December Brings Oscar Joy and Holiday Family Fun at the Movies

Our family is spread all over the USA. But, during Christmas week, family is drawn to our home like a magnet to 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.

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.”

 

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

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.

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.

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.

Was October 2016 Really a Dud for New Movies? It Was and It Wasn’t Even (Horror)ible.

October traditionally kicks off of the Oscar season at the movies. In my last post I called this October a dud. Was it really? Or, did I overestimate the quality of movies that typically come out in October. Being the data geek that I am I decided to test my gut reaction to last month’s movies. I looked at the top ten October movies at the box office for the ten year period 2006 to 2015 and compared them to last month. I looked at the number of Oscar nominations. audience feedback (IMDB), and critical feedback (Rotten Tomatoes).

October traditionally kicks off of the Oscar season at the movies. In my last post I called this October a dud. Was it really? Or, did I overestimate the quality of movies that typically come out in October. Being the data geek that I am, I decided to test my gut reaction to last month’s movies. I looked at the top ten October movies at the box office for the ten year period 2006 to 2015 and compared them to last month. I looked at the number of Oscar nominations. audience feedback (IMDB), and critical feedback (Rotten Tomatoes).

The first thing I discovered that I hadn’t thought of last week was that October is not only the kick off to Oscar season, but it is also Halloween month. Twenty seven of the hundred movies in my sample were horror movies, and many of them were pretty bad horror movies.

 2006 to 2015 # of Oscar Nominations Avg. IMDB Rating Avg. Rotten Tomatoes Rating
Oct. Horror Movies 0 6.3 45% Rotten

In terms of box office, Horror movies are on average 24% of October ticket sales. This percentage would be even higher if I included Halloween themed family movies such as Frankenweenie.

So what do October movies look like if you exclude the Horror movies. Here is an average of the ten years excluding the 27 Horror movies:

 2006 to 2015 Avg. # of Oscar Nominations Avg. IMDB Rating Avg. Rotten Tomatoes Rating
All Other Oct. Movies 8 7.4 66% Fresh

For the typical October, the 7.3 movies in the top ten that aren’t Horror movies earn an average of 8 Oscar nominations. Last year there were 18 nominations  for 6 non-Horror movies. 2009 was the only year that there were no Oscar nominated movies in the October top ten. Based on the IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes results audiences and critics typically like October movies.

Which brings us back to the month just past. Here are the October 2016 box office rankings so far. Here are the qualitative results for the top ten:

# of Projected Oscar Nominations Avg. IMDB Rating Avg. Rotten Tomatoes Rating
Oct. 2016 Horror Movies 0 6.7 82% Certified Fresh
All Other Oct. 2016 Movies 0 6.7 44% Rotten

Despite the fact that there was only one Horror movie in the top ten, none of the remaining nine top ten October movies is presently expected to earn an Oscar nomination. I base this on the up to date projections provided by Awards Circuit. The only movie the critics gave a Certified Fresh score to was the Horror Movie, Ouija: Origin of Evil. The average Rotten Tomatoes Rating of 44% Rotten for non-Horror movies is worse than any of the ten years in the sample. The average IMDB rating of 6.7 ties 2008, 2009, and 2011 for the lowest ratings in the sample.

So, when I suggested that October 2016 was a dud for new movies, it was probably an understatement. October 2016 may actually be the worst October in the last eleven years. It wasn’t (horror)ible. It was horrible.

After a Disappointing October at the Theaters, Get Ready for a Terrific November.

Maybe it’s me, but I thought that the October opening of the Oscar season this year was kind of a dud. The two leading Best Picture contenders released widely in October, The Birth of a Nation and The Girl on the Train, were over-hyped. Even the movies you might expect to be better than average crowd-pleasers were okay entertainments at best. One possible exception is The Accountant. Audiences seem to like it even though critics didn’t warm up to it. Its Rotten Tomatoes rating is 51% Rotten but its IMDB average rating is 7.8 so far. That being said, there was no movie released in October that was a “must see” for me. November, on the other hand, could rock.

Maybe it’s me, but I thought that the October opening of the Oscar season this year was kind of a dud. The two leading Best Picture contenders released widely in October, The Birth of a Nation and The Girl on the Train, were over-hyped. Even the movies you might expect to be better than average crowd-pleasers were okay entertainments at best. One possible exception is The Accountant. Audiences seem to like it even though critics didn’t warm up to it. Its Rotten Tomatoes rating is 51% Rotten but its IMDB average rating is 7.8 so far. That being said, there was no movie released in October that was a “must see” for me. November, on the other hand, could rock.

November releases, on average, make up almost 12% of the total annual box office. Ticket sales are usually more than 40% higher than the average month. You would expect November to be a magnet for crowd-pleasing, Oscar-worthy movie releases. In fact, since 1990, 13.9% of all Best Picture nominees have been released in November, including the last three winners. Based on my own data, there is a 58% chance that I will “really like” a movie released in November. So with those kind of odds in our favor, let’s take a look at what interests me in November.

Seven of Awards Circuit’s top twenty Best Picture contenders will be released in November. I’m going with four of those seven and a “summer blockbuster” type being released in November.

Doctor Strange.    Release Date: November 4    “Really Like” Probability: 75%

Because Thanksgiving is such huge family movie weekend, you will usually find a “sure thing” franchise blockbuster released during the month of November. The box office king for the last three Novembers was the last three movies of the Hunger Games franchise. Before that it was the Harry Potter franchise. This year Marvel Studios and Disney Studios are making a big bet by launching the Doctor Strange franchise, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, in November. Entertainment Weekly has compared it to Inception and The Matrix in its “puzzle-box quality”. We already have an idea how good this movie is going to be because it had its Los Angeles premiere on Oct. 20th and premiered internationally on Oct. 25th. Early IMDB voting has it at an 8.4 rating so far and Rotten Tomatoes is at 96% Fresh based on 49 reviews. The November 4th U.S. release suggests that the producers are confident enough in this new franchise that it will be a “must see” movie by Thanksgiving.

Manchester by the Sea.  Release Date:  November 18   “Really Like” Probability: 65%

Every year The Black List surveys production companies to identify the best scripts they’ve read that haven’t been picked up for movie production. In 2014 Manchester by the Sea was near the top of that list. Two years later it is one of the leading contenders for Best Picture. Casey Affleck plays the lead character and is the current front runner for Best Actor. Can this Boston area based movie replicate the Oscar magic of last year’s Best Picture winner, Spotlight, another Boston based film released in November?

Moonlight. Wide Release Date: November 4     “Really Like” Probability: 60%

This film has come out of nowhere to become a legitimate Best Picture contender. Moonlight opened in four theaters last weekend and earned $413,174 in ticket sales. That is one of the top 25 average sales per theater opening of all time. It already has a 99% Certified Fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes and an 8.5 average rating from IMDB. It is about a young black man growing up in South Florida as he struggles with his sexual identity.

Arrival.   Wide Release Date: November 11     “Really Like” Probability: 55%

Can a movie about a linguist trying to prevent an alien invasion really be a Best Picture candidate? According to Awards Circuit, that is, in fact, the case. Amy Adams plays the linguist and is right in the middle of the discussion for a Best Actress nomination. So far, it is 100% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes based on 49 critic reviews. This movie is going after the audience that loved The Martian last year. Count me in.

Hacksaw Ridge.     Wide Release Date: November 4     “Really Like” Probability: 50%

This film, based on a true story, features Andrew Garfield as a conscientious objector who wins the Medal of Honor in World War II despite the fact that he refuses to kill. Awards Circuit currently has it ranked 14th in the Best Picture race. Very early feedback on the movie is positive. The IMDB average rating is 8.7 and Rotten Tomatoes is 94% Fresh. It is an interesting premise and should make for an entertaining movie.

This is the first month since I started forecasting the upcoming movie month that I am really excited to see all of my picks for the month. There were even three Best Picture contenders that I left off my list. Does it get any better than November and December for great movie watching?

 

Two Actresses Dominated the Second Decade of Oscar Like None Have Before or Since

As you journey with me through nine decades of Academy Awards, you’ll discover, like I have, that many actors and actresses experience peak periods when it comes to recognition from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for acting nominations.

As you journey with me through nine decades of Academy Awards, you’ll discover, like I have, that many actors and actresses experience peak periods when it comes to recognition from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for acting nominations. For example, one of my top actresses from the second decade is Jennifer Jones. At the age of 24 she landed her first role playing the lead in The Song of Bernadette, winning Best Actress at the 1944 Academy Awards. In 1945, she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. She followed that up with Best Actress nominations in 1946 and 1947. After being nominated each year in the first four years of her career, she received only one nomination over the remaining 27 years of her acting career. This is not unusual, particularly for actresses. It seems that Academy voters are not immune to the allure of the shiny penny.

Jennifer Jones had a strong four year run for movies released between 1937 and 1946, but no one before or since has had the run that Bette Davis and Greer Garson had over this ten year period.

Top Actresses of the Decade
Movies Released from 1937 to 1946
Actress Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actress Nominations Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Nominations Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Bette Davis 1937 6 1 0 0 21
Greer Garson 1939 6 1 0 0 21
Jennifer Jones 1943 3 1 1 0 13
Joan Fontaine 1937 3 1 0 0 12
Ingrid Bergman 1938 3 1 0 0 12

Six nominations in a ten year period is unique for any actor or actress. But, to have two actresses be so recognized in the same ten year period is incredible.

Greer Garson’s first nominated movie, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, was released in 1939. It was her first movie, even though she was already 35. It began a run of 6 nominations in 7 years. including a win for Mrs. Miniver in 1943. Like Jennifer Jones, Greer Garson would only receive one more nomination (1961)  in the 21 years after her peak run at the beginning of her career.

Bette Davis, on the other hand, doesn’t fit the Greer Garson/Jennifer Jones mold. She definitely had a peak period. In fact, if you include her 2 nominated performances in 1934 and 1935, Bette Davis was nominated for Best Actress 8 times in 11 years, winning twice. Unlike Garson and Jones, though, Bette Davis was in 21 movies before her first nomination and she earned 3 more nominations after her peak period. She had a knack for creating layers of complexity  in the strong women she often portrayed. The conversation for who is the best actress of all time usually comes down to Katharine Hepburn and Meryl Streep. I think you need to include Bette Davis in the conversation.

There were also Academy Award nominations for actors during this period. But unlike the actresses, there was no one or two dominant actors. Here are the results:

Top Actors of the Decade
1937 to 1946
Actor Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actor Nominations Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Nominations Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Jimmy Stewart 1937 3 1 0 0 12
Gary Cooper 1937 3 1 0 0 12
Spencer Tracy 1937 2 2 0 0 12
Charles Boyer 1937 3 0 0 0 9
Laurence Olivier 1937 3 0 0 0 9
Frederic March 1937 2 1 0 0 9
James Cagney 1937 2 1 0 0 9
Robert Donat 1937 2 1 0 0 9
Bing Crosby 1937 2 1 0 0 9

Three actors tied at the top and six actors tied for fourth. You’ll note that in my scoring system the practical effect is that I equate one win with two nominations. So, even though Spencer Tracy had one less nomination than Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper, he won both of his nominations, resulting in a three way tie.

Since nobody likes ties, I’ve devised a tie breaker so that we can have one best actor and actress of the decade. By using IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, I can come up with an average assessment of the nominated movies, for the actors who are tied, from the perspective of the audience (IMDB) and critics (Rotten Tomatoes).

Tie Breakers for Top Actors of the Decade
Avg IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for Nominated Movies
Released from 1937 to 1946
Actor IMDB Avg Rating # of Votes Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh How Fresh? # of Critics Reviews
Jimmy Stewart 8.5     408,719 96% Certified Fresh 158
Spencer Tracy 7.7       10,726 91% Fresh 33
Gary Cooper 7.6       26,527 86% Fresh 57

Jimmy Stewart is the clear cut winner for the actors. His three nominated movies (It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Philadelphia Story) are iconic and enduring classics.

Tie Breakers for Top Actresses of the Decade
Avg IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for Nominated Movies
Released from 1937 to 1946
Actress IMDB Avg Rating # of Votes Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh How Fresh? # of Critics Reviews
Bette Davis 7.8       48,092 90% Certified Fresh 88
Greer Garson 7.6       24,917 78% Fresh 55

In a closer but definitive decision, Bette Davis is the actress of the decade.

I’m planning on doing two decades a month up until this year’s Oscars. Check in next month when I’ll look at the actors and actresses of the 50’s and 60’s.

 

When Oscar Was Young

The 89th Academy Awards presentation for Best Actor and Best Actress will take place on February 26, 2017. Even though it will be the 89th presentation of awards, the history of the awards actually incorporates 90 years of movie performances. The first awards presentation in 1929 included movies from both 1927 and 1928. To contribute to the anticipation for this year’s awards, I thought it would be fun to weigh in on who was the Actor and Actress of the Decade for each 10 years of Academy Award recognized stars.

The 89th Academy Awards presentation for Best Actor and Best Actress will take place on February 26, 2017. Even though it will be the 89th presentation of the awards, the history of the awards actually incorporates 90 years of movie performances. The first awards presentation in 1929 included movies from both 1927 and 1928, the transition years from silent movies to the “talkies”. To contribute to the anticipation for this year’s awards, I thought it would be fun to weigh in on who was the Actor and Actress of the Decade for each 10 years of Academy Award recognized performances.

This article will look at Award winners for movies released from 1927 to 1936. Of the nine decades of movie performances I’ll be looking at over the coming months, this is the decade most of us are going to be least familiar with. It is also the decade that will have the least data to analyze. There is enough, though, to make a call on the Best Actor and Actress for the decade.

The scale I’m using to rank the nominees is a simple one. A Leading Actor or Actress Academy Award win is worth 6 points, while a nomination without a win is 3 points. A Supporting Actor or Actress win is worth 2 points, while a nomination without a win is 1 point. The points are then added up for the decade to determine a winner. Here are the results for the Actors:

Top Actors of the Decade
1927 to 1936
Actor Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actor Noms. Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Noms. Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Paul Muni 1929 4 1 0 0 15
George Arliss 1929 2 1 0 0 9
Wallace Beery 1927 2 1 0 0 9
Clark Gable 1931 2 1 0 0 9
Charles Laughton 1929 2 1 0 0 9
Fredric March 1929 2 1 0 0 9

Paul Muni is the clear cut winner with twice as many nominations as any of the other actors. Many of you are probably asking, “Who is Paul Muni?” He was clearly the dominant actor of this period. From 1934 to 1938, he was nominated for Best Actor every year except 1935. He is one of two Actors (James Dean was the other.) to be nominated for Best Actor for both his first movie, released in 1929, and his last movie, released in 1959. According to IMDB his trademark was his ability to completely transform into a role, changing both his voice and his appearance. His most well known movie from this decade is Scarface, which has an average rating on IMDB of 7.8 based on 19,849 votes.

As for the Best Actress of the decade, the results are also dominated by one actress.

Top Actresses of the Decade
1927 to 1936
Actress Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actress Noms. Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Noms. Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Norma Shearer 1927 5 1 0 0 18
Claudette Colbert 1927 2 1 0 0 9
Bette Davis 1931 2 1 0 0 9
Marie Dressler 1927 2 1 0 0 9
Katharine Hepburn 1932 2 1 0 0 9

Although she was known as “The first Lady of MGM” and “Queen Norma” to her contemporaries, Norma Shearer is not well recognized by today’s audiences. She would have been more well known today if it weren’t for the fact that Norma, a former beauty queen, was cross-eyed. You see, David O. Selznick offered here the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind. The result was a public outcry that she wasn’t right for the role primarily because she was cross-eyed. Shearer ended up turning down the role.

Before leaving this decade, I want to just mention a couple of note worthy items. The Academy didn’t recognize supporting actor and actresses until 1937. So, only the last year of this first decade would have had movies with performances recognized for Best Supporting Awards. Also, this decade introduced the public to three stars who would go on to become icons in the industry. Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis.

October Kicks Off the Oscar Season, the Time of Year When It’s Safe for Adults to Go to the Movies.

Last year two Best Picture nominated movies, The Martian and Bridge of Spies, went into wide release in October. Another nominated movie, Room, went into limited release in October to help build some buzz around the movie before releasing it to a wide audience in January. This year, according to awardscircuit.com, two October releases, The Birth of a Nation and The Girl on the Train, are top tier Best Picture contenders. October is a better than average month for the wide release of Best Picture nominees.

Last year two Best Picture nominated movies, The Martian and Bridge of Spies, went into wide release in October. Another nominated movie, Room, went into limited release in October to help build some buzz around the movie before releasing it to a wide audience in January. This year, according to awardscircuit.com, two October releases, The Birth of a Nation and The Girl on the Train, are top tier Best Picture contenders. October is a better than average month for the wide release of Best Picture nominees. In the last 25 years, 16 movies have gone into wide release in October that were nominated for Best Picture. Another 7 nominated movies went into limited release. That’s 14.6% of all Best Picture nominated movies over the last quarter century went into wide or limited release in October.

With this kind of track record you would expect that October is a great month for “really like” movies. This is not necessarily so. The “really like” probability for a movie that goes into wide release in October is 40.7%. This is better than September’s 38.3% but not much better. Part of the reason is that October is not a great box office month. Without a heavy dose of young moviegoers, October’s box office sales are about 37% less than the average monthly box office for the year. The Oscar contenders that open in October may not have the full confidence of the studios. The studios believe they are award worthy but aren’t confident enough in them to compete for box office sales with the movies slated to open around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. By opening in October, studios may believe that they are providing these movies with some time to build buzz and an audience without competing with some higher profile contenders. That being said, my five October picks below have my interest.

The Girl on the Train. Release date: October 7   “Really Like” Probability Forecast:50%

This movie has the feel of another October release from two years ago, Gone Girl. Based on a very popular book, The Girl on the Train is another thriller involving a missing person. The Director, Tate Taylor, has successfully directed the adaptation of another best seller, The Help, into a very successful movie. Can he do it again? I loved Gone Girl and I loved The Help. I’m betting that I will love The Girl on the Train as well.

The Birth of a Nation. Release date: October 7   “Really Like” Probability Forecast:45%

There is a lot of positive buzz about this movie and a lot of negative buzz about this movie’s director, Nate Parker, resulting from a 17 year old rape case. The “really like” probability has much to do with the former and not much to do with the latter, and so I will focus on the movie. At Sundance, the movie won both the Grand Jury award and Audience award. Fox Searchlight won the rights to the movie, with a record-breaking bid of $17.5 million, after a bidding war with Amazon and Netflix. The movie was shown on opening night at the Toronto Film Festival last month and received a standing ovation. This movie’s buzz is generated from people who have seen the movie. It is also the kind of historically based movie I enjoy.

The Accountant. Release date: October 14   “Really Like” Probability Forecast:40%

This movie looks like good escapist fun. How often do you see a math whiz as an action hero? This movie has an appealing cast, headed by Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick. The director, Gavin O’Connor, directed two movies I loved, Warrior and Miracle. And, the screenwriter for the movie, Bill Dubuque, also wrote the critically underrated 2014 film The Judge. I’m intrigued.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Release date: October 21   “Really Like” Probability Forecast:40%

I watched the first movie in this franchise, Jack Reacher, in 2015. While not quite a “really like” movie, I did enjoy it. So why is this movie on my prospect list? It is because Edward Zwick is directing it. Edward Zwick has directed five movies that I absolutely love, Glory, Courage Under Fire, Blood Diamond, Legends of the Fall, and The Last Samurai. I’m betting he will upgrade this second movie in the franchise to a “really like” movie.

Inferno. Release date: October 28   “Really Like” Probability Forecast:35%

Readers of this blog are aware that I am an admirer of the work of Tom Hanks and Ron Howard. This is their third collaboration involving author Dan Brown’s character, Robert Langdon. I’ve read the first two books and I am on the last 150 pages of Inferno. I’ve seen the first two movies in the series, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. They both were “like”/”really like” movies. Inferno is on this list because I can’t help myself. I’m addicted.

These five selections are typical for October, a couple of Oscar contenders and a few crowd pleasers. There’s no guarantee I’ll “really like” any of them, but I want to. October is the beginning of the season for movies targeted at adults and I want to see more of them.

While I Was Away, I Had a Thought or Two

Last Friday my wife and I moved into our new place. Not all of my time this past week was spent wandering through the maze of boxes to be unpacked and wondering which one contained our toaster. Every now and then random ideas for movie studies and articles popped into my head and I’m back to share them with you.

For example, a couple of weeks ago I saw the movie Sing Street. This is the third movie directed by John Carney that I’ve seen, Once and Begin Again being the other two, and I’ve “really liked” all three. There is an identifiable DNA to the movies that certain directors make. In Carney’s case, all three movies are about making music and the not always easy interrelationship the process has with love. There is also a certain DNA to the movies we enjoy watching. I think sites like Netflix and Movielens do a pretty good job of linking our movie watching DNA with a director’s movie DNA. In the coming weeks I plan to explore Movie DNA further.

October is just around the corner and another awards season is upon us. Already buzz about Oscar worthy movies is coming out of the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, where La La Land has been anointed a Best Picture front runner. In the spirit of the season I’ve begun a data driven study of who are the top male and female actors of each decade for which Oscars have been awarded.

As I’ve begun to look at actors who’ve been nominated for awards in the earlier years of movie history, I’ve run across a number of movies that I’ve never seen before that pique my interest. Is it possible that movie sites like Netflix aren’t as effective in collecting movie DNA for vintage movies as they are for contemporary movies? Is it possible that fewer vintage movies get recommended by Netflix because there is less data in their database for movies that predate it’s existence as a movie recommender website? Would Netflix have surfaced John Carney’s three movies for me if they were made between 1947 and 1956 rather than 2007 to 2016?

As I mentioned in my last pre-sabbatical post, I’m reducing my posts to one  post each Thursday. For me, this blog is all about sharing the results of the research ideas  I’ve involved myself in. It seemed that with two posts a week I was spending too much time writing and not enough time generating the research that you might find interesting. So that’s my plan and I’m sticking to it, at least until I need another sabbatical.

The Mad Movie Man is back and there is much to do.

The Careers of Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks Through the Eyes of IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes

Until The Post was released in 2017, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks had never appeared together in a film.

Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks have been two of the most bankable stars in Hollywood for over a quarter of a century. Both were around 28 when their first movies  were released. It is interesting to view their careers through the average ratings of the movies they were in.

First Career Phase (10  movies each)
Age Avg IMDB Rating Avg Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Academy Award Noms./Wins
Streep 28 to 35 7.2 71%   5 Noms./2 Wins
Hanks 28 to 32 6.1 61% 1 Nom/ 0 Wins

Meryl Streep hit the ground running. She was a Tony nominee on Broadway before landing her first role in the Oscar nominated movie Julia. She won an Emmy Award for the miniseries Holocaust before landing a supporting role in The Deer Hunter for which she received her first Oscar nomination. It is an incredible accomplishment that she was nominated for Academy Awards in five of her first ten movies, winning for Kramer vs. Kramer and Sophie’s Choice. In her personal life, her 3 year relationship with actor John Cazale ended with his death when Streep was 28 years. Six months later she married Don Gummer and had her first child at age 30 and her second four years later at age 34.

Tom Hanks crossed over from TV to film. While he was best known for the cross dressing role of Kip Wilson on Bosom Buddies, his real break came at age 26 when he appeared with Ron Howard on an episode of Happy Days. This appearance led Ron Howard, the Director, to cast Tom Hanks in the lead for the movie Splash, which went on to a fairly successful box office run. For the remainder of this period Hanks endured a number of flops until his critical breakthrough in Big, which earned him his first Academy Award nomination at age 32. In his personal life, Hanks went through the divorce from his first wife, with whom he had two children. The children were 9 and 4 at the time of the divorce. Hanks married his second wife, Rita Wilson, at the age of 32.

Second Career Phase (9 movies for Streep, 10 for Hanks))
Age Avg IMDB Rating Avg Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Academy Award Noms./Wins
Streep 36 to 43 6.5 66%   4 noms/0 wins
Hanks 33 to 39 7.0 67%   2 noms/2 wins

During this second phase of their careers Meryl Streep solidified her position as the premier actress of her time, while Tom Hanks made a successful transition to the “A-List” of Hollywood actors. Remarkably, Streep continued to earn Oscar Nominations for almost half of the movies she was in. Hanks gained serious actor status by transitioning to dramatic roles that resulted in Best Actor nominations and wins in consecutive years for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. In their personal lives, both experienced the births of their 3rd and 4th children.

Third Career Phase (10 movies for Streep, 11 for Hanks)
Age Avg IMDB Rating Avg Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Academy Award Noms./Wins
Streep 44 to 53 6.9 67%   4 noms/0 wins
Hanks 40 to 48 7.4 79%   2 noms/0 wins

This third phase saw an uptick in the quality of the movies each appeared in. In terms of opportunity, Hanks was at the peak of his career. To appear in 11 movies with an average Rotten Tomatoes rating of 79% Fresh suggests that he had the pick of the litter in terms of selecting movies to appear in at this time. As for Meryl Streep, she continued to select roles that earned her an Academy Award nominations for almost every other movie she appeared in.

Fourth Career Phase (12 movies each)
Age Avg IMDB Rating Avg Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Academy Award Noms./Wins
Streep 54 to 59 6.6 56%   2 noms/0 wins
Hanks 49 to 59 6.6 60%   0 noms/0 wins

This fourth phase of each actor’s career is interesting. In terms of the quality of the movies they were in, the numbers are very similar. Meryl Streep  earned two Oscar nominations during this period for The Devil Wears Prada and Doubt, but seems more intent on working rather than cherry-picking Oscar worthy roles. She averaged two movies a year during this period, far and away the most productive period of her career For Hanks, on the other, hand, this is the least productive period for movie acting, about one a year, as he became more involved in producing. He appeared to be more selective in his acting roles, with half being in Oscar nominated movies.

Fifth Career Phase (11 movies)
Age Avg IMDB Rating Avg Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Academy Award Noms./Wins
Streep 60 to 66 6.7 67%  4 noms/1 wins

Meryl Streep is seven years older than Tom Hanks and so she has completed a career phase that Tom Hanks is just entering. Compare her IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes results during this latest stage in her acting career with her second and third phases and you’ll find that they are very similar. The biggest difference is that she is acting in more movies. From age 28 to 53, Meryl Streep averaged 1.13 movies per year. From 54 to 66, she has averaged 1.77 movie per year.

Let me sum up with a couple of observations. First, if we can use average IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes ratings as indicators of the quality of roles available to Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, then the best opportunities available to Meryl Streep were from age 28 to 35 and for Tom Hanks from age 40 to 48. These results are consistent with the study I posted earlier in the year which noted that the amount of dialogue  for women in scripts peaks before age 31. Secondly, both Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks have four children. During the years that each was involved in caring for their children, Meryl Streep made fewer movies and Tom Hanks made more movies. From age 28 to 43, Meryl Streep made 1.19 movies per year. From age 28 to 39, Tom Hanks made 1.67 movies per year. I won’t draw any conclusions from these observations. I do intend, however, to do more of these side by side career comparisons in the future to see if any patterns do emerge.

Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins) and Tom Hanks (Sully) are once again appearing in movies this year that should include them in the conversation for acting awards. They are truly American treasures.