Tuesday, January 12, 2010

You Can Tell a Lot About a Region By the Movies It Watches

By Ellen Cushing
Tue, Jan 12, 2010 at 6:27 PM

If you’ve ever wondered what your neighbors are renting, or how the East Bay’s various place-based subcultural differences manifest themselves, take a look at The New York Times’ new, utterly mesmerizing multimedia feature, which uses data from Netflix to map the top movie rentals of 2009, zip code by zip code.

The top rental of 2009 in most of Oakland, Berkeley, El Cerrito and Albany was Milk, which isn’t altogether surprising given the movie’s critical reception and local appeal. Other top rentals on this side of the hills vary by neighborhood by tend to fairly heavy critical darlings like Slumdog Millionaire, Doubt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Burn After Reading and Rachel Getting Married. Perhaps what’s most fascinating here, though, is the marked divide between the Oakland-Berkeley area and the zip codes east of the Caldecott tunnel, which tend to go for romantic comedies like New in Town, Australia, and Last Chance Harvey. For the starkest representation of the divide, check out the map for the Jennifer Aniston vehicle Marley and Me — which makes the top 50 in every zip east of the hills but none of those to the west, save for Alameda — versus that of Bill Maher’s borderline blasphemous documentary Religulous, which is in the top 20 for most of Berkeley but which doesn’t even crack the top 50 in Danville or Alamo.

Some other insights: Cal, zip code 94720, appears to have surprisingly highbrow tastes for an area that’s likely dominated by students — Rachel Getting Married, Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, Seven Pounds and Vicky Cristina Barcelona round out the Top 5. The Oakland airport and surrounding areas is also an interesting case, as its top ten is the only one to include such cinematic masterpieces as Twilight, Paul Blart: Mall Cop and GI Joe: Rise of Cobra. Also, not a single neighborhood in the greater Bay Area rented The Bucket List.

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