Every year, plenty of movies come and go with audiences ignoring them and/or critics bashing them. Many of these films deserve the fate bequeathed upon them, but there are others that leave the filmmakers scratching their heads or drinking away their sorrows in some lonely tavern only to wake up the next morning to find their clothes and money missing and a lingering memory of a sexy woman who wasn’t as sexy as she first appeared – or as womanly.
Below are 23 overlooked movies released in 2008. Some of these are box office duds and others are ones that the critics sunk their teeth into for no good reason. And there are even some blockbusters on this list that some people have refused to watch out of some sad, misguided preconception of the picture, franchise or actor involved.
Here are the hidden gems of 2008, in no particular order:
- In Bruges
A movie completely ignored by audiences, this looked like an enjoyable but forgettable comedy based upon the previews alone. My brother thought it looked downright boring, though I always argued in its favor – but never got around to seeing it in theaters. Netflix finally sent it to me, and it sat on my TV stand for two weeks before I got around to it. And… wow. In Bruges is clever and hilarious, with great acting and a sharp screenplay. Both Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell are top notch, and Ralph Fiennes throws in a viciously good performance to boot. Highly recommended, as long as you’re not offended by swearing, bloodshed or jokes about midgets.
- The Visitor
Richard Jenkins turns in an Oscar-nominated performance with The Visitor, a surprisingly engaging little drama. I don’t think I ever watched the trailer for this movie, because after seeing the poster, I was sold… on not seeing it. The poster featured Jenkins sitting in what looked like a subway station playing a drum, and that was not enough to tell me this was going to be a boring, forgettable film. But word of mouth finally reached me and gave it a chance… and here we are.
- Tell No One
One of my favorite movies of the year, I probably would have never watched this one if not for the recommendation from my brother (yes, the same one who dissed In Bruges). Tell No One is an incredibly complex murder mystery/thriller that works as both a drama and as an exciting suspense flick. The movie keeps you guessing, but when everything comes together, it actually makes sense. Highly recommended, as long as you don’t mind subtitles.
- The Express
This sports movie is about Ernie Davis, the first African-American Heisman Trophy winner. A movie that came and went from theaters faster than Davis could run 100 yards, this Dennis Quaid-starring drama looked just like every other sports movie. The good thing is that a lot of sports movies are entertaining, dramatic and exciting, and The Express is no different.
- Let the Right One In
This Swedish vampire flick has been showing up on a lot of top ten lists, but so few people have seen it that it can only be considered a hidden gem. Notably, when everyone should have been talking about Twilight, they were talking about this one instead, a sincere and engaging picture about a female vampire who befriends a little boy. In fact, the movie is so good that Hollywood is remaking the picture for next year – of course, they will massacre it.
- Man on Wire
The Oscar-nominated documentary about a crazy Frenchman who sneaks onto the World Trade Center to tightrope between the two 100-story-tall buildings may sound boring, but it’s actually one of the most entertaining and well-made films of the year.
This movie opened reasonably well for January, but assuredly most action fans shrugged this flick off as a forgettable attempt to resurrect a career long since destroyed. However, this new Rambo is surprisingly gritty and action-packed, with lots and lots and lots of gore. It may be brainless, but it really isn’t that brainless. More importantly, it is entertaining enough that I’m looking forward to Rambo 5… which they are making.
- Revolutionary Road
This one counts as a hidden gem because many critics dissed it and it didn’t quite take off like some of the other Oscar-nominated films did. This is sad, because Revolutionary Road, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, is better than all five movies nominated for Best Picture.
This horror-comedy is not necessarily a horror movie, nor is it a comedy, but it is a strange amalgam of the two that keeps you guessing. Is it real? Is it a hoax? Who knew that a movie about a stalker who wears a bag over his head could be so creepy… or clever.
This drama epic starring Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman was scorned by critics and audiences alike, but look at the reviews carefully: there aren’t too many damning reviews. In fact, there are a lot of favorable ones – just not so favorably to boost the picture into Oscar contention. Australia is a fun, entertaining drama that is almost excellent – but has to settle for very good.
- Ghost Town
This comedy starring Rick Gervais (the British version of The Office) is painfully cringe inducing, but in a good way. Gervais plays a socially awkward dentist who, after an accident, can now see ghosts – and those ghosts want him to do things for them. While not the best comedy of the year, it is one of the most overlooked movies of the year that were, in fact, funny.
Written and directed by the writer of American Beauty, Towelhead wasn’t quite as good as I was hoping, but it does grow on you. Striking some similarity to the aforementioned Oscar winner, the movie is about a Middle Eastern teenage girl who is starting to explore her sexual urges in the Texas suburbs. Darkly funny and at the same time disturbing, there are some memorable moments in Towelhead.
This thriller has a surprisingly good cast (Woody Harrelson and Ben Kingsley, among others) and a gripping story, so it’s a little strange that it didn’t get a wider release than it did. About a married couple who travel across Russia on the transsiberian railroad only to end up involved in a murder and drug conspiracy, Transsiberian is entertaining and engaging.
This Don Cheadle thriller was largely ignored by audiences thanks to its lack of promotion and odd August release date, but it’s a smart, effective film nonetheless. While it isn’t quite Bourne material, it does bear similarities – and should be enough to tide one over until The Bourne Identity 4 is released.
This cheesy action film is funny, goofy and action-packed all at the same time, and we can only hope that it’s all intentional. A rip-off of about a dozen films all thrown together, Doomsday develops a strange synergy that made it one of the earlier surprises of 2008.
Iron Man and The Dark Knight got all the glory this year, but there was another decent superhero movie released in the fall: Special. Michael Rapaport turns in an excellent performance as a man who starts taking an experimental medicine that has the unintended side effect of giving him powers. Unfortunately for him, the pills are actually just giving him delusions.
- Swing Vote
This Kevin Costner movie was bashed by critics and ignored by audiences, but both my roommate and I enjoyed this comedy about an ignorant hick who inadvertently becomes the singular swing vote for the Presidential election. The situation makes absolutely no sense, but if you can get past that, it’s an amusing picture that plays to Costner’s strengths.
This foreign flick is currently being remade in Hollywood, and unlike Let the Right One In, I’m holding out high hopes for it. The original, about a man who gets caught up in an ever-increasing time travel scheme, is extremely clever – though the director and main actor aren’t good enough for the material. Nevertheless, Timecrimes is a fun movie that will keep you guessing.
- The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
This may have made over $100-million at the box office, but it made this list for three reasons: 1) it was considered a box office dud; 2) most people shrugged it off as a forgettable sequel; and 3) most people don’t even remember that it was released in May of 2008. Not a huge fan of the original, I didn’t have high hopes for Prince Caspian, but it is darker, faster and more exciting than The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Action fans should overlook the PG rating and give this one a chance.
- The Hammer
This Adam Carolla comedy pretty much went straight to DVD, but it is funny, sincere and entertaining. Carolla plays a construction worker who decides to return to amateur boxing. Beyond Carolla’s trademark humor, the boxing sequences are effective. If any film can be considered a hidden gem, it’s this low-budget flick.
OK, so Valkyrie surprised everyone by performing strongly at the box office this December, but there are a lot of Tom Cruise haters who refused to see this movie. So, I’ve included it here. The Bryan Singer action-drama isn’t perfect, but it still is one of the better thrillers of the year.
- Body of Lies
This Russell Crowe/Leonardo DiCaprio movie from Ridley Scott performed poorly with critics and audiences alike, and it’s no surprise that the marketing team had trouble promoting this realistic CIA picture. That being said, the critics are wrong: Body of Lies is a refreshingly believable and exciting spy thriller.
- The Spiderwick Chronicles
This children-fantasy movie was yet another contender to be the next Harry Potter franchise, but given the oversaturation of the genre, it’s no surprise that it never completely caught on. Still, The Spiderwick Chronicles is a well-written, clever and exciting flick about invisible monsters and other things that go bump in the night. It’s not for little children who scare easily, however.