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Maltin's Movie Treasures That Time Forgot

If you're looking for a video to watch at home, but you want to steer clear of the new release shelf, Leonard Maltin wants to help you. The film critic has a new book called 151 Best Movies You've Never Seen — a collection of films that failed to find an audience when they were released in theaters.

A lot of the films in his book "are labors of love," Maltin tells Melissa Block. So how did they manage to escape notice? Maltin says living in the era of the blockbuster means most of the movies that are seen by a wide audience are run through Hollywood's marketing machine before they land in theaters. And that's a process that requires a large investment from the film's studio.

"But there are an awful lot of films that don't have the money to spend. They don't have those advertising and marketing budgets. They don't necessarily have the most marketable cast members," Maltin says. He adds that with many of the films that don't make it, just one or two elements out of place can mean "they're doomed. Bad timing, bad luck, bad promotion, lack of promotion, mispromotion. Sometimes there will be a serious film that the studio will try to sell as if it's a comedy."

The Weather Man

This 2005 drama may have been the victim of just such a misguided advertising campaign, Maltin says. Nicolas Cage played a Chicago weatherman struggling with family, maturity and ambition who finally comes to a breaking point. Director Gore Verbinski had just come off The Ring and the first of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and The Weather Man was pitched to audiences as a light entertainment.

Maltin says: "A really good movie. A very bittersweet film, but it has some humor in it, so all the previews and trailers used the comedy to try to sell the movie. And I think people catch on to that; I think there's an aroma of snake oil that people detect. What happens is everybody loses. The filmmakers lose because the audience doesn't come. They don't come because they don't think it's the kind of film they want to see, but they haven't been told what kind of film it really is."

Chop Shop

This 2007 film about a young Latino orphan living on the streets of Queens was written and directed by Ramin Bahrani, who went on to make the 2008 film Goodbye Solo.

Maltin says: "[Bahrani]'s one of the brightest talents on the American independent film scene. This is his second feature, and he says he likes to make films about people you don't see depicted in movies, and he's true to that goal. This is about this young boy who's on his own, fending for himself in a fairly harsh world in New York City, and he's taken in by a man who runs a chop shop, an auto body place that takes in stolen cars sometimes and disassembles them or just does body repair work. The man who runs it is a nice enough guy who lets him sleep there, and teaches him a trade, too, during the day. But this kid is street smart; he wants something better in life. And he's figured all this out for himself."

Lady for a Day

Frank Capra's 1933 film starring Warren William and May Robson is about a poor woman who sells apples in Times Square. "Apple Annie" has always told her daughter, who lives in Spain, that she's wealthy. So when her daughter comes to visit, along with her new fiance, Annie enlists "Dave the Dude" to help transform her into a member of high society.

Maltin says: "Some people may know the remake, which is called Pocket Full of Miracles. Capra himself remade it in the early '60s with Bette Davis as Apple Annie and Glen Ford as Dave the Dude.

[Lady for a Day is] an absolutely charming — I would even say captivating — film. It's a film that makes you feel better about your fellow man, that makes you feel that life can be better. I think that's a very high form of art. I don't think that's just escapism."

The Pledge

Actor Sean Penn's third effort as a director stars Jack Nicholson as a Reno police officer who learns, on the eve of his retirement, that a neighborhood girl has been the victim of an attack. Despite a cast that includes Patricia Clarkson, Benicio Del Toro, Aaron Eckhart, Robin Wright Penn, Mickey Rourke, Vanessa Redgrave and Helen Mirren, the 2001 film wasn't a hit with audiences.

Maltin says: "How could a Jack Nicholson movie with a genuinely all-star cast fail to find an audience? ... Obviously they all liked the script, wanted to work with Jack Nicholson, wanted to work with Sean Penn, and it's anchored by Nicholson in a wonderful performance. I understand why the film wasn't hugely popular: It's a downbeat movie. But it's really good, [with a] very compelling story. I love watching Jack Nicholson anytime, anyplace, anywhere. And here he plays a really interesting character. ... He meets the parents of this poor unfortunate girl, and he gives them his pledge that he won't rest until they capture the perpetrator, and it haunts the rest of his life."

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