Back to the future

Upcoming releases by world-class directors.

After the release of long-awaited films, such as Pedro Almodóvar's The Skin I Live In and Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, we take a look at what's coming next from some of our greatest living directors.

Twixt (2011), Franis-Ford Coppola

In Coppola's new detective thriller, Val Kilmer plays a pulp horror writer living in a Californian town, who becomes involved in a dramatic murder story of his own. Narrated by Tom Waits, the cast includes Ben Chaplin, Bruce Dern and Elle Fanning.

Making a rare public appearance, this year Coppola showed parts of Twixt to the Comic-Con fan convention in San Diego. He used real-time editing tools to present a version of the film which was directly influenced by the audience's response. This was the first run of an interesting project due before Twixt's theatrical release: a national tour in which Coppola will show a different version of the thriller each night.

Carnage (2011), Roman Polanski

Carnage is based upon God of Carnage, the 2009 Tony-winning play written by French playwright Yasmina Reza. Reza and Polanski started adapting the play for the big screen in 2009. Set in Brooklyn, Carnage is based on the interaction between two sets of middle-class parents who meet after their sons are found fighting in the school playground. In this witty film, hostility and resentment are unleashed between two couples: the Longstreets (John C Reilly and Jodie Foster) and the Cowans (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet). Premiered at the Venice Film Festival, Carnage will open the 49th New York Film Festival on 30 September.

Melancholia (2011), Lars von Trier

From the director of the 2000 Palme-D'Or-winning Dancer In the Dark, comes this visually stunning end-of-the-world melodrama. The film was in the running for this year's Palme D'Or, but lost to Terence Malick's Tree of Life.

A mysterious new planet called "Melancholia" threatens to collide into the Earth, which has a damaging affect on the relationship between two sisters: Justine and Claire. Kirsten Dunst won Best Female Actress at Cannes this year for her role as Justine, a bride-to-be who suffers from depression. The more rational sister, Claire, is played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. The film also stars Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling and John Hurt.

Gambit (2012), Michael Hoffman

The remake of the 1966 British action thriller starring Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine has a screenplay written by Joel and Ethan Coen.

In his first film since The King's Speech, Colin Firth stars as a cat burglar trying to rob a billionaire. The criminal employs the help of a waitress (Cameron Diaz) who closely resembles the billionaire's ex-wife. Gambit's shooting in London began in May this year, and it should be released in 2012.

The Great Gatsby (2012), Baz Luhrmann

Baz Luhrmann is dedicating a vast budget of £90m to his film production of one of the best novels of all time. First published in 1925, F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby conveys how a materialist and hedonistic culture can both attract and estrange people from one another. The novel is set in Long Island and New York City, but the film is being shot in Australia.

In parallel with his role as Jay Gatsby, Leonardo DiCaprio is stupendously rich, topping the 2011 Forbes list for the top-earning male in Hollywood. Tobey Maguire plays the novel's narrator Nick Carraway and Carey Mulligan stars as Gatsby's love, the enigmatic and unforgettable Daisy Buchanan. In other roles, Isla Fisher stars as the sassy Myrtle and Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan.

It's said that Luhrmann will shoot the film in 3D. This has sparked anger from some who fear that the form is suited to fast-paced action films rather than to an adaptation of a classic novel.

The Bop Decameron (2012), Woody Allen

Woody Allen's first film set in Rome is a romantic-comedy partly influenced by Fellini and the Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio's 14th-century collection of bawdy stories.

Allen will star in the film, alongside actors such as Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg, Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin and Ellen Page. This is the second time Allen has directed Penelope Cruz - the first time being Vicky Christina Barcelona in 1998, for which Cruz won an Oscar. Allen has also casted real life members of Rome's paparazzi.

Pinocchio (2014), Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro will direct a new version of Pinocchio in 2014, an exciting prospect after his mesmerising dark fairy-tale Pan's Labyrinth, which was set in facist Spain.

A follow-up to The Five Obstructions, Martin Scorsese and Lars von Trier

Scorsese and Lars von Trier have confirmed that they will collaborate to make a follow-up to The Five Obstructions- von Trier's 2003 documentary about filmmaking. In 1967 Danish film director Jorgen Leth made a short film about human behaviour. The Five Obstructions was based on von Trier's challenge to Leth to make five remakes of his film under certain constraints, such as to shoot the film in the "most miserable place" Leth could think of. It is rumoured that in this follow-up von Trier will challenge Scorsese to remake the Taxi Driver.

Silence, Martin Scorsese

Scorsese's next feature film, Silence, is set to begin production in early 2012 and will have an impressive cast, including Daniel Day-Lewis, Benicio Del Toro and Gael García Bernal.

OLIVER BURSTON
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How science and statistics are taking over sport

An ongoing challenge for analysts is to disentangle genuine skill from chance events. Some measurements are more useful than others.

In the mid-1990s, statistics undergraduates at Lancaster University were asked to analyse goal-scoring in a hypothetical football match. When Mark Dixon, a researcher in the department, heard about the task, he grew curious. The analysis employed was a bit simplistic, but with a few tweaks it could become a powerful tool. Along with his fellow statistician Stuart Coles, he expanded the methods, and in doing so transformed how researchers – and gamblers – think about football.

The UK has always lagged behind the US when it comes to the mathematical analysis of sport. This is partly because of a lack of publicly available match data, and partly because of the structure of popular sports. A game such as baseball, with its one-on-one contests between pitcher and batter, can be separated into distinct events. Football is far messier, with a jumble of clashes affecting the outcome. It is also relatively low-scoring, in contrast to baseball or basketball – further reducing the number of notable events. Before Dixon and Coles came along, analysts such as Charles Reep had even concluded that “chance dominates the game”, making predictions all but impossible.

Successful prediction is about locating the right degree of abstraction. Strip away too much detail and the analysis becomes unrealistic. Include too many processes and it becomes hard to pin them down without vast amounts of data. The trick is to distil reality into key components: “As simple as possible, but no simpler,” as Einstein put it.

Dixon and Coles did this by focusing on three factors – attacking and defensive ability for each team, plus the fabled “home advantage”. With ever more datasets now available, betting syndicates and sports analytics firms are developing these ideas further, even including individual players in the analysis. This requires access to a great deal of computing power. Betting teams are hiring increasing numbers of science graduates, with statisticians putting together predictive models and computer scientists developing high-speed software.

But it’s not just betters who are turning to statistics. Many of the techniques are also making their way into sports management. Baseball led the way, with quantitative Moneyball tactics taking the Oakland Athletics to the play-offs in 2002 and 2003, but other sports are adopting scientific methods, too. Premier League football teams have gradually built up analytics departments in recent years, and all now employ statisticians. After winning the 2016 Masters, the golfer Danny Willett thanked the new analytics firm 15th Club, an offshoot of the football consultancy 21st Club.

Bringing statistics into sport has many advantages. First, we can test out common folklore. How big, say, is the “home advantage”? According to Ray Stefani, a sports researcher, it depends: rugby union teams, on average, are 25 per cent more likely to win than to lose at home. In NHL ice hockey, this advantage is only 10 per cent. Then there is the notion of “momentum”, often cited by pundits. Can a few good performances give a weaker team the boost it needs to keep winning? From baseball to football, numerous studies suggest it’s unlikely.

Statistical models can also help measure player quality. Teams typically examine past results before buying players, though it is future performances that count. What if a prospective signing had just enjoyed a few lucky games, or been propped up by talented team-mates? An ongoing challenge for analysts is to disentangle genuine skill from chance events. Some measurements are more useful than others. In many sports, scoring goals is subject to a greater degree of randomness than creating shots. When the ice hockey analyst Brian King used this information to identify the players in his local NHL squad who had profited most from sheer luck, he found that these were also the players being awarded new contracts.

Sometimes it’s not clear how a specific skill should be measured. Successful defenders – whether in British or American football – don’t always make a lot of tackles. Instead, they divert attacks by being in the right position. It is difficult to quantify this. When evaluating individual performances, it can be useful to estimate how well a team would have done without a particular player, which can produce surprising results.

The season before Gareth Bale moved from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid for a record £85m in 2013, the sports consultancy Onside Analysis looked at which players were more important to the team: whose absence would cause most disruption? Although Bale was the clear star, it was actually the midfielder Moussa Dembélé who had the greatest impact on results.

As more data is made available, our ability to measure players and their overall performance will improve. Statistical models cannot capture everything. Not only would complete understanding of sport be dull – it would be impossible. Analytics groups know this and often employ experts to keep their models grounded in reality.

There will never be a magic formula that covers all aspects of human behaviour and psychology. However, for the analysts helping teams punch above their weight and the scientific betting syndicates taking on the bookmakers, this is not the aim. Rather, analytics is one more way to get an edge. In sport, as in betting, the best teams don’t get it right every time. But they know how to win more often than their opponents. 

Adam Kucharski is author of The Perfect Bet: How Science and Maths are Taking the Luck Out of Gambling (Profile Books)

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism