Monthly Archives: December 2016

My 50 Favorite Films, 2016 Edition

It’s time, once again, for my biennial 50 Favorite Films. Okay, granted I’ve been doing it offline intermittently for about 30 years, but for comparison, you can also see my 2012 list and 2014 list. You can also read about how I rank the films via a pairwise comparison sort based on the criteria of quality, watchability, and personal resonance.

There were significant changes this year, something that convinces me this is a fun exercise to continue to do every two years or so. Many films plummeted in the rankings and there were even some shake-up in the top 10. I should point out, however, that just like in previous years, this list –like all highly subjective lists– is incredibly well-reasoned.

I find your lack of Star Wars disturbing

Yeah, well I made this list before seeing Rogue One. We’ll see if that makes the cut in 2018. Anyway, here are the ground rules:

  1. These must be feature films (narrative or documentary). Short films aren’t included.
  2. Film series or franchises do not count as one entry. Each must fend for itself.
  3. TV movies can be included (I don’t think any are in the top 50)
  4. TV mini-series are not included.
  5. Regular TV series are right out.
  6. These are my favorite films, not a “best of.” If anyone else entirely agrees with my list, one of the two of us is an evil doppelganger/replicant/host.
  7. There is no rule # 7.

So, without further ado, counting down from 50:

50) The Straight Story
49) Rear Window
48) Stray Dog
47) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
46) Zootopia
45) Groundhog Day
44) The Lego Movie
43) Heat
42) Sense and Sensibility
41) To Kill a Mockingbird
40) Amadeus
39) Tangled
38) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
37) The Namesake
36) Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
35) Captain Horatio Hornblower
34) When Harry Met Sally
33) Ben-Hur
32) Rob Roy
31) The Dark Crystal
30) Guardians of the Galaxy
29) Field of Dreams
28) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
27) The English Patient
26) The Blues Brothers
25) Once Upon a Time in the West
24) The Incredibles
23) Ocean’s Eleven
22) Black Hawk Down
21) The Princess Bride
20) Galaxy Quest
19) The Count of Monte Cristo
18) 2010
17) The Empire Strikes Back
16) Jaws
15) The Lives of Others
14) Unforgiven
13) E.T.: The Extra-terrestrial
12) The Godfather, Part II
11) The Court Jester
10) Das Boot
9) North by Northwest
8) Schindler’s List
7) Ran
6) The Shawshank Redemption
5) Amelie
4) Raiders of the Lost Ark
3) Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World
2) Casablanca
1) Singin’ in the Rain

And, as before, here are some…

Basic Stats (note: genres overlap, based on IMDb genres)

  • Total films in sorting: 479
  • Total Comedies: 11
  • Total Dramas: 33
  • Total Action-Adventure Films: 17
  • Total Sci-Fi/Fantasy Films: 18
  • Total Westerns: 2
  • Total War Movies: 12
  • Total Musicals: 5
  • Total Animated Films: 4
  • Total films with Liam Neeson: 3
  • Mean average year of the 50 films (rounded up): 1986
  • Decade with the most favorites: 1980s (12 films)
  • The film at the bottom of the list (#479): The Exorcist
  • The film at #51 which at least one reader will insist should rank higher: Airplane!

Thoughts? Films I should be sure to watch in time for the next cycle? Leave them in the comments below.

In the meantime, there’s some things I noted…

Long-term Franchises Fell
Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings… all of these have been perennial residents of the top 50 for over a decade, and all took a hit. For example:

  • Fellowship of the Ring went from #2 to #28
  • Two Towers went from #10 to #47
  • Return of the King went from #11 to #38
  • Empire Strikes Back went from #13 to #17
  • Star Wars went from #16 to #69
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan went from #44 to #65

Incidentally, for further trivia, the highest rated James Bond is Casino Royale at #78. The highest Monty Python film is Life of Brian at #109 (though the “Python adjacent” films Time Bandits and A Fish Called Wanda come it at #68 and #79 respectively). The highest ranking Space-Opera-set-Primarily-on-a-Desert-Planet is Dune at #119 — and it’s not in danger of being displaced by any other Space-Opera-set-Primarily-on-a-Desert-Planet anytime soon.

I’m wondering if some of the fall in franchise films is because any itch that a film franchise used to scratch is now being scratched by various TV series. Science fiction and fantasy still play a big role. There are 18 in the Favorite 50, with Raiders of the Lost Ark being the highest at #4. And also, the Marvel Cinematic Universe certainly counts as a franchise, and it has an entry in Guardians of the Galaxy at #30 rocketing up from #121 in 2014. Still, there feels like a fundamental shift in what I look for in feature films this year.

There’s a slight uptick in animated films
It’s more than just having 4 films in the top 50 versus 3 films two years ago. There’s 23 films in the top 200 versus 16 films two years ago. And then there’s Zootopia. It’s a 2016 film that’s also in the top 50. Even the impressive Arrival didn’t do that (coming in at #63).

Zootopia had a good shot at entering the top 50 anyway because it was both an excellent film (quality) and is also the first film we saw in the theater as a family (resonance). However, it certainly has been helped by being on streaming Netflix this Fall, and I’ve seen it a couple dozen more times thanks to my kids requesting it… and just like the Toy Story films, it holds up remarkably well on repeat viewing (watchability). And that’s the thing: my wife and I do get to watch films Not-Safe-For-Kids (NSFK), but we get a lot of kids or family programming. When I’m able to watch some PG and PG-13 films more frequently, I wonder if that will change. That leads to…

Frequency is a factor
If I were really wonky, I suppose I’d try and figure out the number of times I had watched each film, including partial views and views-in- completion — and also include the date I last saw the film. Then I could take those data and start hypothesizing on how the quantity and time of viewing influences rankings.

But seriously, this whole exercise is pretty nuts as is.

For right now, it seems sufficient to note where there are strong rankings and revisit films that rank highly and see if they still hold up… or if I’m clinging to memories. I re-watched long-time favorites Miracle on 34th Street and Like Water for Chocolate in the past year and while I still love both, they’ve both fell in the rankings. Miracle dropped so low that Die Hard is now officially my favorite Christmas movie! (albeit at #76)

Maybe I shouldn’t do quite so many films
Sometime, around recording the 250th film in the overall sort, I decided to curb my mania a tad in future sortings. I may still start with a sample size of 400+ films, but I’m probably not going to sort the first bottom half. The top 200+ films will just have to do. In other words, I assemble all 400+ index cards that seem like contenders, I pick the one card at random, and sort every film at either side of it (this year, the first pairwise comparison film was Kagemusha). Assuming my first or second pairwise comparison does elicit a stack of about 200 films on the bottom, I can merrily sort the top half, still getting the same thrill of seeing films race up and down rankings (and other stay steadfast in the Favorite 50).

Be a bit more rigorous on excluding films
Some films just aren’t contenders. I guess if I go ahead and don’t completely sort the bottom half of the stack of 400, this won’t be an issue, but I still think I should go ahead and be a bit more strict about booting films that don’t have a chance.

Readers with too much time on their hands will have noted The Exorcist ranked last in 2014 ranking as well. Yeah, I just don’t like this film, despite Max von Sydow. It’s getting the boot from the 2018 sort. There’s just no point in having it suffer any longer.

So, I didn’t think of a snazzy diagram last week, but this time I did. So the diagram below explains the film pool for the ranking, which is made up of films I love along with some films I’d like to rank. This often is the equivalent of a AA baseball team facing the New York Yankees, but the brutality is abstract, so I allow it. The pool of films is never meant to be “only the best films” — even the best films in their respective genres. And while I have seen a lot of films, there are many good ones that I have not seen, and good films I’ve seen, but do not love and will therefore not rank.

You have no idea how many bad films I’ve seen. So, so many…

For example, Apocalypse Now is a good film. Some might consider it a great film. I’m sure it’ll make it into many people’s Favorite 50. I’ve seen it multiple times, mostly in theaters with good prints, with every cut of the film there is to see. While there’s many parts of it that I admire –and I think it’s important we all remember that Charlie don’t surf– it will never be one of my favorite films.

It’s also interesting to see films rocket up the list or plummet, so I like adding “new blood,” but the comprehensive quality of the ranking dissipates after #250 or so. In other words, you might be able to say, “What about [Cool film not in the sort]?” and I’ll say, “I completely forgot about that.” But even so, the fact that I forgot about it means it won’t crack the Favorite 50 (I know this because I thought of 8 films after I began the sort this year and folded them all into the rankings — none fared too well).

There will be homework for 2018
In the run up to December 2018, I’ll look over this list and watch some films whose ratings I’m wondering about… as well as making sure to watch some films that didn’t rank and, again, some might rank high and some I just want to see where they wind up.

These films include:

  • Bloody Sunday – I remember it as a poster child for cinema verite docu-drama
  • Dave – It’s such a fun Capra-esque throwback. I wonder how it’ll land in the rankings
  • The Devil’s Backbone – I remember really liking this, but can’t remember much more than that…
  • Fearless – Exceptional performances and exceptional sound design
  • The Handmaid’s Tale – visually striking, but I thought of as emotionally disconnected when I last saw it
  • Ice Station Zebra – I remember it being interesting, but unremarkable. But hey, it’s a submarine movie…
  • Intacto – It has Max von Sydow and some really interesting world building. Maybe it’s a contender.
  • 1984 – It just might feel more relevant given our world of would-be Ministries of Truth
  • Omagh – This was a devastating docu-drama before I had children… so of course I need to watch it again now
  • Ronin – How will it have aged?
  • Time Bandits – Why is this not ranked higher?
  • This is Spinal Tap – Same question. Maybe if it was played in D minor…
  • Undercover Brother – I remember it having a high joke-per-minute ratio
  • The Visitor – There’s a special place in my heart for quiet films with great performances

Any other films that should be in the mix? Will Singin’ in the Rain finally be toppled in 2018? Tune in 24 months hence!

My 50 Favorite Films, 2014 Edition

Every two years, I do a sort to come up with my 50 favorite films. You can see the 2012 version here, and the 2016 version will go up tomorrow.

The actual pool of films I rank usually numbers in the hundreds. That’s because I’ve found that some films will dramatically change in ranking. For that reason –and the amount of time needed to do the rankings and write them all down– I only do the ranking every two years. You can read more about the pairwise comparison method I use for sorting films here.

What?!? No TV shows?

No, and quit trying to change the conditions of the test. Speaking of which, here are the ground rules:

  1. These must be feature films (narrative or documentary). Short films aren’t included.
  2. Film series or franchises do not count as one entry. Each must fend for itself.
  3. TV movies can be included (I don’t think any are in the top 50)
  4. TV mini-series are not included.
  5. Regular TV series are right out.
  6. These are my favorite films, not a “best of.” If anyone else entirely agrees with my list, one of the two of us is an evil doppelganger/replicant/host.
  7. There is no rule # 7.

Also, as previously mentioned for the 2012 edition, this is like any other highly subjective list: it is well-reasoned and eminently defensible. So, without further ado, counting down from 50:

50) The Court Jester
49) A Christmas Story
48) Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
47) Ben-Hur
46) Captain Horatio Hornblower
45) Galaxy Quest
44) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
43) The Hunt for Red October
42) The Right Stuff
41) The Iron Giant
40) Big Fish
39) Toy Story 2
38) The Incredibles
37) The Milagro Beanfield War
36) When Harry Met Sally
35) Twelve Angry Men
34) Never Cry Wolf
33) Chariots of Fire
32) The Blues Brothers
31) Black Hawk Down
30) The Namesake
29) Miracle on 34th Street
28) Raising Arizona
27) Stalag 17
26) The Matrix
25) Minority Report
24) Das Boot
23) North by Northwest
22) Field of Dreams
21) Citizen Kane
20) The Lives of Others
19) Ran
18) To Kill a Mockingbird
17) Schindler’s List
16) Star Wars
15) Like Water for Chocolate
14) Children of Men
13) The Empire Strikes Back
12) The Princess Bride
11) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
10) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
9) Casablanca
8) Raiders of the Lost Ark
7) Rob Roy
6) 2010
5) Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World
4) Amelie
3) The Shawshank Redemption 
2) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
1) Singin’ in the Rain

Basic Stats (note: genres overlap, based on IMDb genres)

  • Total films in sorting: 457
  • Total Comedies: 15
  • Total Dramas: 32
  • Total Action-Adventure Films: 10
  • Total Sci-Fi/Fantasy Films: 23
  • Total Westerns: 0 (I’m not counting Milagro)
  • Total War Movies: 10
  • Total Musicals: 3
  • Total Animated Films: 3
  • Total films with Liam Neeson: 2
  • The film at the bottom of the list (#457): The Exorcist
  • The film at #51 which at least one reader will insist should rank higher: The Day the Earth Stood Still 

Comparing this list to the 2012 edition shows me how much the passage of time will change how I relate to a given film. For example, consider The Namesake, which I first saw in 2007. I always enjoy films that deal with the intersection of cultures, but besides that, this film has everything: coming of age, love, death, betrayal, hope, identity, and so on. And Norwegians may not get this, but when you’re an American named Bjorn, the weight of your name is palpable.

However while I still like the film, I haven’t seen it since 2007 — and the circumstances that gave it such personal resonance at the time have faded. Its rank was #16 in 2012 and is #30 for 2014. I suspect I will find something to reflect about in the film as I age, as I certainly do for films like Citizen Kane or Ran. The best films contain multitudes after all — and while these are my personal favorites, I think most in this top tier are also objectively good. Perhaps The Namesake will climb upward again, but maybe not. That’s why these biennial snapshots are so interesting.

I could see a music fanatic compiling a list of their favorite albums or songs or artists every few years to see what is moving them through the passage of time. In fact, you could do it for so much of the arts. I love books, but I’m not sure if I’d be up to doing favorite novels and authors — if for no other reason than it’s usually quicker to watch a feature film than read a novel.

So films it is. I’ll list my 2016 edition tomorrow.

My 50 Favorite Films, 2012 Edition

Earlier this week, I mentioned I spent last weekend sorting out my favorite films, circa 2016.

Some of your favourite things, you say?

Well, yes. And love ya, Dame Julie, but that film didn’t make the 2012 list.

Part of the fun of doing this biennial sort is to compare my current favorites to years past and see what has changed.

For that reason, I’m sharing both the previous sorts I did using my current sorting method of pairwise comparison.

As with any highly subjective list, it is naturally well-reasoned and eminently defensible.

I don’t think subjective means what you think it means.

Hush, you. Here are the ground rules:

  1. These must be feature films (narrative or documentary). Short films aren’t included.
  2. Film series or franchises do not count as one entry. Each must fend for itself.
  3. TV movies can be included (though I don’t think any are in the top 50)
  4. TV mini-series are not included.
  5. Regular TV series are right out.
  6. These are my favorite films, not a “best of.” If anyone else entirely agrees with my list, one of the two of us is an evil doppelganger/replicant/host.
  7. There is no rule # 7.

So, without further ado, counting down from 50:

50) The Godfather
49) Citizen Kane
48) Children of Men
47) The Thing (from another world)
46) The Straight Story
45) Little Big Man
44) Unforgiven
43) Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
42) The Avengers
41) A Few Good Men
40) Amadeus
39) When Harry Met Sally
38) Alien
37) The Bourne Identity
36) Gunga Din
35) Alexander Nevsky
34) Never Cry Wolf
33) The Dark Crystal
32) 2010
31) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
30) The Court Jester
29) Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World
28) Midnight Run
27) Airplane!
26) Gattaca
25) The Wizard of Oz
24) Ghostbusters
23) Like Water for Chocolate
22) Field of Dreams
21) The Princess Bride
20) Stalag 17
19) Heat
18) North by Northwest
17) The Lives of Others
16) The Namesake
15) Rob Roy
14) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
13) Ben-Hur
12) Black Hawk Down
11) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
10) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
9) Raiders of the Lost Ark
8) Das Boot
7) Amelie
6) The Shawshank Redemption
5) Star Wars
4) The Empire Strikes Back
3) Ran
2) Casablanca
1) Singin’ in the Rain

Basic Stats (note: genres overlap, based on IMDb genres)

  • Total films in sorting: 255
  • Total Comedies: 8
  • Total Dramas: 30
  • Total Action-Adventure Films: 14
  • Total Sci-Fi/Fantasy Films: 19
  • Total Westerns: 2
  • Total War Movies: 11 (I’d be shocked, Shocked, if people thought Casablanca doesn’t count)
  • Total Musicals: 3
  • Total Animated Films: 0
  • Total films with Liam Neeson: 1
  • The film at the bottom of the list (#255): Jabberwocky
  • The film at #51 which at least one reader will insist should rank higher: The Matrix

If you’re like me, you’re wondering why there aren’t more films with Liam Neeson in this list.  Then again, he has been in some stinkers that aren’t going to ever make the cut.

Also of interest: no animated films. Well, that will change in 2016…

I’ll list the 2014 edition on Monday and the 2016 edition on Tuesday. Have a great weekend. Perhaps go watch that new space movie.

Meetings: Agendas, Purposes, and Objectives

Okay, so building on last’s week’s post, let’s say you’ve decided that one key ingredient to successful meeting is an agenda. You’ve built your coalition of people who don’t want to waste time in meetings and perhaps pummeled dissenters with stale donuts until they capitulated. Maybe you even have a meeting facilitator –the one who pitches the donuts the strongest– to keep things on track.

So now what do you do to make the meeting agenda stick? Double down.

If people have agreed to an agenda and topics that (gasp) people know beforehand, you’ve already made your meetings more focused. Now you’re trying to make the meetings more effective… and decisive.

To do this, there’s two concepts to fold into your agenda: a meeting purpose and meeting objectives. These aren’t formal terms — at least not as formal as “risks” and “issues” are to project managers — but I’ve used them with several organizations and they seem to resonate.

The “purpose” is why you’re having the meeting. You can think of it as a meeting mission statement, but if “mission statement” makes you spend too much time figuring it out or you get too precious with the wording, just answer the question, “Why are we meeting?”

Examples:

  • The purpose of this meeting is to have all the critical stakeholders walk through the event “Run of Show.”
  • The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the IT system boundaries to use for the upcoming security audit.
  • The purpose of this meeting is to brainstorm about annual performance goals for our department

As you can see, the descriptions are not unlike a logline for a movie: they offer specificity without going into excruciating detail. Just from reading the meeting purpose, you should have a better idea of what you should expect to get out of the meeting — and even whether you should attend the meeting.

Meeting objectives pertain to the individual agenda topics. So, for example, for each topic, what do want to have happen in the meeting? Do you want to get a sign-off or do you simply want to elicit feedback? Do want to have a go/no-go decision or the date when you will have that decision? What things of consequence will happen in the meeting? Even the brainstorming meeting above can have an idea of where people hope to be with their brainstorming by the end of the meeting. What’s realistic?

Once you start setting objectives, you’re also setting expectations of what meetings can be. Meeting go from being something where you show up to something you prepare for and where things actually happen. It can be very exciting.

Bonus Round – Have a Feedback Loop
Does this whole process seem regimented? Perhaps overly so?

This is the danger of overly engineering your meeting. Your meeting facilitator needs to be sensitive to how effective the meeting is. In fact, all the meeting attendees should be prepared to change the meeting format if the meeting purpose isn’t being met.

It all goes back to the meeting purpose. Let the meeting format fit the meeting purpose (form follows function and all that). I’ve seen a huge rise in using lean concepts and scrum-type meetings in part because that meeting format effectively serves the purpose of those meetings, whether it’s for frequent daily updates or quickly identifying impediments to getting work done.

And that points back to purpose. Sometimes we pesky humans need more than 10 minutes to mull over an idea collectively. Not every meeting needs to be stage-managed down to the micro-second as long as it is valuable. There is value to more open-ended meetings. I’ve been in many a joint application development (JAD) session that was pretty free-wheeling. Of course, ultimately, we had to set some constraints. Attendees did not have unlimited time to give and we had goals for what we wanted to accomplish by the end of said JAD sessions.

Another thing to consider is that any given meeting’s purpose may change over time due to the needs of the organization and also, we need to be honest, the temperaments of the meeting attendees.

I had a weekly meeting where I was a stakeholder that essentially served as a support group for middle managers. We compared notes on decisions made by executives and how they would affect our multi-department project. When I became the meeting facilitator, I updated it into more of a rumor control meeting where we would make sure we were all on the same page about what the issues were and what next steps needed to be taken. After that, the meeting still served its purpose of rumor control, but evolved into a more formal discussion of risks added to risk register. This also necessitated opening up the meeting to more stakeholders, but since the “culture” of the meeting was established, they adapted to the meeting format rather than value being lost from the meeting (strong meeting facilitation and buy-in on the meeting’s purpose are crucial to preserve useful meetings as attendees change).

In another instance, we had the obligatory weekly staff meeting which often had status updates going around the room. With new leadership came a new approach and a daily stand-up meeting to talk about status on work-in-progress and help with impediments. Our weekly meeting remained, but it became more about lengthier discussion and internal presentations. When leadership changed, both meetings remained, but there was a new look at how to make the daily stand-ups even more valuable.

This goes to a central idea of Lean being that “there’s always room for improvement.” Or if you want to be more snarky, making sure that meetings are not where productivity goes to die.

Next time, I’ll talk about different types of meetings and how they relate back to purpose. As you’ve probably gleaned, more often than not, no one meeting type will do.

How I Sort My Favorite Films

This past weekend I had some free time. What do project managers do with free time? Make lists!

Specifically, I decided it was time once again for my biennial Favorite Films sort. (you can find posts about the favorite film here).

Creating a list of favorite films has been something I’ve been doing since at least the late 80s, but my current method is something I’ve been doing since 2012 and have found easy –and not too onerous– to repeat every two years.

The Basic Method
I do a sorting method that compares each film as better or worse compared to another film. You repeat it and repeat it until all the films are compared and sorted. This pairwise comparison methodology is openly taken from Tom Vasel in how he comes up with his top 100 games of all time.

So, for example, I write the name of a film on an index card for every film that I like. I originally started my stack by creating cards for every DVD in my collection and then expanding from there.

Next, I shuffle them all up and pull one card out at random. Let’s say it’s Never Cry Wolf, a film I’ve enjoyed since first seeing it in the theater over 30 years ago… and not just because it’s a Disney film where the main character takes to eating mice!

I then take the next card from off the top of the stack and decide, “Do I like this film more or less than the first film?” In this case, the film is Airplane!, and while the mice-eating montage is funny and Never Cry Wolf itself is poignant, surely I must go with the high-jokes-per-minute film.

The next film in the stack is Twelve Angry Men, which I also like, but does not have the same personal resonance for me as Never Cry Wolf, so I put it below.

Now I need to go and compare every other film in that stack to Never Cry Wolf. I can then go ahead and sort all the resulting smaller stacks until every single film is ranked.

I like this method because it’s relatively fast and fun. The index cards also add a certain physicality to the whole exercise which keeps me engaged more so than if I were juggling numbers in some spreadsheet.

The Comparison Criteria
I realize people may not like the scientific rigor of the pairwise comparison method above (i.e., how scientific is it?). How do you deal with different genres and the radically different journeys that different films may take you?

I tried various quantitative methods in the early naughts and they were much less fun and lead to a lot of tied scores. In other words, even taking into account three different data points and trying to put each on a 100-point scale, there’d still be too many tied averages. I’d wind up having to do a qualitative judgement call anyway, so why not cut to the chase?

At the same time, I wanted to preserve some of the criteria I had come up with. This helps when dealing with films of different genres or any other particularly difficult comparison where you’re trying to figure out where to put that index card.

So the criteria are:

Quality: As objectively as possible, how good is the film? How well told is the tale? Put your film critic hat on and be honest. Some films are better made than others.

Watchability: This has been a Munson criterion since the 80s, when we knew darn well that kaiju films were not particularly good, but –for us– eminently watchable. Who doesn’t like monsters smashing cities… and other monsters? That has to count for something! Well, it did then and it still does today. Schindler’s List is an amazing film, but I’m going to sit down and watch Raiders of the Lost Ark more frequently.

Resonance: How much does the film mean to you personally? Perhaps there’s a character you identify with. Perhaps there were circumstances when you first saw the film. And how films continue to resonate –or don’t– is one of the main reasons I love doing the list. It’s clear what films I’m connecting with changes over time.

So there it is: Quality often lets you know how good the journey can be. Watchability speaks to how easy or enjoyable the journey can be — with “enjoyment” being tied to your mood. If you’re in the mood for a courtroom drama, A Few Good Men wins over Edge of Tomorrow for Tom Cruise movies. But furthermore, how often do you want to see courtroom dramas or find them watchable? (I’m thinking of one friend whom I’m pretty sure would always pick Edge of Tomorrow over A Few Good Men). Most of the time, I’m never in the mood for a horror film, so you’ll find few movies there — but I have to give credit where credit is due for good horror films. Finally, resonance speaks to how you feel at the end of the journey.

I find combining these criteria with the pairwise comparison method makes going through films of different genres and radically different journeys works. Here’s the proof: What happens when I go back and pick out all the animated films, or sci-fi films, or comedy films and ask, “do I like the highest rated comedy more than the next highest rated comedy in the list?” The answer is always yes.

The Favorite 50
Finally, there’s a question of how many films to list. For the past few years, I’ve gone through the trouble of sorting through about 300+ films, but especially as this started by looking at DVDs in my collection plus a bunch more favorite films, I didn’t think it would be comprehensive. After the first 200 films or so, I think a lot of the film rankings can get pretty fluid. Better to focus on the top picks, right?

But once I got done with the sort the first year, I realized I liked a lot of films and a lot of different types of films. I’d hardly scratch the surface if I only listed my top 10. 50 films seems to split the difference between a far-reaching list and not going on forever.

And I call it “Favorite” because, although I do feel I factor in quality, I also factor in personal resonance. I think 2001: A Space Odyssey is, in many ways, a better film than its sequel 2010. However, I enjoy watching 2010 far better, so I’m not going to place 2001 higher on my list. 2010 is well made, has some good performances, and still connects with me. It’s earned its place on my list.

I suspect you will find some films that fall into this category for you too. And that’s the fun of doing this list every couple years. Some films which I’ve revisited have fallen down in the rankings. Some new films have rocketed into my Favorite 50 (there’s one from 2016 and a couple from 2014).

It feels like I should close this with a film montage, so here’s a Chuck Workman’s 100 Years at the Movies.

When it’s good to have an agenda: meetings.

I’m going to post on project management topics in what I’ll call a new wonky Wednesday tradition.

Since we’re now deep into the New Year (well, for the Federal government anyway), I thought I’d delve into the bane of so many people’s existence: meetings.

To paraphrase a common sentiment about writing, I don’t like meetings, but I love having met. Why? Because within any enterprise, there’s decisions to be made and issues to be hashed out and discussed. Sure, you can do one-on-one conversations at someone’s desk or fortuitously bump into the right people in the hallway sometime during the workday. But seriously: a good meeting is a place where decisions can be made and next steps are defined. A good recurring meeting blocks out a time and place to assess the status of a project and make sure stuff gets dealt with.

If this rosy picture of meetings bears no resemblance to meetings you’re beset with, I understand. Believe me, I too have suffered hours and hours of tedium, labeled as “meetings.” I have endured time-sucking blather that the organizers purported would be useful. Moreover, the people who foist these life-draining events on us seem to exist in every organization in every corner of the globe.

But you can fight back.

First and foremost: wherever you can, whenever you can, make sure any meeting you have to attend has an agenda.

Yeah, this is different from all the agendas people might come to meetings with like “make sure my group isn’t blamed for anything” or “how can I fill the hour with my talking and without getting assigned any tasks?” These people will descend upon meetings regardless of your best efforts.

Your agenda, should you choose to accept it, is to do whatever you can to make sure the meeting has an agenda: by which I mean at least a listing of topics or explanation about what you are to discuss.

Once you take the step of having this meeting agenda, you will have established a foothold from which to launch additional improvements to your meetings. For example, when you insist on an agenda, you can:

  • Push for a regular time before the meeting the agenda gets sent out. (This helps reinforce the idea that meetings are planned for.)
  • Push for supporting materials to be attached to the meeting invite or otherwise circulated beforehand. (This helps push the idea of preparing for meetings.)
  • Establish a template for those materials, especially if they’ll be displayed during the meeting, so they focus on decision points. (This helps get people on the same page and communicate in mutually agreed ways.)
  • Assign action items during the meeting. (This helps keep people accountable and on track).
  • Capture meeting minutes. (This not only aids documenting action items, but also helps reduce people needed in meetings.)
  • Send the previous meeting’s minutes along with the meeting agenda. (This helps keep people up-to-date)
  • Establish a time during the meeting you can go over meeting minutes. (This helps establish a cadence of getting stuff done).

While you are fighting this good fight, you’re sure to get resistance. Even the best people are busy and sometimes honestly don’t have time to prepare for meetings because of many other meetings and fires that spring up. And planning isn’t as exciting as firefighting, so you’ll also get pushback from those who get a thrill out of fighting fires. I mean, coming in and saving the day is so, so much more exciting than status meetings. Getting that thrill is, well, thrilling.

I’ll talk more about dealing with the firefighters and thrill-seekers in more depth in a later post. For now, bear in mind that you can’t completely ignore people who give you pushback on regular meetings and regularly formatted meetings. To make and maintain your gains in creating meaningful meetings, you need to be mindful of “what’s in it for them?”

  • Are the meetings a place where decisions can be made?
  • Are the meetings a place to discuss issues and risks openly?
  • Are the meetings a place to clarify matters?

In short, a meeting needs to bring value to the whomever is attending over and above what sending an email, having a one-on-one conversation, or just reading meeting minutes would provide.

For this reason, you need to be open with the structure of your meeting. This whole post is about adding an agenda to a meeting, but there are plenty of meetings that won’t fit some of the traditional improvements I described above. Perhaps you have some of these short, stand-up meetings meant to be 5-15 minutes versus the more traditional 30-60 minute meetings that inhabit offices.

In this case, your agenda is making sure this short meeting has the proper structure. That structure fulfills the same purpose as a traditional agenda: it helps define the flow of the meeting.

Having that structure is your first key in making the meeting valuable and gaining allies to keep the gains you’ve made.

But if you want to make sure you can make gains, a great first step is simply to ensure your meetings have an agenda.

Bonus Round – The Meeting Facilitator
Creating agendas for meetings is all well and good, but as with so many attempts to aid efficiency and sanity, the improvement depends on people.

So if you want to keep on course to have more meaningful meetings, you want to make sure someone is wearing the hat of meeting facilitator. This need not be the team lead or manager. In fact, some meetings benefit from that leader not being the timekeeper. They get to think strategically while the meeting facilitator is tactical. By tactical I mean things like:

  • Noting where the conversation is off topic and suggesting a follow-up meeting or one-on-one to discuss to handle the issue
  • Making note of action items: who took the action, what it is, and hopefully, when it will be done.
  • Making note of the overall time left in the meeting — which may mean some topics get skipped

Just like a meeting structure should be organic and open to improvement, what, where, and how forceful a meeting facilitator may change over time.

But one of the key things a facilitator can maintain is that your meetings have an agenda.

Security Theater and the Future of the TSA

I suppose I should have posted this with Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday travel season, but hey, delays are to be expected with the TSA, right?Dylan Mathews over at Vox argues that the eliminating the TSA may, in fact, save lives.

And if that’s too dry, you can always check out Adam Conover of “Adam Ruins Everything” as he debunks the security theater of the TSA.

Man, I’m glad I don’t have to travel much these days.

Recommended Reading: Apple’s Growing Pains

I’m always interested in the evolution of organizations, both how they change as they grow and how they respond to changes in the wider world. So when it involves Apple, arguably one of the most influential companies on the planet, I was definitely interested.

Matthew Yglesias’ article in Vox notes a fundamental approach to Apple’s structure I was not aware of: that their structure is more akin to startups that group people functionally by expertise versus traditional corporations that divide people into lines-of-business. I suspect that’s over-simplifying a tad –especially as most large organizations have some forms of cross-functional groups. Still, it sounds like Apple is at a crossroads where its choices on how to organize people may spell whether or not it remains as successful in maintaining its whole ecosystem.

If there are other articles or even books on these sorts of organizational changes (for-profit or non-profit), please let me know in the comments.