The Weekender, April 9, 2021


A few weeks ago, I tried — and failed — to write up a list of my top 20 or so movies. I pledged to keep at it and share with you all, and today, I’m ready to do so, just in a different way. 

After sending the above-linked email, I discovered Letterboxd, which is basically a way for movie fans to catalog what movies they’ve seen and share it with others. And — this is the key part — you can use the site to rate movies, giving them up to five stars. It’s really easy to do and fun, too; or, at least, it was for me. Since discovering the site, I’ve rated 450 films. (I’m sure I’ve missed more than a few, too.)

Here are the ratings, with the highest-rated ones first. Within each ratings bucket, the films are not in best-first order; in fact, I have no idea how Letterboxd is ordering the movies within each ratings range. So ignore that. And if you want to help me discover new movies, create an account, go to my profile, add me as a friend/follower, and start rating movies on your own. Thanks!

In a moment, I’ll dive into some movies, but first, let me take a second to explain what each rating means to me. 

A five-star rating means it’s one of my absolute favorite movies ever. There are only 17 of them. That may grow slightly as I refine my list; I’ve awarded 4.5 stars to about a half-dozen additional movies, and some of them may move into the 5-star class as I give this more thought and/or rewatch them.

The four-star movies are ones I really liked and, in most cases, have seen many, many times as a result. If you want to get a really good view into what I really like, broadly, this (combined with the 5- and 4.5-star ratings) is going to give you a very good glimpse into that. You’ll find that it’s a lot more diverse than the 4.5+ group (which is mostly sci-fi/fantasy).

If I liked a movie, I gave it at least three stars. That’s a low bar, though. Of the 450 movies, I gave exactly three stars to 282 (63%) of them. As a result, you’re not going to learn a lot about my movie preferences if you just focus on that group — it’s very wide. Too wide, in fact. If I refine the list, I’ll move a lot of them up or down a half star. But for now, this’ll do.

If I didn’t like a movie, I gave it two or fewer stars. As noted above, almost all of the movies I rated have three or more stars. I think that’s because I generally don’t watch movies unless I think I’ll like them beforehand — it’s a waste of time and/or money otherwise. Movies with 2.5 stars, those I’m on the fence about, but as I’ll likely never watch them again, they’re basically in ratings purgatory, destined to stay in the 2.5-star universe. The two-star ones, even though I didn’t like them, are ones you may want to try regardless — I didn’t like them, but others definitely have.

You can’t give zero stars to a movie. Letterboxd only lets you go as low as half a star. The two 0.5-star movies on my list are awful. But they’re so bad, you may actually want to give them a try. You can probably skip those with one or 1.5 stars.

Got it? Great. With 450 movies rated, I clearly can’t go through all of them. (In theory, I could write reviews on Letterboxd itself, but… nah.) Playing around with Letterboxd’ and later, its other sorting tools,  here are some interesting things I learned about my movie-watching history.

1) I like Harlem Nights a lot more than other people do. Sorting by average rating across the Letterboxd universe, lowest to highest, you get this result. Of all the movies I rated four or more stars, Harlem Nights is easily the lowest. This surprised me, not because I thought it was universally liked, but because a lot of people really didn’t like it.

2) I guess I’m not a fan of Wes Anderson films. My least-liked movies that are popular with everyone else? Fargo (a Coen brothers movie), The Royal Tenenbaums (Anderson), and Rushmore (also by Anderson). And those two movies are the only Wes Anderson movies I’ve seen. (I don’t like Fargo but I do like the other movies by the Coen brothers that I’ve seen.)

3) Return of the Jedi was very hard to rate. I’ll resist the urge to go on a rant here. While I gave Jedi four stars, it’s not a well-made movie, for a lot of reasons. (See the first long-read in the last section below for a great example.) But: it’s a capstone to a fantastic saga anchored by two of the best movies ever made, and most importantly, the actual ending (well, before the party on the Endorian moon) is exactly what the saga needed as its climax. An epic lightsaber battle, Luke engaging to defend his sister (not himself), and the redemption arc we all hoped for. The movie is very, very flawed but it did everything it needed to do to be a great experience. That conclusion was the basis for my four-star rating.

4) Dumb comedies were my go-to growing up. Sort by release date, earliest first and you’ll see a handful of movies from the mid-1980s that I probably overrate: Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, Brewster’s Millions, Real Genius, and Spies Like Us. My guess: they’re legit funny to varying degrees, yes, but they’re really funny when you’re in your tweens/early teens. 

5) More people need to watch My Blue Heaven. You can sort movies by popularity, which is (I think) how many people on Letterboxd have seen the movie. For some reason, there’s no reverse-sort on that one, but obviously, you can look at the last page and work backward. My Blue Heaven is among the 25 least-viewed movies out of the 450 I watched. As it’s one of my favorite movies of all time, that’s a shame. 

In fact, that’s a good way for me to wrap this up: go watch My Blue Heaven, if you haven’t yet. As it turns out, it’s on HBO Max, but it looks like it’s leaving there on April 30th. 

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: The Wild Deuce: A tale of a poop.

TuesdayThe Unique Way to Save Your Bread When Going on Vacation: I really enjoyed writing this one. The fact itself is pretty basic and short; turning it into a story was fun.

Wednesday: Flipping the Bird: When in doubt, go upside down. Even if you’re flying.

ThursdayAlaska’s Super Hero Dogs: More than a few of you wrote in to ask why I didn’t mention the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. It probably wasn’t inspired by the story I shared, so I didn’t include it.

And some other things you should check out:

Here are some long reads for the weekend. But you really should be connecting with me on Letterboxd and rating movies, so I can discover new ones.

1) “We Dare You To Explain Luke’s Plan To Rescue Han In ‘Return of the Jedi’” (Uproxx, 7 minutes,  August 2018). I may have shared this before, but given the above, I decided to again.

2) “Mel Mermelstein Survived Auschwitz, Then Sued Holocaust Deniers in Court” (Smithsonian, 16 minutes, August 2018). Yesterday was Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. This story is a perfect one for the moment. The subhead: “Fed up with the lies and anti-Semitism, a California businessman partnered with a lawyer to prove that the murder of 6 million Jews was established fact.” 

3) “Doctor Fentanyl” (Toronto Life, 20 minutes, March 2021). The subhead: “George Otto was a respected family physician with a bustling clinic in the northwest corner of the city. But he had a secret: after hours, he was running a booming fentanyl business. The untold story of the doctor who fuelled a drug crisis.”

Have a great weekend! And watch My Blue Heaven when you can!