Starting with my basic assumptions, which I have at least logically seen that they would hold at least some water, if not all,
- AFI Top 100 list and the IMDB ranking should almost match. It is understood that #1 on IMDb need not be #1 on AFI, but its score should definitely be better than say #5 or #6 (with only a few exceptions, which naturally could be there, and I am prepared to take them in my stride without modifying my hypothesis)
- This list should be exclusively (at least almost) from the collated list of Oscars and Oscar nominees for those 100 years, at least for the movies that were in Oscar Period (movies released in 1927 and afterwards). I would try to give a bit leeway by even considering the movies that didn’t get nomination as best movie, but at least there were a few major academy nominations or awards for them (director and lead actors). Obviously, a movie which wasn’t even considered in a race for best movie and neither were its director or main actors nominated, can’t be that that good a movie, with all the major ingredients missing.
With these as my life-vests, I am ready to jump headlong into the roaring ocean and start checking up on how these would match with the actuals.
To start with, instead of all the hundred top movies, let me limit myself to the topmost 25. I have done the exercise with all the hundred, in fact more than these hundred, but that would be too much to cover in short space, so I will limit myself here with the top 25. For the latest list, published in 2007, these are,
This list in the same subject which was published in 1998 is a bit different from the 2007 list, and is tabulated below for comparison
The shaded rows are those, where there is a significant difference (I took more than 10 places as significant), between the two lists, the pink is for demotion and green is for promotion. Again there is no why. I could have gone statistically, by calculating variation and then taking the standard deviations as measure for significance. But I didn’t want to ‘much ado‘ about ‘nothing‘ and desisted.
Within only ten years the experts differed in their opinion by this much? I do agree that there is a minor change in the domain. In the 1998 version the movies were limited for those which had been released in or prior to 1996, whereas for 2007 version, the latest entry I could see was of 2001 (Who else it could be but Lord Of The Rings?).
This must be the factor which caused this major variations. Or is it?
The movies in the 2007 version that had been from this range (1996 to 2001) were only four, and that too at 50, 71, 83 and 89th position. Definitely the expansion of the universe didn’t affect much. It had to be something to do with the bias of the “Experts” that underwent major change in these 10 years, and I would assume that it could even be with a new set of “Experts” and hence new set of bias. The expert group size is made large and diverse to take care of these biases, but it seems it didn’t.
I won’t comment or cast doubts on the expertise of the “Experts”, but there had been some surprise omissions and commissions. Some of the well-known movies whose smile faded and they disappeared in 10 years were Dr Zhivago (from 39th spot), The Birth Of A Nation (44th), Amadeus (53rd), All Quiet On The Western Front (54th); and some of those who arrived like Cheshire Cat, the smile appearing from nowhere were The General (all the way up at 18th), Intolerance (49th), Who Is Afraid Of Virginia Woolf (67). Both the omissions and the arrivals, which were omissions in the previous, are equally surprising, at least to me. I would note that in 2007, Obama was firmly in his chair, and the idea of political intolerance, which all the ‘Apolitical !” artists now scream of, was nothing more than a word in dictionary.
From the pattern of rise and fall, when I looked closely, the two didn’t seem to be totally unrelated. In fact I would hypothesise that the first list has biased the second.
Probably while preparing the second list, some of the cards from the Deck were pulled out and corresponding number of new cards were added. It could be like in “Rummy” where you pick up a card, if it suits you, you would retain it and discard one that you don’t fancy. Here either you have picked up the card and then discarded, or you have first discarded and then picked up a suitable one. The deck on the table was, unlike rummy, open, and one could select any card, not limited to the one on the top of the deck.
After that, just as in the card game, they have fitted these new ones in the existing list, shifting down the tail accordingly. To be fair to the Experts, I would admit that they made minor adjustments in between too, by swapping the homes of the neighbours. That was probably to show that they have applied their mind, and didn’t blindly followed the previous list.
Obviously not being able to tap their mind when they did this exercise, I won’t exactly know about their decision pattern, but there is reasonable doubt in my mind about it. When I looked at the displacements among the movies that were common on both lists, The Searchers (1956) made the most spectacular jump, 84 places from 96 to 12th. Other long jumpers were City Lights (76 to 11), Vertigo (61 to 9) whereas the droppers, except those who disappeared (mentioned above) were The African Queen (from 17 to 65) and Ben Hur (72 to 100). Out of 100, about 50 movies changed their rank by less than 10 places, there were 23 new appearance and obviously same number of removals. If I make that cut-off 15, the minor-place changer would encompass more than 60 movies.
I can appreciate this type of variation and introduction of new players out of nowhere in ATP ranking where except Serena all are moving rapidly up and down but here it was a bit too strange, and frankly the amount of upheaval is in the year end ATP rankings, especially of Women’s (I won’t talk of the much more stable Men’s ranking).
This type of variation in sports, especially the physical ones like tennis or Athletics, I can appreciate, where the physical prowess, skills, finesse, change over time and the new blood (except Ms William or Usain Bolt, who didn’t let it) take over. But the movies, when you are still comparing the same set, where nothing has changed, not even the picture quality? It is too strange, and it clearly indicates the fickleness of mind, even if those belong to the so called experts.
When you work with things which can’t be strictly and unequivocally allocated weights, this is what happens, even if the people on the judge’s bench are the best, or thought to be so. I don’t for a moment advocate that the list once published should remain sacrosanct. Well on second thoughts, why not, if they have been made with some thought and logic? I don’t expect the logics would undergo a sea change over time, at least as short as 10 years. No one would ever think of removing Mona Lisa, Last Supper, or David, Pieta or the frescoes at the Sistine Chapel among score of others from the list. Mozart and Bach would retain their place.
Now let me look at how they behaved with reference to my second premise. When the duration is long, the classics which would usually be watched by discerning viewers, the expert choice and the viewer’s choice would almost match.
I will start with IMDb. The list is dynamic, so while making it, I had to remove all the occurrences of movies that were released after 2001 as well as foreign movies, and then rank the rest.
Since the domain was from the beginning of the time (say 1896) to 2001, I collected the IMDB score of the top 25 of the range. For this exercise, I gathered data for sufficient number of movies, many more than my target of 25, and then deleted the rows which corresponded to the movies released after 2001 so that my list had at least 25 movies for the period. Beside these I have recorded their AFI rank as well as the score from Rotten Tomato too.
I was ready for some surprises, since after the catastrophic performance by the experts, some minor shocks could be in store. However here since the population is much larger, they could be better in judgement.
The IMDb order of merit is:
The coloured rows are to highlight certain notable entries.
- The pinks are those which got good audience recommendation, but the experts didn’t consider them worth notice,
- the rare entries where both audience and experts ranked them high are in green
When I looked at the second Audience poll website, Rotten Tomato, there is a huge chunk at 100% (which I assume is the % of fresh tomatoes, not rotten ones). I had to keep all of the 38 entries since I can’t select more perfect from the perfects. The movies with 100% score are,
Here too I have used the same color code and again the pinks and uncolored rows rule the roost. There are not many green pastures for me, or my assumptions. And more interesting is the fact that there is not a single one, which ranks high in all the three categories (AFI, IMDb and Rotten Tomato)!
Alright now my theories are totally annihilated, let me at least see how did each of these category fare in the corresponding year’s Oscars? For this I have used a nonscientific metric.
- Any nomination carries one point. But if it is nominated for best actor (or best actress) those nominations would be two points. For best director, it is three and best movie it would be four.
- If the movie won the award in that category, it would be three times marks (i.e. general win 3 marks, not 1, best actor/actress 6 marks and not 2, best director 9 marks and best movie 12 marks).
This I did to give relative importance of each important features of a movie. For a movie to be considered good, despite not winning the best movie award, obviously, director must have made a major contribution, followed by the two lead actors, at least they should have been worth winning a nomination, some where? You can’t expect “Wall Street” to be one of the best, where though the lead actor got Academy nod, his counterpart, lead Actress got a Razzy.
With this in place now I will see how AFI top 25 fared?
This is unexplainable. Singing In The Rain, with only two minor nominations is at #5, Vertigo (again two minor nominations) at #9 and Searchers without any whatsoever is at #12. I am not claiming that others too are at right place. For that rightfulness, or absence of it, I have to find how other movies fared and what are the top grossers (in terms of these points).
And the winner was …
of course Titanic and Ben-Hur. But, both of them languish at the rock-bottom of the list, and one I could say was lucky (the last one always are)
All are not “American” productions and hence probably AFI didn’t deign to look at them. But still majority of the pinks are.
The colour of the table is not improving, it is becoming worse as I progress. It is even more ironical since both these are the expert’s opinion, one belongs to that of the particular year, and the other in the eyes of today (or to be precise 2007).
Whether I look at the relative ranking as per IMDb, and compare with other scores,
Or do the same thing with Rotten Tomato (the movies that are 100% Rotten)
Or take any other parameter, the net result is the same. The Chaos reign. This confusion isn’t brought very clearly here, but if I try to put it into pictorial form, it would be much clearer (or murkier).
The matter doesn’t stop here. It isn’t only that the experts and the public don’t see eye to eye, but even the current experts and the experts of yore, the composite Oscar score (past experts) vs the AFI rank (current experts) don’t. Their thought pattern is a testimony to it.
To bring the whole thing to head (or abyss), which the figures already had hinted, even the public opinions don’t match or I would say the separation between them is nearer to the seventh degree rather than the first degree, what I or any one dealing with data would have expected.
I didn’t go for rigorous mathematical (statistical) calculation after seeing the pattern, since the correlation coefficient between any of these metrics would be insignificant and the exercise would be in vain.
There is absolutely no coherence of opinion. If I want to see movies that are the best, whom should I resort to? The top ten of each individual list, are entirely different.
It is like a big tub which is filled with many immiscible liquids. The liquids unfortunately are such that they don’t even spread over like oil on water, or make colloidal solution. The Tub is at rest and then people have been asked to take a mug of liquid from the tub (sample). Each sample taker is unaware of, from where the other samples were taken. As it would happen in real case, due to the chance effect, each sample would have different types of drops, in different concentration, and some of the types of liquids altogether missing in some glasses.
If I take more samples (website opinions) they didn’t improve the situation (I tried another couple) and rather made it more scattered.
Though I should, but I won’t cast aspersions on the intentions or sanity of the various groups, because I too am one of the votaries in some of the non-expert websites. But this type of variation does take one’s confidence off from the exercise. After all, as I asked, if I want to watch the “Movies Before I Die“, which are those which I should? Incidentally, and of course funnily, the lists by this same name “Movies to watch before you die” are equally divorced from the above list, as the members of the existing list are from each other.
Why there is so much of diversity of opinion?
There are many reasons. The main is of course is the prejudice. Which I mentioned by groups get balanced out. But not all. There are certain prejudices that are conditioned, and that makes the difference in the list if prepared at different times.
There are certain prejudices which change the colour when exposed to different lights (social circumstances), but the shape and matter remains same. The skin-aversion is a phenomenon which is deep rooted and can’t be wished away, so are certain other anti-ideological mindset. It is exactly what Bernard Shaw had said “In every country you can find rabid people who have a phobia against Jews, Jesuits, Armenians, Negroes, Freemasons, Irishmen, or simply foreigners as such. Political parties are not above exploiting these fears and jealousies”. So goes with the movies and their awards too, which Shaw, not having much of respect for movies, and more so for Hollywood, probably never deigned to add that in his statement. That was in 1932, and is equally true today, with a few like “Nazis”, “Communists” etc added to the list. These would be there, equally in the juries as well as the viewer’s mind-set, and sometimes juries would be handpicked to conform. (for examples the infamous Haymarket case, where undoubtedly not-guilty were hung, the actual guilty was never even identified).
A large number of movies in the lists are due to this set of mind. The Westerns, or World War subjects in the list are most of the time a direct result of it. I won’t say they were bad, but there were many far better, which don’t even get a mention, either in the Annual Awards or the Centennial.
IMDb or viewer websites are naturally highly tilted almost to the tip-over stage. It is due to the audience composition, and obviously they don’t have many black or red skins to vote, especially negative (no voting method, except the social ones have the thumbs down). One of the difference between the two types, audience and experts, crop over here. The public sites are almost anonymous so one can vote straight to their mind. However the experts are slightly constrained since they are answerable, or the groupo they are reporting to (Academy Award Committee) are. Due to this, many times their votes are almost ‘apologetic’, especially with respect to skin colour. The nett result is of course that I won’t get the merit in the merit list of either.
Another major factor which works in anyone’s mind is the reputation. When I start looking at the list, and find “Charles Chaplin” I am more likely to put a tick, or at least a star putting it in those who would form the final list. There would be quite a few like him, Spielberg, Cukor, Hawks,…
- Hey Your list doesn’t contain a single one of Griffith.
- Well, you know Birth Of Nation is his masterpiece. We had put it last time and drawn a lot of flak, they said it has racist overtones.
- But you have to have at least one Griffith. Why don’t you put another one, say Broken Blossoms?
- After implosion of Soviets, now it’s Chinese we aren’t friendly with now, isn’t it? That’s why we didn’t consider Good Earth even once. I don’t think we should put this one either, “They” won’t appreciate it.
- Well you have to have one. Why don’t you put Intolerance in that place?
- Brilliant, that’s the by-word of these days. Are you sure there was a movie by that name and that too by Griffith? Yes? Alright I will put it at the same place -well 44th place is already occupied, I will put at 49th that will be OK?
We also have to also remember that it is the age of the glitz, the hollywood is afterall a show business, and that wins head over shoulders or even heels vis-a-vis matter. That may be the cause of 2001- Space Odyssey, LOTR, Star Wars a few Spielberg’s etc. I won’t say they were bad movies, but not something you would consider to be the Top Of the Pops, and Moms, and Grand Pops…