It is the age old question. How can you find a movie to rent, in a world of polarizing opinions on movies, a plethora of terrible movies, and movies that are rarely less than a time-consuming 90 minutes? A terrible movie, and you will complain that you’ll never get those two hours back! But a great movie, and you will be captivated into a different world and wholly entertained for those two.
We’ve all tried to show up to Blockbuster or the local indie shop without a plan but a hope, and 45 minutes later, you’ve maybe finally got a movie, and you’re not even sure if you’re gonna like it. The video store has become a black hole for video selection. Perhaps the employee can decisively recommend a movie, or the employee picks beckon. But these are still risky and biased.
Here are some ideas for saving the frustration and watching only great movies, ordered with the best means towards the end:
- Classics: You gotta see the classics. Check out the American Film Institute’s AFI 100, every Oscar winner for best picture, and the highest grossing films of all time. This is cool, but imperfect lists and ultimately not so helpful.
- Friend recommendations: Reach out to your friends and/or social networks — yes, sometimes not the same eh — for some good ones. Ask your Facebook friends, your Twitter followers, and see what you get. You’ll get their opinion. But who do you trust more?
- Famous critics: Manohla Dargis and her crew at the New York Times put together reputable reviews of movies. The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane is worth reading even if you don’t watch movies. Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek is great for the mainstream flicks. ReelView’s James Berardinelli knows his movies. And of course there’s also Ebert. (And a bunch more here or check out Quentin Tarantino’s top 20 movies since 1992.) However, critics are great at enriching your movie experience, but to find a movie to watch, you’re still left wading…
- Ratings & aggregated sites: Metacritic (top) and Rotten Tomatoes do a great job at aggregating ratings, from both professional and amateur critics. IMDB‘s got lots of user votes.
- Online contextual recommendations and semantic labeling (THIS IS YOUR WINNER): Netflix just spent $1 million as a prize to a team that could improve the accuracy of predications about how much someone is going to enjoy a movie based on their movie preferences. Unfortunately, you can’t use that engine without a subscription! Another great resource is Nanocrowd, which defines movies by moods and memes, much like Pandora’s Music Genome Project to assign to songs fundamental attributes which give them their true essence. Nanocrowd looks like a great site in that realm.
And lastly, start building your list of movies to see, stick it on your mobile phone, and don’t roam the video store halls of abyss!