Will I "Really Like" this Movie?

Navigating Movie Website Ratings to Select More Enjoyable Movies

Archive for the month “December, 2016”

If You’re Going to the Movies in January, Look for December’s Leftovers.

January isn’t a bad month for the movie industry. Box Office receipts for January are close to the monthly average for the last five years. The problem is that movies that are released for the first time in January don’t do very well. It is the movies that go into limited release in December to become award eligible but wait until January for wide release that do well in January. Typically they outperform the pure January releases at the box office by over 50%. January wide release movies are usually Oscar caliber movies that may be a little too artistic for broad general appeal. The movies released for the first time in January are usually movies that didn’t make the award-quality cut and are dumped in January hoping to find any audience. There is a 56% chance that I will “really like”a movie released in January that is nominated for an Academy Award for the previous year. On the other hand, a new January release has only a 47% chance that I will “really like” it.

So, if you’re looking for a January release with the best odds of being a “really like” movie look for those wide releases still receiving some Oscar buzz. Here are my five candidates:

Silence.    Wide Release Date: Jan 6       “Really Like” Probability:  55%

Awards Circuit, as of 12/28/2016, projects Silence to earn five Academy Award nominations including Best Picture. Martin Scorsese explores the topic of faith through two 17th century Catholic missionaries (Andrew Garfield & Adam Driver) in Japan. It is already 90% Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Hidden Figures.   Wide Release Date: Jan 6       “Really Like” Probability:  65%

Nominated for two Golden Globes, including Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures could be a January crowd pleaser. The true story of three brilliant black women who were instrumental in the launch of John Glenn into space in the 1960’s is set against a period of gender and racial bias. It’s the kind of underdog movie that is very watchable for most audiences.

Live by Night.   Wide Release Date: Jan 13       “Really Like” Probability: 45%

Awards Circuit lists Live by Night 20th on its Best Picture contenders. It received no Golden Globe nominations. It is borderline Oscar-worthy. I’m including it on my list this month because it’s based on a book by Dennis Lehane, one of my favorite authors. It’s not just because I like his books but it’s that his writing (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island) has translated so well to the big screen. Early reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are not favorable but I remain optimistic that audience feedback will be positive.

Patriots Day.   Wide Release Date: Jan 13       “Really Like” Probability:  50%

This is another borderline Oscar movie but with a subject matter that should draw in a broad audience. We are almost four years removed from the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing but this dramatization will refresh our memory. It has received favorable reviews so far, 80% Certified Fresh. Those closest to the events of the day have been somewhat critical of some of the liberties the movie takes but my sense is that it gets the broad strokes right.

Gold.   Wide Release Date: Jan 27       “Really Like” Probability:  45%

This movie goes into limited release today and wide release at the end of January. As a result I have very little actual data with which to recommend this movie. It has received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Song, not exactly a strong movie quality leading indicator. But the producers felt it had some Oscar potential when they released it in 2016 and the storyline is intriguing. It is an adventure crime caper involving a false gold deposit claim in Indonesia, and it stars Matthew McConaughey. Before buying a ticket for this one, I’d recommend checking back on Jan. 27th when I update my probabilities on this movie.

Well, those are my leftover December Oscar hopefuls. And, because most of us don’t get a chance to see them until January, they qualify for my January picks. Enjoy.



How Do You Know a Tarnished Penny Isn’t a Tarnished Quarter?

One of my first posts on this site was The Shiny Penny in which I espoused the virtues of older movies. I still believe that and yet here I am, almost eleven months later, wondering if my movie selection algorithm does a good enough job surfacing those “tarnished quarters”. A more accurate statement of the problem is that older movies generate less data for the movie websites I use in my algorithm which in turn creates fewer recommended movies.

Let me explain the issue by using a comparison of IMDB voting with my own ratings for each movie decade. Since I began developing my algorithm around 2010, I’m also going to use 2010 as the year that I began disciplining my movie choices to an algorithm. Also, you might recall from previous posts, that my database consists of movies I’ve watched in the last fifteen years. Each month I remove movies from the database that go beyond the fifteen years and make them available for me to watch again. One other clarification, I use the IMDB ratings for age 45+ to better match with my demographic.

To familiarize you with the format I’ll display for each decade here’s a look at the 2010’s:

Database Movies Released in the 2010’s # of Movies % of Movies Avg # of Voters Avg. IMDB Rating My Avg. Rating
Viewed After Algorithm 340 100.0%    10,369 7.3 7.3
Viewed Before Algorithm 0 0.0%

The 340 movies that I’ve seen from the 2010’s are 17.2% of all of the movies I’ve seen in the last 15 years and there are three more years in the decade to go. If the number of recommended movies were distributed evenly across all nine decades this percentage would be closer to 11%. Because the “shiny pennies” are the most available to watch, there is a tendency to watch more of the newer movies. I also believe that many of the newer movies fit the selection screen before the data matures that might not fit the screen after the data matures. The Average # of Voters column is an indicator of how mature the data is. Keep this in mind as we look at subsequent decades.

The 2000’s represent my least disciplined movie watching. 38.4% of all of the movies in the database come from this decade. The decision to watch specific movies was driven primarily by what was available rather than what was recommended.

Database Movies Released in the 2000’s # of Movies % of Movies Avg # of Voters Avg. IMDB Score Avg.My Score
Viewed After Algorithm 81 10.6%    10,763 7.2 6.8
Viewed Before Algorithm 680 89.4%    10,405 7.1 6.4

One thing to remember about movies in this decade is that only movies watched in 2000 and 2001 have dropped out of the database. As a result, only 10.6% of the movies were selected to watch with some version of the selection algorithm.

The next three decades represent the reliability peak in terms of the algorithm.

Database Movies Released in the 1990’s # of Movies % of Movies Avg # of Voters Avg. IMDB Score Avg.My Score
Viewed After Algorithm 115 46.7%    18,179 7.4 8.1
Viewed Before Algorithm 131 53.3%    11,557 7.2 7.0
Database Movies Released in the 1980’s # of Movies % of Movies Avg # of Voters Avg. IMDB Score Avg.My Score
Viewed After Algorithm 68 44.4%    14,025 7.5 7.6
Viewed Before Algorithm 85 55.6%    12,505 7.4 7.0
Database Movies Released in the 1970’s # of Movies % of Movies Avg # of Voters Avg. IMDB Score Avg.My Score
Viewed After Algorithm 38 38.0%    18,365 7.8 7.6
Viewed Before Algorithm 62 62.0%      9,846 7.5 6.5

Note that the average number of voters per movie is higher for these three decades than the movies released after 2000. Each decade there is a growing gap in the number of voters per movie that get recommended by the algorithm and those that are seen before using the algorithm. This may be indicative of the amount of data needed to produce a recommendation. You also see larger gaps in my enjoyment of the movies that use the disciplined movie selection process against those movies seen prior to the use of the algorithm. My theory is that younger movie viewers will only watch the classics and as a result they are the movies that generate sufficient data for the algorithm to be effective.

When we get to the four oldest decades in the database, it becomes clear that the number of movies with enough data to fit the algorithm is minimal.

Database Movies Released in the 1960’s # of Movies % of Movies Avg # of Voters Avg. IMDB Score Avg.My Score
Viewed After Algorithm 23 20.0%    14,597 8.0 8.3
Viewed Before Algorithm 92 80.0%      6,652 7.7 6.6
Database Movies Released in the 1950’s # of Movies % of Movies Avg # of Voters Avg. IMDB Score Avg.My Score
Viewed After Algorithm 22 18.0%    11,981 8.0 8.4
Viewed Before Algorithm 100 82.0%      5,995 7.7 5.9
Database Movies Released in the 1940’s # of Movies % of Movies Avg # of Voters Avg. IMDB Score Avg.My Score
Viewed After Algorithm 21 22.1%      8,021 8.0 7.9
Viewed Before Algorithm 74 77.9%      4,843 7.8 6.5
Database Movies Released in the Pre-1940’s # of Movies % of Movies Avg # of Voters Avg. IMDB Score Avg.My Score
Viewed After Algorithm 7 14.0%    12,169 8.0 7.5
Viewed Before Algorithm 43 86.0%      4,784 7.9 6.2

The results are even more stark. For these oldest decades of movies, today’s movie viewers and critics are drawn to the classics for these decades but probably not much else. It is clear that the selection algorithm is effective for movies with enough data. The problem is that the “really like” movies from these decades that don’t generate data don’t get recommended.

Finding tarnished quarters with a tool that requires data when data diminishes as movies age is a problem. Another observation is that the algorithm works best for the movies released from the 1970’s to the 1990’s probably because the data is mature and plentiful. Is there a value in letting the shiny pennies that look like quarters get a little tarnished before watching them?

Merry Christmas to all and may all of your movies seen this season be “really like” movies.



Meryl Streep Led a Strong Decade for Actresses But an Older Paul Newman Provided His Own Compelling Story

In the decade from 1977 to 1986, Meryl Streep made her entrance onto the Oscar stage and hasn’t left it since. Because I covered her career extensively in my article comparing her career with Tom Hanks, I thought I’d touch on an interesting pattern I’ve noticed in my analysis of the first six decades of Academy Award acting recognition.

Top Actresses of the Decade
1977 to 1986
Actress Lead Actress Nominations Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Nominations Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Meryl Streep 4 1 2 1 18
Jane Fonda 4 1 1 0 16
Sissy Spacek 4 1 0 0 15
Sally Field 2 2 0 0 12
Jessica Lange 3 0 1 1 11
Geraldine Page 2 1 1 0 10

From 1977 to 1986, six different actresses earned at least ten Academy Award points. The only other decade that had as many actresses with ten points or more was  from 1937 to 1946, which also had six. No decade has had more than three actors with at least ten points in the same decade. In fact, of the 41 actors I’ve listed in my Actors of the Decade lists, only 10 have more than ten points in any single decade, 24.4% of the total. Of the 40 actresses listed, 19 had more than ten points in a decade, 47.5% of the total. This means that acting awards for actresses were more concentrated in fewer actresses. Why? Is it because there were fewer good actresses in the acting pool for moviemakers to choose from? Or, is it the more likely option, there were fewer good roles for actresses and they went to the most bankable actresses? In early 2017, I plan on studying this question further.

Let’s turn to the Actors of the Decade.

Top Actors of the Decade
1977 to 1986
Actor Lead Actor Nominations Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Nominations Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Paul Newman 3 1 0 0 12
Robert Duvall 2 1 1 0 10
Jack Lemmon 3 0 0 0 9
Dustin Hoffman 2 1 0 0 9
Jon Voight 2 1 0 0 9
Robert DeNiro 2 1 0 0 9
William Hurt 2 1 0 0 9

From 1958’s Cat on a  Hot Tin Roof to 1967’s Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman and his trademark bright blue eyes earned four Academy Award acting nominations. After so much early success, Oscar recognition eluded him for the next fifteen years. Tragedy intervened in 1978 when Newman’s only son, Scott, died of a drug overdose. Before 1978, Paul Newman averaged almost two movies a year. He wasn’t neglectful of his children over this time but he wasn’t always there for them either. He blamed himself for Scott’s death and it produced a cathartic change in him, both personally and professionally. Personally, he reoriented his life and dedicated much of his time to philanthropic ventures such as his Newman’s Own brand which raised more than $100 million dollars for charity. He also established his Hole in the Wall Camps for terminally ill children. Professionally, Newman turned away from the matinee idol roles that launched his career and took on portrayals of more human, more damaged, characters. In fact, the three nominated roles from 1977 to 1986, Absence of Malice, The Verdict, and The Color of Money, all involve characters seeking redemption, an emotion he could readily relate to from his personal life. Newman went on to earn a total of five nominations after the age of 56.

Streep beginning and Newman re-beginning their careers are the stories of the decade.

Everybody Knows Jack…but How Many of You Remember Glenda

In the fifth decade of Oscar, one actor and one actress dominated the decade. It was the breakthrough decade for both of them. The actor would use this decade to build a career that would eventually see him become the most nominated male actor in Academy Award history. The actress, after her stunning early success, would eventually retire from acting and pursue a second career that would take her to the doorstep of Prime Minister of England.

So, everybody knows Jack Nicholson, no matter what your age. In fact, Nicholson is one of two actors, Michael Caine is the other, to earn Academy Award acting nominations in each of five decades. After years of struggling to break through as an actor, Nicholson used the anti-establishment mood in the United States during the period from 1967 to 1976 to become the “anti-hero” actor of the decade. In 1969, he took a small part in a movie with a budget of $400,000. That movie, Easy Rider, became a blockbuster with a $40 million take at the box office. Nicholson used his role in Easy Rider as a hard drinking lawyer to kick start his career and earn his first Oscar nomination as a Supporting Actor. He consolidated his breakthrough in 1970 with his iconic Lead Actor nominated role in Five Easy Pieces. Three more Lead Actor nominations followed in 1973 through 1975, including his first win in 1975 for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Here are the results for the decade including those other actors and actresses who made their mark:

Top Actors of the Decade
1967 to 1976
Actor Lead Actor Nominations Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Nominations Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Jack Nicholson 4 1 1 0 16
Al Pacino 3 0 1 0 10
Peter O’Toole 3 0 0 0 9
Dustin Hoffman 3 0 0 0 9
Marlon Brando 2 1 0 0 9
George C. Scott 2 1 0 0 9
Peter Finch 2 1 0 0 9
Top Actresses of the Decade
1967 to 1976
Actress Lead Actress Nominations Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Nominations Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Glenda Jackson 4 2 0 0 18
Faye Dunaway 3 1 0 0 12
Katherine Hepburn 2 2 0 0 12
Maggie Smith 2 1 0 0 9
Barbra Streisand 2 1 0 0 9
Jane Fonda 2 1 0 0 9
Liza Minnelli 2 1 0 0 9

I’d be willing to bet that very few of today’s younger moviegoers have ever heard of British actress, Glenda Jackson, let alone seen one of her movies. She wasn’t attracted to roles with guaranteed commercial success, preferring roles that challenged her as an actress. You may be surprised that between 1967 and 1976, Glenda Jackson was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning two, was also nominated for two Golden Globes for movies that she wasn’t Oscar nominated, and won a Primetime Emmy Award for her portrayal of Elizabeth I in the BBC series Elizabeth R. While she was never again nominated for an Academy Award, she did go on to earn three more Golden Globe nominations in 1978, 1981, and 1984. Despite her success, she was frustrated by the lack of good mid-life roles for women. She said, “An actor can do “Hamlet” right through to “Lear”, men of every age and every step of spiritual development. Where’s the equivalent for women? I don’t fancy hanging around to play Nurse in “Romeo and Juliet”. Life’s too short.”  In 1992, Glenda Jackson retired from acting to stand for election to the House of Commons as a member of the Labour Party. As a member of Parliament she rose to become a junior minister in the government of Tony Blair. She eventually became disillusioned with Blair and in 2005 threatened to run against him if he didn’t step down within a reasonable period. She was one of twelve Labour MP’s to rebel against their leader and call for an inquiry into the Iraq War. In 2014 Glenda Jackson retired from Parliament. Now, at the age of 80, she has resumed her acting career and is back on the British stage where it all began.

Everybody does know Jack, but everybody should know Glenda as well.


December Brings Oscar Joy and Holiday Family Fun at the Movies

Our family is spread all over the USA. But, during Christmas week, our family is drawn  home like a magnet to reconnect, laugh, and cherish each other’s company. One of our traditional Christmas activities is a trip to the local movieplex for our Christmas family movie. We aren’t unique. This is a scene that plays out amongst families all over the globe. The challenge is to select a movie that everyone in the family will enjoy. Movie producers understand this and will generally release a high quality, hyper promoted escapist flick right around Christmas. Last year it was Star Wars: the Force Awakens, which was our family’s choice in 2015. Producers will also release Oscar bait that is accessible to a broad spectrum of movie tastes. For example, Titanic, the 1997 box office champion and Academy Award winner, was released on December 19th.

Here are my candidates for December visits to the movie theater. If your family, like ours, doesn’t include children, all five of these might make your list for family movie night options.

Jackie      Release Date: December 2             “Really Like” Probability: 55%

John F. Kennedy had an average approval rating of 70.1% during his Presidency, the highest post-World War II Presidential approval rating in history. When he was assassinated on November 22, 1963, the nation mourned the death, not only of their youthful President, but also of their innocence as a nation. It was the death of Camelot. This movie allows us to mourn again through the eyes of John Kennedy’s wife Jackie. The movie is on most Best Picture lists and Natalie Portman is considered a front-runner for Best Actress for her portrayal of the title character.

La La Land     Release Date: December 16             “Really Like” Probability: 70%

This is the movie I can’t wait to see. It has a good chance of being our Christmas family movie this year. It is listed on AwardCircuit as the number one Best Picture contender. It is a musical romance starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Wait, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling can sing? Yes they can. Emma Stone got her first TV role in 2004 as Laurie Partridge in MTV’s show In Search of the Partridge Family. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Partridge Family, they were a fictional family musical group from a 1970’s TV show called The Partridge Family that actually produced a hit single. Ryan Gosling got his break in 1993 when he won an audition to be on the The New Mickey Mouse Club. During the two years he was on the show he lived with Justin Timberlake and his family.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story    Release Date: December 16     “Really Like” Probability: 65%

This will be the box office winner in December. When tickets became available for pre-sale this past Monday, the movie ticket purchasing website, Fandango, crashed because of demand for tickets. This is the movie that will be on almost everyone’s family movie night list and, yes, it will be on our family’s list as well. It is the story of how the plans to the Death Star that play such a prominent role in the original Star Wars, made their way into the hands of the rebels. It is a stand-alone movie. There will be no sequel, according to Lucasfilm President, Kathleen Kennedy. And, yes, Darth Vader does make an appearance.

Passengers      Release Date: December 21           “Really Like” Probability: 60%

It’s always tricky to recommend a movie that no one, not even critics, has seen. I’m looking forward to this movie because I’m a fan of both Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. It is their first movie together and I’m curious whether these two attractive young stars will have chemistry or not. I’m a fan of good Sci Fi and the premise is intriguing; two space traveling passengers, who are part of a crew of thousands, wake up 90 years early. Both the director and the screenwriter have limited resumes but have created some interesting movies including The Imitation Game ( Director Morten Tyldum) and the recently released Doctor Strange (Screenwriter Jon Spaihts). The producers are opening this movie just before Christmas, which suggests that they believe this is a movie that people will want to see. I hope they are right because I’m one of them.

Fences        Release Date: December 25           “Really Like” Probability: 60%

The revival of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1983 play Fences opened on Broadway April 26, 2010. It was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning three, Best Revival and, Best Actor and Actress for Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. On Christmas Day, this play, with most of its Broadway cast intact makes the leap to the big screen. I expect that when Academy Awards nominations are announced in January, this movie will have its name called often. Awards Circuit  has it ranked second on its Best Picture list and predicts an additional seven nominations.It is a movie about race relations in the 1950’s told through the experience of a black family living in Pittsburgh. In addition to playing the lead, Denzel Washington will be behind the camera as well as Director. The buzz is that he will be a double nominee for both roles. This is the type of socially significant movie that Oscar voters love. I think I’ll love it as well.

As a familiar Christmas carol sings out, “It’s the most wonderful (movie) time of the year.”


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