Best of the Best Pictures: Part 2

How does The Shape of Water measure up, objectively, to other Best Picture winners of The Modern Age?

Last Sunday night The Shape of Water became the 90th recipient of the Academy Award for Best Picture. How does it measure up, objectively, to other Best Picture winners? As of today…not very well.

As with last week’s post, I’ve organized the movies into the same time frames Entertainment Weekly used in their Oscar special edition. This puts The Shape of Water into what EW calls The Modern Age which encompasses the years 1987 to the present. The movies are ranked based on the probability that the average IMDB voter will give the movie a rating of 7 or higher. There is a tie breaker system in place.

Top Objective Best Picture Winners
The Modern Age (1987 – 2018)
Movie (Award Year) Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Cinema Score Metacritic Objective “Really Like” Probability
Forrest Gump (1994) 72% A+ 82% 76.63%
Argo (2012) 96% A+ 86% 76.38%
Million Dollar Baby (2004) 90% A 86% 76.38%
Rain Man (1988) 89% A 65% 76.38%
Silence of the Lambs, The (1991) 95% A- 85% 76.21%
Departed, The (2006) 90% A- 85% 76.21%
American Beauty (1999) 88% B+ 86% 76.21%
Braveheart (1995)  77% A- 68% 76.21%
Schindler’s List (1993) 97% A+ 93% 76.04%
Lord of the Rings, The: The Return of the King (2003)  93% A+ 94% 76.04%
Titanic (1997) 88% A+ 75% 76.04%
Gladiator (2000) 76% A 67% 76.04%
12 Years a Slave (2013) 96% NR 96% 75.77%
Spotlight (2015) 97% NR 93% 75.77%
Hurt Locker, The (2009) 97% NR 94% 75.77%
No Country for Old Men  (2007) 93% NR 91% 75.77%
King’s Speech, The (2010) 95% NR 88% 75.77%
Birdman (2014) 92% NR 88% 75.77%
Slumdog Millionaire (2008) 91% NR 86% 75.77%
Unforgiven (1992) 96% B+ 85% 75.74%
Beautiful Mind, A (2001) 75% A- 72% 75.74%
Crash (2005) 74% A- 69% 75.74%
Chicago (2002) 85% A- 82% 74.90%
Driving Miss Daisy (1989) 81% A+ 81% 74.59%
Moonlight (2016) 98% NR 99% 74.58%
Artist, The (2011) 95% NR 89% 74.58%
Last Emperor, The (1987) 92% A- 76% 73.67%
Shakespeare in Love (1998) 92% A 87% 73.64%
Dances with Wolves (1990) 82% A+ 72% 73.64%
English Patient, The (1996) 84% A- 87% 72.89%
Shape of Water , The (2017) 92% NR 87% 70.45%

Is The Shape of Water really the least likable Best Picture winner of the last 32 years? While it could be, in the long run it probably won’t be.

One of the objective criteria I use is the total number of IMDB votes. If a movie is likable, it will continue to be sought out for viewing long after it has left the theaters. The Shape of Water is just beginning this process of attracting new viewers. Where “word of mouth” goes in the years to come for this movie is unknown. I’m pretty confident though that it will get enough new IMDB voters to pull it past the four movies ahead of it.

An adjustment to another one of the criteria could also improve the position of The Shape of Water. From 1986 to 2008, CinemaScore generated and published a score for every single Best Picture winner. From 2009 through 2017, the movie Argo in 2012 is the only Best Picture winner to have a posted score on the CinemaScore website. Not having a score disadvantages a movie in the rankings. I don’t know whether this trend is due to a change in CinemaScore’s methodology or whether the industry has amped up the practice of using limited releases to build momentum for a movie. Whatever the reason, it is a flaw I need to correct.

Finally, a movie that wins Best Picture, like Argo and Crash, with 6 total nominations is on equal footing with a movie like The Shape of Water that has 13 total nominations. To determine whether the additional nominations increase the “really like” probability will take a more robust database than I have right now. If it does improve the odds, this is another opportunity for The Shape of Water to move up in the rankings.

All of this being said, The Shape of Water has a long way to go before it earns a place among the classic “really like” movies.

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Because I had too much to say about The Modern Age, I’m holding off on publishing the rankings from 1967 to 1986 until next week.

Unfocused Does Not Mean an Absence of Ideas.

I’ve been very unfocused this week. Perhaps it’s the jetlag from my return trip from the West Coast. Perhaps it’s because my granddaughter not only shared her love but also her cold (believe me, the love is worth the cold). Perhaps it’s the Springtime in February weather we’ve been experiencing on the East Coast this week. For whatever reason, I’ve been unable to focus on a single theme for this week’s “really like” post. But, that’s okay. I can make unfocused, half-baked ideas about “really like” movies work.

I’ve been very unfocused this week. Perhaps it’s the jetlag from my return trip from the West Coast. Perhaps it’s because my granddaughter not only shared her love but also her cold (believe me, the love is worth the cold). Perhaps it’s the Springtime in February weather we’ve been experiencing on the East Coast this week. For whatever reason, I’ve been unable to focus on a single theme for this week’s “really like” post. But, that’s okay. I can make unfocused, half-baked ideas about “really like” movies work.

I was going to write something insightful about Black Panther only to discover that the airwaves and the internet have been saturated with stories about this cultural phenomenon. Anything I might have to say would get lost in the wave of Black Panther mania. I’d guess that this isn’t the last time that the hype machine will take over our cultural conversation. Some of it will be deserved. It might even be deserved for Black Panther. Its cultural significance is unquestioned. Its greatness as a movie has to meet the test of time. As I did last year for Dunkirk, by throwing down a “great” movie benchmark (Saving Private Ryan) for comparison, we can benchmark Black Panther’s greatness over time. An appropriate benchmark for Black Panther is the gold standard of Comic Book inspired movies, The Dark Knight. That gold standard includes an IMDB average rating of 9.0, a 94% Certified Fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes, an 82 Metascore Rating, an “A” from Cinemascore, and 8 Academy Award nominations including 2 wins. So far Black Panther is exceeding the standard based on scores from Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and CinemaScore and lagging pretty significantly the IMDB standard. We’ll need to wait until next year’s awards season to see how much Oscar love there is for Black Panther. Today, Black Panther is a well established “really like” movie. I’m looking forward to seeing it. Let’s give it a little time to see how it measures up to the established greats like the Dark Knight series.

I also thought about posting an Academy Award related theme but decided to hold off a week on that one. I am doing an special Oscar study for next week (That’s a tease folks!). But my unfocused mind has been thinking about this year’s Oscar awards. Last week I watched two Oscar nominated movies, The Shape of Water and Mudbound. I “really liked” Shape of Water but I didn’t love it. I think for this movie to work you need to care about the creature. Don’t get me wrong I cared that the creature was being treated inhumanely. I just didn’t find out enough about the creature to care about him as an individual. On the other hand, I really cared about Elisa (Sally Hawkins) which is why I liked the movie. But, to really care about a movie relationship I think you need to care about both people in the relationship. Thus, my ambivalence about the movie.

Mudbound, on the other hand, was a revelation. I loved it. With as many movies that have been made about American race relations, it is difficult to find a story that is fresh. Mudbound is fresh and well told. I have not seen this story on the screen before. After seeing Mudbound, I began to think about how underrepresented it is in the Academy Award nominations. Is it because it is a Netflix movie? The Netflix model is to release movies in theaters overseas and on its streaming platform in the United States. Does Hollywood penalize movies owned by Netflix because of this model? I’m just wondering.

Finally, I was thinking about the movie wasteland that exists between now and the beginning of blockbuster season in May. It is not historically a good time for new “really like” movies to get released. Some ” really like” movies do, though, and I make it my personal mission to pan for that nugget of movie gold worth watching. This weekend I have my eye on two new releases, Annihilation and Game Night. Early Rotten Tomatoes reviews are promising for both. Stay tuned.

So, as you can see, I was a little unfocused this week. Just don’t mistake that for an absence of ideas.

 

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.

 

 

What Does the Best Picture Oscar Race Look Like Today.

This time of year I follow AwardsCircuit.com to follow the latest thinking in the Oscar race. AwardsCircuit updated their projected nominees this past Monday and with nine weekends left in the year eight of the ten Best Picture projections have not gone into wide release yet. Does this mean that the best is yet to come? It could. But, it could also mean that they are still hyped for Best Picture because their exposure to critics and audiences has been limited.

I was away most of the week and so I wasn’t able to update my databases, my lists, or come up with new interesting studies. But, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about “really like” movies.

This time of year I follow AwardsCircuit.com to follow the latest thinking in the Oscar race. AwardsCircuit updated their projected nominees this past Monday and with nine weekends left in the year eight of the ten Best Picture projections have not gone into wide release yet. Does this mean that the best is yet to come? It could. But, it could also mean that they are still hyped for Best Picture because their exposure to critics and audiences has been limited.

There were other movies that have already been released that were expected to be Best Picture contenders. Of these only Dunkirk and Blade Runner 2049 have met their pre-release expectations and are still considered Best Picture caliber movies. Other Best Picture hyped movies, like Battle of the Sexes, Marshall, Suburbicon, and Mother, have either wilted or flopped when exposed to critics and audiences. The same could happen to the eight pre-release movies still projected for Best Picture nominations.

If Dunkirk and Blade Runner 2049 have survived the scrutiny of critics and audiences to remain Best Picture contenders, how do the remaining eight projected contenders measure up to those movies so far. All eight have been seen at film festivals to a limited degree by critics and audiences and so there is some feedback to see how these movies are trending. Using average ratings from IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh ratings, we can get some early feedback on how those eight movies are faring so far. I’ve converted the Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh to a ten point scale to get an apples to apples comparison with IMDB. I’ve also included the four movies mentioned above that haven’t lived up to the hype so far. The eight pre-release contenders are in bold on the list.

Movie IMDB Rotten Tomatoes Total Score
Call Me By Your Name 8.3 9.8 18.1
Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri 8.3 9.8 18.1
Lady Bird 7.8 10.0 17.8
Dunkirk 8.3 9.2 17.5
Blade Runner 2049 8.5 8.8 17.3
Shape of Water, The 7.5 9.7 17.2
I, Tonya 7.4 9.1 16.5
Mudbound 6.3 9.5 15.8
Battle of the Sexes 6.9 8.5 15.4
Marshall 7.0 8.3 15.3
Mother 7.1 6.9 14.0
Last Flag Flying 6.7 6.8 13.5
Darkest Hour 5.3 7.9 13.2
Suburbicon 4.7 2.5 7.2

If the post-release feedback is consistent with the pre-release feedback, then Call Me By Your NameThree Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, and Lady Bird are the real deal. The Shape of Water, and I, Tonya also appear solid. Mudbound could be on the fence. The early audience response to Last Flag Flying and Darkest Hour may be warning signs that these movies may have been overhyped. If they falter, Battle of the Sexes could move back into contention. You could also see two movies that haven’t been seen by either critics or audiences yet, The Post and Phantom Thread, possibly emerge as contenders. You could also see a dark horse like The Florida Project (IMDB=8.1, Rotten Tomatoes=97% Fresh) sneak in. There are still many twists and turns that will present themselves before Best Picture nominations are announced in January.

The first of these eight movies to test themselves will be Lady Bird which goes into limited release this coming weekend. With fifty critic reviews registered in Rotten Tomatoes, it is still at 100% Certified Fresh. This is one that I’ll probably see in the theaters. Soairse Ronan has become one of my favorite young actresses.