my money I am not sure I could come up with a film that has better over all timing and delivery as this film does. Newsweek Magazine named it the # 1 film of 1998. The opening scene is one of my favorite comedic scenes of all time. All that said, I have never heard more people claim that they will never watch a movie again as much as Happiness. In 2004 a German film was released called Downfall that was centered around the last days of Hitler. This film garnered world wide praise along with a lot of controversy. The criticism was over the fact that Hitler was portrayed by actor Bruno Ganz in a humanistic, almost at times, sympathetic manner. He was seen as a flawed man who was capable of basic human emotions. Like that Hitler in that film, Happiness is hard to watch for many people because it puts a human face on a very real monster, a pedophile. Dylan Baker plays his character of Bill Maplewood much in the same way. Director Todd Solondz has said in interviews since its release that he had not intended to present Bill Maplewood in a such a sympathetic light, however that is the effect. That is not to say that Happiness doesn’t have its fair share of other uncomfortable moments that would easily make this one of the movies I would least like to watch with my parents. But it is the breaking down of one of our society’s greatest and most horrific taboos that puts this film on this list.

3. Pasqualino Settebellezze (Seven Beauties) – Lena Wertmüller (1975)

Imagine Life is Beautiful if Roberto Benigni wasn’t opposed to prostituting himself. In other words, an Italian film about the lengths that one man is willing to go to survive and protect his family, with a realistic feel to it. 20 years before Benigni put on his stripped uniform, Giancarlo Giannini did so more convincingly in Seven Beauties. In it he plays a man who is sent to prison for killing a pimp who is trying to turn his sister into a prostitute. He sees a chance of escaping prison by joining the Italian army. He sees a chance of escaping the army by deserting and in doing so is captured by Germans and thrown in a concentration camp. From there he does anything and everything to survive only to find that his worst nightmares have come true. And even then, in the face of overwhelming despair, all he can think about is survival. Seven Beauties is 4 time Academy Award Nominated film about the lengths to which one man will go and the sacrifices he will make simply to survive. And as you can imagine, he does some pretty disturbing things in the process. What many viewers might find hard to revisit in the film isn’t necessarily the events in the film, but the effect they have on our protagonist and his unrelenting determination. Could you do what he has done to survive? At the time of its release, the film fell on some harsh criticism over its graphic depictions of concentration camps. Wertmüller was the first woman ever nominated for an Oscar for directing for this film. Oh Yeah!

2. Lilja 4-ever (Lilya 4-Ever) – Lukas Moodysson (2002)

Right behind Happiness, this is 2nd in line for the movie that I heard the most people say that they would never watch again. Given a list like this, it is not surprising that this is the third film on it that features prostitution. I have been meaning to revisit this film myself, but the thought of sitting down with it again is exhausting enough. The story revolves around a Russian teenager who’s mom leaves her behind in order to move to America with her new boyfriend. She is forced into prostitution and her only friend is a young boy who does inhalants with her in abandoned buildings. She finds a glimmer of hope in a new boyfriend who wants her to move to Sweden. But soon she finds herself deceived and a sex slave in Scandinavia. I won’t ruin it for you, but lets just say that things don’t end well for Lilja. The beauty in this film lies solely on the camera work and the performances. You’d be hard pressed to find a more depressing movie than Lilja 4-Ever.

1. Idi i smotri (Come and See) – Elem Klimov (1985)

Next time someone complains to you that movies always glorify war, direct them to this film. Set in 1943 Bellarussian republic, Come and See is also a World War 2 film about survival, though the protagonist sometimes has very little to do with his on mortality. It starts off with two boys digging for rifles in order to join the Soviet Partisan forces against the Nazis. One of the boys, Florya, is successful and the next day the Partisans come to his home and takes him to fight. He is left behind because of his age and short stature and befriends a young girl names Glasha and the two of them begin a buddy romance while their camp is bomb to hell by Germans. What follows is a movie that tackles every coming of age cliche and takes them to original and unforgettable extremes. Floyra wanders through a  Steady Cam purgatory of war that takes him to the over the edge of sanity and reason. Actor Aleksei Kravchenko’s face is so innocent and hypnotizing in relation to the horrors surrounding him that at time I found myself forgetting that I was watching a movie. Come and See is truly a heartbreaking and brilliant film, and though it is hard to watch many of the atrocities that are recreated on screen, most viewers will find it hard to revisit due to the exhaustive nature of it. Even though the film is only 140 minutes long, after watching you feel like you have been following this boy for days and have gone through ever trial that he has. And at the end of it you are left with very little to remind you that what you just witnessed could possibly have had a positive affect on you aside from making you appreciate that you don’t live in Nazi occupied Russia. During production real bullets were used to provide realism and it shows.

As a bonus here is another film that you might think twice about watching again, that is if you can find it the first time. It roughly translates to Ugly, Dirty and Bad.

One Response to “Top 5 “One Time” Movies”

  1. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days would have been a good choice for this list as well.

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