Will I "Really Like" this Movie?

Navigating Movie Website Ratings to Select More Enjoyable Movies

Archive for the month “September, 2016”

October Kicks Off the Oscar Season, the Time of Year When It’s Safe for Adults to Go to the Movies.

Last year two Best Picture nominated movies, The Martian and Bridge of Spies, went into wide release in October. Another nominated movie, Room, went into limited release in October to help build some buzz around the movie before releasing it to a wide audience in January. This year, according to awardscircuit.com, two October releases, The Birth of a Nation and The Girl on the Train, are top tier Best Picture contenders. October is a better than average month for the wide release of Best Picture nominees. In the last 25 years, 16 movies have gone into wide release in October that were nominated for Best Picture. Another 7 nominated movies went into limited release. That’s 14.6% of all Best Picture nominated movies over the last quarter century went into wide or limited release in October.

With this kind of track record you would expect that October is a great month for “really like” movies. This is not necessarily so. The “really like” probability for a movie that goes into wide release in October is 40.7%. This is better than September’s 38.3% but not much better. Part of the reason is that October is not a great box office month. Without a heavy dose of young moviegoers, October’s box office sales are about 37% less than the average monthly box office for the year. The Oscar contenders that open in October may not have the full confidence of the studios. The studios believe they are award worthy but aren’t confident enough in them to compete for box office sales with the movies slated to open around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. By opening in October, studios may believe that they are providing these movies with some time to build buzz and an audience without competing with some higher profile contenders. That being said, my five October picks below have my interest.

The Girl on the Train. Release date: October 7   “Really Like” Probability Forecast:50%

This movie has the feel of another October release from two years ago, Gone Girl. Based on a very popular book, The Girl on the Train is another thriller involving a missing person. The Director, Tate Taylor, has successfully directed the adaptation of another best seller, The Help, into a very successful movie. Can he do it again? I loved Gone Girl and I loved The Help. I’m betting that I will love The Girl on the Train as well.

The Birth of a Nation. Release date: October 7   “Really Like” Probability Forecast:45%

There is a lot of positive buzz about this movie and a lot of negative buzz about this movie’s director, Nate Parker, resulting from a 17 year old rape case. The “really like” probability has much to do with the former and not much to do with the latter, and so I will focus on the movie. At Sundance, the movie won both the Grand Jury award and Audience award. Fox Searchlight won the rights to the movie, with a record-breaking bid of $17.5 million, after a bidding war with Amazon and Netflix. The movie was shown on opening night at the Toronto Film Festival last month and received a standing ovation. This movie’s buzz is generated from people who have seen the movie. It is also the kind of historically based movie I enjoy.

The Accountant. Release date: October 14   “Really Like” Probability Forecast:40%

This movie looks like good escapist fun. How often do you see a math whiz as an action hero? This movie has an appealing cast, headed by Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick. The director, Gavin O’Connor, directed two movies I loved, Warrior and Miracle. And, the screenwriter for the movie, Bill Dubuque, also wrote the critically underrated 2014 film The Judge. I’m intrigued.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Release date: October 21   “Really Like” Probability Forecast:40%

I watched the first movie in this franchise, Jack Reacher, in 2015. While not quite a “really like” movie, I did enjoy it. So why is this movie on my prospect list? It is because Edward Zwick is directing it. Edward Zwick has directed five movies that I absolutely love, Glory, Courage Under Fire, Blood Diamond, Legends of the Fall, and The Last Samurai. I’m betting he will upgrade this second movie in the franchise to a “really like” movie.

Inferno. Release date: October 28   “Really Like” Probability Forecast:35%

Readers of this blog are aware that I am an admirer of the work of Tom Hanks and Ron Howard. This is their third collaboration involving author Dan Brown’s character, Robert Langdon. I’ve read the first two books and I am on the last 150 pages of Inferno. I’ve seen the first two movies in the series, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. They both were “like”/”really like” movies. Inferno is on this list because I can’t help myself. I’m addicted.

These five selections are typical for October, a couple of Oscar contenders and a few crowd pleasers. There’s no guarantee I’ll “really like” any of them, but I want to. October is the beginning of the season for movies targeted at adults and I want to see more of them.

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When It Comes To Movie DNA, Do Directors Have It and Has Netflix Mapped It?

I can’t wait to see Christopher Nolan’s next movie, Dunkirk, which is due to reach the theaters in 2017. I’ve seen 8 of Nolan’s 9 feature films and have given those movies an average rating of 87.5 out of 100, my highest average rating for any director with at least 8 movies seen. On the other hand, I’m bored to tears by Wes Anderson’s movies. I’ve seen 2 of his 8 movies and I’ve awarded them an average rating of 43.5 out of 100. Not included in the two movies I watched were Rushmore and Grand Budapest Hotel, both of which I tried to watch but couldn’t finish. Each of us has a distinct movie taste that guides our movie selection. It is our own unique movie DNA, if you will.

Do movie directors have a movie making DNA?  Do movie directors make movies with common traits,  a movie making DNA, that particular viewers might be drawn to or repelled by? Netflix has made millions of dollars by identifying movies and TV shows that we are predisposed to enjoy.Does Netflix, indirectly or directly, draw you to favorite directors and push you away from directors you just don’t get? These are the questions I’ve been researching the past week.

I haven’t successfully come up with a broad systematic answer to these questions yet. But, by looking at a couple of directors, one I like and another I don’t, I can begin to develop a hypothesis. The two directors I looked at have a sizeable body of work. The director who I enjoy is Ron Howard. In the last 15 years I’ve seen 9 of the 21 feature films he has directed.. The director I just don’t get is Stanley Kubrick. Everyone praises his genius but I don’t “really like” his movies. Here are my average ratings for these two director’s movies that I’ve seen over the last 15 years compared to the average ratings of all Netflix customers for the same movies. For purposes of apples to apples comparison, Netflix ratings have been converted to a 100 point scale (e.g.  3.8 out of 5 Netflix Rating is 76 on a 100 point scale).

My Avg Rating Netflix Avg Rating My Rating Difference
Ron Howard 77 76 +1
Stanley Kubrick 52 76 -24

My enjoyment of Ron Howard is fairly consistent with everyone’s enjoyment of Ron Howard. He makes movies that appeal to the general audience. This probably suggests that well done mainstream movies are in my movie DNA. On the other hand, there is a clear difference between my taste for Kubrick and everyone else’s taste for Kubrick. He is not mainstream.

So does Netflix recognize the different appeal that these two directors have for me?  Here’s the same table as the one above, except with the Netflix Best Guess average rating for how I’ll rate the movies instead of how I actually rated the movies..

Netflix Best Guess Avg Rating for Me Netflix Avg Rating Netflix Best Guess Difference
Ron Howard 83 76 +7
Stanley Kubrick 72 76 -4

Directionally it is consistent with my ratings. It is more bullish than my ratings for Ron Howard’s movies and less bearish for Kubrick’s movies. Interestingly enough it is most bullish for Ron Howards best movies as displayed below:

Ron Howard’s Movies I’ve Seen
Netflix Best Guess Avg Rating for Me Netflix Avg Rating Netflix Best Guess Difference
Netflix Avg Rating > 76 92 78 +14
Netflix Avg Rating < 76 72 73 -1

Netflix highly recommends Ron Howard’s best movies to me while taking a neutral position toward his middle of the road movies.

If there is such a thing as a director’s movie making DNA and if Netflix is successfully factoring it into the Best Guess Ratings developed for me, then that DNA relationship should exist in the movies I haven’t seen in the last 15 years as well. Here’s a look at the sample for those movies:

Netflix Best Guess Avg Rating for Me Netflix Avg Rating Netflix Best Guess Difference
Ron Howard 67 70 -3
Stanley Kubrick 55 70 -15

Again, the results are consistent with the results for the movies I’ve seen. My additional observation is that the director I like gets a Netflix recommendation boost for the movies that the Netflix universe rates the highest. Conversely, Netflix more aggressively drives me away from the movies rated lowest by the Netflix universe for the director I don’t like.

Without a broader study, I can’t say for sure that there is such a thing as movie DNA specific to a movie director, or that Netflix’ algorithm indirectly recognizes it in their recommendations. But, based on this isolated comparison, it sure looks like there is and Netflix might have it well mapped.

 

 

While I Was Away, I Had a Thought or Two

Last Friday my wife and I moved into our new place. Not all of my time this past week was spent wandering through the maze of boxes to be unpacked and wondering which one contained our toaster. Every now and then random ideas for movie studies and articles popped into my head and I’m back to share them with you.

For example, a couple of weeks ago I saw the movie Sing Street. This is the third movie directed by John Carney that I’ve seen, Once and Begin Again being the other two, and I’ve “really liked” all three. There is an identifiable DNA to the movies that certain directors make. In Carney’s case, all three movies are about making music and the not always easy interrelationship the process has with love. There is also a certain DNA to the movies we enjoy watching. I think sites like Netflix and Movielens do a pretty good job of linking our movie watching DNA with a director’s movie DNA. In the coming weeks I plan to explore Movie DNA further.

October is just around the corner and another awards season is upon us. Already buzz about Oscar worthy movies is coming out of the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, where La La Land has been anointed a Best Picture front runner. In the spirit of the season I’ve begun a data driven study of who are the top male and female actors of each decade for which Oscars have been awarded.

As I’ve begun to look at actors who’ve been nominated for awards in the earlier years of movie history, I’ve run across a number of movies that I’ve never seen before that pique my interest. Is it possible that movie sites like Netflix aren’t as effective in collecting movie DNA for vintage movies as they are for contemporary movies? Is it possible that fewer vintage movies get recommended by Netflix because there is less data in their database for movies that predate it’s existence as a movie recommender website? Would Netflix have surfaced John Carney’s three movies for me if they were made between 1947 and 1956 rather than 2007 to 2016?

As I mentioned in my last pre-sabbatical post, I’m reducing my posts to one  post each Thursday. For me, this blog is all about sharing the results of the research ideas  I’ve involved myself in. It seemed that with two posts a week I was spending too much time writing and not enough time generating the research that you might find interesting. So that’s my plan and I’m sticking to it, at least until I need another sabbatical.

The Mad Movie Man is back and there is much to do.

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