The Wandering Mad Movie Mind

Last week in my post I spent some time leading you through my thought process in developing a Watch List. There were some loose threads in that article that I’ve been tugging at over the last week

Last week in my post I spent some time leading you through my thought process in developing a Watch List. There were some loose threads in that article that I’ve been tugging at over the last week.

The first thread was the high “really like” probability that my algorithm assigned to two movies, Fight Club and Amelie, that I “really” didn’t like the first time I saw them. It bothered me to the point that I took another look at my algorithm. Without boring you with the details, I had an “aha” moment and was able to reengineer my algorithm in such a way that I can now develop unique probabilities for each movie. Prior to this I was assigning the same probability to groups of movies with similar ratings. The result is a tighter range of probabilities clustered around the base probability. The base probability is defined as the probability that I would “really like” a movie randomly selected from the database. If you look at this week’s Watch List, you’ll notice that my top movie, The Untouchables, has a “really like” probability of 72.2%. In my revised algorithm that is a high probability movie. As my database gets larger, the extremes of the assigned probabilities will get wider.

One of the by-products of this change is that the rating assigned by Netflix is the most dominant driver of the final probability. This is as it should be. Netflix has by far the largest database of any I use.  Because of this it produces the most credible and reliable ratings of any of the rating websites. Which brings me back to Fight Club and Amelie. The probability for Fight Club went from 84.8% under the old formula to 50.8% under the new formula. Amelie went from 72.0% to 54.3%. On the other hand, a movie that I’m pretty confident that I will like, Hacksaw Ridge changed only slightly from 71.5% to 69.6%.

Another thread I tugged at this week was in response to a question from one of the readers of this blog.  The question was why was Beauty and the Beast earning the low “really like” probability of 36.6% when I felt that there was a high likelihood that I was going to “really like” it. The fact is that I saw the movie this past week and it turned out to be a “really like” instant classic. I rated it a 93 out of 100, which is a very high rating from me for a new movie. In my algorithm, new movies are underrated for two reasons. Because they generate so few ratings in their early months, e.g. Netflix has only 2,460 ratings for Beauty and the Beast so far, the credibility of the movie’s own data is so small that the “really like” probability is driven by the Oscar performance part of the algorithm. This is the second reason for the low rating. New movies haven’t been through the Oscar cycle yet and so their Oscar performance probability is that of a movie that didn’t earn an Oscar nomination, or 35.8%. This is why Beauty and the Beast was only at 36.6% “really like” probability on my Watch List last week.

I’ll leave you this week with a concern. As I mentioned above, Netflix is the cornerstone of my whole “really like” system. You can appreciate then my heart palpitations when it was announced a couple of weeks ago that Netflix is abandoning it’s five star rating system in April. It is replacing it with a thumbs up or down rating with a % next to it, perhaps a little like Rotten Tomatoes. While I am keeping and open mind about the change, it has the potential of destroying the best movie recommender system in the business. If it does, I will be one “mad” movie man, and that’s not “crazy” mad.

A Movie Watch List is Built by Thinking Fast and Slow

How we select the movies we watch, I believe, is generally driven by the “law of least effort”. For most of us, movie watching is a leisure activity. We do it to escape from the stress of every day life. Typically, the movies we watch are driven by what’s available to watch at the time we decide to watch. From the movies available, we decide what seems like a movie we’d like at that moment in time. We choose by “thinking fast”. Sometimes we are happy with our choice. Other times, we get half way through the movie and start wondering, optimistically, if this dreadful movie is almost over.

In early 2012 I read a book by Daniel Kahneman titled Thinking Fast and Slow. Kahneman is a psychologist who studies human decision making and, more precisely, the thinking process. He suggests that the human mind has two thinking processes. The first is the snap judgement that evolved to quickly identify threats and react to them quickly in order to survive. He calls this “thinking fast”. The second is the rational thought process that weighs alternatives and evidence before reaching a decision. This he calls “thinking slow”. In the book, Kahneman discusses what he calls the “law of least effort”. He believes that the mind will naturally gravitate to the easiest solution or action rather than to the more reliable evidence based solution. He suggests that the mind is most subject to the “law of least effort” when it is fatigued, which leads to less than satisfactory decision making more often than not.

How we select the movies we watch, I believe, is generally driven by the “law of least effort”. For most of us, movie watching is a leisure activity. Other than on social occasions, we watch movies when we are too tired to do anything else in our productive lives. Typically, the movies we watch are driven by what’s available to watch at the time we decide to watch. From the movies available, we decide what seems like a movie we’d like at that moment in time. We choose by “thinking fast”. Sometimes we are happy with our choice. Other times, we get half way through the movie and start wondering, over-optimistically I might add, if this dreadful movie will ever be over.

It doesn’t have to be that way. One tool I use is a Movie Watch List that I update each week using a “thinking slow” process.. My current watch list can be found on the side bar under Ten Movies on My Watch List This Week. Since you may read this blog entry sometime in the future, here’s the watch list I’ll be referring to today:

Ten Movies On My Watch List This Week
As Of March 22, 2017
Movie Title Release Year Where Available Probability I Will “Really Like”
Fight Club 1999 Starz 84.8%
Amélie 2002 Netflix – Streaming 72.0%
Hacksaw Ridge  2016 Netflix – DVD 71.5%
Emigrants, The 1972 Warner Archive 69.7%
Godfather: Part III, The 1990 Own DVD 68.7%
Pride and Prejudice 1940 Warner Archive 67.3%
Steel Magnolias 1989 Starz 67.1%
Paper Moon 1973 HBO 63.4%
Confirmation 2016 HBO 57.0%
Beauty and the Beast 2017 Movie Theater 36.6%

The movies that make it to this list are carefully selected based on the movies that are available in the coming week on the viewing platforms I can access. I use my algorithm to guide me towards movies with a high “really like” probability. I determine who I’m likely to watch movies with during the upcoming week. If I’m going to watch movies with others, I make sure that there are movies on the list that those others might like. And, finally, I do some “thinking fast” and identify those movies that I really want to see and those movies that, instinctively, I am reluctant to see.

The movies on my list above in green are those movies that I really want to see. The movies in turquoise are those movies I’m indifferent to but are highly recommended by the algorithm. The movies in red are movies that I’m reluctant to see.

So, you may ask, why do I have movies that I don’t want to see on my watch list? Well, it’s because I’m the Mad Movie Man. These are movies that my algorithm suggests have a high “really like” probability. In the case of Fight Club, for example, I’ve seen the movie before and was turned off by the premise. On the other hand, it is a movie that my algorithm, based on highly credible data,  indicates is the surest “really like” bet of all the movies I haven’t seen in the last 15 years. Either my memory is faulty, or my tastes have changed, or there is a flaw in my algorithm, or a flaw in the data coming from the websites I use. It may just be that it is among the movies in the 15% I won’t like. So, I put these movies on my list because I need to know why the mismatch exists. I have to admit, though, that it is hard getting these red movies off the list because I often succumb to the “law of least effort” and watch another movie I’d much rather see.

Most of our family is gathering together in the coming week and so Beauty and the Beast and Hacksaw Ridge are family movie candidates. In case my wife and I watch a movie together this week, Amélie , Pride and Prejudice, and Steel Magnolias are on the list.

The point in all this is that by having a Watch List of movies with a high “really like” probability you are better equipped to avoid the “law of least effort” trap and get more enjoyment out of your leisure time movie watching.