Sunday, August 23, 2009

One Movie Leads To Another

I was looking for a few more movies to add to my Netflix queue, so I went to their Movies You'll Love page, which uses your previous rentals as a basis for movies they think you might like. Next to each suggested title, it lists movies you've given high ratings to, which led the software to this recommendation. It's all done by a computer algorithm, with no humans involved, and that leads to some odd connnections.

For instance, the first recommendation is "In The Shadow of the Moon," a pretty good documentary about the men of the Apollo space program. I saw it when it came out in theaters, but Netflix doesn't know that. What's odd about this is that it's recommended because I enjoyed "Extras," a very funny series that Ricky Gervais did for HBO a couple of years ago (which, combined with his stand-up special, "Out of England," turned me into a Gervais fan). Great stuff, but a giant leap from the moon documentary.

Next, Netflix recommends that I rent "Les Paul: Chasing Sound," a documentary about the legendary guitarist and inventor who died this week. And why would I like it? Because Netflix knows that I enjoyed "Winged Migration," a phenomenal work that follows several flocks of migrating birds from their own perspective. What it has to do with the man who invented the electric guitar and studio overdubbing, I have no idea.

Other odd pairings: I liked "Seabiscuit," so Netflix recommends "Driving Miss Daisy," a movie that contains exactly zero race horses. The Albert Brooks romantic-comedy "Defending Your Life" leads the software to recommend the Robert DeNiro/Charles Grodin action-comedy "Midnight Run." It somehow finds a connection from "Ghostbusters" to "The Muppet Movie," "Sideways" to "Broadcast News," "Paper Moon" to "Heaven Can Wait."

I've seen those movies already, and every one is worth recommending, so there's no beef there. And I'm an unabashed Netflix fan, a longtime user of the service. I love having a place where I can find a film library so vast that it includes both hits and obscure titles that I missed during their short theatrical runs, or which never made it to a projector near me.

Still, I wonder why Netflix's algorithmic wizard is giving me those cinematic pointers -- and whether other Netflix customers are getting similarly odd recommendations. So, let's find out. If you're a Netflix subscriber, check your online list and then add your odd movie suggestion combinations to the comments section below.

Want some other recommendations? Check out my Movies You Might Not Know list.