Will I "Really Like" this Movie?

Navigating Movie Website Ratings to Select More Enjoyable Movies

Archive for the category “Academy Awards”

Some Facts Are Not So Trivial

As I’ve mentioned before on these pages, I always pay a visit to the IMDB trivia link after watching a movie. Often I will find a fun but ultimately trivial fact such as the one I discovered after viewing Beauty and the Beast. According to IMDB, Emma Watson was offered the Academy Award winning role of Mia in La La Land but turned it down because she was committed to Beauty and the Beast. Coincidentally, the heretofore non-musical Ryan Gosling was offered the role of the Beast and turned it down because he was committed to that other musical, La La Land. You really can’t fault either of their decisions. Both movies have been huge successes.

On Tuesday I watched the “really like” 1935 film classic Mutiny on the Bounty.My visit to the trivia pages of this film unearthed facts that were more consequential than trivial. For example, the film was the first movie of  historically factual events with actors playing historically factual people to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. The previous eight winners were all based on fiction. Real life became a viable source for great films as the next two Best Picture winners, The Great Ziegfeld and The Life of Emile Zola, were also biographies. Interestingly, it would be another 25 years before another non-fictional film, Lawrence of Arabia, would win a Best Picture award.

Mutiny on the Bounty also has the distinction of being the only movie ever to have three actors nominated for Best Actor. Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, and Franchot Tone were all nominated for Best Actor. Everyone expected one of them to win. After splitting the votes amongst themselves, none of them won. Oscar officials vowed to never let that happen again. For the next Academy Awards in 1937, they created two new awards for Actor and Actress in a Supporting Role. Since then, in only six other instances, have two actors from the same movie been nominated for Best Actor.

Before leaving Mutiny on the Bounty, there is one more non-trivial fact to relate about the movie. The characters of Captain Bligh and First Mate Fletcher Christian grow to hate each other in the plot. To further that requisite hate in the movie, Irving Thalberg, one of the producers, purposely cast the overtly gay Charles Laughton as Bligh and the notorious homophobe Gable as Fletcher Christian. This crass manipulation of the actors’ prejudice seemed to have worked as the hate between the two men was evident on the set and clearly translated to the screen. This kind of morally corrupt behavior was not uncommon in the boardrooms of the Studio system in Hollywood at the time.

Some other older Best Picture winning films with facts, not trivial, but consequential to the film industry or the outside world include:

  • It Happened One Night, another Clark Gable classic, in 1935 became the first of only three films to win the Oscar “grand slam”. The other two were One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Silence of the Lambs. The Oscar “grand slam” is when a movie wins all five major awards, Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay.
  • Gone with the Wind, along with being the first Best Picture filmed in color,  is the longest movie, at four hours, to win Best Picture. Hattie McDaniel became the first black actor to be nominated and win an Oscar for her role in the film.
  • In Casablanca, there is a scene where the locals drown out the Nazi song “Watch on the Rhine” with their singing of the “Marseillaise”. In that scene you can see tears running down the cheeks of many of the locals. For many of these extras the tears were real since they were actual refugees from Nazi tyranny. Ironically, many of the Nazis in the scene were also German Jews who had escaped Germany.
  • To prepare for his 1946 award winning portrayal of an alcoholic in The Lost Weekend, IMDB reveals that “Ray Milland actually checked himself into Bellevue Hospital with the help of resident doctors, in order to experience the horror of a drunk ward. Milland was given an iron bed and he was locked inside the “booze tank.” That night, a new arrival came into the ward screaming, an entrance which ignited the whole ward into hysteria. With the ward falling into bedlam, a robed and barefooted Milland escaped while the door was ajar and slipped out onto 34th Street where he tried to hail a cab. When a suspicious cop spotted him, Milland tried to explain, but the cop didn’t believe him, especially after he noticed the Bellevue insignia on his robe. The actor was dragged back to Bellevue where it took him a half-hour to explain his situation to the authorities before he was finally released.”
  • In the 1947 film Gentlemen’s Agreement about anti-Semitism, according to IMDB, “The movie mentions three real people well-known for their racism and anti-Semitism at the time: Sen. Theodore Bilbo (D-Mississippi), who advocated sending all African-Americans back to Africa; Rep. John Rankin (D-Mississippi), who called columnist Walter Winchell  “the little kike” on the floor of the House of Representatives; and leader of “Share Our Wealth” and “Christian Nationalist Crusade” Gerald L. K. Smith, who tried legal means to prevent Twentieth Century-Fox from showing the movie in Tulsa. He lost the case, but then sued Fox for $1,000,000. The case was thrown out of court in 1951.”

One of the definitions of “trivia” is “an inessential fact; trifle”. Because IMDB lists facts under the Trivia link does not make them trivia. The facts presented here either promoted creative growth in the film industry or made a significant statement about society. Some facts are not so trivial.

 

 

 

Playing Tag with Movielens, Redux

Last July I wrote an article introducing my use of tags in Movielens to organize my movies. I can’t impress upon you enough how useful this tool is to someone as manic about movies as I am.

Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve shifted my focus to Oscar nominated movies. My research revealed that movies that haven’t receive a single Academy Award nomination have only a 35.8% chance of being a “really like” movie. On the other hand, even a single minor nomination increases the “really like” odds to around 55%. My algorithm now incorporates Oscar recognition.

Based on this finding, I’ve altered my tagging strategy. I created an “Oscar” tag that I attach to any movie I run across that has received even a single nomination. Many of these movies are older without enough credible data in the movie ratings websites to earn reliable recommendations. The probabilities in my algorithm for these Quintile 1 & 2 movies are driven by their Oscar performance.

Movies that pique my interest that weren’t Oscar nominated are tagged separately. Now, because these movies have no Oscar nominations, a Quintile 1 or 2 movie is going to have a “really like” probability closer to the 35% mark that reflects its “no nomination” status. It can only climb to a high enough probability to be considered for my weekly watch list if it is highly recommended by the movie websites and it falls into a high enough credibility quintile that its Oscar status doesn’t matter much.

I apply one of two tags to non-Oscar nominated movies. If they have fewer than 25 ratings in Movielens, I tag them as “might like”. Realistically, they have no chance of being highly recommended in my algorithm until the number of ratings received from Movielens raters becomes more robust.

Those non-Oscar nominated movies that have more than 25 ratings are tagged as “prospect”. Movies with the “prospect” tag that are highly rated by the websites and have enough ratings to reach higher credibility quintiles can reach a “really like” probability high enough to be considered for the watch list. For example, a quintile 5 movie like The American President can earn a 75% “really like” probability even though it was never nominated for an Academy Award.

I also have created tags for movies I don’t want to see even though they are highly rated. If I’ve already seen a movie and I don’t want to see it again, I tag it “not again”. If I’ve never seen a movie but it’s just not for me, I tag it “not interested”. Movielens also has the capability of hiding movies that you don’t want to see in any of your searches for movies. I take advantage of this feature to hide my “not again” and “not interested” tagged movies.

So, I’ve tagged all of these movies. Now what do I do with them. That will be included in next week’s topic “Building a Watch List”.

And the 2018 Academy Award for Best Picture Goes To?

We are 11 days removed from the 2017 Best Picture award debacle and already Awards Circuit has projected its first list of nominees for the 2018 Best Picture race. Obviously it is way too early make predictions like this with a high degree of accuracy. Many of the movies are still being filmed and can’t be realistically evaluated. It does, though, give us an idea of the movies that evaluators believe have Oscar pedigree.

Here is the Awards Circuit list with its current production status:

2018 Projected Academy Award Nominees for Best Picture
Movie Release Status Short Description
Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Project In Production 1950’s Drama set in London Fashion world.
Suburbicon Post-Production 1950’s Crime mystery set in small family town.
Darkest Hour Nov. 24 release Churchill biopic set in early days of WW II
The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara Pre-Production Historical Drama set in 19th century Italy
Battle of the Sexes Post-Production Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs 1973 tennis match
The Current War In Production Edison-Westinghouse scientific competition.
Mudbound Post-Production Post-WW II drama set in rural Mississippi
Downsizing Dec. 22 release Social Satire about less is more.
Marshall Oct. 13 release Biopic about a young Thurgood Marshall
The Snowman Oct. 13 release Adaptation of Jo Nesbo crime thriller.

If this first list is representative of the entire year, 2018 is going to be a year of looking back in time. Only two of the ten movies listed here take place in a contemporary setting, Downsizing and The Snowman.

I’m probably most interested in Battle of the Sexes. Emma Stone plays Billie Jean King and is projected as a Best Actress nominee by Awards Circuit. Can she go back to back years as Best Actress?

I’m least interested in the Paul Thomas Anderson movie, even if it includes a rare star turn by Daniel Day Lewis. I hated There Will Be Blood and wasn’t a big fan of Boogie Nights.

In any event, that’s my gut reaction to the Best Picture projections. Is there any data to support my gut? I’m trying out a new data point called an Anticipation Score. The website Criticker provides averages of my ratings for movies involving specific Directors, Screenwriters, and Actors. By tabulating the scores for the film makers involved in each movie I can create an Anticipation Score based on my historical rating of their work. I’m including the two lead actors for each movie. For example, Battle of the Sexes is directed by Jonathon Dayton, screen written by Simon Beaufoy, and stars Emma Stone and Steve Carell. I’ve seen two of Jonathon Dayton’s movies and given them an average rating of 65.5 out of 100. I’ve seen five movies written by Simon Beaufoy for an average of 68.6. I’ve seen seven Emma Stone movies, averaging 81.57, and eight Steve Carell movies, averaging 73. When you add all four numbers together they total an Anticipation Score of 288.67. This represents my potential enjoyment of the movie if each artist entertains me at the average level that they have in the past.

Here’s the entire list ranked by Anticipation Score:

My Anticipation Score
Director Writer Lead Actor 1 Lead Actor 2 Score
The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara S. Spielberg T. Kushner M. Rylance O. Isaac 323.39
Downsizing A. Payne J. Taylor M. Damon K. Wiig 313.14
Darkest Hour J. Wright A. McCarten G. Oldman K. Scott-Thomas 293.39
Battle of the Sexes J. Dayton S. Beaufoy E. Stone S. Carell 288.67
Suburbicon G. Clooney E. Coen M. Damon O. Isaac 283.01
The Snowman T. Alfredson H. Amini M. Fassbender R. Ferguson 216.67
The Current War A. Gomez-Rejon M. Mitnick B. Cumberbatch M. Shannon 212.13
Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Project P. T. Anderson P. T. Anderson D. D. Lewis L. Manville 159.13
Mudbound D. Rees D. Rees C. Mulligan J. Clarke 137.23
Marshall R. Hudlin J. Koskoff C. Boseman S. K. Brown 86.5

My gut reaction to Battle of the Sexes and the Paul Thomas Anderson movie are borne out in the data, although these movies are neither the best or worst of the rankings. The two movies at the bottom of the list are there because I have never seen movies directed or written by the two film makers involved. In the case of Marshall, although I’ve seen Sterling K. Brown on TV shows, I haven’t seen any movies that he has been in. As a result, the Anticipation Score for Marshall is based solely Chadwick Boseman’s movies that I’ve seen.

I think my Anticipation Score formula needs some tweaking to take into account the volume of movies seen for each artist. The fact that I’ve seen 21 Spielberg movies should be recognized in addition to the average rating I give each of his movies.

In any event, keep your eye out for these movies as we get back into Oscar season, beginning in October.

 

 

The Art of Selecting “Really Like” Movies: Oscar Provides a Helping Hand

Sunday is Oscar night!! From my perspective, the night is a little bittersweet. The movies that have been nominated offer up “really like” prospects to watch in the coming months. That’s a good thing. Oscar night, though, also signals the end of the best time of the year for new releases. Between now and November, there won’t be much more than a handful of new Oscar worthy movies released to the public. That’s a bad thing. There is only a 35.8% chance I will “really like” a movie that doesn’t earn a single Academy Award nomination. On the other hand, a single minor nomination increases the “really like” probability to 56%. If a movie wins one of the major awards (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay), the probability increases to 69.7%.

At the end of last week’s post, I expressed a desire to come up with a “really like” movie indicator that was independent of the website data driven indicators. The statistical significance of Academy Award performance would seem to provide the perfect solution. All movies released over the past 90 years have been considered for Oscar nominations. A movie released in 1936 has statistical equivalence to a movie released in 2016 in terms of Academy Award performance.

By using the Total # of Ratings Quintiles introduced last week credibility weights can be assigned to each Quintile to allocate website data driven probabilities and Oscar performance  probabilities. These ten movies, seen more than 15 years ago, illustrates how the allocation works.

My Top Ten Seen Before Movie Prospects 
Not Seen in Last 15 Years
Movie Title Total Ratings Quintile Website Driven Probability Oscar Driven Probability Net  “Really Like” Probability
Deer Hunter, The 4 97.1% 73.8% 88.5%
Color Purple, The 4 97.9% 69.3% 87.4%
Born on the Fourth of July 4 94.0% 73.8% 86.6%
Out of Africa 4 94.0% 73.8% 86.6%
My Left Foot 3 94.0% 73.8% 83.9%
Coal Miner’s Daughter 3 97.9% 69.3% 83.6%
Love Story 3 92.7% 72.4% 82.6%
Fight Club 5 94.0% 55.4% 81.9%
Tender Mercies 2 94.0% 73.8% 81.2%
Shine 3 88.2% 73.8% 81.0%

The high degree of credible website data in Quintiles 4 & 5 weights the Net Probability closer to the Website driven probability. The Quintile 3 movies are weighted 50/50 and the resulting Net Probability ends up at the midpoint between the Data Driven probability and the Oscar driven probability. The movie in Quintile 2, Tender Mercies, which has a less credible probability from the website driven result, tilts closer to the Oscar driven probability.

The concern I raised last week about the “really like” viability of older movies I’ve never seen before goes away with this change. Take a look at my revised older movie top ten now.

My Top Ten Never Seen Movie Prospects 
Never Seen Movies =  > Release Date + 6 Months
Movie Title Last Data Update Release Date Total # of Ratings “Really Like” Probability
Movie Title Total Ratings Quintile Website Driven Probability Oscar Driven Probability Net  “Really Like” Probability
Yearling, The 1 42.1% 73.8% 71.4%
More the Merrier, The 1 26.9% 73.8% 70.2%
12 Angry Men (1997) 1 42.1% 69.3% 67.2%
Lili 1 26.9% 69.3% 66.0%
Sleuth 1 42.1% 66.8% 64.9%
Of Mice and Men (1939) 1 42.1% 66.8% 64.9%
In a Better World 1 41.5% 66.8% 64.9%
Thousand Clowns, A 1 11.8% 69.3% 64.9%
Detective Story 1 11.8% 69.3% 64.9%
Body and Soul 1 11.8% 69.3% 64.9%

Strong Oscar performing movies that I’ve never seen before become viable prospects. Note that all of these movies are Quintile 1 movies. Because of their age and lack of interest from today’s movie website visitors, these movies would never achieve enough credible ratings data to become recommended movies.

There is now an ample supply of viable, Oscar-worthy, “really like” prospects to hold me over until next year’s Oscar season. Enjoy your Oscar night in La La Land.

 

The Eighth Decade of Oscar Belonged to the Remarkable Dame Judi

In 1995 two actors eased their way into the consciousness of United States moviegoers after learning their craft across the oceans in Australia and England. The actor made an impression in a box office loser, The Quick and the Dead. The actress broke down the gender barrier in the testosterone laden James Bond franchise to become the first female to play M in Goldeneye. The New Zealand born actor was 31 years old. The English actress was 61. They are my Actor and Actress of the decade from 1997 to 2006.

Dame Judi Dench is the Actress of the Decade.

Top Actresses of the Decade
1997 to 2006
Actress Lead Actress Nominations Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Nominations Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Judi Dench 4 0 2 1 15
Hilary Swank 2 2 0 0 12
Meryl Streep 3 0 1 0 10
Kate Winslet 3 0 1 0 10
Nicole Kidman 2 1 0 9
Charlize Theron 2 1 0 9

It is remarkable for a woman to become a Hollywood star in her sixties. As I pointed out in a previous post, good roles for female actors peak between ages 22 and 31. Judi Dench has turned that statistic on its head. Beginning at age 63 with Mrs. Brown to the most recent, Philomena, at age 79, Judi Dench has been nominated for an Academy Award seven times. She won Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love, a Best Picture winner. While Judi Dench may have been fairly anonymous to United States audiences until the mid-90’s, she was not anonymous across the pond in Great Britain. She was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and is one of the most decorated actors in British theater history. She is also a ten time BAFTA winner, which is the British equivalent to the Academy Awards. So, Judi Dench did not just show up in the 90’s, she was always great.

The Actor of the Decade goes to Russell Crowe, beating out Sean Penn in a tie-breaker.

Top Actors of the Decade
1997 to 2006
Actor Lead Actor Nominations Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Nominations Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Sean Penn 3 1 0 0 12
Russell Crowe 3 1 0 0 12
Jack Nicholson 2 1 0 0 9
Denzel Washington 2 1 0 0 9
Jamie Foxx 1 1 1 0 7
Tie Breakers for Top Actor of the Decade
Avg IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for Nominated Movies
Released from 1997 to 2006
Actor IMDB Avg Rating # of Votes Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh How Fresh? # of Critics Reviews
Russell Crowe 8.3    1,798,645 81% Certified Fresh 522
Sean Penn 7.9       500,465 67% Fresh 398

Russell Crowe’s only three nominations in his career so far occurred in three consecutive years from 1999 to 2001. He won for Gladiator which was released in 2000.

If you were to read critics reviews of the 2012 Best Picture nominee Les Miserables, a common criticism of the movie is that Russell Crowe, in the role of Javert, wasn’t a very good singer. The irony in that criticism is that Russell Crowe was the lead singer for a moderately successful rock band called 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, also known as TOFOG. During a US concert tour, there were nights when a ticket to see TOFOG might command as much as $500 on ebay. In 2001, Crowe and his band performed on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. If you are interested, you can download songs of TOFOG from ITunes.

The next Actors of the Decade post will be for the current decade. The last nominations to be considered were announced two days ago. The winners will be announced on February 26th. My announcement of the decade winners will be in early March. Who knows, there may be another story as remarkable as Dame Judi’s.

For 1987 to 1996, the Actress of the Decade Comes Down to a Coin Toss?

Three months ago I began a series of articles on the best actors and actresses of each of the nine decades of Oscar. I was satisfied with the approach I was taking until…this month. My scoring system works great when the results come out like the 1987 to 1996 Actor of the Decade.

Top Actors of the Decade
1987 to 1996
Actor Lead Actor Nominations Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Nominations Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Tom Hanks 3 2 0 0 15
Anthony Hopkins 3 1 0 0 12
Robin Williams 3 0 0 0 9
Daniel Day Lewis 2 1 0 0 9
Al Pacino 1 1 2 0 8

Clearly, Tom Hanks deserves that honor since he won Best Actor twice and Anthony Hopkins won only once. Both were nominated three times.

Now, let’s look at the Actresses of the decade.

Top Actresses of the Decade
1987 to 1996
Actress Lead Actress Nominations Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Nominations Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Susan Sarandon 4 1 0 0 15
Jodie Foster 3 2 0 0 15
Emma Thompson 3 1 1 0 13
Meryl Streep 4 0 0 0 12
Holly Hunter 2 1 1 0 10

It’s a tie…and it’s kind of a mess. Including Supporting Actress nominations, Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, and Emma Thompson all have one more nomination than Jodie Foster. Because Jodie Foster won twice, she passes everyone except Susan Sarandon. The two actresses tie because my scoring system values a Lead Actress win twice as much as a nomination. Previously I’ve handled ties by letting IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes results for nominated movies act as a tie breaker. In this case, it’s inconclusive.

Tie Breakers for Top Actresses of the Decade
Avg IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for Nominated Movies
Released from 1987 to 1996
Actor IMDB Avg Rating # of Votes Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh How Fresh? # of Critics Reviews
Susan Sarandon 7.3    242,422 88% Certified Fresh 191
Jodie Foster 8.5    971,401 84% Certified Fresh 125

The critics like Susan Sarandon’s movies more, but Jodie Foster rides Silence of the Lambs to a decisive IMDB nod.

In trying to decipher an advantage in these tie-breaker results, I reached a very different conclusion. They’re probably not that relevant. Critics and viewers may like a movie because of an actors performance, or they may like it for an entirely different reason. It isn’t like Oscar voting which is focused solely on the performance of a single actor. It would be better to use Golden Globe or Screen Actors Guild results as tie breakers or supplements to the scoring system.

And, is an Oscar win twice as valuable an indicator of greatness as an Oscar nomination? No, it’s even more valuable.

For Best Actress in a Leading Role
Number of Actresses Who Have:
% of Total Nominated
Been Nominated 219
Been Nominated More than Once 85 38.8%
Won 72 32.9%
Won More Than Once 13 5.9%

It is easier to be nominated twice than it is to win once. And, it has been more than five times as hard to win twice as it is to be nominated twice.

I’ve got to rework my scoring system. For now, with only two decades left to consider, we’ll keep it as it is. For Actress of this decade, it is a coin toss with a coin weighted towards Jodie Foster and her two wins.

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.

 

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.

In a Decade When Many New Stars Broke Through, Elizabeth Taylor Was the Brightest Star of Them All.

elizabeth-taylor

Elizabeth Taylor was beautiful. Because the picture above is in black and white, it doesn’t do justice to the allure of her distinctive , violet eyes. The world fell in love with her in 1944, at the age of 12, with her star turn in the Oscar nominated movie, National Velvet. Over the next dozen years, moviegoers watched her grow into a stunning beauty and a bona fide international star. The Oscar decade from 1957 to 1966 perfectly fits the peak of her acting career. In 1957, at age 25, she appeared in her first Oscar nominated role in Raintree County. Nine years later, in 1966, she appeared in her fifth nominated film of the decade, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, for which she won her second Best Leading Actress award. It also marked the last nomination she would ever receive from the Academy of Motion Pictures.

For the lead in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Elizabeth Taylor intentionally gained 30 pounds to play the past her prime Martha. The picture below is from the film. She sacrificed much of her beauty for the role.

elizabeth-taylor-2

Compare this to her picture from her first Oscar win in the 1960 film Butterfield 8.

elizabeth-taylor-3

It’s hard to believe that only six years separate the women in the two pictures.

Elizabeth Taylor was an excellent actress. But, she became a star because she was beautiful. Was this a case of the Hollywood double standard when it comes to women? Do many actresses have a shelf life that doesn’t outlast their beauty? A shelf life that doesn’t seem to apply, as much, to their male counterparts. This is a topic I’ll explore in greater depth in the future. But, for now, consider in the list below how dominant Elizabeth Taylor was in a decade filled with very strong competition. And after that she wasn’t dominant. She wasn’t even close.

Top Actresses of the Decade
1957 to 1966
Actress Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actress Nominations Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Nominations Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Elizabeth Taylor 1957 5 2 0 0 21
Deborah Kerr 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Shirley MacLaine 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Simone Signoret 1957 2 1 0 0 9
Sophia Loren 1957 2 1 0 0 9
Anne Bancroft 1957 2 1 0 0 9
Julie Andrews 1964 2 1 0 0 9

It was a decade when many actresses who were already active in the business broke through to become stars. With the exception of Deborah Kerr, all of the actresses on this list earned their first Oscar nomination within the decade. Only Julie Andrews had her movie debut within the decade. But even in her case, she had begun her career on Broadway before the decade began. It was a decade for actresses who weren’t household names, in most cases, to finally become stars.

On the Best Actor side, there was a similar story but not as pronounced.

Top Actors of the Decade
1957 to 1966
Actor Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actor Nominations Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Nominations Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Spencer Tracy 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Richard Burton 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Paul Newman 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Jack Lemmon 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Burt Lancaster 1957 2 1 0 0 9
Sidney Poitier 1957 2 1 0 0 9
Rex Harrison 1957 2 1 0 0 9

The decade produced a seven way tie for most Academy Award points. All of the actors made their film debuts prior to the decade, but only Spencer Tracy was an established star. Three of the actors (Newman, Poitier, and Harrison) were nominated for the first time during the decade. From this list of excellent actors, who is the Actor of the Decade?  You may be surprised, but the winner of the tie breakers is Jack Lemmon.

Tie Breakers for Top Actor of the Decade
Avg IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for Nominated Movies
Released from 1957 to 1966
Actor IMDB Avg Rating # of Votes Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh How Fresh? # of Critics Reviews
Jack Lemmon 8.3    299,677 95% Certified Fresh 116
Paul Newman 8.0    113,496 94% Certified Fresh 100
Spencer Tracy 8.2      72,424 90% Fresh 50
Richard Burton 8.0      79,113 87% Fresh 78
Burt Lancaster 7.8      20,515 91% Fresh 45
Rex Harrison 7.7      90,039 77% Certified Fresh 81
Sidney Poitier 7.7      16,476 90% Fresh 30

In a relatively close contest with Paul Newman and Spencer Tracy, Jack Lemmon wins on the strength of his leading roles in two movies just outside the IMDB Top 100 Movies of all time, The Apartment (105) and Some Like It Hot (116). His third nominated movie, Days of Wine and Roses is no slouch either. These movies generated more interest from today’s viewers and critics, as well.While just outside this decade, it should be noted that Lemmon also won Best Supporting Actor for his 1955 performance in Mr. Roberts. Of Newman and Tracy’s six nominated roles in the decade, only Tracy’s Judgment at Nuremberg (149) cracks the IMDB Top 250.

Next month I’ll look at the two decades between 1967 and 1986. I suspect we’ll be talking some more about some of the names on this decade’s list. Can you guess who the new stars will be?

In the Third Decade of Oscar, Marlon Brando Left All Other Actors Saying “I Coulda Been a Contender”

In the third decade of Oscar, which encompassed movies released between 1947 to 1956, Marlon Brando burst onto the Hollywood scene. Beginning with his second movie, A Streetcar Named Desire, released in 1951, Brando had a run of four consecutive years in which he was nominated for Best Actor. If you include his nomination for Sayonara , released in 1957, he had a string of 5 nominations in 7 years. He won the award for his 1954 iconic portrayal of Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront. It’s that movie that showcases Brando, at the peak of his career, in the classic scene with his brother Charley, played by Rod Steiger, where he laments that Charley should have been looking out for him with the line “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am”.

Here are the scoring results for the decade including the other “contenders”:

Top Actors of the Decade
1947 to 1956
Actor Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actor Nominations Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Nominations Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Marlon Brando 1950 4 1 0 0 15
Jose Ferrer 1950 2 1 1 0 10
Montgomery Clift 1948 3 0 0 0 9
Kirk Douglas 1947 3 0 0 0 9
William Holden 1947 2 1 0 0 9

Movie fans today may not realize how influential Brando was. In 1999, Time Magazine compiled a list of the 100 most influential people of the twentieth century. Marlon Brando was one of three actors to make the list, joining Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe. He was one of the first method actors, becoming off screen the character he needed to be on screen. While he has many detractors, he is widely regarded as the greatest actor of all time. I’ll explore this claim in a future blog. But for this period, there is little disagreement of his greatness.

There was no one actress over this ten year period who was the unquestioned actress of the decade. A group of veteran actresses divided up the awards fairly evenly.

Top Actresses of the Decade
1947 to 1956
Actress Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actress Nominations Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Nominations Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Susan Hayward 1947 4 0 0 0 12
Jane Wyman 1947 3 1 0 0 12
Katherine Hepburn 1947 3 0 0 0 9
Deborah Kerr 1947 3 0 0 0 9
Eleanor Parker 1947 3 0 0 0 9
Olivia de Havilland 1948 2 1 0 0 9
Ingrid Bergman 1948 2 1 0 0 9
Loretta Young 1947 2 1 0 0 9
Audrey Hepburn 1951 2 1 0 0 9

Three points separated nine actresses. Of the nine, only Audrey Hepburn debuted during the decade. On a list that includes both Hepburns, Olivia de Havilland, Ingrid Bergman, and Deborah Kerr, many would find it surprising to see Susan Hayward and Jane Wyman at the top of the list. I know I was.  When you look at the tie breakers for the two actresses, their nominated movies don’t generate much interest from today’s viewers and critics.

Tie Breakers for Top Actors of the Decade
Avg IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for Nominated Movies
Released from 1947 to 1956
Actor IMDB Avg Rating # of Votes Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh How Fresh? # of Critics Reviews
Jane Wyman 7.4         7,710 90% Fresh 29
Susan Hayward 7.1         3,738 No Rating 0

Susan Hayward was nominated for four Best Actress awards and not a single Rotten Tomatoes critic has been interested enough to review even one of those movies. Jane Wyman is my actress of the decade because two of her nominated movies, Johnny Belinda, her winning performance, and Magnificent Obsession, have attracted some, but not much, interest from today’s movie viewers and critics. Is this one of those periods where there just weren’t many good female roles?  Maybe. If so, it didn’t last long. Next week when I write about the 1957 to 1966 decade, one actress will dominate the decade and no other actor or actress will even be close.

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