15 March 2010

I Go All Anton Chigurh on Netflix and It's Movie Moods

With the recent tragic demise of my local video rental store (Videots) I have had to turn to Netflix for my DVD rental needs. Other than the fact that I am feeding another corporate whale and one that that helped swallow the minnow that was Videots, I am pleased with them.

I've already taken advantage of their "instant" service that allows one to watch some movies online at no extra cost. Netflix also has the advantage of being able to offer "everything" that is available on DVD.  So while I miss the chumminess that Videots provided (free pop corn while you browsed!) Netflix, for greedy capitalist swine, is pretty sweet.

But today I was amused to come across their request that I  provide my "Taste Preferences."  This of course, will help them provide me with better recommendations. One sub category was "Moods." Users are asked to indicate whether they watch the designated moods "Often" "Never" or "Sometimes."

I notice they provide examples to explain what each "mood" refers to. But I'd rather guess. For example "Cerebral." This must refer to high brow films for snobs like me who like to *gasp* be left with something to think about. My guess is that they're referring to Bergman films like The Seventh Seal (1957). Indeed I'm sure that a lot of foreign films would fit into this category. Let's see (this is in real time!) some of what they give as an examples. What's this? Annie Hall (1977), The Hours (2002) and The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). Yeah, I suppose. It just points to how silly a category this is. Any half way decent movie is at one level or another "cerebral."

Here's another one: "Gritty." I'm guessing these are realistic action films with a sober story to tell, like The French Connection. How about True Grit? It's got grit in the title! No? Let's see what Netflix says: I was right! The French Connection (1971) along with No Country for Old Men (2007) and Taxi Driver (1976). Wow, great films. Give me the grit.

Here's an easy one: "Family-Friendly." This means no cussing, no violence and no s-e-x.  Stuff for the kids! Like Dumbo (1941)! Racially offensive but who ever said racism wasn't family friendly? Netflix gives these examples: The Sound of Music (1965), The The Incredibles (2004) and High School Musical (2006). I'll steer clear of this category. The only family High School Musical is friendly to is a family of morons (okay I'm sure the pre teens like it. Sorry).

Here's a category I find totally baffling: "Heartfelt". According to my mutual friends Merriam and Webster, "heartfelt" means "deeply felt, earnest." So I suppose a heartfelt film is one that is...I don't know, serious? They really mean what they're saying? Shouldn't that be every movie? Examples from Netflix include (I can't wait): Philadelphia (1993), E.T. (1982) and the Dead Poet's Society (1989). Evidently this is the "serious message" category. For my money you could put Taxi Driver and The Hours in here. Way too broad.

I like this one: "Imaginative". Let me tell you, I have never enjoyed a movie that was not imaginative. The very definition of film making hinges on the notion that said film's creators are helping us in the audience use our "imagination" just as they used their own in creating the film. But I'll bite, let's see what Netflix considers "imaginative" films.  The Chronicles of Narnia (2005), Monsters Inc. (2001) and The Truman Show (1998). I'll grant you they all are fine examples of imaginative film making. But so too are Philadelphia, The Sound of Music and No Country for Old Men. Silly category.

I hate this one, "Feel Good."  Yes, I like to "feel good" but in terms of films it generally refers to sentimental schlock with manipulative, contrived story lines. They're usually phony baloney kids sports movies or people overcoming "impossible odds." Let's see some examples from Netflix: Rudy (1993), Dirty Dancing (1987) and Sex and the City (2008). Rudy is exactly what I was talking about and so too to a lesser extent is Dirty Dancing, What Sex and the City is doing here I don't know but then again I've never seen the TV show or movie. Anyway whenever I watch a film I really like I "feel good."

"Steamy" Movies. These must be set in steam baths! No silly, this is clearly the heavy on sex category. I'm guessing Body Heat (1981) would embody this "genre." Netflix says: Basic Instinct (1992), Bound (1996) and Unfaithful (2002). Same thing.

There are many more categories but frankly I'm starting to find this depressing. Your standard genres such as Western, Horror and Romantic Comedy are limiting enough (albeit sometimes a convenience) but parsing movies into "moods" is downright ridiculous. Just the fact that there's so much overlap seems to negate the whole exercise. How many films that are "Scary" aren't also "Suspenseful" or "Violent"? Also some of these categories are particularly silly such as "understated" and "mind-bending." But the worst aspect of this is how it reduces works of art (More your No Country for Old Men and less your High School Musical) to vague terms.

I pause now to allow you to accuse me over reacting. After all, you may reason, the good folks at Netflix are merely striving to offer the best possible recommendations for my viewing pleasure. I grant that. I do over react when it comes to films. You'd fully realize how much if you could see my flaring nostrils, frothing mouth and tear filled eyes. But to those of us for whom cinema is sacred, labeling and categorizing are a slippery slope only most carefully climbed. I'm only really comfortable with sorting films by director as I do with my DVD collection. There's only minimal use in making distinctions between let's say Film Noir and Westerns. Eras are more useful as is country of origin. It can be fun to divide movies by such arbitrary categories as sea faring adventures, as I recently did, and baseball films, as I'll do in a forthcoming post. But neither of these categories says a wit about me as a cinephile.

I simply can't abide dividing movies by "mood." Especially some of these really silly ones. What categories are next? Abstemious, grumpy, flirty, robust, blasphemous, irritating?

Here's a category: give me a break.


Kate Gabrielle said...

Until you mentioned it, I had completely forgotten about the free popcorn at the video stores. Ours all went out of business at least five or six years ago :(

I had the same reaction when I filled out Netflix's survey (which was ridiculously long and in depth considering how shoddy they still are at recommending films I might enjoy) Although it's a nice ego boost when every so often they tell you on your home page that based on your rental history you might enjoy "cerebral foreign existential melodramas" ;)

Armen Karaoghlanian said...

I'm actually thinking of signed up for Netflix. I think I am the only person left on this planet who hasn't signed up. I've been able to find films elsewhere, usually at libraries around my house or at school. I don't know though, I can't seem to make the jump. I think the price is reasonable, but I'm on the fence as of right now.

Scott said...

Armen, you're not the only one. I don't really see the need for me to sign up for Netflix. I'm perfectly happy watching what TCM tells me to.

Armen Karaoghlanian said...

Unfortunately, my insecurities made sign up immediately after posting here. I'm on the most basic plan, for now, but I think I might have a good excuse for staying with them.