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Wednesday, July 28, 2021
Internet movie databases

Websites like Jinni.com help to customize movie picks for those perplexed on which flicks to watch next, using algorithms in lieu of the age-old practice of video store recommendations.

How to replace your resident film nerd

Awards season for movie releases has come and gone, along with the Oscars themselves. After catching up on the last few intriguing winners that you’ve yet to see, there won’t be much left playing in the theaters with any real draw for awhile. We’ve officially entered that barren cinematic tundra that comes around at the start of every year, that miserable period of arctic chill after all the winter magic has come and gone, leaving us with nothing but dirty snow and foul movies.

 

With an entire year left on the calendar before the next round of industry and critics awards, studios love to use this time of year as a dumping ground for all the horrible flops they’ve accumulated over the previous year with no hope of awards aspirations. So what’s a movie lover to do in times like these? Take a step back into the past, a year or fifty, and find the films you missed on first release.

 

Back when that silver fox, old Bill occupied the oval office and cell phones had pullout antennas and a healthy girth to them, you could walk into a video store, past the new release shelves, and find a little corner filled with staff picks, selections of movies curated by the nerdiest of your local film nerds. Once you found a staffer with whom your tastes aligned, you had the perfect insight to cut through the overwhelming catalogue of films produced by Hollywood every year to the exact choices that will tickle your fancy. (Just watch out for Vincent’s Picks, Kramer says that guy is an art house goon.)

 

But in this post-Blockbuster existence, what are we to do without the guiding wisdom of these hourly-waged cinematic connoisseurs? Turn to the Internet of course, where one nerd’s opinion has been supplanted by the collective taste of millions.

 

Let’s start with the obvious, the holiest of holies of online nerdy film love, the Internet Movie Data Base. Even without having to rate a bunch of movies first to get a gauge of your taste, IMDB automatically offers solid recommendations for flicks similar to any movie you search for, with an Amazon-style “People who liked this also liked…” category attached to every movie. It’s a great service if you know what you like and want more of it, but the more interesting offering from IMDB is the site’s Top 250 Movies.

 

Voted on by the site’s users, the list has become an unofficial ranking among film nerds of the popularly chosen greatest movies of all time. Sure its democratic nature lends some bias to more recent movies, such as “The Dark Knight,” whose current position at number eight, but this tends to balance out with time. And if you’re not in the mood for anything specific, it’s a great place to start for both film newbies and fanatics alike.

 

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RottenTomatoes.com is a terrific movie review aggregator that amasses concise quips from a broad range of critical sources and is perhaps the best way to gauge the critical reception for any new movie. A movie that is deemed to receive more than 60 percent positive reviews is ruled “Fresh,” and any with less “Rotten,” with the exact percentage given as well. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find the site has even more interesting features to offer.

 

Have a particular fondness for a certain actor, actress, writer, or director? Navigate to their specific Rotten Tomatoes page and you can find an individual graph of the artist’s collective Tomatometer rankings over his or her career. You can quickly find his or her career highlights, or embarrassing bombs, and indulge your fanaticism either way. Want to see Nicholas Cage in a good movie for once? Rotten Tomatoes has got you covered with “Adaptation.” Or perhaps you’re feeling a bit masochistic and want to see some Matthew McConaughey at his lowest of lows. In that case Rotten Tomatoes suggests the 2008 comedy “Surfer, Dude,” coming in with a rare zero percent on the Tomatometer.

 

But perhaps the single best source of online movie recommendations is Jinni.com, a sort of Pandora for movies. Sure Jinni does the basic “if you like x you’ll also like y” thing that plenty of sites do. Plug in a movie or TV show and it will give you an uncanny litany of comparable titles. Create an account on the site and it will even start collecting your interests and ratings to provide you even more accurate, personalized recommendations. But the depth with which Jinni has analyzed and archived titles, from mood to audience to period to plot to critical reception, is utterly breathtaking. Jinni is based off the Movie Genome Project—an approach to indexing movies and TV shows based on a wide array of attributes, both internal and external to the movie, in an effort to assign a specific DNA to movies that can then be sorted by taste. The sheer number of sortable characteristics may seem overwhelming at first, but they offer the most personalized movie recommendations on the web.

 

The loss of neighborhood movie rental shops and their scholarly staffs of recommenders may be disheartening for the nostalgia-indulger in all of us, but the Internet age has clearly provided us with some impressive alternatives.

 

Do you know of a film recommendation resource David missed? Let him know at dcottrell@wisc.edu.

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