An old show biz adage says that any publicity is good publicity. But when it comes to, say, Oscar buzz, we might ask which is more important: quantity or quality. The Los Angeles Times’ interactive Oscar Senti-Meter attempts to measure both by analyzing opinions about the Academy Awards race shared in millions of public messages on Twitter.
Developed by The Times, IBM and the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab, the Senti-Meter (available at latimes.com/sentimeter) combs through and catalogs a high volume of tweets each day and uses language-recognition technology to gauge positive, negative and neutral opinions shared in the messages. It also tracks the number of tweets.
This installment of the Senti-Meter looks at aggregate data from Dec. 21-Feb. 20, and suggests that the films, actors and actresses talked about most on Twitter aren’t necessarily the most beloved. Focusing on tweets captured by the Senti-Meter about the nominees for best picture, lead actor and lead actress, it was Meryl Streep, star of “The Iron Lady,” who had the largest volume of tweets, 217,945, indicating that she was by far the most popular topic of discussion.
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For comparison, Streep’s volume was more than six times that of her male counterpart, George Clooney (“The Descendants”), who led nominated actors with 36,277 tweets, and just over 38% more than “Hugo,” the leading best picture nominee.
Although very large numbers of people tweeted about Streep over the last two months, the Senti-Meter also indicates that tweets about fellow nominee Viola Davis, star of “The Help,” were more positive on average than those about Streep. Positive sentiments are calculated by the Senti-Meter and expressed as numerical values, and Davis ranked highest of the five lead actress nominees. Streep had the least positive sentiment.
The Senti-Meter can’t generate reports about the reason (or reasons) why tweets about Davis were more positive than tweets about Streep. But one possibility is that people were big fans of Streep as an actress but not necessarily of “The Iron Lady” as a film.
For example, a tweet captured on Jan. 21 read: “Saw Iron Lady last night. Meryl Streep deserves the Academy Award, but story is missing an arc.” “The Help,” meanwhile, ranked higher for positive sentiment than “The Iron Lady,” suggesting that Twitter users preferred Davis’ film overall. A typical tweet, captured Feb. 3, said: “The Help is a warm and touching film. Viola Davis is excellent in it. Fully deserves all the accolades.”
In the race for best picture, “Hugo” fared similarly to Streep: It was the film with the highest volume of tweets (followed by “The Artist”) but scored lowest for positive sentiment among the nine nominees. “Midnight in Paris” ranked highest for positive sentiment, followed by “The Help.”
The film tweeted about least was “The Tree of Life,” which was released back in May, long before the hoopla of awards season, and has polarized critics and audiences. It is something of a dark-horse candidate. As one tweet put it: “The Tree of Life was a beautiful and poetic film, but so exasperating.”
Among nominees for lead actor, Clooney had the highest volume, but once again someone else ranked higher for positive sentiment: Jean Dujardin of “The Artist.” (Clooney ranked second.) A Feb. 18 tweet about Dujardin gushed: “A real actor can captivate an audience even without making a sound. (An Oscar for Jean Dujardin, please.) #TheArtist.”
Gary Oldman, of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” had the lowest positive sentiment. Despite a number of tweets congratulating Oldman on his first Oscar nomination, it’s possible that his overall sentiment was dragged down by the folks who found “Tinker, Tailor” either boring or confusing. A Jan. 25 tweet offered this haiku-like appraisal: “Tinker Tailor Spider Spy: Confusing. Finest men in their finest suits. Gary Oldman.”
Come Oscar night, it will be interesting to see who goes home with the gold — the one talked about most, the one with the most positive sentiment or one of the underdogs. Only time will tell.
Oscar Senti-meter: Russell Crowe and Miley Cyrus pump up the volume
Oscar Senti-meter: a BAFTA boost for Dujardin and Streep
Oscar Senti-meter: Your tweets on Michelle Williams and Meryl Streep
-- Oliver Gettell