I’m Taking a Sabbatical…Sort Of

The lesser known but highly awarded Hitchcock classic, Rebecca, is one of three movies on my Watch List this week that women will probably “really like” more than men will.

With Memorial Day on the horizon and summer days not far behind, I’ve decided it’s time for a sabbatical, of sorts. Merriam-Webster defines “sabbatical”  as “a break or change from the normal routine” and that is what I’m doing. I’m discontinuing my Thursday post for the summer. Between a busy summer planned and a desire to make more progress on my objective database than I have so far, I’ve decided two posts a week is too much for now. I do plan on continuing my Monday Box Office Top Ten recommendations as my schedule permits. If an idea grabs me, I may even post it. This is why I call it a “sort” of sabbatical.

I’ve got a lot of ideas but a fair test of those ideas really needs a completed objective database. That will be my focus over the summer months. One idea that I’m playing with is developing a separate objective “really like” probability for men and women. My movie watch list for this week is a first pass at the idea. Presently, women like Avengers: Infinity War as much as men do even though it is a male oriented movie. With the exception of Do the Right Thing, the remaining movies on the Watch List are movies that women will probably like more than men will . Rebecca, an Alfred Hitchcock lesser known classic with ten Oscar nominations, is the best of the bunch. The last two movies appeal to women of different ages. Amanda Knox appeals to the younger set while Still Mine is aimed at AARP female members.

One of the things you’ll notice is that there isn’t much of a gap between the male and female probabilities for each movie. This gets to the point I made earlier about needing to pick up the pace in terms of completing the database. There isn’t enough data yet to create much space between the probabilities. I’m anxious to really get this moving so that the gender differences can become a more meaningful tool. That means more time spent on data and less on writing.

On to the sabbatical. Sort of.

Flying From Blossom to Blossom to Blossom

Like Yul Brynner’s King of Siam, I’m flying from blossom to blossom to blossom this week.

In the 1956 classic The King and I, the King tries to explain to Anna the polygamous nature of men and the monogamous nature of women by use of an old Siamese saying. The saying goes: “A girl is like a blossom, with honey for just one man. A man is like a honey bee and gather all he can. To fly from blossom to blossom a honey bee must be free. But blossom must not ever fly from bee to bee to bee.” Now, that way of thinking didn’t fly with Anna nor would it find a sympathetic ear today. Despite that, today, I feel like the honey bee. But, instead of blossoms, I’m flying from topic to topic to topic.

***

Box Office Mojo reported Tuesday that April had a record month for box office revenue, topping $1 billion for the first time ever for the month of April. February similarly had a record breaking month. These are traditionally quiet months at the box office. Here’s the question. Are they quiet months because people don’t want to go to the movies during these months or is it because producers traditionally don’t release movies that people want to see during these months? Disney gambled that it was the latter and that gamble has paid off big time. Disney released Black Panther in February and Avengers: Infinity War in April and movie fans came out in record numbers. Are these movies breaking records because of the lack of competition? Maybe. But we won’t really know, will we, until other studios make the same gamble as Disney and really test whether fans are drawn to movie quality in whatever month it is released.

***

One of my favorite websites to visit this time of year is Awards Circuit Oscar Predictions. Even though it’s over eight months until the next Academy Awards presentation, this site doesn’t shy away from making an assessment of which movies are Oscar caliber. As of now, they are predicting a rematch between the two directors whose movies were both announced (one mistakenly) as the Best Picture of 2016, Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) and Damien Chazelle (LA LA Land). Jenkins is bringing James Baldwin’s novel, If Beale Street Could Talk, to the Oscar race. And, Chazelle is again teaming with Ryan Gosling to present, First Man, a biopic of Neil Armstrong, who famously took “a small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” in August of 1969. Nobody has seen these films and so their ranking of 1 and 2 on the list probably has more to do with what happened at the 2017 Oscars than anything specific about the movie. Regardless, it is fun to look ahead to the buzz-worthy movies being released later in the year.

***

I was watching a movie commentary show last week in which one of the guests brought up how different it is for today’s at home movie viewer than it was in the pre-cable TV era. Tonight, when you sit down to watch a movie, you will literally have over a thousand movies to choose from and still you will have trouble deciding what to watch. It made me think of a time, many years ago, when, as a young movie fan, I was thrilled to have a single contemporary movie shown on TV each week.

On September 23, 1961 NBC Saturday Night at the Movies premiered. At the time, it took years for a theatrical movie to be released for television viewing. The classic movie Ben-Hur, for example, took twelve years to be released for television broadcast. What was unique about Saturday Night at the Movies was that the network allocated two hours of programming (more if needed) to show the movie in its entirety. Prior to this, movies were edited to fit into one and a half hour time slots, commercials included, for local programming. It was not unusual to have 10% to 15% of the original movie cut to accommodate the time slot. Not only did Saturday Night at the Movies show the entire movie, they also committed to showing only movies released after 1950 to assure it would be a “recent” movie.

NBC Saturday Night at the Movies became a hit. It became “must see” TV. Families scheduled their evening at home around the movie. They didn’t choose the movie. The movie chose them. And, we didn’t care. It was a different time.

 

Until Saturday

For those of you who expect a post from me every Thursday like clockwork, I’ll be away for a couple of days. I will be posting on Saturday.

Those of you who return on Saturday will be rewarded with the answer to the question “Did you know that each movie has a demographic footprint?” I think you’ll find it interesting.

If January Makes You Shiver with Every Movie They Deliver, Then Stick with the Oscar Bait.

What do the movies Molly’s Game, The Post, Phantom Thread, and Hostiles have in common? For one thing, they all hope to receive Academy Award nominations when they are announced on January 23rd. Secondly, after going into limited release in December to qualify for 2017 movie awards, most of the world will finally get a chance to actually see these movies this January. Thirdly, these movies are the early front-runners for the 2018 Objective Top Twenty. Finally, they will be your very best bets for “really like” movies released in January.

What do the movies Molly’s GameThe PostPhantom Thread, and Hostiles have in common? For one thing, they all hope to receive Academy Award nominations when they are announced on January 23rd. Secondly, after going into limited release in December to qualify for 2017 movie awards, most of the world will finally get a chance to actually see these movies this January. Thirdly, these movies are the early front-runners for the 2018 Objective Top Twenty. Finally, they will be your very best bets for “really like” movies released in January.

Why do movie producers push some Oscar contenders into January and sometimes even into February? Are these movies artistically worthy but with limited audience appeal? Sometimes. That may be the case with Hostiles, for example. I’ve heard that the beginning of the movie is intensely violent which might turn off audiences, particularly women and older audiences. The overall IMDB rating is 7.1 but the male/female split is 7.2 and 5.3 respectively. The age demographics in IMDB reflect similar polarization. Voters under 30 give it a 7.6 so far while voters 30 and older give it a 6.5. Like the similarly violent The Revenant, which also went into wide release in January, it may have a better chance to find it’s audience away from the family dominated audiences of December.

Phantom Thread is another movie that might not appeal to wide audiences. This is a Paul Thomas Anderson directed film and, to say the least, he is an acquired taste, a taste that I have yet to acquire. The last time he collaborated with Daniel Day-Lewis was for the film There Will Be Blood, a movie I hated. Personal opinion aside, it has been reported that Phantom Thread may be the most mainstream movie that Paul Thomas Anderson has ever made. Early IMDB ratings are strong with an average rating of 8.8. Sometimes the selection of a release date is nothing more than superstition. There Will Be Blood opened on Jan 25, 2007, which is approximately the same weekend (Jan 19th) when Phantom Thread will open.

Molly’s Game, which I was fortunate to see already, is definitely not a January holdover because it lacks audience appeal. It’s IMDB rating is 7.6 and it is consistently strong across all demographic groups. This is an under-buzzed movie and sometimes the strategy is to roll out a movie slowly to build up the buzz.

The Post, on the other hand has all the buzz and star power it needs. With Spielberg, Streep and Hanks, along with a topical storyline, this movie screams Best Picture. So why slide this movie into January. It’s strategic. The producers hope that this will be the movie that everyone is talking about when Oscar voting is taking place. The strategy is to have the buzz be about The Post just as the buzz is winding down for other Best Picture contenders like The Shape of Water and Lady Bird.

So what about the rest of the January releases. Well, you might find a diamond in the rough but the odds are against you.

% with IMDB Rating 7+ Probability You Will “Really Like”
Prior Year Oscar Contender Jan. Wide Release 84.3% 75.39%
All Other January Wide Releases 51.3% 64.81%
Movies Released in All Other Months 72.0% 71.20%

The high IMDB ratings go to the prior year hold-overs and not the movies being released for the first time in January. The movies held over from the prior year are better, on average, than the movies produced over the remaining eleven months. The remaining January movies are significantly worse.

To avoid the January shivers on your next trip to the Cineplex, stick to the Oscar bait from last year, whenever it was released.

 

 

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.

 

There Are No Turkeys in the Objective Top Seven Movies From 1992 to 1998

Shall we call it “The Drive for Twenty Five”? If so, this installment of our journey to the Objective Top Twenty Five Movies of the last Twenty Five years begs the question which of these Cinematic Seven will survive to Twenty Five.

Shall we call it “The Drive for Twenty Five”? If so, this installment of our journey to the Objective Top Twenty Five Movies of the last Twenty Five years begs the question which of these Cinematic Seven will survive to Twenty Five. By adding 1998 to the Objective Database more discrete groupings of data are statistically viable. As future years are added the number of groupings will grow resulting in many changes to this list. From the initial Top Six list that was published just two weeks ago, only three movies remain in the Top Seven. I think we can expect this kind of volatility with each year we add. How many of these movies will be in the Top Twenty Five at the end? Fewer than we’d expect, I’m sure.

Here’s our significant seven:

7. Scent of a Woman (IMDB 8.0, Certified Fresh 88%, CinemaScore A, Major Academy Award Win)

This movie is a favorite of mine. It produced Al Pacino’s only Academy Award win after being shut out for his seven previous nominations.

6. Good Will Hunting (IMDB 8.3, Certified Fresh 97%, CinemaScore A. Major  Academy Award Win)

One of my followers wondered why his favorite movie didn’t make the list. Good Will Hunting is a good illustration of what it takes. It requires high ratings from all feedback groups, movie watchers, movie critics, opening night moviegoers, and peer movie artists.

5. The Shawshank Redemption (IMDB 9.3, Certified Fresh 91%, CinemaScore A, Major Academy Award Nomination)

Another one of the original Top Six. The Achilles Heel for this movie from an objective rating standpoint is its failure to win a major Academy Award despite three major nominations.

4. The Usual Suspects (IMDB 8.6, Certified Fresh 88%, No CinemaScore rating, Major Academy Award Win)

Because this is an objective ranking rather than subjective, Kevin Spacey movies are still considered. In the long run, I wonder how much the absence of a CinemaScore rating will hurt this movie and, if so, should it.

3. The Lion King (IMDB 8.5, Certified Fresh 83%, CinemaScore A+, Minor Academy Award Win)

A few weeks before the release of this picture, Elton John was given a private screening of the movie. He noticed the love song he wrote wasn’t in the film and successfully lobbied to have it put back in. That song, Can You Feel the Love Tonight, won Elton John an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

2. Saving Private Ryan (IMDB 8.6, Certified Fresh 92%, CinemaScore A, Major Academy Award Win)

The only movie from the just added 1998 year to make the list. It is also the only movie on the list to be the top grossing movie for the year it was released.

1. Schindler’s List (IMDB 8.9, Certified Fresh 96%, CinemaScore A+, Major Academy Award Win)

According to the Objective “Really Like” algorithm, a 76.98% “really like” probability is the highest score that can be achieved with the algorithm. So far, Schindler’s List is the only movie with that perfect score.

***

Disney animated movies rule Thanksgiving weekend. According to Box Office Mojo, Disney owns 9 of the 10 highest grossing Thanksgiving movies of all time. Coco, which opened in theaters yesterday, is this year’s entrant into their tradition of Thanksgiving dominance. Early IMDB ratings give it a 9.1 average rating to go along with its 96% Certified Fresh Rotten Tomatoes rating. This morning CinemaScore gave it an A+ rating.

Also, two more Oscar hopefuls go into limited release this weekend. Darkest Hour is the perfect bookend to Dunkirk. It follows Winston Churchill’s response to the events at Dunkirk. Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill has him on everyone’s short list for Best Actor. Also worth considering is a festival favorite, Call Me By Your Name, which was nominated this week for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Picture.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families.

Add a Year Here. Tweak a Formula There. And, the Objective Top Twenty Looks Very Different.

I was able to add 1998 to the Objective Database last weekend. The extra data allowed me to factor in Oscar wins to the algorithm. But, it was one little tweak to the Oscar performance factor that dramatically altered the Objective Top Twenty this week.

I was able to add 1998 to the Objective Database last weekend. The extra data allowed me to factor in Oscar wins to the algorithm. But, it was one little tweak to the Oscar performance factor that dramatically altered the 2017 Objective Top Twenty this week.

For the Oscar performance part of my algorithm I created five groupings of movies based on their highest Academy Award achievement. If a movie won in a major category it went in the first group. If it was nominated for a major but didn’t win, it went in the second group. If it wasn’t nominated for a major but won in a minor category, it went into the third group. If it was only nominated in a minor category but didn’t win, it went into the fourth group. Finally, if it wasn’t nominated in any Oscar category, it went into the fifth group.

In terms of what percentage of the movies in each group that had an average IMDB rating of 7 or better, here are the results:

Best Oscar Performance: %  7+ IMDB Avg. Rating
Major Win 90.3%
Major Nomination 87.7%
Minor Win 79.7%
Minor Nomination 71.7%
No Nominations 59.8%

Wins seem to matter, particularly for the minor categories. Major nominations clearly are better “really like” indicators than minor nominations. It’s the no nominations grouping that’s most revealing. If a movie doesn’t get at least one nomination, the odds of it being a “really like” movie are dramatically reduced. This led to my discovery of some faulty thinking on my part.

If movies like DunkirkLady Bird, and Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, all movies headed towards major Oscar nominations in January, are treated in my algorithm as if they failed to earn a single Oscar nomination, those movies are being unfairly penalized. It was this flaw in my system that needed fixing. Now, those movies that haven’t gone through the Oscar nominating process are designated as Not Applicable. No Oscar performance test is applied to them. Without the weight of the No Nomination designation, many of the movies that didn’t get their first release until 2017 have risen significantly in the 2017 Objective Top Twenty rankings.

***

Get ready for a Thanksgiving treat. Now that 1998 has been added to the Objective Database, we can reveal the Objective Top Seven Movies from the years 1992-1998. Adding Academy Award Wins to the mix will shake up those rankings as well. Check in next Thursday after you’ve taken your post-turkey dinner nap.

***

The wide releases this weekend are Justice LeagueThe Star, and Wonder, but it’s the limited release, Mudbound, that I’ll be watching closely . This movie, set in the post-WII rural American South, is being mentioned as a Best Picture contender. Here’s the thing though. Most people won’t see it in the movie theater since it opens simultaneously on Friday on Netflix streaming. Can a movie that is more widely viewed at home than in the theater gain Academy Award traction? Stay tuned.