This list is harder to put together than it may seem, since one first needs to settle on a definition of "overlooked" and "indie." Nonetheless, I've endeavored to compile a set of seven small films, each of which had some manner of U.S. theatrical distribution, and each of which got less attention than it deserved -- or so I thought. None of these movies figures in the year's Oscar race, but they should be remembered for your DVD collection.
1. Boy A (John Crowley) - This is the movie Harvey Weinstein supposedly championed, though I suspect he only did it so that after it flopped he could point to it as an example of no one caring about whether his movies are any good. Whatever. Boy A is very, very close to being a great film, kept from the mantle by one too-on-the-nose plot thread that rears its head in the late going. Other than that it's a quiet, profound rumination on punishment, forgiveness, and our insistence on letting juvenile convictions haunt people for the rest of their lives. In a better world, Andrew Garfield would get an Oscar nomination for his heartbreaking performance. And the ending is a knock-out.
2. Transsiberian (Brad Anderson) - I don't think I saw a more effectively atmospheric movie this year -- no, not even Let the Right One In. The story is what it is (it's not too impressive), but the snowbound setting -- and the movie along with it -- constantly straddles the line between beauty and menace in a way that's truly gripping. I left the theater in a sad, unsettled funk, even though I get the sense that Anderson was going for breathless suspense. It's pitched as a thriller, and Anderson is a God among horror buffs after Session 9 (which I still haven't seen; it's creeping up my Netflix queue), but Transsiberian is beautiful and hypnotic above all else.
3. Honeydripper (John Sayles) - You probably have a opinion about John Sayles films, and Honeydripper isn't likely to change it. But if you like his leisurely style and penchant for, um, dripping (and usually sad) nostalgia, this is a treat. A simple, vivid story about guitar blues and civil rights in the deep south in the 1950s, it makes a lovely companion piece to the excellent and similarly underappreciated Cadillac Records.
4. Chicago 10 (Brett Morgen) - Forget the rotoscoped trial reenactments, which are admittedly kind of cheesy. Chicago 10 features what might be the best use of archival footage in a documentary that I've ever seen. Without narration or (as I recall) helpful title cards, director Brett Morgen manages to put together an incredibly exciting depiction of an important moment in American history -- the massive, violent anti-war protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
5. A Girl Cut in Two (Claude Chabrol) - I haven't seen a lot from revered French filmmaker Claude Chabrol, but A Girl Cut in Two has inspired me to delve. A story about a woman (the great Ludivine Sagnier) caught between two smothering suitors, and a story about the way the rich destroy everything, the movie operates as half suspense thriller and half the blackest of comedies. It's very French, if you know what I mean, but a lot of fun.
6. FrontRunners (Caroline Suh) - I was glad to see this movie get even a tiny theatrical release this fall, after raving about it at SXSW back in March. But barely anyone saw it, and they missed out. A sly, subtle, observational documentary about a bunch of very smart, very interesting kids, it trains the limelight on the sort of people you don't normally see in the movies -- the people who eventually become our leaders.
7. Gunnin' for That #1 Spot (Adam Yauch) - I wrote about this one on another "overlooked" list I put together back in July. As high school documentaries go, both this and FrontRunners kick American Teen's ass. Bonus: it was directed by a Beastie Boy.
Check out the rest of Cinematical's year-end lists over here.