Measuring Film Quality: Revisiting “Guilty Pleasures”

In February 2019, I posed a deceptively simple question:

What makes a pleasure “guilty?”

To answer this question, I focused on films, specifically those I had seen multiple times. I gathered publicly-available data on these movies in order to assess how these films were regarded by both critics and fans. At that time, there were 557 such films, though I excluded 23 Charlie Chan films, having discussed them in a previous post. With these data, I generated a “perceived quality” (“PQ”) score. By comparing how much I liked a film to its PQ, I compiled a list of 11 “guilty pleasure” films, those I love despite their relatively poor reputations.

Recently, I updated that list, both adding films I forgot to include the first time and watching others for a second time. I also updated all data from the Internet Movie Database (“IMDb”) and the online movie rating site Rotten Tomatoes (“RT”), learning the latter no longer provides a count of the number of RT users – as opposed to “critics” – choosing to rate a film. Instead, they provide a characterization such as “10,000+ ratings;” I removed it from the database.

The goal was less to reexamine guilty pleasures – that list barely changed – than it was to examine the process itself.

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On June 5, 2021 – OK, early on the morning of June 6 – I re-watched the 1996 Ted Demme film Beautiful Girls. In so doing, I increased the number of films in the database to 638.

Table 1 summarizes 10 of the remaining 13 variables, excluding title, category (described below) and date first shown in the United States. “Maltin” is the number of stars (BOMB=0) assigned by film critic Leonard Maltin in either his 2003 or 2008 Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.[1]

Table 1: Summary statistics for Film Ratings Measures

MeasureNMean (SD*)MedianMinimumMaximum
Year of Release6381973.3 (22.6)198119202019
Length (mins.)638102.5 (19.5)101.048  220
IMDb Score6387.1 (0.7)7.24.29.0
IMDb Raters638104,186.7 (239,116)22,887.51692,359,960
Tomatometer57976.3 (21.2)830100
RT Critic Average5797.0 (1.3)7.02.19.8
RT Critics63848.8 (60.4)340541
RT Audience Score63371.7 (17.8)762096
RT Audience Average6333.8 (0.4)3.82.34.6
Maltin Stars6152.8 (0.7)304

*SD=standard deviation, a measure of how tightly packed values are around the mean: the smaller the value, the tighter the packing. In a normal distribution, 68% of values are within 1 SD, 95% are within 2 SD and 99% are within 3 SD.

Compared to the original 557 films, this set of 638 films:

  • Were released one year earlier (mean and median) – though maximum increased to 2019 (Avengers: Endgame) and SD by 1.7.
  • Were 0.9 minutes shorter, with minimum now 48 minutes (Sherlock Jr.), increasing SD 1.7.
  • Had basically the same average/median IMDb score – a weighted average of user 0-10 ratings – and range, 4.2 (The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle) to 9.0 (12 Angry Men, The Dark Knight).
  • Saw a mean increase of ~25,000 IMDb raters, with median increase of ~3,800; SD increased ~55,000, echoing a wider range of 169 (Southside 1-1000) to 2,359,960 (The Dark Knight), reflecting passage of time and addition of recent films with >1 million IMDb raters: Shutter Island, The Prestige, The Avengers and Inception.
  • Saw average, median and SD of Tomatometer – percentage of RT critics deeming a film “fresh” – drop slightly, with range still 0 (Once Upon a Crime…) to 100 (n=44).
  • Saw no change in average, median and SD of RT critic rating – 0-10 scale – while range widened: 2.1 (Hexed) to 9.8 (Sherlock Jr.).
  • Saw average, median and SD of number of RT critics increase by 8.8, 4.0 and 17.9, respectively, reflecting widened range of 0 (Charlie Chan at the Race Track, Murder in the Big House) to 541 (Avengers: Endgame)
  • Brought no change to average, median and SD for RT Audience Score – Tomatometer for fans – while range increased slightly: 17 (Street of Chance) to 97 (12 Angry Men).
  • Saw average and median Audience Rating – 0-5 scale – increase by 0.3: the distribution simply shifted to the right, with same SD and new range of 2.3 (Rocky & Bullwinkle, The Opposite Sex and How to Live With Them) to 4.6 (n=5).
  • Brought no change to Maltin statistics – though BOMB films increased from four to five with addition of Yellowbeard.
  • Basically, while the films I added were slightly older and shorter on average, and raters increased with time, the distribution of ratings did not materially change with the addition of 81 movies and updated data – except RT Audience Ratings, which increased for most movies.

Put another way, the “median” film I have seen multiple times remains a good-but-not-spectacular film like the 1980 comedy 9 to 5, which is 109 minutes long, has an IMDb score of 6.9 from just over 29,000 rates, a Tomatometer of 83 with an average 7.0 rating from 41 critics, a RT Audience Score of 83 with an average 3.8 rating, and 3.5 stars from Maltin. Half of the films I have seen multiple times are better-rated overall than 9 to 5 and half are worse-rated.

But here we run into the problem I sidestepped in the original post – how to create a single quality measure for all 638 films, when I only have complete data for 561 (87.9%) of them, a decrease of 4.6 percentage points. The biggest problem is lackof Tomatometer and RT Critic Rating data for 59 films with fewer than five critics.

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Missing data is perhaps the bête noire of data analysts. There are only two solutions: 1) only use cases with complete data or 2) use statistical methods to estimate missing cases. The first solution is reasonable if you are not trying to generate a single value for every case and/or data are missing at random. Clearly this solution will not work here. Not only do we want a single value for each film – and only using the five variables (year, runtime, IMDb score, number IMDb raters, number RT critics) with no missing data feels inadequate – there is a clear pattern to the missing data. For example, 17 of the 23 films lacking Matlin stars were released after 2008. Conversely, the five films lacking RT audience data were released between 1936 and 1952, while the 59 films missing RT critic data have release year and runtime of 1947 and 80.6 minutes, respectively, with all but four released between 1931 and 1957.

This leaves estimation. A straightforward way is to use ordinary least squares regression (“OLS”), analogous to Y = Slope*X + “Where line crosses Y-axis”, or y = m*x + b, the formula we learned when first plotting data points. OLS regression similarly estimates how a dependent variable – say, RT Audience Score – is related to one or more independent variables – say, the five film measures with complete data.

Before we begin, however, let us set a baseline to see how well the estimation process worked: the correlation matrix derived from the 561 films with complete data. I characterize these correlations in the previous post, so I do not belabor them here.

Figure 1: Film Quality Measures Correlations Matrix (n=561)

Missing data estimation is an iterative process. I progressed from variables with the fewest missing cases (5 each for RT Audience Score and Average) to those with the most missing cases (59 for Tomatometer, RT Critic Average). Consecutive OLS regressions are summarized in Table 2; Intercooled Stata 9.2 (“Stata”)[2] was used for all analyses. Because Maltin Stars is an ordinal variable – it has seven discrete categories, rather than being continuous – I considered using ordinal logistic regression, but the OLS model proved a better fit; estimated Maltin Stars were rounded to the nearest “half-star.”

Table 2: Iterative Film Quality Measure OLS Regressions

VariableRT Aud ScoreRT Aud AveMaltin StarsRT Critic AveTomato- meter
Constant-532.6751.95211.71015.912-79.111
Year of Release0.217-0.00005-0.007-0.0080.043
Length (mins.)0.0020.00060.004-0.002-0.033
IMDb Score25.0980.0370.4880.6771.576
IMDb Raters-0.000027.7e-8-8.8e-75.0e-8-4.4e-6
RT Critic Average    14.858
RT Critics0.001-0.00020.0020.002-0.017
RT Audience Score 0.022-0.0040.0250.434
RT Audience Average  0.298-0.268-19.504
Maltin Stars   0.5251.126
Number of cases633633615579579
Adjusted R-squared0.8090.9170.4610.7730.855

These are solid models, accounting for between 46.1 (Maltin Stars) and 91.7% (RT Audience Average) of a dependent variable’s variance. Moreover, the estimated values had high face validity – they made “sense.” And as Figure 2 shows, the 151 estimated cases barely changed relationships between these variables.

Figure 2: Film Quality Measures Correlations Matrix (n=638)

On average, the 45 correlations increased 0.045, with IMDb Score’s 9 correlations increasing a mean 0.013, and Runtime and Year of Release increasing by 0.086 and 0.134, respectively. The latter increases reflect the preponderance of missing data among both older/shorter and newer/longer films – SD increased, increasing all 18 correlations. The story is the same if you look at the absolute value of changes: an average shift of 0.050 in either direction, with Tomatometer’s 9 correlations changing by a mean of 0.020.

In other words, this data estimation process was very successful.

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Armed with complete data, I used factor analysis[3] to calculate a single “film quality” score. The results were nearly identical to those from the previous post: using all 10 variables yields two factors accounting for 68.1% (PQ) and 26.0% (Public Awareness) of the total variance, while removing year of release, runtime and numbers of raters yields one factor (PQ) accounting for an astonishing 92.6% of the total variance: IMDb users, RT critics, RT fans and Maltin rate movies in remarkably similar ways. Table 3 presents the factor loadings (correlations with underlying dimension being assessed) and score coefficients used to generate a single PQ score.

Table 3: Factor Analysis of Film Quality Measures, Two Iterations

VariableAll 10 Variables 68.2%“Rating” Variables Only 92.6%
 LoadingsCoefficientsLoadingsCoefficients
Year of Release-0.1720.013  
Length (mins.)0.2480.017  
IMDb Score0.9350.2270.9140.104
IMDb Raters0.4250.035  
Tomatometer0.8440.0990.8690.142
RT Critic Average0.9210.3110.9320.339
RT Critics0.3910.059  
RT Audience Score0.9190.1940.9230.253
RT Audience Average0.9030.1710.9030.203
Maltin Stars0.6790.0380.6910.037

From these coefficients, Stata[4] calculated two PQ scores – PQAll and PQRating – for each film. Think of these values as SD above or below 9 to 5.  They are correlated a whopping 0.992, though they do have subtle differences, as Table 4 reveals:

Table 4: 30 Highest Rated Films I Have Seen Multiple Times, Compared by PQ Score

PQAllPQScore
30. The Apartment30. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
29. Memento29. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
28. No Country For Old Men28. Witness for the Prosecution
27. Some Like It Hot27. L.A. Confidential
26. Sherlock Jr.26. The Apartment
25. Vertigo25. Vertigo
24. The Wizard of Oz24. Annie Hall
23. The Third Man23. Back to the Future
22. L.A. Confidential22. The General
21. The Avengers21. Kind Hearts and Coronets
20. Double Indemnity20. The Wizard of Oz
19. On the Waterfront19. Metropolis
18. M (1931)18. Some Like It Hot
17. Metropolis17. North By Northwest
16. North By Northwest16. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
15. Chinatown15. Double Indemnity
14. Back to the Future14. Chinatown
13. Sunset Boulevard13. The Third Man
12. Rear Window12. On the Waterfront
11. Citizen Kane11. Rear Window
10. It’s A Wonderful Life10. It’s a Wonderful Life
9. Psycho9. M (1931)
8. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark8. Psycho
7. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope7. Citizen Kane
6. Casablanca6. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
5. Inception5. Sunset Boulevard
4. 12 Angry Men4. Sherlock Jr.
3. Avengers: Endgame3. Pulp Fiction
2. Pulp Fiction2. Casablanca
1. The Dark Knight1. 12 Angry Men

Just 24 films appear on both lists (including L.A. Confidential, my favorite movie). Six newer (median 2009), longer (146.5 minutes), more-oft-rated films (1,214,741 IMDb raters, 352 RT critics) films in the PQAll Top 30 are replaced by six older (1945), shorter (96.5 minutes), slightly-less-oft-rated films (131,469; 58.5). Only six films – It’s A Wonderful Life, Psycho, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Casablanca, 12 Angry Men and Pulp Fiction – rank in the top 10 on both PQ scores.

Still, if I were to choose a set of recent films likeliest still to be highly regarded a few decades from now, Memento, No Country for Old Men, The Avengers, Inception, Avengers: Endgame and The Dark Knight are an excellent starting point. Three of them, along with The Prestige and Batman Begins, were directed by Christopher Nolan – perhaps the best director of our time.

While this is a very impressive list of films – I was even more blown away by 12 Angry Men the second time – it is based ONLY on films I have seen multiple times. It excludes highly-regarded films (per the 20 top-ranked films on IMDb) I have only seen once: The Shawshank Redemption, first two Godfather films, Fight Club, Forrest Gump, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, The Matrix, Goodfellas, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Se7en. And then there are movies I have not seen at all: Schindler’s List; the Lord of the Rings trilogy; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; and Seven Samurai.

In fact, I have only seen four of the top 20 IMDb-rated movies multiple times: The Dark Knight, 12 Angry Men, Pulp Fiction and Inception. This reflects my personal taste in movies: older, noir-tinged, mysteries and comedies rather than more contemporary fantasy, war-based or western films; whereas the median year of release of the top 250 films by PQScore is 1971.5, respectively, that of the 250 films by IMDb score is 1994 – with 51 being released in 2011 or later, a strong indication of recency bias in the IMDb score data.

Another way to consider my particular taste in movies is to examine the distribution of year of release (Figure 3). There are two distinct peaks –1946-50 (n=73, 11.4%) and 1982-98 (n=256, 40.1%). The former period roughly corresponds to the pinnacle of classic film noir, while the latter is my primary movie-attending period – ages 15 to 32. Indeed, 119 (18.7%) of these films are classic-era films noir, released between 1940 (Stranger on the Third Floor) and 1958 (Touch of Evil) with average PQAll and PQScore of 0.03 and 0.08, respectively (relative to 0, overall). This excludes 18 films directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 10 of which are widely considered film noir, with average PQAll and PQScore of 0.92and 0.94, respectively. Finally, there are 49 films released before 1960 – not film noir or Hitchcock, not Charlie Chan (n=23; both -0.66), starring The Marx Brothers (n=9; 0.38, 0.48) – with averages of 0.92 and 0.97, respectively. The other 395 films (61.9%) – excluding the 25 directed by Woody Allen[5] (n=25; 0.26, 0.30) – have averages of -0.15 and -0.18, respectively. These values are broadly similar to those from the previous post, excepting the addition of “Charlie Chan.”

Figure 3: Distribution of Year of Release is Bimodal

Even more instructive is to compare my favorite film by time period (>5 films) – or, at least, my best guess absent a formal assessment – to the film with the highest PQAll and PQScore from that period.

1920 to 1930

Number films = 9

Average PQAll = 1.12

Average PQScore = 1.20

Top film: Metropolis (1.61, 1.53)

Personal favorite: The Phantom of the Opera (0.76, 0.84), albeit barely

Comment: Phantom has the lowest PQ scores of the nine films released in the 1920s I have seen multiple times, revealing their overall quality.

1931

Number films = 5

Average PQAll = 0.65

Average PQScore = 0.74

Top film: M (1.61,1.65)

Personal favorite: M

Comment: I have seen at least five other films released in 1931, making it a key year in my personal fandom

1932 to 1934

Number films = 5

Average PQAll = 0.72

Average PQScore = 0.83

Top film: The Thin Man (1.32,1 .43)

Personal favorite: The Thin Man

1935

Number films = 5

Average PQAll = 0.27

Average PQScore = 0.34

Top film: A Night at the Opera (1.23, 1.30)

Personal favorite: A Night at the Opera

1936 to 1939

Number films = 29

Average PQAll = -0.18

Average PQScore = -0.17

Top film: The Wizard of Oz (1.57, 1.50)

Personal favorites: After the Thin Man (0.83, 0.94), Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (-0.18, -0.15), Charlie Chan in Reno (-0.62, -0.64)

Comment: For me, the 1930s combine genuinely great films – eight from the Marx Brothers – with 16 Charlie Chan films.

1940

Number films = 10

Average PQAll = 0.19

Average PQScore = 0.24

Top film: Rebecca (1.43, 1.41)

Personal favorite: Foreign Correspondent (0.66, 0.72), though Rebecca and His Girl Friday (1.28, 1.35) are wicked close

Comment: Hitchcock made his first Hollywood films in 1940, and they were knockouts…though the best was yet to come.

1941

Number films = 11

Average PQAll = 0.19

Average PQScore = 0.23

Top film: Citizen Kane (1.75, 1.66)

Personal favorite: The Maltese Falcon (1.38, 1.44)

Comment: Film noir bursts on the scene with a bang.

1942

Number films = 9

Average PQAll = 0.04

Average PQScore = 0.07

Top film: Casablanca (1.88, 1.77)

Personal favorite: All Through the Night (0.15, 0.26)

Comment: …as does Humphrey Bogart.

1943 to 1944

Number films = 10

Average PQAll = 0.64

Average PQScore = 0.70

Top film: Double Indemnity (1.61, 1.59)

Personal favorite: Laura (1.25, 1.31)

Comment: 1944 is the best year for film quality (0.74, 0.79) since 1931

1945

Number films = 7

Average PQAll = -0.25

Average PQScore = -0.20

Top film: Scarlet Street (0.82, 0.91)

Personal favorite: Spellbound (0.40, 0.43)

Comment: Followed by a mediocre 1945.

1946

Number films = 17

Average PQAll = 0.01

Average PQScore = 0.05

Top film = It’s A Wonderful Life (1.77, 1.65)

Personal favorite: Deadline at Dawn (-0.56, -0.50)

Comment: This is the first large disconnect between the “best” film released in a year and my favorite film from that year.

1947

Number films = 19

Average PQAll = -0.18

Average PQScore = -0.22

Top film: Out of the Past (1.77, 1.65)

Personal favorite: Out of the Past

1948

Number films = 13

Average PQAll = 0.30

Average PQScore = 0.38

Top film: Rope (0.91, 0.94)

Personal favorites: Call Northside 777 (0.09, 0.09) and The Naked City (0.39, 0.43)

1949

Number films = 11

Average PQAll = 0.26

Average PQScore = 0.30

Top film = The Third Man (1.58, 1.62)

Personal favorite: Impact (-0.60, -0.65)

1950

Number films = 13

Average PQAll = 0.08

Average PQScore = 0.12

Top film: Sunset Boulevard (1.70, 1.69)

Personal favorite: Where the Sidewalk Ends (0.59, 0.71)

Comment: Classic film noir and Hitchcock yielded some of the best films ever made.

1951

Number films = 8

Average PQAll = 0.20

Average PQScore = 0.28

Top film: Strangers on a Train (1.27, 1.31)

Personal favorite: The Enforcer (-0.19, -0.15)

1952

Number films = 6

Average PQAll = -0.05

Average PQScore = -0.01

Top film: The Narrow Margin (0.72, 0.85)

Personal favorite: Kansas City Confidential (-0.05, -0.02)

Comment: This is the first time the best film I have seen multiple times released that year is far from the best film released that year. That honor goes to Singin’ in the Rain, a movie I have yet to see in its entirety.

1953

Number films = 7

Average PQAll = -0.02

Average PQScore = 0.02

Top film: The Big Heat (1.04, 1.12)

Personal favorite: 99 River Street (0.35, 0.47)

1954

Number films = 7

Average PQAll = 0.40

Average PQScore = 0.38

Top film: Rear Window (1.72, 1.64)

Personal favorite: Dial M For Murder (0.88, 0.84), edging out Rear Window

Comment: I have yet to see Seven Samurai…and Hitchcock has hit his absolute peak.

1955

Number films = 7

Average PQAll = 0.77

Average PQScore = 0.85

Top films: Diabolique (1.25, 1.27) and Rififi (1.24, 1.27)

Personal favorite: Muerte de un ciclista (Death of a Cyclist) (0.70, 0.82)

Comment: For the first time since 1920-31, foreign films dominate – with Germany replaced by France and Spain. It also marks the shift the overseas shift of film noir, presaging La Nouvelle Vague.

1956 to 1959

Number films = 15

Average PQAll = 0.94

Average PQScore = 0.94

Top film: 12 Angry Men (1.95, 1.80)

Personal favorite: 12 Angry Men

1960-69

Number films = 26

Average PQAll = 0.31

Average PQScore = 0.33

Top film: Psycho (1.79, 1.66)

Personal favorite: The Apartment (1.49, 1.44), though Psycho is close.

Comment: I have not seen multiple times any films released in 1961, 1969 or 1970. And most of the 1960s is a cinematic wasteland for me…though I may have seen Dr. Strangelove, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb more than once.

1970 to 1972

Number films = 6

Average PQAll = 0.36

Average PQScore = 0.39

Top film = Sleuth (1.17, 1.19)

Personal favorites: What’s Up, Doc? (0.70, 0.76) and Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (0.79, 0.79)

Comment: The Godfather – which I have only seen once – is the best film released in 1972. Some would argue…ever.

1973

Number films = 8

Average PQAll = 0.44

Average PQScore = 0.46

Top films:  Paper Moon (1.32, 1.36) and The Sting (1.37, 1.31)

Personal favorite: Charley Varrick (0.45, 0,49) edges The Sting and American Graffiti (0.83, 0.90).

1974 to 1975

Number films = 11

Average PQAll = 0.47

Average PQScore = 0.51

Top film:  Chinatown (1.66, 1.61)

Personal favorite: Murder on the Orient Express (0.41, 0.43)

Comment: Chinatown is a masterpiece; The Godfather: Part 2 (only seen once) is considered better.

1976 to 1977

Number films = 10

Average PQAll = 0.19

Average PQScore = 0.20

Top film: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1.87, 1.57)

Personal favorites: Murder by Death (-0.06, -0.05) and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (-0.46, -0.39)

1978

Number films = 11

Average PQAll = -0.64

Average PQScore = -0.61

Top film: Superman (0.81, 0.85)

Personal favorites: Death on the Nile (0.04, 0.03) and Thank God It’s Friday (-2.26, -2.24)

Comment: I genuinely do not understand why the charming Friday does get more love. And as solid as Superman is, The Deer Hunter (which I have not seen) is probably the best film released in 1978.

1979

Number films = 12

Average PQAll = 0.06

Average PQScore = 0.11

Top films: Being There (1.20, 1.20) and Manhattan (1.19, 1.21)

Personal favorites: Manhattan and The In-Laws (0.50, 0.61)

1980

Number films = 12

Average PQAll = -0.22

Average PQScore = -0.18

Top film: Airplane! (1.02, 1.06)

Personal favorite: Times Square (-0.60, -0.55)

Comment: I have only seen Empire Strikes Back once.

1981

Number films = 11

Average PQAll = 0.23

Average PQScore = 0.29

Top film: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

Personal favorite: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

1982

Number films = 17

Average PQAll = 0.06

Average PQScore = 0.09

Top film: Blade Runner (1.30, 1.14)

Personal favorites: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (0.13, 0.15) and Hammett (-0.60, -0.52)

Comment: Wow, Harrison Ford dominated movies from 1977 and 1983.

1983

Number films = 9

Average PQAll = -0.18

Average PQScore = -0.12

Top film: A Christmas Story (1.14, 1.15)

Personal favorite: Valley Girl (-0.22, -0.06)

1984

Number films = 19

Average PQAll = -0.34

Average PQScore = -0.30

Top film: This is Spinal Tap (1.22, 1.26)

Personal favorite: The Cotton Club (-0.67, -0.66)

Comment: We are now squarely in the age of mediocre films I saw in the theater as a teenager/young adult then chose to watch again. And maybe I need to see Amadeus again.

1985

Number films = 14

Average PQAll = 0.22

Average PQScore = 0.24

Top film: Back to the Future (1.70, 1.48)

Personal favorite: Back to the Future, though The Sure Thing is close (0.09, 0.18)

1986

Number films = 17

Average PQAll = -0.16

Average PQScore = -0.14

Top films: Hannah and Her Sisters (1.11, 1.12) and Blue Velvet (1.07, 1.08)

Personal favorite: While Legal Eagles (-1.73, -1.83) is a top guilty pleasure, I may like Hannah more.

Comment: Yes, I have never seen Aliens.

1987

Number films = 17

Average PQAll = -0.33

Average PQScore = -0.32

Top film: Wings of Desire (1.39, 1.41)

Personal favorite: House of Games (0.57, 0.67)

1988

Number films = 13

Average PQAll = -0.43

Average PQScore = -0.41

Top film: Die Hard (1.48, 1.33)

Personal favorite: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (0.97, 0.97)

1989

Number films = 13

Average PQAll = -0.49

Average PQScore = -0.49

Top film: Crimes and Misdemeanors (0.98, 1.00)

Personal favorite: Forced to choose from a lot of meh, I pick The Big Picture (-0.84, -0.77) for its charming cast.

1990

Number films = 13

Average PQAll = -0.32

Average PQScore = -0.29

Top film: Metropolitan (0.58, 0.66)

Personal favorite: Metropolitan

Comment: The one film released in 1990 in the IMDb Top 250 is Goodfellas, which I look forward to rewatching. [Ed. note: I neglected to add Awakenings, which I have seen twice, and which tops Metropolitan among films I have seen multiple times – though the latter is still my personal favorite among these group.]

1991

Number films = 20

Average PQAll = -0.70

Average PQScore = -0.73

Top film: JFK (0.99, 0.85)

Personal favorite: If I have to pick one from this meh collection – Dead Again (0.15, 0.23)

Comment: I should watch The Silence of the Lambs again.

1992

Number films = 16

Average PQAll = -0.63

Average PQScore = -0.64

Top film: The Player (0.94, 0.98)

Personal favorite: The Public Eye (-0.99, -1.01)

Comment: I should watch Reservoir Dogs again – as we hit rock bottom in the early 1990s.

1993

Number films = 13

Average PQAll = -0.85

Average PQScore = -0.85

Top film: The Fugitive (1.01, 0.95)

Personal favorite: Manhattan Murder Mystery (0.34, 0.40)

Comment: I spoke too soon…yeesh. Perhaps once I finally see Schindler’s List. [Ed. note: A few days after posting this, I watched Dazed and Confused for the second time, and I think it replaces both The Fugitive and Manhattan Murder Mystery – making it both the “best” film and my favorite film release in 1993 I have seen multiple times. I have also seen Jurassic Park only once.]

1994

Number films = 18

Average PQAll = -0.32

Average PQScore = -0.35

Top film: Pulp Fiction (2.16, 1.72)

Personal favorite: The Shadow (-1.63, -1.74) – easily the widest gap between “best” and “favorite”

Comment: Do not be fooled by these data. Hollywood has now entered an absolute golden age, rivaling its best years. Remember, I have only seen Shawshank Redemption, Forrest Gump and the phenomenal Léon: The Professional once. And I have never seen The Lion King. These four movies and Pulp Fiction are in the top 40 films by IMDb score.

1995

Number films = 12

Average PQAll = -0.28

Average PQScore = -0.34

Top film: The Usual Suspects (2.16, 1.72)

Personal favorite: The Usual Suspects

Comment: Eight of the IMDb Top 250 were released in 1995.

1996

Number films = 15

Average PQAll = -0.36

Average PQScore = -0.36

Top film: Fargo (1.42, 1.31)

Personal favorite: Big Night (0.69, 0.78), probably.

1997

Number films = 9

Average PQAll = 0.24

Average PQScore = 0.20

Top film: L.A. Confidential (1.59, 1.44)

Personal favorite: L.A. Confidential

Comment: I am still upset L.A. Confidential did not win the Academy Award for Best Picture…and Titanic is not even in the IMDb Top 250; L.A. Confidential only ranks 5th.

1998

Number films = 16

Average PQAll = -0.24

Average PQScore = -0.26

Top film: Rushmore (1.08, 1.07)

Personal favorites: Dark City (0.45, 0.37) and Pleasantville (0.54, 0.46)

Comment: I have zero interest in Saving Private Ryan – in fact, Steven Spielberg does almost nothing for me. There, I said it. And I just realized I left The Big Lebowski off my list – though it would not rank much higher than Rushmore.

1999

Number films = 14

Average PQAll = -0.40

Average PQScore = -0.51

Top film: Toy Story 2 (1.34, 1.19)

Personal favorites: Cradle Will Rock (-0.24, -0.29) and Mystery Men (-0.91, -0.96)

Comment: I may watch Fight Club and The Matrix again at some point.

2000 to 2001

Number films = 12

Average PQAll = 0.35

Average PQScore = 0.21

Top film: Memento (1.52, 1.19)

Personal favorite: Mulholland Drive (1.03, 0.79)

2002-09

Number films = 20

Average PQAll = 0.19

Average PQScore = -0.14

Top film: The Dark Knight (2.19, 1.39)

Personal favorite: The Dark Knight

Comment: For the first time, the difference in scores reflects the bias in PQAll toward longer, more recent films with many raters.

2010-19

Number films = 12

Average PQAll = 1.09

Average PQScore = 0.72

Top film: Avengers: Endgame (2.03, 1.30) and Inception (1.95, 1.17)

Personal favorite: Predestination (0.28, 0.10)

Comment: We come full circle: as in the 1920s, the handful of films released in the 2010s I have seen multiple times are generally well-regarded. And my favorite (sorry, Endgame, Hugo, Doctor Strange) is again least well-regarded, but still better than average.

**********

Figure 4 reinforces the year-by-year analysis. It shows early and late peaks: one for the 1920s because I carefully chose the best films to watch and rewatch, and one for the 2010s, because I stopped seeing movies in theatres first, choosing the best films to watch (OK, and all 23 Marvel Cinematic Universe films) then watch again. Moreover, average PQScore is higher than average PQAll until about 1940 – when it basically draws even until the early 1990s – because the latter elevates longer, recent, heavily-reviewed films. Around 2000, average PQAll pulls much further ahead for the same reason.

After a sharp decline in both values through the 1930s (excepting a slight uptick in 1931) – reflecting the Fox Charlie Chan films I love more than most – the emergence of film noir around 1940 pulls values up again. They generally stay above 0 through the early 1950s, peaking sharply in 1944. A preponderance of exceptional Hitchcock and foreign films sends scores skyrocketing in the late 1950s, with a lower peak from the 1960s into the mid-1970s: once again a lack of films elevates scores.

Figure 4: Average PQAll and PQScores by Year of Release/Midpoint of Range of Year of Release, 1920-2019

Almost by definition, I first saw any film released through the mid-1970s, not in a movie theater, but on television, through one of Yale’s films societies or through a rental/streaming service. This will inevitably bias toward “better” films. That changed in the late 1970s, when I began regularly seeing films for the first time in a movie theater – resulting in a much wider range of quality. The steep decline in scores in 1978 shows that, as does the zig-zagging around 0 through the mid-1980s. I cannot really explain why scores plummet in the late 1980s and early 1990s, though there is evidence overall film quality was much lower in those year.

The sharp spike up in 1994 masks an even more dramatic increase in overall film quality. I have long thought the peace and prosperity of the last six years of the Clinton Administration yielded a new golden age in American cinema; perhaps studio executives felt freer to experiment with original screenplays. I also though that changed after the 9-11, but…maybe not. Still, I suspect the preponderance of post-2000 films in the IMDb Top 250 reflects recency bias more than actual quality.

Basically, while I consider myself a cinephile, like everyone who watches movies my tastes range from genuine works of art to the guiltiest of guilty pleasures. And that is how it is supposed to be – we like what we like, not what we are “supposed” to like. Still, whether I am simply more honest in admitting how much I genuinely like the Fox Charlie Chan films, and films like Deadline at Dawn, Impact, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Thank God It’s Friday, Times Square, Hammett, The Cotton Club, Legal Eagles, The Big Picture, The Public Eye, The Shadow and Mystery Men remains to be seen.

In the meantime, I just shared Cat People (1942) with my wife Nell – who quite enjoyed it – so I need to update my Excel workbook. Again.

Until next time…


[1] New York, NY: New American Library

[2] StataCorp. 2005. Stata Statistical Software: Release 9. College Station, TX: StataCorp LP.

[3] Specifically: factor analysis, principal factors, varimax rotation, forcing one or two factors, depending on input variables.

[4] Using “Predict” command in Stata

[5] Despite my ambivalence about Allen as a human being, I still love many of his films.

Finding The Worst Character In Neo-Noir: Establishing The Films

WARNING: Spoilers ahead!!

On March 16, 2021, Noir Alley—TCM’s weekend film noir screening hosted by Film Noir Foundation Founder and President Eddie Muller—launched its “March Badness” competition. Mimicking NCAA Men’s and Women’s College Basketball March Madness, pairs of villains from 16 classic-era films noir were pitted against each other in a series of 15 votes on Twitter. Phyllis Dietrichson, chillingly portrayed by Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, emerged as the top villain of classic film noir.

But who is the top “villain” of neo-noir, which arguably began with Point Blank in 1967?

**********

A few weeks ago, needing a break from querying literary agents about my book Interrogating Memory: Film Noir Spurs a Deep Dive Into My Family History…and My Own, I began to watch movies late at night. By which I mean, early in the morning. Wanting a change from older black-and-white films, I sought out far more recent titles I had been meaning to watch, like the 2014 thriller Nightcrawler, starring a skeletally-creepy Jake Gyllenhall.

It was this film, an astonishing two-part review of Taxi Driver, and a second viewing—maybe two months ago—of the criminally-underrated Wild Things, that got me thinking about the worst of the worst among neo-noir characters.

Just as an aside, while it is not remotely neo-noir, I was absolutely, profoundly and completely blown away by the 2014 film Predestination. As a rule, I never want to watch a movie soon after seeing it for the first time, but I watched it again within a week with my wife Nell. She had the same reaction. It is that good. Bonkers, and utterly nonsensical, yes, but…also beautifully filmed, incredibly tight in its storytelling, pitch perfect dialogue and featuring some of the best acting—Sarah Snook holding her own, if not more, with the always-reliable Ethan Hawke—I have seen in years. 

Of course, asserting Predestination “is not remotely neo-noir” implies the existence of a universally-accepted definition of neo-noir. It does not exist. Instead, there are writers and other “experts” who declare certain films noir, and we accept those declarations. To put it another way, this is how I conclude Chapter 6 (So…What Is Film Noir, Again?) of Interrogating Memory:

For the final time…what is film noir?

Glibly reprising Peter Wollen, a film noir is any film listed in my research database, especially the 514 categorized as Universal [Ed. Note: It has at least 12.0 POINTS, out of a maximum 67.5]. That is, a film is labeled “noir” only because at least one reputable expert has so labeled it; my research simply takes this “definition” to the logical extreme by combining a wide range of lists into a “weighted” list. Glibness aside, however, Wollen’s “definition” highlights a basic tautology: in saying a film noir is any film listed in the Panorama, he was saying it was any film Bourde and Chaumeton found on someone else’s list with a few selections of their own. Later analysts repeat this process: begin with oft-listed titles then add a few “new” titles of their own. Indeed, 12 LISTS include at least 20 titles which appear only on that LIST.

[…]

Nonetheless, a consensus definition could be constructed given sufficient agreement upon the set of films to assess for commonalities of plot, characterization, setting, style and cinematography. Attempting this in my film noir class, I landed on three key ideas—the fateful decision, criminality as critique of capitalism, and existential nihilism—along with the adjectives alienated, brutal, cynical and obsessive. I could easily have added “chiaroscuro cinematography” because film, as already noted, is a visual medium.

From the latter list, “alienated” jumps out at me. If anything ties together both film noir—with its morally-ambiguous anti-heroes, doubling/mirroring, critique of the prevailing economic and social order, and gender and sexual anxieties—and the stories I tell in this book, it is “alienation.”

Despite not appearing in my database, Nightcrawler absolutely qualifies as neo-noir, or just plain film noir. Bloom is every bit as alienated from society as Robert DeNiro’s Travis Bickle, and he turns to “nightcrawling,” freelance videography of crime scenes sold to local stations for their morning news broadcasts, because he cannot find gainful employment. There is just something…off…about him. The world he inhabits is unspeakably brutal, cynicism pervades the entire broadcast news infrastructure, and his obsession with internet-driven “self-help” strategies replaces whatever conscience he once had; morally-ambiguous is an understatement. And while Bloom is the film’s protagonist, he is not a hero as Joseph Campbell would define it. Well, OK, he does kind of follow the “hero’s journey”—but we barely ever sympathize with him. This journey is a damning critique of our economic and social order, and while there may not be direct mirroring/doubling, Rene Russo’s TV producer clearly suffers because of her gender—a woman who needs to be ruthless to survive in a “man’s world.” Finally, Robert Elswit’s cinematography sublimely captures a nighttime Los Angeles awash in harsh neon and emergency vehicle lights—or inside a darkened TV video room. His photography allows Bloom—using the harsh light of a videocamera instead of flash powder—to become a 21st-century Weegee.

In short, Nightcrawler is a neo-noir, not only for this exercise, but by any reasonable definition.

**********

Following the example of Noir Alley and spurred on by my thoughts about Louis Bloom, I decided to design a “Neo-Noir Villain” competition. Realizing simply brainstorming characters from memory was insufficient, I turned to my database for help. My Excel film noir database contains 4,825 titles—produced, at least in part, in 66 nations and released between 1912 and 2015—which at least one reputable writer has labeled (explicitly or implicitly) “noir.” There are 2,171 films released in 1967 or later; the median year of release of these latter films is 1993, with an average release year of 1991.3 (compared to 1961.0 and 1968.6 overall).

I devised two measures of how often each film is cited as noir by reputable writers. LISTS is simply a count of appearances on 32 publicly-available lists of at least 120 titles. POINTS adds to LISTS some form of additional recognition on the original 32 LISTS and appearance on one of 13 publicly-available lists of fewer than 120 titles. The categories Universal, Debatable and Idiosyncratic are based upon cut points of 12.0 and 5.0.

Table 1: Films Released 1967-2015 with 8.0 POINTS or more

TitleDirectorRelease YearLISTSPOINTS
ChinatownRoman Polanski19742032.0
Point BlankJohn Boorman19672025.0
Taxi DriverMartin Scorsese19761622.0
Body HeatLawrence Kasdan19811622.0
LA ConfidentialCurtis Hanson19971421.0
The Long GoodbyeRobert Altman19731419.0
Farewell, My LovelyDick Richards19751618.0
Night MovesArthur Penn19751518.0
Blood SimpleJoel Coen19841418.0
Se7enDavid Fincher19951218.0
The Last SeductionJohn Dahl19941317.0
Blade RunnerRidley Scott19821117.0
KluteAlan J Pakula19711116.0
Reservoir DogsQuentin Tarantino19921515.0
Dirty HarryDon Siegel19711415.0
The GriftersStephen Frears19901315.0
Pulp FictionQuentin Tarantino19941115.0
MementoChristopher Nolan20001115.0
Basic InstinctPaul Verhoeven19921114.0
Devil In a Blue DressCarl Franklin19951014.0
Le SamouraiJean-Pierre Melville19671014.0
Red Rock WestJohn Dahl19931313.0
The ConversationFrancis Ford Coppola19741213.0
The Usual SuspectsBryan Singer19951113.0
Sin CityFrank Miller2005913.0
HustleDon Siegel19751212.0
The French ConnectionWilliam Friedkin19711212.0
MadiganRobert Aldrich19681212.0
Blue VelvetDavid Lynch19861112.0
HeatMichael Mann19951012.0
After Dark, My SweetJames Foley19901111.0
Black WidowBob Rafelson19871011.0
House of GamesDavid Mamet19871011.0
Against All OddsTaylor Hackford19841011.0
The DriverWalter Hill19781011.0
Mulholland DriveDavid Lynch2001911.0
CollateralMichael Mann2004811.0
The Postman Always Rings TwiceBob Rafelson19811010.5
Angel HeartAlan Parker19871010.0
Death WishMichael Winner19741010.0
Kill Me AgainJohn Dahl 19891010.0
ThiefMichael Mann19811010.0
MarlowePaul Bogart1969810.0
Get CarterMike Hodges1971710.0
The Big SleepMichael Winner197899.5
One False MoveCarl Franklin199299.0
The Hot SpotDennis Hopper 199099.0
ManhunterMichael Mann198699.0
Hickey & BoggsRobert Culp197299.0
The Friends of Eddie CoylePeter Yates197399.0
HammettWim Wenders198299.0
The OutfitJohn Flynn197699.0
FargoJoel Coen199689.0
To Live and Die in LAWilliam Friedkin198589.0
Cape FearMartin Scorsese199188.0
The Silence of the LambsJonathan Demme199188.0
The Two JakesJack Nicholson 199088.0
D.O.A.Annabel Jankel198888.0
Fatal AttractionAdrian Lyne 198788.0
No Way OutRoger Donaldson198788.0
The DepartedMartin Scorsese 200688.0
The DetectiveGordon Douglas196888.0
A History of ViolenceDavid Cronenberg200578.0
Jackie BrownQuentin Tarantino199778.0
BoundLarry Wachowski 199678.0
True ConfessionsUlu Grosbard198178.0

Of the 66 films listed in Table 1, five were released in the 1960’s, 17 in the 1970’s, 18 in the 1980’s, 20 in the 1990’s and six in the 2000’s; as of this writing I have seen 50 of them. The exceptional Chinatown is the only one of these films in the overall top 100 by POINTS, with Point Blank, Taxi Driver, Body Heat (a reimagining of the James M. Cain deadly love triangles in Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice) and L.A. Confidential also in the top 250. Overall, 30 of these films are Universal. Five of these films—Farewell, My Lovely; The Big Sleep; The Postman Always Rings Twice; Cape Fear and D.O.A. are remakes of classic films noir—while Against All Odds is a reworking of Out of the Past and No Way Out is a clever modernization of The Big Clock. The Two Jakes is a sequel to Chinatown, while Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs both feature genius cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter. Michael Mann has four films on this list, while three directors appear three times: John Dahl, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino; seven directors appear twice. In general, these films employ the same characters and plots as classic film noir—corrupt power and crooked cops, private detectives and government agents of questionable ethics, professional thieves and criminal organizations, men and women manipulating other people (or, in Memento and Mulholland Drive, themselves) for their own gain, psychotic loners and hired assassins, and complex mysteries that—most famously in Night Moves—often chase their own causal tail without satisfactory resolution. In fact, what truly distinguishes these films from their “classic” ancestors is the creative use of color film stock, bigger budgets and higher-quality productions, and the abolition of Hays Code restrictions on what can be shown on screen. The sex and violence are on vivid display, right down to the buckets of blood in Reservoir Dogs and the murder scenes in films like Bound (featuring an explicit lesbian romance), A History of Violence and True Confessions. The utter depravity of films of Se7en, Sin City and, to a lesser extent, Pulp Fiction would have defied the creative genius of even the best classic film noir directors; the unique visual style of Sin City would have been a challenge as well. But perhaps the single biggest difference is the number of putative villains who get away with their crimes in these films, not least in Chinatown, Taxi Driver and Body Heat. This was the one Hays Code stricture classic film noir did not violate: their wrongdoers were invariably punished, either by imprisonment or death.

Across all 4,825 films, meanwhile, average LISTS and POINTS are 4.0 and 4.5, respectively, while films released in 1967 or later average 2.0 on both; median values are 2 and 2.0 for all films and 1 and 1.0 for all films released in 1967 or later. Curiously, the median release year for the 66 films in Table 1 is 1987 (five of these films were released that year), while the average is 1985.0, much lower than values for all 2,171 post-1966 database films.

This is not surprising, actually, given that there are fewer “opportunities” for these films to accumulate LISTS and, by extension, POINTS: of the 32 LISTS, 27 contain films released after 1966, 16 contain films released after 1999, and only seven contain films released after 2009. Thus, while I officially classify The Killer Inside Me and Shutter Island (2010; 3 LISTS, 3.0 POINTS), Black Swan (2010; 3, 4.0) and Drive (2011; 4, 5.0) as Idiosyncratic, their appearance on about half of possible LISTS sources elevates their neo-noir status closer to Universal.

Thus, a better way to identify the most-often-cited neo-noir films is to examine what percentage of possible POINTS a film has; this has little effect on earlier films since only a few of the 45 sources for LISTS and POINTS could potentially exclude them. Table 2 shows maximum POINTS by release year, based upon the most recent release year for films included in a source.

Table 2: Maximum POINTS by Release Year, 1967-2015

Release YearMaximum POINTS
196753.5
196851.5
1969-7450.5
197546.5
1976-7945.5
1980-8343.5
1984-9241.5
1993-9538.5
199637.5
199735.5
1998-9933.5
200031.5
200125.5
200223.5
2003-0421.5
200520.5
200619.5
2007-0910.5
2010-119.5
20128.5
20135.5
20142.0
20151.0
2016-???0.0

Maximum possible POINTS declines relatively steadily over time, with two notable exceptions: a drop of 6.0 from 2000 to 2001 and a drop of 9.0 from 2006 to 2007. Returning to the four films from 2010 and 2011 cited above, the percentage of possible POINTS for The Killer Inside Me and Shutter Island is 31.6%, for Black Swan is 42.1% and for Drive (itself a reimagining of 1978’s The Driver) is 52.6%, roughly on par with films ranked in the mid-50’s overall.

Applying this methodology to all 2,171 films yields Opportunity-Adjusted POINT (“OAP”). Dividing 12.0, the Universal cut point, by 67.5 suggests 17.8% as the cut point for “Universal Neo Noir.” If I exclude 16 films with POINTS<3.0, there are 95 such films. The 13 films with OAP≥42.7%—the equivalent of 29.5 POINTS, or Top 100 overall—are in boldface, while films appearing in Table 3 are asterisked.

Table 3: Films Designated “Universal Neo Noir”

TitleDirectorRelease YearPOINTSOAP
No Country for Old MenJoel Coen2007766.7%
Chinatown*Roman Polanski19743263.4%
Sin City*Frank Miller20051363.4%
L.A. Confidential*Curtis Hanson19972159.2%
DriveNicolas Winding Refn2011552.6%
Collateral*Michael Mann20041151.2%
Body Heat*Lawrence Kasdan19812250.6%
Taxi Driver*Martin Scorsese19762248.4%
Memento*Christopher Nolan20001547.6%
The Dark KnightChristopher Nolan2008547.6%
Se7en*David Fincher19951846.8%
Point Blank*John Boorman19672546.7%
The Last Seduction*John Dahl19941744.2%
Blood Simple*Joel Coen19841843.4%
Mulholland Drive *David Lynch20011143.1%
Black SwanDarren Aronofksy2010442.1%
The Departed*Martin Scorsese2006841.0%
Blade Runner*Ridley Scott19821739.1%
Pulp Fiction*Quentin Tarantino19941539.0%
A History of Violence*David Cronenberg2005839.0%
Farewell, My Lovely*Dick Richards19751838.7%
Night Moves*Arthur Penn19751838.7%
The Long Goodbye*Robert Altman19731937.6%
Devil in a Blue Dress*Carl Franklin19951436.4%
The Grifters*Stephen Frears19901536.1%
Reservoir Dogs*Quentin Tarantino19921536.1%
The Black DahliaBrian De Palma2006735.9%
Kiss Kiss Bang BangShane Black2005734.1%
Red Rock West*John Dahl19931333.8%
The Usual Suspects*Bryan Singer19951333.8%
Basic Instinct*Paul Verhoeven19921433.7%
Klute*Alan J Pakula19711631.7%
The Killer Inside MeMichael Winterbottom2010331.6%
Shutter IslandMartin Scorsese2010331.6%
Heat*Michael Mann19951231.2%
HollywoodlandAllen Coulter2006630.8%
Dirty Harry*Don Siegel19711529.7%
El Aura (The Aura)Fabian Bielinsky2005629.3%
BrickRian Johnson2005629.3%
Blue Velvet*David Lynch19861228.9%
Before the Devil Knows You’re DeadSidney Lumet2007328.6%
San Taam (Mad Detective)Johnnie To2007328.6%
ZodiacDavid Fincher2007328.6%
The Bank JobRoger Donaldson2008328.6%
The Deep EndScott McGehee2001727.5%
Against All Odds*Taylor Hackford19841126.5%
Black Widow*Bob Rafelson19871126.5%
House of Games*David Mamet19871126.5%
After Dark, My Sweet*James Foley19901126.5%
Le Samourai*Jean-Pierre Melville19671426.2%
Hustle*Robert Aldrich19751225.8%
The Conversation*Francis Ford Coppola19741325.7%
Femme FataleBrian De Palma2002625.5%
Batman BeginsChristopher Nolan2005524.4%
The Driver*Walter Hill19781124.2%
The Postman Always Rings Twice*Bob Rafelson198110.524.1%
Angel Heart*Alan Parker19871024.1%
Kill Me Again*John Dahl19891024.1%
Fargo*Joel Coen1996924.0%
The French Connection*William Friedkin19711223.8%
The Man Who Wasn’t ThereJoel Coen2001623.5%
Madigan*Don Siegel19681223.3%
Out of TimeCarl Franklin2003523.3%
Thief* Michael Mann19811023.0%
Jackie Brown*Quentin Tarantino1997822.5%
To Live and Die in L.A.*William Friedkin1985921.7%
Manhunter*Michael Mann1986921.7%
The Hot Spot*Dennis Hopper1990921.7%
One False Move*Carl Franklin1992921.7%
Bound*Larry Wachowski1996821.3%
InsomniaChristopher Nolan2002521.3%
The Big Sleep*Michael Winner19789.520.9%
CroupierMike Hodges1998720.9%
Dark CityAlex Proyas1998720.9%
Hammett*Wim Wenders1982920.7%
Marlowe*Paul Bogart19691019.8%
Get Carter*Mike Hodges19711019.8%
Death Wish*Michael Winner19741019.8%
Lost HighwayDavid Lynch1997719.7%
De Battre mon Coeur s’est Arrete (The Beat That My Heart Skipped)Jacques Audiard2005419.5%
Fatal Attraction*Adrian Lyne1987819.3%
No Way Out*Roger Donaldson1987819.3%
D.O.A.*Annabel Jankel1988819.3%
The Two Jakes*Jack Nicholson1990819.3%
Cape Fear*Martin Scorsese1991819.3%
The Silence of the Lambs*Jonathan Demme1991819.3%
The CoolerWayne Kramer2003418.6%
I’ll Sleep When I’m DeadMike Hodges2003418.6%
In the CutJane Campion2003418.6%
True Confessions*Ulu Grosbard1981818.4%
China MoonJohn Bailey1994718.2%
The UnderneathSteven Soderbergh1995718.2%
Hickey & Boggs*Robert Culp1972917.8%
The Friends of Eddie Coyle*Peter Yates1973917.8%
The Outfit*John Flynn1973917.8%

This list better represents all 2,171 post-1966 database titles: average and median release year are 1991.1 and 1992, respectively. Fully 32 of these 95 titles (33.7%) were released after 1999, with the most recent being Drive; seven were released in 2005 alone, topped by Sin City, which jumps from #25 to #3 after adjustment. An additional 25 (26.3%) were released in the 1990s. Mann is now joined by Joel Coen (working with brother Ethan), Christopher Nolan and Scorsese with four titles each. In fact, the Coen Brothers are responsible for the new #1: No Country for Old Men—winner of four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director—which just edges out Chinatown and Sin City; with adjustment, the film jumps all the way from a nine-way tie for #84. Nolan, meanwhile, has two of the top 10: Memento and The Dark Knight; the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple just misses being a “Top 100 equivalent,” as does David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Lynch, Carl Franklin and Mike Hodges join Dahl and Tarantino in the three-title club; seven directors have a pair of titles in Table 3. And the list is now a bit more international: five British films (the classic Get Carter plus The Bank Job, Croupier, The Big Sleep, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead), three French films (the classic Le Samourai plus Femme Fatale, De Battre mon Coeur s’est Arrete), Hong Kong’s San Taam and Argentina’s El Aura. Nolan’s Insomnia is an American remake of a 1997 Norwegian film of the same name, while The Killer Inside Me was first filmed in 1976. The Deep End, China Moon and The Underneath reimagine The Reckless Moment, The Man Who Cheated Himself and Criss Cross, respectively.

For all that, though, POINTS and OAP are broadly similar, with a correlation of +0.78. The only film in Table 1 not to appear in Table 3 is The Detective, which dropped to #116 after adjustment. Seventeen films appear in the Top 25 on both lists, suggesting these titles comprise the very core of neo-noir, according to reputable writers on the subject:

Blade Runner

Blood Simple

Body Heat

Chinatown

Devil in a Blue Dress

Farewell, My Lovely

The Grifters

L.A. Confidential

The Last Seduction

The Long Goodbye

Memento

Night Moves

Point Blank

Pulp Fiction

Se7en

Sin City

Taxi Driver

It is with these films we being our search for the worst character in neo-noir.

Until next time…please stay safe and healthy…

That Time My Mother Was a Total Badass

On January 29, 2021, 3½ years after my wife Nell suggested in financial exasperation that I write a book, I put on “outside” clothes, sneakers and my protective mask, then walked down to our local FedEx office. There, I plugged my thumb drive into a printer…then watched in relief and wonder as it printed out a complete manuscript of my book Interrogating Memory: Film Noir Spurs a Deep Dive Into My Family History…and My Own. You may find some of the book’s backstory here.

Manuscript in hand, I began the process of getting it published; any advice or assistance you have to offer will be greatly appreciated. This is easily the most terrifying thing I have ever done: I feel as though I am trying to hit a bullseye on a moving target while blindfolded.

I compiled a list of 19 literary agents I felt were the best fit for this book, sending formal queries to 10 of them, keeping nine in reserve. Two agencies sent immediate rejections, while I have yet to hear from the other eight.

In the meantime, I have decided to increase public awareness of my work by publishing excerpts from Interrogating Memory on this site. This is the closest I can come to a “teaser trailer.

One narrative thread I weave through the book is how a young Jewish couple, born and raised in West Philadelphia, chose to adopt a baby—unseen—in the summer of 1966. Elaine Kohn married David Louis Berger in January 1960; their future looked incredibly bright. However, my soon-to-be-legal mother suffered a series of reproductive tragedies over the next five years, ending her ability to bear children of her own.

By a happy coincidence, today—March 8, 2021—is both International Women’s Day and my older sister Mindy’s 59th birthday. Mindy was the only “natural” child of Elaine and Lou Berger. Unfortunately, multiple causes—including birth trauma—resulted in Mindy having what once was called “severe mental retardation.” I tell this story at the end of Chapter 3 (Golden Boy Marries Golden Girl: What Could Go Wrong?).

Today, however, I share the moment when my mother—who died from ovarian cancer at the age of 66 in 2004—proved what an utter badass she could be when necessary.

Please enjoy.

Mindy finds a permanent home.

As this photograph illustrates, Mindy and I got along reasonably well as children. Still, our playing together consisted almost entirely of me taking advantage of her echolalia to get her to repeat words like “Yugoslavia” or “Czechoslovakia.” While I was not trying to be a brat, I quickly stopped when she began to shift from patient compliance to agitation. Even as a child, she was incredibly strong. One of the few things that would calm her—besides eating—was driving around the neighborhood, singing show tunes or popular songs she knew. When she was in her 20s and 30s, it usually required the assistance of one or two strong male orderlies to get a screaming and crying Mindy out of the car after a ride. This was physically and emotionally draining for everyone involved.


Author with his sister, c. 1971. I sit in my father’s seat. I usually sat on the lower right-hand side.

My mother often quipped drive-thru restaurants were invented just so she could feed Mindy without having to get out of the car. Little has changed in 50 years: the routine when I visit my sister is to take her on a three-plus-hour-long drive through Bucks County, eating tuna fish sandwiches I purchase at a local WAWA convenience store, listening to the original 1964 cast recording of Fiddler on the Roof as well as more contemporary music, and stopping briefly for pizza and a bathroom break in the town of Buckingham. With her current medication regimen, which makes her far more placid, these visits are far less stressful than they used to be.

Indeed, my mother needed help with Mindy from the start; our childhood babysitter, the ancient-seeming Mrs. Schumann, would only come to our house if Mindy was already asleep. Reportedly, Mindy climbed naked out of the bathtub one afternoon and ran out of the house onto Sue Ellen Drive. Luckily, cars rarely drove down our quiet street. The one person to whom Mindy would listen was our father. Increasingly, however, he was staying out late playing cards with friends. One night, my mother asked her husband to stay home to help soothe their screaming daughter. My father supposedly replied, “If you’re mad, you’ll stay mad. If not, you’ll get glad” then left the house—and an enraged wife.

Left mostly to her own devices, my mother began a years-long search for a day program or residential facility which could handle Mindy’s intellectual challenges and violent outbursts. Around 1969, when Mindy was seven years old, she began to photocopy dozens of pages from official publications of listings of mental retardation facilities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware. I still have those marked-up pages.

The first schools Mindy attended, according to her annual Life Enrichment Plan (LEP), were “Robins Nursery School” for three years and “Raphael Day School” for nine months. I use quotation marks because I find no record of them in my mother’s facility listings. In November 1970, Mindy enrolled in a day program in the Douglas T. Davidson, Jr. School at the Elwyn Institute, a 20-minute drive south from Havertown. According to a progress report, she did well at Elwyn, mastering short sentences and generally keeping up physically, despite her burgeoning weight problem. The report also highlights her penchant for music and preference to withdraw in large crowds, both still true today. However, sometime after January 15, 1971—when “Mrs. D. Louis Berger” signed the 1st Period Parent’s Comments section, Mindy transferred to the Melmark School, a 20-minute drive west from Havertown in Newtown Square. The explanation: “Although a structured behavioral program was initiated, there was no implementation consistency across the home and school environment.” Put simply, my parents were not practicing what Elwyn preached.

Melmark is the first facility I remember visiting; I loved turning left off Darby-Paoli Road onto the long tree-lined road leading to it. Mindy was enrolled there until June 1973, when she was “discharged due to behaviors described as uncontrollable (i.e., tantrums and self-abuse).” Photographs taken on, or within a few days of, June 30, 1973, show Mindy frolicking in our backyard pool.

Now 11 years old, she was taken next to the Martha Lloyd Residence—now Martha Lloyd Community Services—in Troy, Pennsylvania. I recall this was “practically in New York;” Troy is about 10 miles south of the New York State line, some 187 miles north and slightly west of Havertown. Moving Mindy that far from home underscores how desperate things had become. She lasted only two months there, as “she was quickly discharged due to poor emotional control.” Mindy was then admitted to the Intermediate Unit Program at Crozier-Chester Medical Center, about 12 miles south in Chester, where she required 24-hour supervision. Residential placement was recommended, and in February 1974, Mindy was enrolled in the Van Hook-Walsh School for Retarded Children—which my mother misremembered as “Margaret Van Hook School”[i]—in Middletown, Delaware, just over 50 miles southwest of Havertown. Unfortunately, the school was in a residential area and neighbors complained about her waking up screaming during the night. Mindy “reportedly” was discharged in June 1974, according to her LEP, despite “doing well with the program.”

Once Mindy returned home from Delaware, meanwhile, “her mother became overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for her daughter and her ailing husband and subsequently sought residential placement.” And here, the written record conflicts with my memory, making interrogation difficult. My mother and I spent the summers of 1974 and 1975 in Atlantic City, with my father driving from Philadelphia most weekends. This could only have happened if a) Mindy was living in a residential facility the entire summer, and b) my father was healthy. As I noted above, his first two heart attacks occurred before 1974.

I propose this scenario: My father has his second heart attack in June 1973, just as Mindy is discharged from Melmark. If Mindy was in fact sent home from Van-Hook Walsh in September 1974, my mother could simply have confused this with my father’s heart attack when recalling the events a few decades later—saying incorrectly Mindy returned home in June 1974. This would also mean my mother, after spending a relaxing summer in Atlantic City, returned to the news Mindy had been discharged from her seventh different school. Luckily, however, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was about to throw my mother a lifeline.

In October 1966, a Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (“DPW”) official announced “plans to build a youth development center and a hospital for mentally retarded children”[ii] on the grounds of the Philadelphia State Hospital, which then straddled the Roosevelt Boulevard in northeast Philadelphia, just a few hundred yards south of the Bucks County line. By the following July, plans for the proposed “Southeastern State School and Hospital for Retardates” were nearly complete: it would serve 500 children of varying levels of developmental severity on a campus featuring air-conditioned “housing units, an administration building, a shop, chapel, gymnasium and pool” at a proposed cost of $10 million (over $76.5 million in 2019).[iii]

The goals were to reduce overcrowding in other state facilities and “to bring mentally retarded persons of all ages closer to their community […and] concentrate on outpatient care and vocational training when possible.”[iv] It was completed in the summer of 1972, at a final cost of $11.7 million (nearly $90 million in 2019) and scheduled to open early in 1973 on a 72-acre site on the eastern side of Roosevelt Boulevard between Southampton and Woodhaven Roads.[v] Taking a cue from its southern border, in fact, it had been renamed the Woodhaven Center (“Woodhaven”). It would be run jointly by DPW and Temple University’s School of Social Administration.

Woodhaven did not open until January 1974, though, following months tackling leaking roofs, contract negotiations with Temple and budgetary setbacks. By September 1974, when my mother had reached her breaking point, it already housed at least 83 students, far fewer than planned.[vi] Nonetheless, when my mother tried to enroll Mindy in Woodhaven, entry was delayed for…reasons.

What happened next is the stuff of legend.

As I understand the story, around lunch time one day at the end of November 1974, my mother and Mindy again sat in an office—presumably at Temple—trying to overcome bureaucratic delays. This time, however, after 13 years of caring for her increasingly-hard-to-manage daughter, 36-year-old Elaine Berger snapped. Instead of continuing to keep Mindy quiet and still, she simply let her do what she wanted. Freed from restraint, Mindy ran around the office screaming, hurling papers in the air and generally disrupting office proceedings. Then my mother, rage barely kept in check, said to the person with whom she had been discussing her daughter, “I am going to bring Mindy back here every single day until you admit her.” And, just like that, Mindy entered Woodhaven on December 3, 1974, where she remains well-cared for still. Her official reason for entry, tellingly, was a “need to reduce aggressive behaviors such as screaming, scratching and attacking others.”

With Mindy in Woodhaven, her husband healthy and John Rhoads successfully relocated, my mother could truly relax for the first time in nearly 15 years. She had apparently begun to do so illicitly in 1970; my mother would later jokingly tell me I could not smoke pot until I was 32, because that was when she started. Before Mindy exits this narrative for good, however, we will learn how she saved our lives.

Until next time…please stay safe and healthy…


[i] The school, which later became Boxwood Manor, apparently closed in 2014 https://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/local/2014/07/26/boxwood-manor-place-delawares-educational-history/13225435/ Accessed August 19, 2019

[ii] “2 State Centers To Be Built on Byberry Land,” PI, October 16, 1966, pg. NE 1

[iii] Eady, James, “Hospital for Retarded Youth To Be Constructed at Byberry,” PI, July 30, 1967, pg. NE 1

[iv] “School for Retarded Battles Obstacles to Opening in Spring,” PI, January 14, 1973, pg. 3 N-W

[v] Smith, Jim, “Woodhaven Offers Retarded Hope,” PDN, November 15, 1973, pg. 33

[vi] “83 Enter Meet For Retarded,” PI, September 15, 1974, pg. 8-B

2020 Democratic primaries on March 10: My final polling update

[Updated at 4:00 pm EST to account for late polls]

On March 10, 2020, six more states will hold primaries to help select the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, bringing the total number of such contests to 24. Table 1 lists these states, sorted by poll closing times, and the number of pledged delegates each state will provide to the Democratic National Convention, which will be held July 13-16, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A total of 352 pledged delegates are available on March 10, 8.8% of the total 3,979 to be awarded.[1]

Table 1: Democratic presidential nominating contests, March 10, 2020 by Poll Closing Times

Jurisidiction Poll Closing (EST) Pledged Delegates
Mississippi 8 pm 36
Missouri 8 pm 68
North Dakota 8 pm 14
Michigan 9 pm

(79 of 83 counties close at 8 pm)

125
Idaho 11 pm 20
Washington 11 pm

(balloting by mail)

89
TOTAL PLEDGED DELEGATES 352

In a previous post, I presented final polling updates for the 14 states (including American Samoa and Democrats Abroad) holding Democratic presidential nominating contests on March 3. Unlike previous contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, however, I have not yet posted a comparison of these polling averages to the final results. That is because votes are still being counted in California, while Dallas County in Texas may recount its votes.

Nonetheless, it is apparent that former Vice President Joe Biden strongly overperformed his final polling averages, emerging with an overall lead of 77 pledged delegates,[2] while United States Senator (“Senator”) from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren largely underperformed. Indeed, Warren ended her bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on March 5; former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had already ended his bid one day earlier. However, while Bloomberg immediately endorsed Biden, Warren has yet to endorse any other candidate. Meanwhile, on March 9, 2020 two more former rivals, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and California Senator Kamala Harris, endorsed Biden at a Detroit, Michigan rally.

Three declared candidates remain for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination—down from 28 in total:

  • Biden
  • United States House of Representatives Member from Hawaii Tulsi Gabbard
  • Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders

**********

In the remainder of this post, I present final WAPA (weighted-adjusted polling average) for Biden, Gabbard and Sanders in each state, calculated up to two ways depending upon available data polls are up-to-date as of 2 am EST March 10, 2020. As with the 18 previous contests, a candidate must win ≥15% of the vote to be awarded delegates either statewide or within a Congressional district. All publicly-available polls conducted since January 1, 2019 may be found here.

And here is my updated weighting scheme:

  • Polls conducted entirely or partially after February 3, 2020, but before February 12, 2020 are weighted 2.00 or 1.00+fraction[3] times, respectively, higher than polls conducted entirely before February 4, 2020.
  • Polls conducted entirely or partially after February 11, 2020, but before February 23, 2020 are weighted 3.00 or 2.00+fraction times, respectively, higher than polls conducted entirely before February 12, 2020.
  • Polls conducted entirely or partially after February 22, 2020, but before March 1, 2020 are weighted 4.00 or 3.00+fraction times, respectively, higher than polls conducted entirely before February 23, 2020.
  • Polls conducted entirely or partially after February 29, 2020, but before March 4, 2020 are weighted 5.00 or 4.00+fraction times, respectively, higher than polls conducted entirely before February 29, 2020.
  • Polls conducted entirely or partially after March 3, 2020, but before March 11, 2020 are weighted 10.00 or 5.00+fraction times, respectively, higher than polls conducted entirely before March 4, 2020.

To provide context for the percentage either truly undecided or selecting a different candidate (“DK/Other”), I also include the aggregate final state WAPA for Bloomberg; former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar; billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Warren combined (“BBKSW”). Their supporters still comprise a sizeable proportion of the “DK/Other” group in some states, adding a modicum of additional uncertainty to the outcomes of Tuesday’s races.

8 pm EST

Mississippi

Only four polls were conducted here, with only two—with an average rating of C+ according to FiveThirtyEight.com’s pollster ratings—conducted after July 2019. Overall, Biden leads Sanders 72.1 to 24.5%, with Gabbard at 0.5% It would not be surprising if Biden netted more than 12 pledged delegates here

Missouri

Here is the breakdown of publicly-available polls of the 2020 Missouri Democratic Primary:

  • 9 since January 1, 2019
  • 5 since the Iowa Caucuses on February 3, 2020

Table 2: Final Missouri Primary WAPA for declared 2020 Democratic presidential nomination candidates

Candidate All Polls Post Iowa Caucuses
Biden 53.9 54.3
Sanders 34.5 35.0
Gabbard 2.0 2.1
DK/Other 9.6 8.7
BBKSW 4.3 3.6

Biden appears headed for a sizeable victory in the Show Me state and could easily net 12 or more pledged delegates.

North Dakota

Only one polls was conducted of the 2020 North Dakota Democratic presidential primary, by Swayable (C+) from March 7 to March 9,  2020; Biden led Sanders 65 to 31%, with 0% for Gabbard. In 2016, though, when North Dakota held caucuses, Sanders beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 64.2 to 25.6%, netting eight pledged delegates; all 2016 Democratic presidential nomination contest results are from Dave Liep’s invaluable Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Rather than extrapolate from a single, low-rated poll, so I will split the difference and say both Biden and Sanders earn seven pledged delegates here.

9 pm EST

Michigan

The company for which I worked in 2000-01 was headquartered in Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan, so I spent the equivalent of four weeks in Michigan over those two years. Here I am standing in front of the original headquarters of Motown Records in June 2001.

Scan0028

Here is the breakdown of publicly-available polls of the 2020 Michigan Democratic Primary:

  • 21 since January 1, 2019
  • 10 since the Iowa Caucuses on February 3, 2020

Table 3: Final Michigan Primary WAPA for declared 2020 Democratic presidential nomination candidates

Candidate All Polls Post Iowa Caucuses
Biden 52.0 53.2
Sanders 31.8 32.6
Gabbard 0.8 0.8
DK/Other 15.4 13.4
BBKSW 4.9 3.8

While it might appear that Biden is headed for a win of a least 20 percentage points (“points”) in the Wolverine State, a similar polling lead for Clinton here four years ago turned into a 49.7-48.3% upset for Sanders, though Clinton still net 2 pledged delegates. Splitting the difference would give Biden a solid 10-point win, netting 12-15 pledged delegates.

11 pm EST

Idaho

Only two polls were conducted of the 2020 Idaho Democratic Presidential Primary, both by C+ pollsters after the Iowa Caucuses; on average, Biden led Sanders 51.5-42.5%, with Gabbard earning 2%. A close Idaho finish between Biden and Sanders would be in stark contrast to 2016, when Sanders won what were then caucuses 78.0 to 21.2%, netting 13 pledged delegates. I expect a tighter race this time, with maybe an 11-9 split in delegates for Sanders.

Washington

Every election in the state of Washington is conducted by mail; all ballots for this primary must be postmarked by March 10 or placed in a ballot drop box by 8 pm local time. As with California, no winner could be declared until Wednesday morning at the earliest.

Here is the breakdown of publicly-available polls of the 2020 Washington Democratic Primary:

  • 7 since January 1, 2019
  • 4 since the Iowa Caucuses on February 3, 2020

Table 4: Final Washington Primary WAPA for declared 2020 Democratic presidential nomination candidates

Candidate All Polls Post Iowa Caucuses
Biden 35.0 35.6
Sanders 35.1 35.4
Gabbard 1.1 1.1
DK/Other 28.8 27.8
BBKSW 11.8 11.1

Four years ago, when Washington—like Idaho and North Dakota—held caucuses, Sanders crushed Clinton 72.7 to 27.1%. This year, though, the race between Biden and Sanders appears much closer—though with two in seven potential primary voters up for grabs, either candidate could win by a double-digit margin. On balance, though, a 53-47% Sanders win is a plausible outcome, with a net of four-five pledged delegates.

There are two reasons to be extremely cautious about these “projections.” First, of these six contests, only Michigan’s Democratic voters were polled more than nine times, and even they were only polled 21 times by a total of 18 pollsters whose average rating is B-. Second, it is not unusual for primary and caucus voters to hit the brakes on a seemingly-certain nomination process; this is one explanation for Sanders’ Michigan upset in 2016. This can occur in one of two ways: voters who are only leaning toward the front-runner stay home, and other voters affirmatively choose an alternate candidate as a way of declaring “the race is not over because we have not yet had our say.”

All of this is to say: while Biden could easily come out of the March 10 primaries with a net gain of 56 pledged delegates (splitting the BBKSW percentage 3-2 for Biden and the “pure DK/Other” percentage 2-1 for Sanders)…

…there is a plausible scenario—Biden and Sanders split Idaho and North Dakota, Sanders wins Washington 53-47% and splits Michigan nearly evenly—in which Biden “only” nets 24 pledged delegates.

We shall see.

Until next time…

[1] An additional 764, at least, “automatic delegates” (also known as “superdelegates”)—mostly elected Democrats—would vote on a second ballot if no candidate clears the 1,991-vote threshold on the first ballot at the Democratic National Convention.

[2] According to NBC News, as of 2 am EST on March 10, 2020

[3] Percentage of days the poll was being conducted were after the most recent primary or caucuses

2020 Nevada Caucuses: Final Polling Update

At 10 am Nevada time (1 pm EST) on February 22, 2020, Nevadans who did not already vote between February 15 and 18 by submitting a ranking of their three top choices to be the 2020 Democratic nominee will gather in nearly 2,100 meeting places to support their preferred candidate(s). While about 84,000 Nevadans caucused for Democrats in total in 2016, the number of Nevadans who voted early in 2020 is estimated to be at least 70,000.

This post presents four variations on my final pre-Caucuses WAPA, calculated using the four different timeframes detailed below. To learn how I calculate candidate WAPA (weighted-adjusted polling averages), please see here. Polls conducted partially or entirely after the Iowa Caucuses, but before the New Hampshire Primary, are weighted up to 1.33 to 2.00 times higher than polls conducted before the Iowa Caucuses. Polls conducted partially or entirely after the New Hampshire Primary are weighted 2.33 to 3.00 times higher than polls conducted before the New Hampshire Primary.

I have never been to Nevada, so here is the February 2020 lighthouse photograph in my Down East 2020 Maine Lighthouses wall calendar.

Feb 2020 lighthouse

**********

As of midnight EST on February 22, 2020, here is the breakdown of publicly-available Nevada Caucuses polls.

  • 22 conducted since January 1, 2019
  • 19 conducted since the 1st Democratic debate on June 26, 2019
  • 10 conducted since the 5th Democratic debate on November 19, 2019
  • 7 conducted since the 7th Democratic debate on January 14, 2020

First, however, here are some words of caution.

1. Very few high-quality polls

Only 22 polls of the Nevada Caucuses have been conducted since January 1, 2019, considerably fewer than the 59 polls of the Iowa Caucuses and the 72 polls of the New Hampshire Primary conducted over the same period of time. Overall, the 15 pollsters operating in Nevada, as a group, compare favorably to the 19 pollsters who operated in Iowa and the 21 who operated in New Hampshire: all three sets of pollsters averaged a B/B-, using FiveThirtyEight.com pollster ratings. However, only one of the seven polls conducted since the January 14, 2020 Democratic debate was conducted by a pollster who do have either a B/C (three) or a C+ (three) rating: an Emerson College poll (A-) conducted February 19-20, 2020. This poll is weighted 2.57; no other poll is weighted higher than 1.76.

The combination of many fewer polls, a dearth of recent high-quality polls and the fact polling in Nevada is extremely challenging in the best of circumstances makes these final Nevada Caucuses WAPA even more “wobbly” than those for the unpredictable Iowa Caucuses.

2. Reporting snafus 2.0?

Recall that in a caucus setting, voters literally declare their preferences in a public setting. If, after an initial tabulation, a candidate does not have the support of at least 15% of that site’s caucus attendees, supporters of that candidate either join a group that does (i.e., is “viable”), the “uncommitted” group or call it a day. This realigning continues until only viable candidates remain, at which time a complex formula is used to calculate “state delegate equivalents,” or SDEs. Prior to 2020, only the percentage of SDEs won were reported.

However, as was the case in Iowa, this year the Nevada Democratic Party plans to report three sets of results:

  • The initial statewide tally for each candidate
  • The post-viability tally for each candidate
  • SDE’s for each candidate

Having to report all three tallies in Iowa proved so difficult it ultimately cost the state’s Democratic Party Chair, Troy Price, his job. The Nevada Democratic Party has reassured us it is doing everything it can to report the results of its caucuses in a timely manner, though accuracy should always be prioritized over speed. There is a vast difference between conducting an election and reporting the results of that election; the former should take precedence over the latter, whatever the discomfiture level of journalists waiting to report results.

With those two caveats, Table 1 presents the final pre-Caucuses WAPA for the eight remaining candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination; even though former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is not actively campaigning in Nevada, he is included as Nevadans could theoretically caucus for him.

Table 1: Final Nevada Caucuses WAPA for declared 2020 Democratic presidential nomination candidates

Candidate All Polls Since 1st Debate Since 5th Debate Since 7th Debate
Sanders 24.6 24.8 26.4 27.8
Biden 19.6 19.0 16.8 15.5
Warren 13.4 13.4 11.4 11.2
Buttigieg 10.9 11.0 12.6 13.7
Steyer 9.8 9.8 12.2 12.9
Klobuchar 6.5 6.3 8.3 9.4
Gabbard 1.4 1.3 1.5 1.5
Bloomberg 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.0
DK/Other 13.7 14.4 10.6 7.9

United States Senator (“Senator”) from Vermont Bernie Sanders would appear to have a significant edge—and momentum—heading into the final day of caucusing in Nevada. Increasingly falling behind Sanders are five candidates bunched relatively close together: former Vice President Joe Biden; Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren; former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg; billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. However, while Buttigieg, Steyer and Klobuchar appear to have some momentum heading into Saturday, Biden and Warren are fading somewhat, though we have no idea how Warren’s dominant February 19 debate performance will impact her final results. After a similarly-strong performance, Klobuchar outperformed her final New Hampshire WAPA by an average of 11.5 percentage points (“points”); were Warren to jump even one-third that amount—around four points—she could easily finish in 2nd place.

The bottom line.

As with the earlier Iowa Caucuses, anybody who thinks they know what will happen in the 2020 Nevada Democratic Caucuses has absolutely no idea what will happen in the 2020 Nevada Democratic Caucuses. Polling is very difficult to do in a multi-candidate race, with caucuses adding the additional wrinkle of unknowable “backup” choices or even who will participate. Combine this with a noticeable lack of recent high-quality polling, and we have something more akin to a gut-level hunch than a scientific projection.

It may very well be Sanders is the heavy favorite to win the Nevada Caucuses with literally every other candidate struggling to reach the 15% viability threshold, but I would not bet anything remotely of value on it.

We shall see.

Until next time…

Organizing by themes X: Doctor Who

This site benefits/suffers/both from consisting of posts about a wide range of topics, all linked under the amorphous heading “data-driven storytelling.”

In an attempt to impose some coherent structure, I am organizing related posts both chronologically and thematically.

Having run through nine different “themes” of this blog…

…I will now add new themes as the need arises.

TARDIS phone

I first addressed the television series Doctor Who over three posts in December 2016/January 2017. These posts constituted a preliminary attempt to use online ratings data to assess the relative popularity of each episode released since the series was revived in March 2005:

Rating Doctor Who, Episode 1

Rating Doctor Who, Episode 2

Rating Doctor Who, Episode 3

Following Series 10 in 2017, I updated, refined and edited these analyses into a single July 2018 post.

And then I updated it again in March 2020.

In the summer of 2018, I wrote an essay of roughly 10,000 words detailing the influence of classic film noir on the “resurrected” series. Three edited versions later, in May 2019, I published a 7,600+-word version in four parts on this site.

The Noir of Who: Backstory and Part 1

The Noir of Who: Part 2

The Noir of Who: Part 3

The Noir of Who: Part 4

A PDF of the complete essay may be found here.