I love movies.

In 2012, inspired by the then-new site Letterboxd and Roger Ebert’s writing, I decided I’d write a review of every movie I watched. I’d been doing that for about a year.

Here are the reviews I’m most proud of: 20-odd movies I loved, or hated, in no particular order. Enjoy.

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Fast Five

2011
★★★★

There’s something fantastical about the idea of treating cars as precision instruments. Sure, we have all seen videos of professionals parking in improbably tight spaces, but the stunts in this movie put all of those to shame. I think we’re just 1–2 installments away from Vin Diesel shaving using a VW Bug, or maybe doing open heart surgery with a scalpel mounted on a 1958 Ford Edsel. With manual transmission and the roof down, but that goes without saying.

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WarGames

1983
★★★★★

Today, WarGames is a nerd’s time capsule, possibly the biggest of them all, a celluloid equivalent of that box you have in your basement with obsolete technology kept out of misplaced sense of attachment, or maybe just because recycling electronics is hard and annoying.

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Deuce Bigalow:
Male Gigolo

1999

I feel the creative process of putting this together would have made for far superior entertainment than the movie itself. The utter dedication to reducing everything, everything to a cheap gag is almost endearing and I want to imagine the two writers polishing the script. “Wow, wow, wow, man – this looks too much like character development. Take this out of here!” Or 50 pre-printed sticky notes saying [farting noise] that just have to be inserted in the script. “We get a nice discount on those,” one writer says to the fictional documentary crew, while the other is vigorously nodding. “Remember when we had to do them by hand?” they reminisce, then break into hysterics.

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Life, Above All

2010
★★★★½

There might be nothing more unfair than being robbed of one’s childhood; to be shackled with concern and responsibility far too early in your life; to witness things with your own eyes that parents wouldn’t want their kids to see even on TV.

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Rocky IV

1985
★★★½

This is the only movie I know of where a training montage is followed by another training montage. No, it’s not a two-piece montage; there’s a one-minute non-training scene in between. Either they desperately had to push the movie over the 90-minute mark in the cutting room… or decided people wouldn’t really get it from one training montage alone.

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The Dark Knight Rises

2012
★★★

The first movie was a really great first date ending with a mind-blowing kiss and so much promise. The second – a crazy impromptu Hawaii vacation one month later, when the two of you ended up never leaving the hotel suite. But then, a year since, you try to do the same thing again and suddenly realize the best you can summon as a description is just “it’s okay, I guess.” Whenever you want to talk you realize you’re just not that good at talking; the sex is still good, but it was never ever as great as that crazy week in Maui; the dog who neither of you really like was just diagnosed with cancer, and even the two of you painting the ceiling you’re now looking at, unable to sleep in the middle of the night, wasn’t really as great an experience as you used to remember it. It was a really fun ride into what became a dead-end street, and now you both want to quit, but you don’t really know when and you don’t really know how.

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Evilspeak

1981
★½

A 1981 Apple ad asked “Will someone please tell me exactly what a personal computer can do?” and among the 100 provided answers were such cutting edge concepts as electronic mail, personal finances, looking up ice cream recipes, and – at #96 – reading the Bible. No mentions, however, of the satanic capabilities of Apple II as presented in the same year’s Evilspeak.

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La luna

2011
★★★★★

Lovely, wonderful, warm, heartfelt coming of age story that had me misty-eyed by the time it ended. If you read Italo Calvino; if Moon ever seemed to you more than just a rock tied to Earth with an invisible string; if you sometimes, oftentimes, always stare at Luna because it is there and you just can’t look away – go buy tickets to Brave just for this short that precedes it, sneak your way into the theatre, or Facebook-friend people at Pixar so they could maybe send you a copy in exchange for some unspecified future favours. Whatever it takes: I don’t care, and you shouldn’t either. Just watch it now.

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RoboCop

1987
★★★★★

I am astonished at how well this movie aged. It’s still fascinating, still relevant, and the ultra-violence as hard to witness as it was when I sneaked into the movie theatre during the first decade of my life (oh, yes, I couldn’t sleep that night). Even though clearly extrapolated from the afflictions of the 1980s, the dystopian world presented here is believable, in no small part because of the little details – the TV news bulletins, Delta City billboards, “8.2 mpg” small print for the 6000 SUX advertisement, an off-hand mention of Lee Iacocca Elementary School.

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Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach

1988
★★★½

The Police Academy sequels are like the same story told over and over again by a raunchy, increasingly more drunk uncle at some uncomfortable family gathering: the locations get more and more exotic, the antics crazier and crazier, the more complex characters simply disappear as a result of the brain’s decreased capacity, and you realize that yes, you’re laughing, but neither with nor at your uncle – the laughter is just a defense mechanism until you come to your senses and finally leave, the uncle continuing to re-tell the story for the fifth or sixth or seventh time, now to no one in particular.

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Chronicle

2012
★★★★½

Quite possibly the most honest, believable, dare I say authentic…? superhero origin story I’ve watched.

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Makkhi (Eega)

2012
★★★★

Pressing Save after I’m done writing this review will forever enshrine it as the first recorded viewing of Makkhi on Letterboxd. That hardly makes me Vasco da Gama, though, as the circumstances were as arbitrary as they can get: a six-hour bus ride to and from an Indian temple, and a flat screen TV in front projecting Tollywood hits. Of those, Makkhi proved to be by far the most memorable, and in the year of quite a few unique watching experiences, this one stood above them all.

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Safety Not Guaranteed

2012
★★★★

Why would you go back in time? To get rich? For fun? Because you want a second chance? Because you dream of fixing a mistake? Because you’re unhappy with who you grew up to be?

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Sneakers

1992
★★★★★

I hosted a little viewing party of Sneakers yesterday (off of a LaserDisc, with a player bought especially for this occasion). At some point after the movie, which I was happy to see everyone enjoy, the conversation turned to inspiration. For some of us in the crowd this was a first viewing, but others – including me – have seen it many times since it first came out 20 years ago.

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The House I Live In

2012
★★★★

“They’re not paying for their crimes. They’re paying for our fear.”

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Rampart

2011
★★★½

The Rampart Division LAPD scandal gave us seven seasons of the hugely entertaining (if overdone) The Shield, and now Rampart covers a lot of the same ground. It does so, however, with more restraint and introspection.

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Linotype: The Film

2012
★★★★½

What does being obsolete really mean? There were apparently more than 100,000 Linotype machines produced – many the price of a house – but only about a thousand survived, a lot of them rusting, broken, forgotten, or about to be sent as scrap to China. Linotype was once the hot technology that revolutionized printing (literally hot – the machines construct lead type by squirting molten alloys), but the best stories about technology are always stories about people, and this fantastic documentary knows that surprisingly well.

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RoboCop 2

1990
★★★

There is something in computer science called a “second-system effect.” It describes how versions 2.0 of successful products are usually bloated, inelegant, filled with all the bad ideas and unnecessary features that never made it in time for 1.0.

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Miracle on Interstate 880

1993
★★★

Some failures of man-made objects have rather frivolous names. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed in 1940 because of something called “aeroelastic flutter.” There is a term for when a train carriage bolts through the one in front of it during a collision – it’s “telescoping.” And then, there’s also something called “pancaking” – and that’s what happened to a 1½–mile segment of highway I-880 called Cypress Viaduct, back in the late 1989.

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Unstoppable

2010
★★★★½

It’s always great to see someone doing their job well. Here, Tony Scott reunites with Denzel Washington in the lead, Harry Gregson-Williams as a composer, and presumably tons of other people to put together a really fun action movie – with no one pretending it’s going to be anything else.

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Looper

2012
★★★★

Watching the director’s commentary is a bit of a gamble. They’re oftentimes amateurish, alternating awkward pauses and random anecdotes, done without much preparation. Even if they’re good, there is absolutely no guarantee you’ll hear about the things you wanted to – since every movie is a complicated endeavour, you could imagine ten different, rich commentaries, each one focusing on a different aspect of the movie. And a rich commentary about the parts you care about could still turn out boring if it’s delivered dispassionately.

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WarGames

1983
★★★★★

Carphones, George H.W. Bush posters, and dated Windows screens aside, Sneakers aged relatively well. WarGames, put together nine years before by the same pair of writers, is almost a polar opposite. Its allegiances to 1980s are obvious and immediate: disco music, John Hughes-esque teen romance, Cold War paranoia. On its surface, the movie seems like a relic.

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Jack Reacher

2012
★★½

Remember that episode of The office when the crew discovers Michael Scott’s secret action movie screenplay, featuring his thinly-veiled alter ego Michael Scorn – the perfect human being slash action hero? You’ll be pleased to hear it’s just been adapted for the silver screen.

Designer/typographer · Writing a book on the history of keyboards: https://aresluna.org/shift-happens

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