do you want algorithms recommending movies to you, or an honest-to-god human being?

Netflix has a new algorithm for suggesting what you might like to watch (via American Public Media Marketplace). It’s called Max, because Netflix wants you to feel comfortable with it, maybe think of it as your friend. But in fact Max is “800 engineers and designers” creating a bit of computer code that takes a wild guess, based on other movies you’ve watched and rated, what you might want to watch next. Max doesn’t know you… and you don’t know Max. We’ve all seen some of the recommendations these algorithms come up with that don’t seem to correlate to anything familiar. (Amazon’s is good for these sorts of head-scratchers, too. Just because I looked at a page — or bought a gift for a friend — doesn’t mean I necessarily like this stuff myself.)

Now, I don’t know you… but you know me. And if you trust me to recommend movies to you, then you really need my Movie Cheat Sheets: twice-weekly email newsletters that, early in the week, let you know what’s new on DVD and on streaming services, and whether that new stuff is worth watching, and late in week, tell you what’s opening in multiplexes and arthouses, and whether those films are worth a night out. There are two editions — one for the U.S. and Canada, and one for the U.K. (which also encompasses the Republic of Ireland). Here’s a sample issue (links aren’t live, because this is just an image):


Check out these other samples:

U.S./Canada DVD/VOD edition
U.K. multiplex edition
U.K. DVD/VOD edition

(There’s also my new What to Stream posts if you need ideas for stuff to watch.)

Movie Cheat Sheet is free to subscribers (subscribe here), or you can subscribe to Movie Cheat Sheet separately.

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Sun, Jun 30, 2013 8:55pm

I looked at the Amazon recommendations when I was trying to find a gift for my mother. Amazon thought she would like Basic Instinct 2.

Mon, Jul 01, 2013 12:02am

I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t recommend that.

Mon, Jul 01, 2013 12:35pm

A system like this assumes there’s only one of me: that I have only one mood, and that I never choose films to watch with friends.

What I would find useful, though it’s no good for targeted advertising and so Netflix will never deploy it, is a similarity map that’s not biased for my supposed tastes. “Last time I was in this sort of mood I watched Die Hard and enjoyed it; list some films that have a similar sort of feel, and I’ll try to find one I haven’t seen yet.”