Will I "Really Like" this Movie?

Navigating Movie Website Ratings to Select More Enjoyable Movies

Archive for the month “October, 2016”

After a Disappointing October at the Theaters, Get Ready for a Terrific November.

Maybe it’s me, but I thought that the October opening of the Oscar season this year was kind of a dud. The two leading Best Picture contenders released widely in October, The Birth of a Nation and The Girl on the Train, were over-hyped. Even the movies you might expect to be better than average crowd-pleasers were okay entertainments at best. One possible exception is The Accountant. Audiences seem to like it even though critics didn’t warm up to it. Its Rotten Tomatoes rating is 51% Rotten but its IMDB average rating is 7.8 so far. That being said, there was no movie released in October that was a “must see” for me. November, on the other hand, could rock.

November releases, on average, make up almost 12% of the total annual box office. Ticket sales are usually more than 40% higher than the average month. You would expect November to be a magnet for crowd-pleasing, Oscar-worthy movie releases. In fact, since 1990, 13.9% of all Best Picture nominees have been released in November, including the last three winners. Based on my own data, there is a 58% chance that I will “really like” a movie released in November. So with those kind of odds in our favor, let’s take a look at what interests me in November.

Seven of Awards Circuit’s top twenty Best Picture contenders will be released in November. I’m going with four of those seven and a “summer blockbuster” type being released in November.

Doctor Strange.    Release Date: November 4    “Really Like” Probability: 75%

Because Thanksgiving is such huge family movie weekend, you will usually find a “sure thing” franchise blockbuster released during the month of November. The box office king for the last three Novembers was the last three movies of the Hunger Games franchise. Before that it was the Harry Potter franchise. This year Marvel Studios and Disney Studios are making a big bet by launching the Doctor Strange franchise, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, in November. Entertainment Weekly has compared it to Inception and The Matrix in its “puzzle-box quality”. We already have an idea how good this movie is going to be because it had its Los Angeles premiere on Oct. 20th and premiered internationally on Oct. 25th. Early IMDB voting has it at an 8.4 rating so far and Rotten Tomatoes is at 96% Fresh based on 49 reviews. The November 4th U.S. release suggests that the producers are confident enough in this new franchise that it will be a “must see” movie by Thanksgiving.

Manchester by the Sea.  Release Date:  November 18   “Really Like” Probability: 65%

Every year The Black List surveys production companies to identify the best scripts they’ve read that haven’t been picked up for movie production. In 2014 Manchester by the Sea was near the top of that list. Two years later it is one of the leading contenders for Best Picture. Casey Affleck plays the lead character and is the current front runner for Best Actor. Can this Boston area based movie replicate the Oscar magic of last year’s Best Picture winner, Spotlight, another Boston based film released in November?

Moonlight. Wide Release Date: November 4     “Really Like” Probability: 60%

This film has come out of nowhere to become a legitimate Best Picture contender. Moonlight opened in four theaters last weekend and earned $413,174 in ticket sales. That is one of the top 25 average sales per theater opening of all time. It already has a 99% Certified Fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes and an 8.5 average rating from IMDB. It is about a young black man growing up in South Florida as he struggles with his sexual identity.

Arrival.   Wide Release Date: November 11     “Really Like” Probability: 55%

Can a movie about a linguist trying to prevent an alien invasion really be a Best Picture candidate? According to Awards Circuit, that is, in fact, the case. Amy Adams plays the linguist and is right in the middle of the discussion for a Best Actress nomination. So far, it is 100% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes based on 49 critic reviews. This movie is going after the audience that loved The Martian last year. Count me in.

Hacksaw Ridge.     Wide Release Date: November 4     “Really Like” Probability: 50%

This film, based on a true story, features Andrew Garfield as a conscientious objector who wins the Medal of Honor in World War II despite the fact that he refuses to kill. Awards Circuit currently has it ranked 14th in the Best Picture race. Very early feedback on the movie is positive. The IMDB average rating is 8.7 and Rotten Tomatoes is 94% Fresh. It is an interesting premise and should make for an entertaining movie.

This is the first month since I started forecasting the upcoming movie month that I am really excited to see all of my picks for the month. There were even three Best Picture contenders that I left off my list. Does it get any better than November and December for great movie watching?



Two Actresses Dominated the Second Decade of Oscar Like None Have Before or Since

As you journey with me through nine decades of Academy Awards, you’ll discover, like I have, that many actors and actresses experience peak periods when it comes to recognition from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for acting nominations. For example, one of my top actresses from the second decade is Jennifer Jones. At the age of 24 she landed her first role playing the lead in The Song of Bernadette, winning Best Actress at the 1944 Academy Awards. In 1945, she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. She followed that up with Best Actress nominations in 1946 and 1947. After being nominated each year in the first four years of her career, she received only one nomination over the remaining 27 years of her acting career. This is not unusual, particularly for actresses. It seems that Academy voters are not immune to the allure of the shiny penny.

Jennifer Jones had a strong four year run for movies released between 1937 and 1946, but no one before or since has had the run that Bette Davis and Greer Garson had over this ten year period.

Top Actresses of the Decade
Movies Released from 1937 to 1946
Actress Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actress Nominations Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Nominations Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Bette Davis 1937 6 1 0 0 21
Greer Garson 1939 6 1 0 0 21
Jennifer Jones 1943 3 1 1 0 13
Joan Fontaine 1937 3 1 0 0 12
Ingrid Bergman 1938 3 1 0 0 12

Six nominations in a ten year period is unique for any actor or actress. But, to have two actresses be so recognized in the same ten year period is incredible.

Greer Garson’s first nominated movie, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, was released in 1939. It was her first movie, even though she was already 35. It began a run of 6 nominations in 7 years. including a win for Mrs. Miniver in 1943. Like Jennifer Jones, Greer Garson would only receive one more nomination (1961)  in the 21 years after her peak run at the beginning of her career.

Bette Davis, on the other hand, doesn’t fit the Greer Garson/Jennifer Jones mold. She definitely had a peak period. In fact, if you include her 2 nominated performances in 1934 and 1935, Bette Davis was nominated for Best Actress 8 times in 11 years, winning twice. Unlike Garson and Jones, though, Bette Davis was in 21 movies before her first nomination and she earned 3 more nominations after her peak period. She had a knack for creating layers of complexity  in the strong women she often portrayed. The conversation for who is the best actress of all time usually comes down to Katharine Hepburn and Meryl Streep. I think you need to include Bette Davis in the conversation.

There were also Academy Award nominations for actors during this period. But unlike the actresses, there was no one or two dominant actors. Here are the results:

Top Actors of the Decade
1937 to 1946
Actor Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actor Nominations Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Nominations Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Jimmy Stewart 1937 3 1 0 0 12
Gary Cooper 1937 3 1 0 0 12
Spencer Tracy 1937 2 2 0 0 12
Charles Boyer 1937 3 0 0 0 9
Laurence Olivier 1937 3 0 0 0 9
Frederic March 1937 2 1 0 0 9
James Cagney 1937 2 1 0 0 9
Robert Donat 1937 2 1 0 0 9
Bing Crosby 1937 2 1 0 0 9

Three actors tied at the top and six actors tied for fourth. You’ll note that in my scoring system the practical effect is that I equate one win with two nominations. So, even though Spencer Tracy had one less nomination than Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper, he won both of his nominations, resulting in a three way tie.

Since nobody likes ties, I’ve devised a tie breaker so that we can have one best actor and actress of the decade. By using IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, I can come up with an average assessment of the nominated movies, for the actors who are tied, from the perspective of the audience (IMDB) and critics (Rotten Tomatoes).

Tie Breakers for Top Actors of the Decade
Avg IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for Nominated Movies
Released from 1937 to 1946
Actor IMDB Avg Rating # of Votes Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh How Fresh? # of Critics Reviews
Jimmy Stewart 8.5     408,719 96% Certified Fresh 158
Spencer Tracy 7.7       10,726 91% Fresh 33
Gary Cooper 7.6       26,527 86% Fresh 57

Jimmy Stewart is the clear cut winner for the actors. His three nominated movies (It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Philadelphia Story) are iconic and enduring classics.

Tie Breakers for Top Actresses of the Decade
Avg IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for Nominated Movies
Released from 1937 to 1946
Actress IMDB Avg Rating # of Votes Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh How Fresh? # of Critics Reviews
Bette Davis 7.8       48,092 90% Certified Fresh 88
Greer Garson 7.6       24,917 78% Fresh 55

In a closer but definitive decision, Bette Davis is the actress of the decade.

I’m planning on doing two decades a month up until this year’s Oscars. Check in next month when I’ll look at the actors and actresses of the 50’s and 60’s.


When Oscar Was Young

The 89th Academy Awards presentation for Best Actor and Best Actress will take place on February 26, 2017. Even though it will be the 89th presentation of the awards, the history of the awards actually incorporates 90 years of movie performances. The first awards presentation in 1929 included movies from both 1927 and 1928, the transition years from silent movies to the “talkies”. To contribute to the anticipation for this year’s awards, I thought it would be fun to weigh in on who was the Actor and Actress of the Decade for each 10 years of Academy Award recognized performances.

This article will look at Award winners for movies released from 1927 to 1936. Of the nine decades of movie performances I’ll be looking at over the coming months, this is the decade most of us are going to be least familiar with. It is also the decade that will have the least data to analyze. There is enough, though, to make a call on the Best Actor and Actress for the decade.

The scale I’m using to rank the nominees is a simple one. A Leading Actor or Actress Academy Award win is worth 6 points, while a nomination without a win is 3 points. A Supporting Actor or Actress win is worth 2 points, while a nomination without a win is 1 point. The points are then added up for the decade to determine a winner. Here are the results for the Actors:

Top Actors of the Decade
1927 to 1936
Actor Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actor Noms. Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Noms. Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Paul Muni 1929 4 1 0 0 15
George Arliss 1929 2 1 0 0 9
Wallace Beery 1927 2 1 0 0 9
Clark Gable 1931 2 1 0 0 9
Charles Laughton 1929 2 1 0 0 9
Fredric March 1929 2 1 0 0 9

Paul Muni is the clear cut winner with twice as many nominations as any of the other actors. Many of you are probably asking, “Who is Paul Muni?” He was clearly the dominant actor of this period. From 1934 to 1938, he was nominated for Best Actor every year except 1935. He is one of two Actors (James Dean was the other.) to be nominated for Best Actor for both his first movie, released in 1929, and his last movie, released in 1959. According to IMDB his trademark was his ability to completely transform into a role, changing both his voice and his appearance. His most well known movie from this decade is Scarface, which has an average rating on IMDB of 7.8 based on 19,849 votes.

As for the Best Actress of the decade, the results are also dominated by one actress.

Top Actresses of the Decade
1927 to 1936
Actress Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actress Noms. Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Noms. Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Norma Shearer 1927 5 1 0 0 18
Claudette Colbert 1927 2 1 0 0 9
Bette Davis 1931 2 1 0 0 9
Marie Dressler 1927 2 1 0 0 9
Katharine Hepburn 1932 2 1 0 0 9

Although she was known as “The first Lady of MGM” and “Queen Norma” to her contemporaries, Norma Shearer is not well recognized by today’s audiences. She would have been more well known today if it weren’t for the fact that Norma, a former beauty queen, was cross-eyed. You see, David O. Selznick offered here the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind. The result was a public outcry that she wasn’t right for the role primarily because she was cross-eyed. Shearer ended up turning down the role.

Before leaving this decade, I want to just mention a couple of note worthy items. The Academy didn’t recognize supporting actor and actresses until 1937. So, only the last year of this first decade would have had movies with performances recognized for Best Supporting Awards. Also, this decade introduced the public to three stars who would go on to become icons in the industry. Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis.

Oh, What To Do About Those Tarnished Old Quarters.

In one of my early articles, I wrote about the benefits of including older movies in your catalogue of movies to watch. I used the metaphor of our preference for holding onto shiny new pennies rather than tarnished old quarters. One of the things that has been bothering me is that my movie selection system hasn’t been surfacing older movie gems that I haven’t seen. Take a look at the table below based on the movie I’ve watched over the last 15 years:

Movie Release Time Frame # of Movies Seen % of Total
2007 to 2016 573 29%
1997 to 2006 606 31%
1987 to 1996 226 11%
1977 to 1986 128 6%
1967 to 1976 101 5%
1957 to 1966 122 6%
1947 to 1956 109 6%
1937 to 1946 87 4%
1920 to 1936 25 1%

60% of the movies I’ve watched in the last 15 years were released in the last 20 years. That’s probably typical. In fact, watching movies more than 20 years old 40% of the time is probably unusual. Still, there are probably quality older movies out there that I’m not seeing.

My hypothesis has been that the databases for the movie websites that produce my recommendations are smaller for older movies. This results in recommendations that are based on less credible data. In the world of probabilities, if your data isn’t credible, your probability stays closer to the average probability for randomly selected movies.

I set out to test this hypothesis against the movies I’ve watched since I began to diligently screens my movies through my movie selection system. It was around 2010 that I began putting together my database and using it to select movies. Here is a profile of those movies.

Seen after 2010
Movie Release My
Time Frame Average Rating # of Movies Seen % of Total Seen
2007 to 2016 7.2 382 55%
1997 to 2006 7.9 60 9%
1987 to 1996 7.9 101 15%
1977 to 1986 7.8 57 8%
1967 to 1976 7.9 23 3%
1957 to 1966 8.2 26 4%
1947 to 1956 8.2 20 3%
1937 to 1946 8.4 17 2%
1920 to 1936 6.9 4 1%

It seems that it’s the shiniest pennies, that I watch most often, that I’m least satisfied with. So again I have to ask, why aren’t my recommendations producing more older movies to watch?

It comes back to my original hypothesis. Netflix has the greatest influence on the movies that are recommended for me. So, I compared my ratings to Netflix’ Best Guess ratings for me and added the average number of ratings those “best guesses” were based on.

Movie Release Time Frame My Average Rating Netflix Average Best Guess Avg. # of Ratings per Movie My Rating Difference from Netflix
2007 to 2016 7.2 7.7    1,018,163 -0.5
1997 to 2006 7.9 8.0    4,067,544 -0.1
1987 to 1996 7.9 8.1    3,219,037 -0.2
1977 to 1986 7.8 7.8    2,168,369 0
1967 to 1976 7.9 7.6    1,277,919 0.3
1957 to 1966 8.2 7.9        991,961 0.3
1947 to 1956 8.2 7.8        547,577 0.4
1937 to 1946 8.4 7.8        541,873 0.6
1920 to 1936 6.9 6.1        214,569 0.8

A couple of observations on this table;

  • Netflix pretty effectively predicts my rating for movies released between 1977 to 2006. The movies from this thirty year time frame base their Netflix best guesses on more than 2,000,000 ratings per movie.
  • Netflix overestimates my ratings for movies released from 2007 to today by a half point. It may be that the people who see newer movies first are those who are most likely to rate them higher. It might take twice as many ratings before the best guess finds its equilibrium, like the best guesses for the 1987 to 2006 releases.
  • Netflix consistently underestimates my ratings for movies released prior to 1977. And, the fewer ratings the Netflix best guess is based on, the greater Netflix underestimates my rating of the movies.

What have I learned? First, to improve the quality of new movies I watch, I should wait until the number of ratings the recommendations are based on is greater. What is the right number of ratings is something I have to explore further.

The second thing I’ve learned is that my original hypothesis is probably correct. The number of ratings Netflix has available to base its recommendations on for older movies is probably too small for their recommendations to be adequately responsive to my taste for older movies. The problem is, “Oh, what to do about those tarnished old quarters” isn’t readily apparent.


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