If early Oscar buzz is anything to go by, the academy will once again ignore some superior films of 2008 in favor of big-studio box office successes. Here are recaps of some of the best "bombs" to blow through Boise last year, many of which will get no mainstream award attention, and none of which earned more than $10 million dollars. Currently, or soon to be on DVD, these titles aren't the ho-hum you've been settling for at the Redbox.
The Duchess (Now on DVD) Box office profit: $7 million
Keira Knightley playing an empowered historical figure is becoming something of an annual event, and her work here—as usual—is excellent, but it is Ralph Fiennes' subdued performance that really impresses. A lavish retelling of fashionable feminist Georgiana Spencer's life, this 18th century tale of lust and limitations avoids the excessive theatricality employed by many other so-called "bodice-rippers," creating a decorous yet devastating drama.
Elegy (on DVD January 2009) Box office profit: -$1.5 million
Both Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz have had acclaimed supporting roles this year (in The Wackness and Vicky Cristina Barcelona respectively) but each does his and her best work as the leads in Isabel Coixet's elegant adaptation of Philip Roth's novel The Dying Animal. Kingsley plays an art critic who struggles to look past Cruz's outward beauty in order to connect with her soul. Poetic, poignant and reflective, it is a gentle requiem for a life of wasted opportunities. Somber, nuanced direction and a gorgeous classical soundtrack lend the film a timeless feel.
Man on Wire (now on DVD) Box office profit: $3 million
This gleeful documentary tells the story of Philippe Petit, the French high-wire artist who performed an illegal quarter-mile high walk between the Twin Towers in 1974. Using archive footage, exaggerated reenactments and interviews with the principle perpetrators, the film chronicles the six years of planning leading up to the coup. As enthusiastic as any fictional heist film, but with the bonus of being emotionally engaging, Man on Wire demonstrates you don't need big-budget effects to tell a thrilling story.
Priceless (now on DVD) Box office profit: $10 million
As far as fluff goes, it's even more fun in French. Audrey Tautou stars as Irene, a high-class courtesan—a la Holly Golightly—who shares the tricks of the trade with a smitten hotel waitstaffer (Gad Elmaleh). Their ensuing game of one-upmanship takes place in the luxurious French Riviera, creating a spectacle of wealth and excess that is hilarious and hideously adorable. Sharp performances and stunning scenery make this guilty pleasure worth its weight in Visa Gold cards..
The Wackness (on dvd jan. 6, 2009) Box office profit: $-3.5 million
Nick and Norah may have had an infinite marketing campaign, but Luke (Josh Peck) and Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby) are the stars of this year's best teens-and-tunes film. Less self-indulgent and much cooler visually, The Wackness is an honest and mature look at the indecision and excitement of being young and in love. Peck, Thirlby and Ben Kingsley give great performances, and the straight-out-of-1994 soundtrack rocks. And who wouldn't want to watch Mary-Kate Olsen play a slutty hippie? She's been dressing like one for years.
Others to check out: Brick Lane (available on DVD Jan. 13, 2009), Happy Go Lucky (available on DVD March 10, 2009) and Transsiberian (available now).