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Saturday, August 18, 2007

In other news, the sun will rise tomorrow. 

Psychology prof conducts study that restates the nakedly obvious.

Films that earn awards and praise from reviewers tend to be R-rated and based on a true story or a prize-winning play or novel, says professor Dean Simonton. The original author or the director usually have written the screenplay.

Big-budget blockbusters — whether they're comedies, musical, sequels or remakes — don't ordinarily draw acclaim, Simonton found. Neither do summer releases, PG-13 movies, movies that open on thousands of screens or ones that have enormous box office numbers in their first weekend.


This is fascinating stuff, and I'm glad that someone whose education probably cost six figures is dedicating valuable time to "discovering" what any studio's research wing -- or anyone with even passing acquaintance with the business of movies -- could tell him in about 10 minutes.

For good measure, he makes note of statistical anomalies that are also, well, glaringly obvious.

"All these things are just statistical relationships — there are always exceptions to every finding you have," Simonton said. "You'll have a film that really shouldn't have success but they have something quirky going for them ... `My Big Fat Greek Wedding,' it's just a quirky thing.


My guess is that "something quirky" would be an original voice telling a good story that you're not finding in the other movie houses, but hey -- that's just me. I tend to think of movies as an actual art form first, not a mathematical equation. So you know I'm just asking for trouble.

To round it off, the article's writer nabs some quotes from "awards expert" Tom O'Neil (and I would dearly love to see the criteria for such an honorarium, because I could use a good laugh) about the deviation between what movies get awarded the big Oscars and what movies actually rate the highest among critics for a given year. It would be adorable if O'Neil's quotes weren't so unjustifiably self-satisfied.

"Critics are supposed to be guiding American moviegoers. This study proves they're taking their own esoteric side trip."


This, from O'Neil, is a variation on that tired old line that critics are not in the business of evaluating movies, but in predicting and endorsing box office trends.

(This conflation of criticism and trendspotting really fucking irritates me, by the way. It's like we've all become complicit in dick-measuring contests that mean the square root of sweet F.A. to anyone but studio executives looking to justify their ludicrous salaries. And woe betide the critic who ignores this stupid bullshit and just sticks to, you know, doing his or her fucking job. He or she is going to get subjected to a dozen ill-conceived articles a year about how critics are "out of touch.")

O'Neil has it in his head that whoever wins Oscars wins because that is the Will of the People -- which is kind of a surprise to me, because I was under the (apparently mistaken) impression that Oscar winners were picked by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, not by Joe Schmoe at the multiplex, and not by Box Office Guru. The Academy, for those of you keeping score at home, is made up of 6,000+ professionals inside the movie business, none of whom are actually required to see all the movies and performances they're voting on. But I'm sure that, unlike every single other awards process in history, the Oscars are completely non-politicized. It's all about the quality for them.

The closing paragraphs contain so many frankly nonsensical arguments that I really don't know what to do with them. (Is he really saying that A Beautiful Mind was a sentimental movie about a loving, nurturing world? We're talking about the one with the schizophrenic mathematician, right?)

So I'll just say rarr, Mr. O'Neil. Fsst!

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