Film-related Web sites provide equal parts entertainment and enlightenment.
Ah, summer. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and everyone you know is…in a dark, climate-controlled movie theater.
Summer is when Hollywood gets fat by churning out the most fan-friendly movies to lure folks out of the sunshine. And the strategy works: Thanks to blockbusters like “Spider-Man,” U.S. box offices raked in a record $3.15 billion last summer.
Since you’re inside watching movies anyway, you might as well learn something about them. The Web abounds with movie sites, and the vast majority are little more than either promotional sites or homes for ill-informed reviewers. But a handful of sites truly are a source for valuable data and even wisdom about the world of film.
The place to begin, of course, is the Internet Movie Database. I’d quickly fill this page if I tried to list everything IMDB offers; suffice to say it contains most anything you want to know about movies: Who played the banjo-picking boy in “Deliverance”? Did Sue Lyon ever make another movie after “Lolita”? How many Three Stooges shorts were there? (The answers, respectively: Hoyt Pollard, yes, and you really don’t want to know.) It’s all here. And the really nice thing about IMDB is that if you know something it doesn’t, just submit it to the IMDB moderators and they’ll gladly add your factoid to the database.
If the dollars-and-cents side of cinema intrigues you, the place to turn is the bible of the movie business, Variety. Unfortunately, Variety’s Web site is subscription-only, but a few sites should give you the news you want even if they lack Variety’s “Stix Nix Hix Flix” headlines. Movie Fever is updated daily with movie news, box-office figures (including the last four weeks at a glance), reviews, trailers, forums, and lots more. Ain’t it Cool News is like the Drudge Report of the film business: lots of conjecture, lots of gossip, lots of bluster, lots of fun. And Lee’s Movie Info is a straightforward movie news site with nice twist: It also includes a page that adjusts box-office figures for inflation, proving yet again that based on number of tickets sold, “Gone With the Wind” is still the all-time movie champ.
Of course, not every big-budget Hollywood spectacular is playing at your local multiplex; some can be seen on your monitor, and not via illegal file-sharing. BMW Films features exciting, well-written featurettes by such directors as John Woo. So what if they’re just BMW commercials in fancy clothing? They’re still fun. Made-for-the-Web films are plentiful: Check out the Apple Gallery for MPEG4 video, Instant Films, and Trigger Street
Wherever there’s a movie, there’s someone with an opinion about it, and that’s where Rotten Tomatoes comes in. The critics whose work make up the Tomato chorus encompasses the current cream of the crop, including Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek, The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane, and J. Hoberman of the Village Voice. Even if a few too many “I love everything!” critical lightweights tend to skew the rating curve, Rotten Tomatoes does offer a handy way to get a cross-section of reaction about movies you’re on the fence about.
And if you’re still open to recommendations, check out MovieLens a research site run by the University of Minnesota. It uses collaborative filtering technology to make recommendations of movies and videos you might enjoy, and to help you avoid next year’s Razzie nominees.