Will I "Really Like" this Movie?

Navigating Movie Website Ratings to Select More Enjoyable Movies

Archive for the month “August, 2017”

When Art Mirrors Reality: American History X and the Events in Charlottesville

At the end of July I went through my monthly ritual of identifying movies I had watched 15 years ago and moving them onto my list of potential movies to watch now. One of these recycled movies, American History x, immediately moved to the top of my Watch List. Because it wasn’t available on any of the platforms I subscribe to, I added it to the top of my Netflix DVD queue. It was happenstance that I watched this DVD yesterday, a few days after the events in Charlottesville.

My experience has been that, when these movies come up for a second viewing fifteen years later, I have a couple of common recollections of the movie. I have a general memory of what the movie is about. I have very little memory of the details of the movie. And, most importantly, I have a distinct memory of whether I “really liked” the movie even if everything else about the movie is indistinct. If it happens that I remember “loving” a movie, I know that I am about to re-experience the highs of being a movie lover even if I can’t remember why.

I have no memory of American History X when it was first released. It was only a few years later that my exploration of IMDB surfaced this movie that was highly rated but was about a topic that repulsed me, the neo-Nazi movement in California. It took a little time but I finally overcame my reluctance and watched it in 2002, four years after it was released. I remember being surprised at how good a movie it was.

The movie is told in two stories. One story is the 24 hour period after Derek Vinyard, played by Edward Norton, is released from prison after serving three years for voluntary manslaughter of two black men who were attempting to steal his car. His prison experience leads him to rethink the path he followed and is determined to dissuade his younger brother, Danny, from following down the same path.

Danny tells the second story. At the beginning of the movie, a teacher, who is trying to get through to Danny, gives Danny an assignment to write a history about his brother, called American History X. This second story is a flashback, filmed in black and white, of Derek’s evolution from inquisitive high-schooler to neo-Nazi leader to his disillusionment with the movement.

I watched it yesterday with a heightened sense of its relevance. I listened to the rhetoric spewed by  Derek and was amazed how closely it mirrored the rhetoric we hear daily. I noted how the two main characters in the movie were well educated, just as many of the neo-Nazi marchers at Charlottesville were young college educated males. The movie portrays the recruitment of young men who have been preyed upon or feel vulnerable with the pitch that their problems are caused by “those people” rather than their own inability to cope with the lemons that life has tossed their way.

One scene in the film is particularly poignant. There is a flashback of high school aged Derek having breakfast with the father he idolized. Derek is expressing his excitement about a class he is having that is exposing him to cultural experiences of other races. His father, a fireman and otherwise decent man, shuts him down and proceeds to indoctrinate him in his racist “reality”. I immediately thought of Barack Obama’s viral tweet of the words of Nelson Mandela, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate…”

At the end of the movie, the younger brother, Danny, narrates the end of his American History X paper with the following words:

“So I guess this is where I tell you what I learned – my conclusion, right? Well, my conclusion is: Hate is baggage. Life’s too short to be pissed off all the time. It’s just not worth it. Derek says it’s always good to end a paper with a quote. He says someone else has already said it best. So if you can’t top it, steal from them and go out strong. So I picked a guy I thought you’d like. ‘We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.’ “

Danny is quoting here from Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address. We can only hope that the hardened shells of our hatred can be penetrated “by the better angels of our nature”.

What Is the Best Month for New Movie Releases? You Might Be Surprised.

Remember a few weeks ago when I mentioned that we were experiencing an unusual run of good July movies. Well…maybe it’s not so unusual.

After I made that comment, I made a mental note to myself to check and see how accurate my impressions were. I would have preferred to wait for this study until I had a large enough sample in the Objective Database I’m developing. An assessment based on say IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes ratings would probably be a lot more meaningful to you. But, that database isn’t large enough yet and my curiosity got the better of me. So, I took a peek at my own ratings and I was mildly surprised.

Based on the 2,016 movies I’ve seen in the last fifteen years, July releases had the highest percentage of “really like” movies for me. Here’s my ranking:

Really Liked Didn’t Really Like Total % “Really Like”
 All             878            610           1,488 59.0%
 Jul                96               52              148 64.9%
 Dec             147               86              233 63.1%
 Nov             107               63              170 62.9%
 May                86               57              143 60.1%
 Jan                93               68              161 57.8%
 Feb                78               58              136 57.4%
 Aug                85               69              154 55.2%
 Oct             109               91              200 54.5%
 Mar                77               66              143 53.8%
 Sep                85               74              159 53.5%
 Apr                79               69              148 53.4%
 Jun                83               99              182 45.6%

I had assumed that December and November movies would top the list with their appeal to Oscar voters and the holiday movie crowd. But, on the surface, it looks like it is the lazy summer days of July that have the highest likelihood of a “really like” trip to the Cineplex.

While the rankings by month displayed above aren’t illogical, they do suggest the need for a more objective foundation. Consider that I’ve watched 233 December releases compared to only 148 July releases. Does that suggest that I’m more susceptible to the Oscar bait of December? Or, that I’m more selective in which July movies I see? For now, let’s just say that the data is suggestive and interesting, but not definitive. Just be careful what you see at the theater between now and November.

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My rule of thumb for August releases is to avoid big budget movies and seek out a solid, small budget independent release. For those of you, like my wife, who have been waiting for The Glass Castle, the early reviews are not great. So far, it is 42% Rotten on Rotten Tomatoes. That rating, though, is based on only 24 critic reviews and so you can still hope. I just wouldn’t run out and see it right away.

The better bets are a couple of smaller movies. Wind River, which I commented on last week, went into limited release last weekend and goes into wide release this weekend. So far it has a 7.6 average rating on IMDB and is 87% Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Also, you might check out Ingrid Goes West which premiered at Sundance in January but goes into wide release this weekend. The movie’s leads, Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen, have been getting strong early reviews for their performances. Interestingly, Olsen has one of the leads in Wind River as well.

 

What IMDB Ratings Give You the Best Chance for a “Really Like” Movie?

As I was browsing the IMDB ratings for the movies released in July, I wondered how the average user of IMDB knows what is a good rating for a movie. I’m sure the more than casual visitor to IMDB would see the 8.2 rating for Baby Driver and immediately recognize that only above average movies receive ratings that high. Or, they might see the 1.5 rating for The Emoji Movie and fully understand that this is a really bad movie. But, what about the 6.8 for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets or the 7.2 for Atomic Blonde. They might have a number in their head as to what is the tipping point for a good and bad rating but that number could only be a guess. To really know, you’d have to compile a list of all the movies you’ve seen and compare their IMDB rating to how you’ve rated them. That would be crazy. Right? But, wait a minute. I’m that crazy! I’ve done that! Well, maybe not every movie I’ve ever seen. But, every movie I’ve seen in the last fifteen years.

So, given the fact that I’ve done what only a crazy man would do, what can I tell you about what is a good IMDB rating. Here’s my breakdown:

IMDB Avg. Rating # I Really Liked # I Didn’t Really Like Really Like %
> 8.2 108 43 71.5%
7.2 to 8.1 732 427 63.2%
6.2 to 7.1 303 328 48.0%
< 6.2 6 71 7.8%
> 7.2 840 470 64.1%
< 7.2 309 399 43.6%
All 1149 869 56.9%

The data suggests that IMDB ratings of 7.2 or higher give me the best chance of choosing a “really like” movie.

I mentioned a few posts ago that my new long range project is to develop a database that is totally objective, free from the biases of my movie tastes. I’m compiling data for the top 150 movies in box office receipts for the last 25 years. It’s a time-consuming project that should produce a more robust sample for analysis. One of my concerns has been that the database of movies that I’ve seen doesn’t have a representative sample of bad movies. While it’s a long way from completion, I have completed years 1992 and 1993 which are representative enough to make my point.

IMDB Avg. Rating % of All Movies in Objective Database (Years 1992 & 1993) % of All Movies in My Seen Movie Database
> 8.2 1% 7%
7.2 to 8.1 23% 57%
6.2 to 7.1 35% 31%
< 6.2 41% 4%

Over the last six or seven years in particular, I have made a concerted effort to avoid watching bad movies. You can see this in the data. If 7.2 is the “really like” benchmark, then only 24% of the top 150 movies at the box office are typically “really like” movies. On the other hand, my selective database has generated 64% “really like” movies over the past 15 years. This is a big difference.

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While no new movies broke into the Objective Top Fifteen this week, Megan Leavy, which was released around eight weeks ago, slipped into the list. This under-the-radar movie didn’t have enough critics’ reviews to be Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes until recently.

As for this weekend, The Dark Tower could be a disappointment to everyone but the most die-hard of Stephen King fans. Instead, I’m keeping an eye on Detroit. This urban drama, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, captures the chaos of Detroit in 1967. It probably will be surveyed by Cinemascore.

A third movie, that probably won’t be surveyed by Cinemascore but I’m watching nevertheless, is Wind River. Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the acclaimed movies Hell or High Water and Sicario, wrote this movie. Sheridan is a great young talent who is stepping behind the camera in his directorial debut as well.

 

 

 

 

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