Will I "Really Like" this Movie?

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Archive for the month “December, 2017”

These Were My Top “Really Love” Movies of 2017

Tis the season to make year end lists. You have probably run across dozens of top ten movie lists for 2017. Why should mine be any different? It shouldn’t be but it is. Instead of limiting myself to the small pool of 2017 releases, I add all of the other movies I’ve seen this year, regardless of the year it was released. My top ten list is from the 153 movies I’ve watched this year. Three 2017 releases are on my list, along with a late 2016 release. The remaining six are movies that I first watched over fifteen years ago but took another bite of this year.

Here we go starting at the top:

  1. Casablanca (1943). I watched this with my son on Christmas night. It is one of those rare studio movies that still connects with a younger generation. I think Roger Ebert, in his Great Movie review of the film, states it well. “Seeing the film over and over again, year after year, I find it never grows over-familiar. It plays like a favorite musical album; the more I know it, the more I like it. The black-and-white cinematography has not aged as color would. The dialogue is so spare and cynical it has not grown old-fashioned. ” I wouldn’t presume to say it better than Roger. Here’s looking at you kid.
  2. Lady Bird (2017). Saoirse Ronan communicates more with her eyes than most actors communicate with their speech. At the age of 23 she is one of the great actors of our day. Combine that acting talent with Greta Gerwig’s genuine and fresh vision of the “coming of age” story and you end up with one of the best reviewed movies in the history of Rotten Tomatoes. Like Casablanca, Lady Bird tells its story in less than one hour and forty five minutes. Both are good examples of how sometimes less is more.
  3. Beauty and the Beast (2017). Although The Last Jedi is likely to become the number one worldwide Box Office champion for 2017, as of today, that distinction goes to Beauty and the Beast. Despite that success, I didn’t find much love for the film in the year end top ten lists. For me, it is the most fun I’ve had at the movie theatre in 2017. I also believe that Emma Watson provided us with one of the most under-appreciated acting performances of the year.
  4. A Beautiful Mind (2002). This is one of my not seen in fifteen year movies. When I wait fifteen years for a movie that I’m seeing for just the second time, it feels like the first time. A Beautiful Mind was better the second time around than the first. I don’t believe that I appreciated the first time how effectively Ron Howard tells a story on the screen that takes place most of the time in the mind of John Nash.
  5. Molly’s Game (2017). This movie has been getting second tier awards buzz. In other words, not Best Picture worthy, but a contender for supporting awards. I went to see it in the theatre because Aaron Sorkin is my favorite screenwriter. This movie blew me away with how good it was. Jessica Chastain chews up Sorkin’s screenplay and provides a performance for the ages. Idris Elba is Oscar-worthy in a Supporting Role. Molly’s Game did not get a Golden Globe nomination for Best Drama. With the exception of Dunkirk, I haven’t seen the other four nominees. They will be hard pressed to be better than Molly’s Game.
  6. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002). In my opinion, this is the greatest movie trilogy of all time. Like Tolkien’s three books, you can’t separate one of the three movies from the whole. They are one long form story. Similar to the Star Wars trilogies, the second movie sets up the premise that it is always darkest before the dawn.
  7. The Deer Hunter (1979). This is a three hour movie that doesn’t feel like three hours. I watched it for the third time this year and it doesn’t lose its powerful anti-war message in the retelling. Meryl Streep is likely to earn her twenty first Oscar nomination this year. Her supporting role in The Deer Hunter produced her first nomination.
  8. Black Hawk Down (2002). Another fifteen year movie that surprised me the second time around. This is a movie about mission creep and the chaos of modern warfare. I felt like I understood this movie better the second time around. Maybe the War on Terror that has filled the intervening fifteen years has made me more attuned to what is going on in this film. For whatever reason, this movie communicates the chaos that can arise in the fog of war better now than it did fifteen years ago.
  9. Cool Hand Luke  (1967). Some actors have a charismatic presence that is bigger than the films they appear in. The movies become a “Jack Nicholson” movie or a “John Wayne” movie. Cool Hand Luke is a “Paul Newman” movie at the height of his charisma. In the first half of his career he was a star. In the second half of his career many would argue he became an actor. This is probably the fourth time I’ve seen this movie. Newman dominates the film and he never fails to communicate that he is a star.
  10. Hacksaw Ridge (2016). This is the fourth war movie on my list, if you consider Casablanca a war movie, which I do. It is the only one of the four that is about unadulterated heroism. What makes this movie unique is that it isn’t the heroism of a John Wayne war movie and its theme of righteous killing. It is the true story of a conscientious objector, Desmond Doss, who earns the Medal of Honor without firing a single shot at an enemy. It is a compelling story with an Oscar nominated performance from Andrew Garfield.

Of the 153 movies I saw in 2017, all but 11 were at least “really like” movies. These ten movies just happen to be the best. Starting next Monday we begin compiling a new list of “really love” movies.



Merry Christmas

No in depth movie analysis this week. Like many of you, I’m enjoying the holidays with family and friends, and a few movies tossed in. I will be back next week with my year end list of the top ten movies I watched in 2017. Until then here’s wishing you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas and a Happy “really like” movie New Year.


Expectations Are High For Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Coco, your three week reign at the top of the box office is over. Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens this weekend and it doesn’t take a genius to predict that it will dominate the box office over the next several weeks. Every movie in the Star Wars franchise has been the number one movie for the year at the box office except for Attack of the Clones. Last Jedi is going to be the number one movie this year. That’s the easy part. What’s a little harder is predicting whether Last Jedi will be a step up or a step back from Star Wars: The Force Awakens in terms of quality. I have an opinion but first a little history.

The original trilogy was launched in 1977. When it was first released Star Wars: A New Hope was known just as Star Wars. It didn’t have a lot of pretensions beyond that. It went on to become a cultural phenomenon, a monster hit at the box office, and a force at the Academy Awards with ten nominations and four wins. It is the only movie in the franchise to earn a major nomination (Best Picture). The rest is history.

Here are the objective “really like” probabilities  for the original trilogy:

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope 1977 76.58%
Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back 1980 76.58%
Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi 1983 74.89%

While Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back matches A New Hope’s “really like probability”, Empire Strikes Back has a slight objective edge. It has an IMDB rating of 8.8 compared to an 8.7 for A New Hope. Empire Strikes Back also is 94% Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes while A New Hope is 93% Certified Fresh. Return of the Jedi, although a notch below the first two movies, is a worthy cap to one of the great trilogies of all time.

A new trilogy that filled in the history of the beloved characters from the original trilogy seemed like a good idea. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace shows that good ideas can quickly turn into bad ideas if the execution is flawed. Phantom Menace almost killed the franchise. Phantom Menace had a worldwide box office gross of over $1 billion. The next movie in the trilogy, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, dropped to $650 million worldwide despite being a better movie than Phantom Menace. It is the only movie in the franchise to earn a Rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes. For me, the introduction of the obnoxious character Jar Jar Binks totally turned me off to the whole trilogy. The objective “really like” results for the prequel reflect the drop in quality.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 1999 69.51%
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones 2002 71.01%
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith 2005 73.74%

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith put the franchise back on the path to recovery. It got solid reviews and fan feedback and the worldwide box office recovered its mojo with over $850 million and a number one ranking.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens continues the story of the original trilogy. Many felt it was too derivative. It was too much like A New Hope. Another way of looking at it was that it returned the franchise to its roots. However you look at it, though, it was very well done. Only A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back has a higher Objective “Really Like” Probability.

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens 2015 75.26%
Star Wars: The Last Jedi 2017 75.93%
Star Wars: Episode IX 2019 ?

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is off to a good start based on early feedback from moviegoers and critics. Its objective probability is running a little ahead of The Force Awakens so far.

The second movies of the two prior trilogies both stepped up from the first movies. In each of the first movies there is early success for good over evil. In the second movies, it is the Dark Side that is ascendant. It may be that the rise of evil presents more interesting story lines than the triumph of good.

I try to avoid reviews before I see a movie and so I don’t know where the plot heads in The Last Jedi. I suspect that it will follow the Dark Side ascendant theme. This allows for more interesting plot twists and in the end will raise the movie to a step up from the original in the trilogy. At least, that is what I expect.



“Really Like” Movie Recommendations Are Even Better When You Exercise a Little Judgement

Last Saturday night my wife Pam and I watched 20th Century Woman for our weekend movie night. If you’ve been following the Objective Top Twenty, you’ll note that this movie has been on the list for most of the year. We were pretty excited to see it. In the end, though, it wasn’t the movie we expected.

20th Century Woman is a semi-autobiographical movie directed and written by Mike Mills and reminisces about his teenage years in Santa Barbara, CA, He is raised by a single mother, played by Annette Bening, with the assistance of two other women in his social circle.

It is an intriguing movie with interesting characters. I wasn’t bored by it but the movie didn’t quite connect with me. As an aside, I found it interesting that Greta Gerwig, who co-stars as one of the other female influences in the story, turned around after this movie and drew on her own teenage experience in Sacramento, CA.  Gerwig wrote and directed a similar movie, the recently released and highly acclaimed Lady Bird. While Mills made the focus of his movie about the mother, Gerwig centered her movie on Lady Bird, the teenager. Perhaps 20th Century Woman would have more effectively connected with me if it were focused on the teenager, Jamie. Punk Rock also has a prominent place in 20th Century Woman, a music genre that passed me by without hardly an acknowledgement of its existence.

I ended up rating this movie as a “like” but not a “really like” movie. The “really like” algorithm estimated that there was a 67% probability that I would “really like” 20th Century Woman. Is this a case of the movie simply representing the 33% probability that I wouldn’t “really like” it. Sure, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t warning signs that it might end up in the 33%.

Without getting into the mathematical weeds of the algorithm, let it suffice to say that the probability that I will “really like” a movie is the blend of the objective data that goes into the Objective Top Twenty and subjective data from Netflix, Movielens, and Criticker which are based on my personal taste in movies. If the data from the subjective sites is limited, my “really like” probability is weighted closely to the objective data. On the other hand, if the subjective data is plentiful, then its recommendation is very reliable and my “really like” probability is close to the subjective recommendation.

You might find this illustration helpful. The Credibility Quintile organizes the movies into five groups based on how reliable the subjective data is. Quintile 5 is very reliable data and Quintile 1 is not very reliable. The five movies listed all have close to the same probability that I will “really like” them but are in different quintiles.

Movie Credibility Quintile Objective “Really Like” Probability % Subjective “Really Like” Probability % Probability I Will “Really Like” This Movie
Men of Honor 5 63.4% 69.0% 67.2%
Far and Away 4 61.6% 69.6% 66.6%
Nebraska 3 69.1% 63.4% 66.3%
Fabulous Baker Boys, The 2 65.3% 69.9% 67.0%
20th Century Women 1 68.3% 51.2% 67.0%

While all five movies have relatively the same overall probability, they aren’t equally reliable. Men of Honor is clearly a movie that, according to the highly reliable Quintile 1 data, I will like more than the rest of the world and the algorithm reflects that. The same could be said for Far and Away. The movie Nebraska, on the other hand, seems to be a movie that I would like less than the general public. Note as a Quintile 3 movie my probability is halfway between the objective and the subjective probabilities.

It’s the last two movies that illustrate the point I want to make. The probability that I will “really like” The Fabulous Baker Boys is identical to 20th Century Woman. Both movies are in below average credibility quintiles. That is where the similarities end. When you look at the subjective probabilities for both movies, The Fabulous Baker Boys has a strong trend towards being a movie I will “really like”. Even without reliable data it might be a movie worth taking a chance on. 20th Century Woman is headed in the opposite direction towards being a movie I probably wouldn’t “really like”. I should have caught that before watching the movie. It doesn’t mean I would have given up on the movie. It just means that I should have waited another cycle or two for more data to more reliably predict whether I would “really like” it or not.

Algorithms are tools to help you analyze data. Using algorithms to make decisions requires the exercise of a little judgement.




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