2008 Calvin Awards: Best Overlooked Film

February 20, 2008

I don't know, that looks like a big boy gun.

Movies can't all be Spider-Man, Transformers and I Am Legend. Each year, there are any number of films that go mostly unnoticed by the movie-going public, yet are still deserving of greater attention and appreciation. These are the under-marketed little indie films as well as some bigger studio releases that simply didn't catch on with the mainstream for some reason. Our requirement to qualify in this category is that a movie had to have earned less than $25 million by the time our voting ended. So while these may not have been box office blockbusters, it's now up to you, our readers, to turn them into cult hits on DVD.

Topping the list is Hot Fuzz, the action film spoof from the creative team of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg. We've talked about this duo many, many times in the past. Their 2004 zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead was also our winner in this category, and at that time we implored you people to get to know their work. Since that time, their wonderfully quirky television series Spaced has aired on BBC America, and of course, their paean to classic films such as Lethal Weapon 3, Point Break and Bad Boys II received glowing critical praise even if only $23.6 million worth of people were willing to shell out money for a movie ticket.

Hot Fuzz stars Pegg as a cop named Angel who is, simply put, one of the best at his craft. In fact, he's so good that he's making his co-workers on the big city force look bad. To solve this problem, they get him shipped off to a small town and out of their hair. When he arrives, Angel is paired with an idiot and finds himself bored silly...that is, until strange events begin happening and he starts to believe that a series of mysterious deaths are actually murders. The movie is quite conscious about what it is, with direct references to the action flicks it reveres and a legitimately fantastic shootout scene. If you haven't seen them, you owe it to yourself to see both Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead today.

Our runner-up spot goes to my personal favorite film of 2007, Once. It tells the story of a busker (that's street musician for those not in the know) who meets a lovely young woman who also happens to have a talent at both playing the piano and writing her own music. The two of them develop a unique relationship that centers on their music – she writes lyrics for his songs, and ultimately they gather a band and record a demo. Once is technically a musical, but it never feels like one in the way that stuff like Hairspray or Grease does. There are no jarring, sudden numbers and some of the tunes are quite complex. And anyone who doesn't swoon during the "Falling Slowly" duet in the music store is dead inside. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová have a chemistry together that is undeniable.

Third place is a little bittersweet, as here is where we recognize Waitress, written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelly. This film is as fluffy on the surface as the confectionaries it highlights throughout, but it actually hides a darker edge that is critical of anyone who might stand in the way of a woman ready to take on the world. Keri Russell's performance as Jenna, the waitress with a talent for pie-making, is glorious. She's surrounded by excellent supporting players, too, including Cheryl Hines, Shelley, Nathan Fillion and best of all, Andy Griffith. If you're not hungry for an "I Hate My Husband Pie" by the end, there's something wrong with your sweet tooth.


Talk to Me, which features two actors we love in Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor, ties for fourth place in the overlooked category. A film that earned only $13.7 million in theaters, Talk to Me is a biopic of Petey Greene (Cheadle), an ex-con who manages to talk his way into a radio job. He forges a friendship with the station's program director (Ejiofor), who is far more straight-laced and practical. It's this honest relationship that stands at the center of the film, and allows the lead players to truly shine.

The Academy Award nominated documentary No End in Sight is our other fourth place finisher, though it is sure to be controversial due to its subject matter if it does take home the Oscar. This film explores the decisions made by the Bush administration as they sent military forces into Iraq, with a particular focus on events that occurred around the time that Saddam Hussein was overthrown. Commentary from academics, soldiers, military leaders and former Bush administration officials is used to illustrate the effect that decisions that took place during that time has had on the lasting efforts in Iraq.

Sixth place features a tie between two movies that are only similar to each other in how bleak they are. Gone Baby Gone takes is not a perfect film, but is still one that we simply couldn't stop talking about for days after we'd seen it. Casey Affleck portrays a Boston private investigator who is searching for a missing child, and comes into conflict both with the girl's mother and the cops on the case as he tries to shed some light as to what happened. Great performances abound in the film, and it raises some interesting moral issues that make for fascinating discussion. As for Sunshine, it is equally flawed but in a different way. Sunshine is a near-perfect science fiction film until the final act, at which point it does fall apart to a large degree. Nonetheless, that first two-thirds of the movie are so amazing that it absolutely deserved more exposure than it received. Surprisingly solid visuals and a consistent build of tension prove that director Danny Boyle seems to be able to work in pretty much any medium he wants.

Closing out the top ten are the chick-flick Catch & Release, the Sarah Polley written and directed Away from Her, and a tie for the last spot. Catch & Release is a surprisingly tender film that does a nice job of exploring relationships between friends, family and lovers. Jennifer Garner and Timothy Olyphant light up the screen when they are together, and Kevin Smith has a nice supporting turn. Away from Her is at least receiving some awards attention thanks to the fact that Julie Christie is the front-runner for the Best Actress Oscar, but it was also well-loved by a number of our staff members. Finally, Quiet City made no impression with a theatrical release (it made $483), but its story of a young woman who finds a new friend in Brooklyn was touching enough to merit attention. It tied with Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi's animated adaptation of her own graphic novels.

A couple of additional overlooked films that just didn't quite make our top ten were Black Snake Moan and Lake of Fire. We should note that almost all of the movies mentioned are available on DVD, so now is a fine time to go add some of them to your Netflix (or Blockbuster) queue. (Kim Hollis/BOP)

Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Album
Breakthrough Performance
Best Cast
Best Director
Best DVD
Best Overlooked Film
Best Picture
Best Scene
Best Screenplay
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music
Best Video Game
Worst Performance
Worst Picture
Top 10
Position Film Total Points
1 Hot Fuzz 33
2 Once 30
3 Waitress 28
4(tie) Talk to Me 18
4(tie) No End in Sight 18
6(tie) Gone Baby Gone 16
6(tie) Sunshine 16
8(tie) Catch and Release 10
8(tie) Away From Her 10
10(tie) Quiet City 8
10(tie) Persepolis! 8



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