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One Watch Wonders: Civil War and Other Great Movies You Only Want to Watch Once

Grave of the Fireflies

Aww, it’s a lovely Studio Ghibli animation!  What’s it doing in this list? If that is your reaction, then my friend, you have not seen Grave of the Fireflies. Set at the very end of World War II, it follows two Japanese orphans trying to survive. It’s delicate and beautiful and widely recognized as an impressive and important animation but good grief, is it sad. Seita and his younger sister Setsuko struggle to live after the death of their mother, initially going to stay with a selfish aunt who takes their supplies. Starving, the children are forced to steal and attempt to create their own world. It doesn’t work out. And if we talk anymore about the ending then we’ll cry so let’s leave it there. – RF

Dancer in the Dark

Bjork is extraordinary in this musical from auteur director Lars von Trier. Given he’s the maker of deliberately uncomfortable movies including Antichrist and The Idiots, this arguably more conventional, mainstream film might sound like a funny one to pick. It was nominated for a whole range of awards, including an Oscar and several Golden Globes, winning armfuls of others including several for the music, which was composed as well as performed by Bjork. So all in all, it’s an excellent film. Unfortunately it’s really, really upsetting. 

Bjork plays Selma, a young Czech immigrant who is losing her eyesight. She and her son live in poverty but she works at a local factory attempting to save up enough money to pay for an operation which will save her son’s vision (he has the same condition as her). But the system fails her, she is robbed, ends up accidentally killing a policeman, and things get worse from there. The music actually makes it more unbearably sad with her final song delivered without accompaniment and left unfinished. Devastating. – RF


Also known as The Snowtown Murders, this is the debut feature of Justin Kurzel who went on to make Macbeth, Nitram and 2016’s Assassin’s Creed. It’s about some murders, it’s based on a true story, but films of horrific true crime cases are ten a penny – you wouldn’t watch many of them twice, because what’s the point? This is not the case with Snowtown. Named after the place in Adelaide where the bodies were found, Kurzel cast local non-actors to play the boys at the center of this story of a family growing up in poverty who are charmed by the charismatic John Bunting (Daniel Henshall). Bunting takes Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) under his wing, initially appearing to be a mentor, but he gradually indoctrinates him into his violent homophobic ways, going on to involve him in murders which totted up 12 victims, one of whom was Jamie’s half brother.

This is a piece of social realism and it’s an endurance test. Jamie’s “initiation” scene is nigh-on unbearable (if you’ve seen it you’ll know), while the sound design is deliberately oppressive making you feel like the world is closing in on you. It was one hell of a calling card for a director bound for greatness but seriously, once is enough. – RF

The Nightingale

Jennifer Kent’s debut The Babadook rewards multiple viewings; her follow up The Nightingale does not. A furious historical tale of a young convict woman in Van Diemen’s Land in 1825, she embarks on a journey to get revenge on the colonialist soldiers who brutalized her and her family. The Nightingale pulls no punches in its depiction of the atrocities these men carried out. She’s led on her journey by a young Aboriginal man, who has his own scores to settle and it explores the extreme racism, sexism, and the unthinking entitlement and ruthlessness of the white British soldiers.

Read More:One Watch Wonders: Civil War and Other Great Movies You Only Want to Watch Once