Sunday, January 8, 2012

A pretty backhanded award

Organizations will do year-end awards for almost anything.

Sometimes, this will make them look silly.

Exhibit A: Redbox's 2011 Movie Awards.

As a regular Redbox customer, I received a link to this five-minute "awards show" (made with flash animation) in my inbox on January 1st. A number of smaller awards were handed out first, followed by the grand prize: the movie most rented from Redbox kiosks in 2011.

If you want to know who won, well, my poster art has already ruined that surprise for you. (As well as possibly giving you a special feeling in your special area.)

That's right: Just Go With It, the Adam Sandler-Jennifer Aniston vehicle that most critics (including this one) did not like, was rented more than any other movie in 2011.

If you're being generous, there's a temptation to take that honor at face value. It's got to say something about the movie's popularity if it was rented more times than any other movie, right?

Right -- it says something. But maybe not what a casual observer would think it says.

If we unpack this a little bit, you'll see what I'm talking about.

Okay, for starters, in order for a movie to be a popular rental, that likely means it was not a popular movie to see in the theater. Unless you think there were a legion of Just Go With It fans who loved it so much on the big screen that they re-watched it as a rental, you're talking about rentals by people who wanted to see it, sort of, but not enough to pay theater prices.

Then you've got to consider how long a movie was eligible to be rented. A movie that came out early in the year, like Just Go With It (February 11th theater, June 7th DVD), had much longer to possibly be rented within the calendar year than a movie that came out in the summer. It stands to reason that there are a number of summer movies that might have overtaken Just Go With It if they'd been released a month or two earlier, or if the window were extended past the end of December.

And then you've also got to consider Redbox's internal considerations about how long to actually carry the movie in kiosks. While this calculation is likely a function of whether it's still earning them money, we can't really be sure what factors were involved in how long they made it available. It's possible that other popular movies were pulled sooner for reasons we wouldn't even know about.

Not to mention, finally, that Just Go With It was only competing with other movies that Redbox chose to carry in the first place -- though I'm sure that anything obscure enough not to be carried by Redbox would never be a serious competitor for this award, if it had been carried.

Those are only the empirical factors. I'd say there are things you can assume that detract further from this supposed "honor." Me, I'd guess that Just Go With It was primarily being rented because of the woman above, Brooklyn Decker, whose jiggling boobs were a focal point of the advertising campaign. Perhaps the jiggling boobs were not enough of a factor to get people out to the theater, but they definitely held enough sway (pun intended) to get people to plunk down the cash money for a dollar rental. (Plus, some people who rented it might have wanted to "be alone" when they watched it, if you know what I mean.) Who knows how much the rentals of Just Go With It would drop without those two double Ds.

At least the most rented movie was actually from the year 2011, giving the award a slightly greater sense of legitimacy. I suppose if you want to submit an argument on behalf of Just Go With It, you could say it beat out all the holiday movies from 2010, which should have made plenty of hay in the first half of 2011, when Just Go With It was still in limbo between theater and video.

The real problem with any "awards show" in which the big winner is Just Go With It is that it has pretty much zero prestige. (Not that "prestige" is what they were going for, of course -- any time an award is given out simply for popularity, you have no control over the results.) A lack of prestige is pretty consistent with an unmanned kiosk where you rent videos -- it's as "common" as things get.

The rest of the award winners bear out that idea. Here, take a gander at them:

Most rented action movie: The Green Hornet. See previous discussion of movies with early release dates (January 14th) having a distinct advantage.

Most rented action star: Angelina Jolie, Salt. Really? Does anyone even remember that movie? And who decided to rank a star independently of the movie in which she appeared, unless they were going to mention other movies in which she also appeared?

Most rented family movie: Rango. Which came out in March.

Most rented horror movie: Insidious. Which came out in April.

Most rented comedy and funniest couple: Just Go With It, Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston. I am starting to wonder how they even chose which awards to give out. The funniest couple award came from survey responses, as did the random tidbit (included in connection with the most rented family movie) that Redbox customers had the most fun with the minions of Despicable Me. Damn, I'm starting to like Redbox customers less and less all the time.

Most rented drama: The Tourist. Okay, so Redbox customers really like Angelina Jolie.

Most rented actress: Natalie Portman. Sheer quantity of movies is obviously a factor, as they mentioned Black Swan, No Strings Attached, The Other Woman, Your Highness and Thor -- all of which were in theaters by May. But at least you've got the reigning best actress here, which adds a little prestige.

Most rented actor: Owen Wilson. Again, quantity is a factor, with How Do You Know, Little Fockers, Hall Pass and Cars 2, though I think it's cheating a bit to include Little Fockers, since it's a supporting role.

The most puzzling award, however, was the Lifetime Achievement Award. I guess they're speaking only of Redbox's lifetime, because it didn't go to some big name who's been in the movies for decades. It went to Kevin James, who has been starring in movies for about five years. And the reason it went to him was because Paul Blart: Mall Cop was the fastest movie to reach one million rentals.

Again I say: People can only rent a movie if you are stocking it in the kiosk.

And if Redbox customers held Paul Blart: Mall Cop in such high esteem that it was stocked long enough to be rented one million times, well ... I want to distance myself from them even further.

But I'm the one who has just spent the better part of an hour writing about this.

So I ask you:

Who's the fool? Who looks silly?


Thaddeus said...

Great post and great points!

I'd say we're all losers. It's funny that having something like the Internet means that we can more easily "meet" people with our own interests and viewpoints and expose strangers to them as well.

The flipside of this is that, by making it seem like all opinions are equal, you sort of start to undermine the very concept of standards. Some people that work at the NYT suck at their jobs - still, overall, a job with them or the Washington Post, etc, is a sign of good professional skills. Some Oscars have gone to poor movies or performances (Pacino for SoaW instead of GG,GR), but they are still the primary accolade for acting in America.

These "awards" seem to be either merit-based (on success) or based on popular voting. These are nice ideas and concepts, but one look at the results shows how spurious that is.

We have TV News Channels that focus more on people shooting off their opinions than researching stories or facts (forget about whether they even do it with no political bias). We have folks like Will Hung who get albums because of (a) a positive attitude (bless him for that, really) and (b) the spectacle of his awful singing. And we have multiple meaningless MTV Awards, Spike Awards, Kids' Whatever Awards. And, now, Redbox chimes in too.

Sort of a 1984 Orwellian Newspeak thing going on here, huh?

Travis McClain said...

Granted, the renter favorites awards are entirely trivial. The ones based on actual rental figures, however, open the door for some possible changes in the home video rental world--if studios decide that there's a way to parlay this kind of thing into some perceived value.

To date, studios have behaved with thinly veiled contempt for Redbox. If, however, you're Sony then perhaps it occurs to you that this somehow legitimizes Just Go with It. No, the critics won't look at it with new reverence or anything like that, but clearly there are a lot of people who were willing to rent and watch the movie.

This touches on the age old debate betwixt elitism vs. populism. So what if there's no real elitism to "winning" a Redbox award? Is it not a sign of acceptance by audiences?

I'd like to point out that The Shawshank Redemption was hardly a hit at the box office in 1994. It ended the year ranked #51. Yet it's been the dominant movie among the IMDb users for several years now. Why? Because after it came and went in the theaters without much fanfare, TBS began showing it ad nauseam and it caught on with people who otherwise hadn't planned on seeing it.

Am I suggesting Just Go with It is comparable in quality to The Shawshank Redemption? No. But there is precedent for using the home video market to sway retroactive perceptions about a movie and while Redbox may not be particularly prestigious, it does represent a lot of renters.

Nick Prigge said...

What's most worrisome - and here we return to a topic of another recent post of yours - is the "prestige" of this award may encourage the great Nicole Kidman to slum some more.

If that happens, a plague on all your kiosks, Redbox!!!

Vancetastic said...

Three comments on the first day! Guess I picked the right art for this post. ;-)

Thaddeus - Good argument. I don't really have much to add. I will say that I have always turned my nose up at The People's Choice Awards and the like, but that's just because we discriminating moviegoers are better than everyone else and they don't know what they should like, right? ;-)

In all seriousness, you do have to respect what people like and honor it. However, I would argue that many of even the most common movie watchers would want to aspire to like better movies. It's the same in any medium, really -- most people strive to challenge themselves at least a little bit when it comes to art. It's things like the Redbox awards that show them what they are, not what they aspire to be.

Travis - I find the Shawshank phenomenon incredibly fascinating, and not only because it's your average TBS watcher who now embraces it. In fact, your credibility as a critic is not called into question if you champion it, either. This may be one of those rare examples where what people want to want and what they should want actually have a happy meeting point. And your essential point is right, that there's certainly value to being the most rented movie in a given year -- it's a title that can only go to one movie, right? And this year Just Go With It can claim that honor. I don't know how we'll know if studios took notice, though. They're already making as many bad Adam Sandler movies as Adam Sandler has time to make.

Nick - Our buddy Nicole seems not to need any help from Redbox, I'm afraid. She genuinely does not seem able to pick a script. My guess is that she has sort of lucked into the great films she's participated in. Which takes nothing away from her abilities as an actress, only her abilities as a discerning viewer -- if you follow me.

Travis McClain said...

I don't know how we'll know if studios took notice, though. They're already making as many bad Adam Sandler movies as Adam Sandler has time to make.


Seriously, though, I think what we could see as a sign of recognition is a heightened effort to release the "people might rent it later" movies early in January and have them in kiosks by Spring--clearly longevity was important to the rental figures.

More significantly for renters, it could be that studios may find that, as Redbox rentals grow, so too do their chances to profit and this could lead to a more cooperative relationship between studios and Redbox. That 28-day delay could dwindle, for instance.

Also, I noted in my previous comment that Just Go with It was a Sony production. It occurs to me that Kevin James owes his Lifetime Achievement Award also to Sony; Paul Blart: Mall Cop is one of their titles.

The movies may be uninspiring and the awards themselves trivial, but you have to figure somewhere, there are studio execs alarmed that Sony has these feathers in their cap.