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Ed Koch, New York’s Mayoral Movie Critic, Passes Away at the Age of 88

Ed Koch, New York's Mayoral Movie Critic, Passes Away at the Age of 88

On the same day that a documentary about his life was released in theaters, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch passed away of congestive heart failure. He was 88 years old; The New York Times has a lengthy obituary.

After Koch’s twelve years in office, Hizzoner wore many hats; he was even the first man to replace the iconic Judge Wapner on “The People’s Court.” Later, he became a prolific film critic. Koch, a lifelong movie lover, covered the movie beat for The Villager for years — writing two or three movie reviews every week. According to an overview of his critical career in The Wall Street Journal by Jeremy Olshan, Koch had an “unorthodox” approach to criticism:

“He never went to press screenings (too many other critics). He never took notes (too distracting). He only reviewed films after other critics had already favorably reviewed them. ‘You can’t trust the mainstream critics,’ he told me. ‘Forty percent of the time, they’re wrong.’ 

Once the films of the week had been selected, usually from the Friday edition of The New York Times, Koch and several of his friends meet up at the theater. During the film, Koch and his cohorts never consumed popcorn, soda, or candy. ‘We go for dinner afterwards to discuss the film,’ Koch said. ‘Then I have to sleep on it, or actually, dream on it.’ 

When Koch woke up, on Sunday morning, he’d write the reviews in bed, on a yellow legal pad.”

It’s tough to find Koch’s reviews on The Villager website (or at least it was for me), but you can read some elsewhere. A few years’ worth of writing is available at The Atlantic, where, for example, he warned readers they shouldn’t go see “Hot Tub Time Machine:” 

“Former New York City councilmember Henry Stern said: Several weeks ago I criticized ‘Brooklyn’s Finest’ for depicting all its characters as violent and corrupt. But that film is an Oscar contender compared with ‘Hot Tub Time Machine,’ which is probably the most disgusting picture I have ever seen. I was surprised it was rated R because the language was mostly X and basically F. There was no nudity, which was a good thing because the characters were so ugly. The premise was preposterous. A hot tub takes you back in time just 24 years, to the era of rock and roll. The picture’s greatest fault, apart from its incessant vulgarity and obvious contrivance, was that it was boring. I hope I saved you $12.50 and two hours that seemed like four, the movie being its own time machine.”

He did have a tendency to call out critics he disagreed with, as he did of Manohla Dargis in his review of “Avatar:”

“I did not like this film at all, notwithstanding Manohla Dargis’s glorious review in The New York Times… In my opinion, ‘Avatar’ has been hyped beyond the point of forgiveness.”

Other notable Koch reviews: “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” “A Serious Man,” “The Messenger,” “Sherlock Holmes,” and “Whatever Works.” 

Koch disliked star ratings, and instead graded his reviews with his equivalent of a thumbs up or down system of pluses and minuses. He also made video reviews, which he posted at his website, MayorKoch.com. The most recent one was made just over a year ago, for “My Week With Marilyn:”

“There are so many bad movies out there,” Koch says as he finishes that video. “Don’t listen to the critics; listen to me.”

Read more of “Ed Koch, Mayor and Movie Critic.”

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