Yesterday, Scott posted a terrific month-by-month report card looking back the 2008 movie scene from the halfway point. With the interval between theatrical and DVD release dates shrinking steadily, a lot of the movies from January through June are either already available on DVD, or soon will be. For your consideration, here are what I consider to be seven underseen, underexposed, and/or unfairly overlooked gems from the year to date. Something to consider next time you log on to Netflix.

In no particular order:

1. Charlie Bartlett - I'll clamber out on a limb and call Charlie Bartlett the most valuable movie for young teenagers this decade (despite its R rating). Most films for kids and teens unthinkingly implore them not to worry about being popular -- do your own thing! Don't worry about what your peers think of you! Good advice in the abstract, maybe, but completely detached from reality for most school-age kids, who have to, you know, go to school, and eat in the cafeteria. Charlie Bartlett is smart enough to realize this. Rather than imploring kids to "be themselves," it wants to say something about what the ones who are actually popular should do with their popularity. For once, it's a movie with a message aimed not at the misfits but at the leaders: the kids who are smart, charismatic and capable; the schoolyard trendsetters and tastemakers. It powerfully suggests the importance of using that influence for good instead of evil. Oh, and it's bright, sincere, and very funny, with a downright miraculous performance by Anton Yelchin.



2. Chop Shop - Largely a festival darling, Chop Shop never saw release outside the mega-markets. A no-frills story about a pre-adolescent street orphan who works (and lives) in a shady Queens body repair shop, it's painstakingly detailed, boundlessly sympathetic, and utterly heartbreaking. This brand of basically plotless, observational filmmaking is a bit of an acquired taste (I remember everyone flipping out at Robert Altman's The Company), but if you're game for something unusual, Chop Shop is worth seeking out.

3. Penelope - The Cinderella to Enchanted's ugly stepsister, this delightful fairy tale is funny, off-kilter, sweet, and hell-bent on avoiding most of the genre's conventions. It's one of those movies where you roll your eyes, thinking you know exactly the cliché that's coming up next, only to watch the movie suddenly swerve and miss it. After a 2006 premiere at Toronto, Penelope sat on the shelf for 18 months only to be dumped into theaters in February to mediocre reviews, no marketing and no audience -- for shame. It's hits DVD next week, where I hope it can capitalize at least a little on co-star James McAvoy's newfound popularity.

4. The Other Boleyn Girl - The problem here is that you really have to be into this sort of overwrought royal court melodrama for the movie to work. If you are, then this twisty, wildly speculative "historical" soap opera delivers the pulpy, bodice-ripping goods while keeping a strong, compelling emotional current running underneath. Not for everyone, maybe, but I thought this was one of the most purely entertaining films of the year, and touching to boot. Plus -- Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman? Yes?

5. The Promotion - Everything that could be said about this movie has already been said on this blog. I won't rehash. Our best efforts weren't enough to make The Promotion a hit (it's being booted from theaters in most markets as we speak), but if a couple of people pick up the DVD in a couple of months and dig the movie, I'll be happy.

6. Gunnin' for That #1 Spot - There aren't enough hours in the day for me to be able to follow basketball, so I didn't know anything about any of the high school all-stars profiled in this fantastic documentary (many of whom, it turns out, were drafted into the NBA last month). No matter. Directed by Adam Yauch -- a Beastie Boy -- the movie is interested in the sport and obviously impressed with its stars' remarkable talent, but is at its core about a group of kids who are thrust into the national spotlight and forced to navigate an absolutely merciless industry laden with expectations that no 16-year old -- no adult, for that matter -- should have to face. And contrary to what seems to be the universal perception of college-bound basketball stars, most of these guys seem bright, are well-spoken, and don't lack for perspective. A moving and illuminating film, if you can get a hold of it.

7. Pathology
- I have a fairly lengthy defense of screenwriters Neveldine/Taylor in general and this movie in particular here. Like The Other Boleyn Girl, Pathology is not for everyone, but if you like your genre films to have some guts and some edge, it might be for you. The premise -- a bunch of deluded, privileged medical students murder people in convoluted ways and challenge each other to figure out the cause of death -- could have made for a silly PG-13 potboiler (something like The Skulls at a med school), but Pathology has the fortitude to take it much, much further.

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Overlooked gems from 2008
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