For the last two months of 2016, I'm going to be discovering my "Shadow Top 20."
I took the Top 20 movies on my Flickchart and plugged them into MovieLens*, a research project that uses "collaborative filtering" technology to make recommendations based on a user's opinions of other movies. Rather than just taking the Top 20 movies that I haven't seen from their list of general suggestions that had been tailored to my tastes, however, I looked at each movie in my Top 20 and found MovieLens' top suggested "similar" title. On some titles I made use of their "tuner" — which allows a user to adjust the results according to granular instructions, such as "less action" or "more visually appealing." Each of the 20 movies in this list, therefore, corresponds, by their algorithm, to one of my all-time favorites.
Could these 20 movies be new favorites that have just been waiting for me to discover them? Is MovieLens' method of movie and taste-matching a vast improvement on IMDb's ludicrous suggestions, or just wrong in a different way?
* MovieLens requires registration, but is free and non-profit. I have no professional relationship with them. In fact, I just learned of and started using their site last month to prepare for this project. Like Letterboxd, they conveniently allow the importing of IMDb ratings.
Shadow Top 20 Watchlist
- Once Upon a Time in America (1984) — Similar to: #1. The Godfather Part II (1974) — I've seen Sergio Leone's mob epic before, as far back as the late-1980s, but the shortened theatrical cut, which is surely what was broadcast on cable back then, is supposedly sub-optimal, and I've definitely never seen this 4-hour "extended version." I love Robert De Niro from this era, so I'm looking forward to this despite its length.
- The Verdict (1982) — Similar to: #2. The Godfather (1972) — This is another of the seven movies this month that I've seen previously, and I even reviewed it here 15 years ago; but, I'm a fan of director Sidney Lumet, writer David Mamet and quiet, serious Paul Newman. It's been long enough for a refresh of my Verdict verdict.
- Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001) — Similar to: #3. West Side Story (1961) — I've been well aware of this Bollywood epic for many years, but somehow could never muster the will to endure a 4-hour musical about the sport of cricket. Bollywood in general is a particularly shameful blind-spot for me, and I supposed I need to start somewhere.
- Jules and Jim (1962) — Similar to: #4. Manhattan (1979) — This François Truffaut classic seems like a movie I should've seen by now. All François Truffaut movies seem like movies I should've seen by now; but I've only seen two. If it's half as good as Manhattan, or anywhere close to Truffaut's Day for Night, I'll be delighted.
- Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) — Similar to: #5. The Graduate (1967) — I watched all of Martin Scorsese's existing movies in the late 1980s, and this was one of them. However, I have much more vivid memories of watching its spin-off sitcom Alice, starring Linda Lavin, Vic Tayback, and the waitress whose catchphrase was "Kiss my grits!"
- The Goodbye Girl (1977) — Similar to: #6. Tootsie (1982) — Neil Simon's movies (and plays, and TV spin-offs) were everywhere when I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. I've always considered him a bland TV-quality writer (back when TV was bland), but it sounds like his romantic involvement with actress Marsha Mason may have inspired him to create a terrific role here for the underrated actress. If it's Neil Simon's best work, or just in his upper-tier, it should be fine.
- A Very Long Engagement (2004) — Similar to: #7. Apocalypse Now (1979) — My money is on this entry for MovieLens' biggest suggestion misfire. I have seen three of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's movies, and disliked them all. I hold out hope this movie is less-Jeunet-like than usual, and I think that I could really take to star Audrey Tatou in a role that is not insipidly twee. However, the mere idea that my own Top 20 elicited this suggestion is alarming to me, and fear that the only substance of its similarity to Apocalypse Now is that it will leave me cowering in shadows, whispering "the horror... the horror...."
- Kon-Tiki (2012) — Similar to: #8. The Empire Strikes Back (1980) — I have only fleeting knowledge of this European-produced historical drama, or the story on which is it based. I always appreciate it when ambitious movies that are far off of my radar make it onto one of my lists.
- The Band Wagon (1953) — Similar to: #9. Singin' in the Rain (1952) — A Vincente Minnelli musical starring Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse and Oscar Levant? With songs by Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Alan Jay Lerner? How have I missed this?
- Highlander (1986) — Similar to: #10. Star Wars (1977) — I've never taken the Highlander movies seriously (and nor, by most accounts, should I), but for purely personal reasons: the first installment was the favorite movie of my older sister's high school boyfriend, and he was kind of a jerk back then. Now, however, I might be open to some ridiculously overwrought, Queen-scored fantasy hoopla that takes itself far too seriously. Or, I might think it's stupid.
- The Collector (1965) — Similar to: #11. The Exorcist (1973) — I last watched The Collector about 20 years ago, and remember it being a measured and unsensationalistic take on a subject that is routinely exploited today. It's a surprise that William Wyler, director of the fantastic and wholesome adventure Ben-Hur, turned his attention to something so potentially nasty just a few years later.
- Conan the Barbarian (1982) — Similar to: #12. The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring (2001) — Like with Highlander, I feel predisposed right now to enjoy some meaty, overly grand fantasy nonsense, and this seems like a terrific suggestion. I may have seen this once in my early teens, but I only recall watching its crummy sequel, Conan the Destroyer, multiple times on cable one summer.
- 13 Tzameti (2005) — Similar to: #13. Taxi Driver (1976) — This Georgian crime thriller lurked around in MovieLens' suggestions for several of the movies in my Top 20. I've never heard of it until now and am intrigued by its reputation.
- My Dinner with André (1981) — Similar to: #14. Annie Hall (1977) — I must've seen My Dinner With André during my high school years, as I wrote and directed short play that spoofed it, but whether or not it bored or fascinated me is a mystery.
- Headhunters (2011) — Similar to: #15. Vertigo (1959) — This Norwegian thriller has been nosing around the upper tier of my watchlist for the past year, when I first began hearing rave reviews for it. I have no idea whether or not it's a good recommendation for fans of Vertigo, but I'm happy to finally make it a priority.
- Le professionnel (1981) — Similar to: #16. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) — While this is another suggestion in which the similarity between the movies seems suspect, I have become increasingly enticed by the French crime thrillers of the 1970s and early 1980s. I was pleasantly surprised to discover, upon watching Le professionel's trailer, that composer Ennio Morricone's theme is one of my favorites from a Morricone collection that I owned in high school.
- Seven Psychopaths (2012) — Similar to: #17. Boogie Nights (1997) — I should not be averse to watching this latest movie from Martin McDonagh; I think its title and premise too readily evoke for me the substandard Tarantino knock-offs of the 1990s of which I quickly grew weary. I'm sure this is quite fun, considering it's from the writer/director of In Bruges and The Guard.
- Funny Games (1997) — Similar to: #18. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) — I've seen director Michael Haneke's 2007 American remake of Funny Games; although I'm not a big fan of home invasion movies, its cast was terrific, and, as usual, Haneke takes challenging approaches his material. It's been long enough since then that I hope to now be able to watch the original with a clean palate.
- A Christmas Carol (1951) — Similar to: #19. It's a Wonderful Life (1944) — Dickens' classic holiday story is one that I've seen depicted in so many incarnations over the years, it's hard to get excited for yet another, regardless of this one's reputation. I'll save this one for close to Christmas.
- The Chaser (2008) — Similar to: #20. Zodiac (2007) — Very excited to find The Chaser in MovieLens' recommendations, as director Hong-jin Na's latest movie, The Wailing, is my favorite of 2016 so far.
Reference: My Current Top 20 Movies