At this time of year (January-February) many moviegoers are catching up on the Oscar contending movies they missed in 2011.
And film distributors won't release their Oscar hopefuls for next year until late spring... at the earliest.
But you can still find undervalued surprises out there now. A good example is CHRONICLE.
In CHRONICLE three high school boys explore a big hole in the ground and suddenly acquire super powers.
But CHRONICLE is far more realistic than a super hero movie. Instead, this film captures the boys' amazed exuberance when they discover what they're now able to do.
Instead of setting out to right the wrongs of the world, the three boys delight in playing pranks and just plain enjoying what they are now able to do. For example, one of them uses his new powers of telekinesis to move a woman's car to a different area of a parking lot. The three giggle loudly when she returns and has to hunt for her vehicle.
But soon there is a dramatic complication. One of these teenagers, Dane Deehan as Andrew, has a troubled home life. His mother is dying and is father is abusive.
That means Andrew has lots of anger close to the surface, and he doesn't hesitate to use his new powers in violent ways. His friends are horrified when he causes a car that is tailgating them to veer off the highway.
The one real problem with CHRONICLE, besides its over-the-top climax, is that most of what we see is supposed to be footage from the video camera Andrew carries with him everywhere. That means there are way too many jerky, hand held scenes, a style of cinematography I definitely don't appreciate.
But in spite of that weakness, I was much impressed by how well CHRONICLE captures the reality of teenage American boys.
It's a great illustration of how a modest budget is not a big obstacle for a creative filmmaker with original ideas.