Best of 2011: Movies February 20, 2012Posted by David Card in Media.
Tags: best of, movies
Just in time to mess with your Oscar pool, I present my personal favorites of the year. Nota bene: this list has little to do with my own Oscar picks. Those I’m keeping secret to avoid jinxing my results in the annual Card family pool.
In 2011, I averaged approximately one new movie – in a theater – a week. I can enjoy just about any well-executed flick: I like big-budget summer blockbusters, well-crafted genre pictures, indies made for grown-ups, heartstring-tuggers, etc. I can read subtitles, though I’m not sure if I could through 3D glasses. That said, 2011 was not a good year.
According to the indispensable Box Office Mojo, the US box office for 2011 was down 4 percent vs. 2010, even though there more, expensive-ticket 3D releases. (That’s what boosted 2009 receipts 10 percent. That, and the fact one of ’em was Avatar.) Maybe the 3D boomlet is done. I’m not religiously opposed to the concept – I can barely imagine one of my 2011 faves not in 3D. But it’s an unnecessary burden for most.
Of the top 10 grossing pictures in 2011:
- Nine out of 10 were remakes or sequels. Dear god.
- Only one (Cars 2) was a cartoon. Unless you count Transformers.
- Only one (Thor) was a superhero franchise. Bob Iger is gnawing his fingernails.
- Two (Harry Potter 7B and Twilight 4A) were bestseller franchises that are now done or ending. Hollywood’s salvation depends on The Hunger Games, since Girl with the Dragon Tattoo didn’t cut it.
My two favorite movies of the year, 3.5 stars on Flixster’s 5-star scale, were:
- Moneyball. Lots of smart reviewers like this movie, but they vary widely on what it’s actually about. That’s a sign of high art in pop culture. Witty script and great cast. Pitt is terrific in two very different roles this year. And if you were wondering about my interpretation, like all Sorkin, it’s about men at work.
- Hugo. There’s real magic here. The 3D isn’t remotely realistic, but looks like a pop-up book: a deep series of flats, and that’s just right. For what is really a children’s movie, it’s too long, and so old-fashioned – er, timeless – that I wonder if modern kids will take to it.
To get to a Top Ten list, I have to go to 3-star movies:
- Meek’s Cutoff. “Chaotic” women and “destructive” men face off against the Other. If you can handle the slow pace and cryptic characters, this is a thoughtful look at alienation, leadership, and faith.
- Bellflower. This very twisted take on the indie romance has the courage of its own nutty, nihilist convictions. Beautifully shot, occasionally funny, ultimately disturbing.
- The Descendants. Very human but disappointingly sentimental. Superb cast.
- The Tree of Life. Malick sets out to justify the ways of God to men, but he has more to say about nostalgic boy/brother/Dad dynamics.
- 13 Assassins. Slow-burn buildup to maximum carnage. Stately and stylish, with a handful of stars and a great villain.
- Source Code. No dumber than Inception, and ten times the heart. Twice the fun at one fifth the budget.
- Kill List. The Brits still know how to make those low-budget horror flicks where the occult leaks into the real world in a most disturbing fashion.
I’m going to cheat, and add a 2.5-star movie to my Top Ten, because it was more memorable than the rest of the ones I gave 3 stars. It will hold up to re-watching better:
- Higher Ground. Vera Farmiga is very, very good, as usual, and gets solid performances out of her cast. The movie rambles and is uncomfortable in its tonal shifts, and the script is too stacked against the evangelicals for us to believe Farmiga’s character is risking much with her crisis of faith. Except the music, which is surprisingly affective.
The Artist’s gimmick just didn’t work for me, and I was hugely disappointed by Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo, the only part of which that was better than the Swedish version being the credits sequence. They shouldn’t have broken up Potter 7: the slow, sad build-up of part one would have made the payoff of part two that much better. Captain America was the best superhero movie, and although that’s not saying much this year, I’m still looking forward to The Avengers. And Batman, of course.
Facebook needs ad initiatives with quicker payoffs February 6, 2012Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
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Facebook showed its hand in preparation for what Om called the mother of all initial public offerings. Its S-1 prospectus revealed that it has a $3.2 billion advertising business that grew 69 percent in 2011. That growth has naturally slowed from a furious 145 percent pace the previous year, but observers criticizing Facebook for its lack of business detail might well wonder how sustainable that growth will be. Facebook appears more focused on proving the long-term promise of social media marketing than on taking some immediate steps like adding traditional ad formats and selling mechanisms to boost this year’s ad sales.
Facebook’s documentation says its 2011 growth came mostly from volume, and that volume was driven by user growth. It is going to get harder for Facebook to gain users, as its penetration in Western markets is as high as 84 percent, and it shows no sign of figuring out how to enter China. That means it must either show more ads to users or raise their value and price. Facebook was able to raise ad prices 18 percent during the course of 2011, but it struggled to do so as the year progressed. According to the S-1, a December price increase only offset an intentional cutback on the number of ads it showed rather than growing the whole revenue pie. Facebook needs to spice up its ads to maintain its near-term growth.
Making Facebook ads work
Facebook remains mired in the market of low-cost display ads, as evidenced by its $4 revenue per user compared with Yahoo’s $7 and AOL’s $10. Facebook’s ads are a mix of performance-based units where the advertiser pays only when they are clicked on and ads for branding that are purchased by CPM impressions. Facebook could charge more for each type if it could raise their effectiveness versus the advertiser’s objectives, increasing clicks from qualified users (who will make a purchase or fill out a registration) or demonstrating brand lift or increased awareness.
According to Webtrends, Facebook’s click-through rates are only half that of the industry average of 0.1 percent. Facebook brags about its ability to target ads based on its mass of user data, including users’ interests gleaned from their profiles, Likes and content-sharing activity. But Forrester Research says marketers have not found Facebook campaigns to be particularly effective, and I have heard the same. I am a total believer that data-based targeting will improve ad effectiveness, but clearly Facebook has not yet proven its case to advertisers.
Facebook should be more opportunistic
Facebook’s approach to advertising is more like Google’s than Yahoo’s. That is, Facebook sells most of its advertising through a bid-based automated marketplace. Forrester’s Nate Elliott thinks Facebook could beef up this system, especially by adding analytics tools. But Facebook ads, no matter how well targeted, will probably never show the ROI of search-based advertising, where the user has explicitly indicated to the advertiser that he is actively researching or shopping.
Facebook is betting on the promise of social while ignoring more-traditional opportunities. Its latest project is to move Sponsored Stories — ad units related to a user’s friends’ activities that call them out by name — into the news feed. The idea is that marketing tied to friends is more engaging and likely to be acted on or passed along. Facebook points to a Nielsen study that says this increases user recall. Indeed, the concept is promising, attracting positive responses from smart interactive agencies like iCrossing.
But rather than painstakingly reinventing advertising along social lines, Facebook could see some immediate gains with a more traditional approach to a couple of areas.
- Selling. While Facebook’s automated marketplace also allows buying a guaranteed number of impressions for a fixed price, it doesn’t guarantee location, timing or frequency. Brand advertisers like to buy that way and will spend money with portals instead of Facebook. Likewise Facebook might want to hire more experienced, schmoozing salespeople to service those advertisers and agencies. Its marketing expenses were up 46 percent to over $400 million, but that’s a fraction of Yahoo’s $1.1 billion.
- Formats. Facebook doesn’t offer big ad units that support rich media or video. The company believes that would harm the user experience. But surely an interstitial once a day or between photos wouldn’t drive users away. Especially if it were targeted by interest or were entertaining, à la movie trailers. The portals can sell this kind of thing for $250,000 a spot.
These moves would certainly help Facebook triple the projected growth rate of 20 percent for U.S. online display ads. But it is unlikely the company will make them. Facebook seems intent on playing for the long run exclusively. That may pay off over time, but Facebook will miss out on near-term market share gains and revenue growth and on chances to build relationships with big advertisers.