By some stroke of luck, a lot of this year's best films happened to be hits at the box office, too, including The Dark Knight, WALL-E, and Iron Man. But for every high-quality movie that manages to attract a large audience, there are a dozen more stellar offerings that slip through the cracks. Sometimes they're only in limited release (read: in the major cities); sometimes they're everywhere but still get missed. Here's what to look for as you peruse Netflix or the video store in search of something good to rent. The 5 Best Movies of 2008 That Nobody SawSon of Rambow (U.S. gross: $1.7 million)
I adore this film, a cheeky British comedy about two young boys -- one a delinquent, one a sheltered nerd -- who film their own remake of First Blood (aka Rambo I) circa 1982. The humor is whimsical, inventive, often Tim Burton-esque, and the warmhearted friendship between the kids is genuinely touching. More people seeing this would have meant more happiness and joy in the world. Boy A (U.S. gross: $113,000)
More people seeing this would have meant slightly less happiness and joy, because it's kind of depressing. But man, what a terrific drama, and what a great lead performance by Andrew Garfield! He plays a young man just released from prison after serving 10 years for a crime he committed as a boy, and the film follows his efforts to assimilate himself into regular life. It's the kind of thoughtful, grown-up drama that everyone wishes Hollywood would make more of. Kabluey (U.S. gross: $83,500)
A funny guy named Scott Prendergast wrote, directed, and starred in this indie comedy about a directionless man who moves in with his sister-in-law to help care for his hellion nephews, then takes a job wearing an awful mascot costume and handing out fliers. Somewhere in all the sublime comedy and goofiness is a nice story about finding your place in life.
The Signal (U.S. gross: $251,000)
Think of the last film you saw that was genuinely frightening, hilarious, and creative. It's a short list, isn't it? The Signal, about a city where everyone is being driven to violence by their TVs and radios (the film predates Stephen King's similarly themed book, Cell), is told in three segments, each by a different director, each with a different tone and style. It delivers on the blood-'n'-gore as well as the laughs. Why did this tank while dreck like Prom Night struck it rich? Injustices like that are enough to make a person get all stabby.
The Promotion (U.S. gross: $408,000)
The Weinsteins chickened out on the release pattern for this Seann William Scott/John C. Reilly comedy after the early reviews from Variety and The Hollywood Reporter were negative. It's too bad, because if they'd put it in 1,500 theaters, it would have at least turned a profit -- and millions of viewers would have seen how off-base those early reviews were. It's an intelligent, profane, and hilarious film about two supermarket managers vying for a promotion, and not only is it consistently funny, but it also avoids all the clichés you keep thinking it's going to fall victim to.
* * * * *Eric D. Snider (website) notes with sadness that while $83,500 is a terrible income for a movie, it would be a nice income for himself.