"Paranormal Activity" has now made more than $85 million thanks to moviegoers literally demanding to see the low-budget horror flick in their city. And while grassroots promotional campaigns are nothing new in the film industry, this recent success is sure to spur more elaborate strategies from the studios. Well MTV isn't going to wait for them, especially with so many fine films out there that are simply overlooked beneath the crush of remakes and sequels. So every week I'll be spotlighting a few titles opening in limited release that are worthy of your time.
What it is: The latest entry in the quirky, small town-set romantic comedy sub-genre. This one pairs up a socially retarded guy (Thomas Middleditch) and a gorgeous "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" (Rachael Taylor). From the director of the hilarious, underrated Rob Corddry mockumentary "Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story," Brett Sersen.
Reasons to see it: From what I hear, it's a very funny movie. Better than "Blackballed" even, a movie I loved. Plus, the beautiful Taylor, who you know from "Transformers," is a welcome substitute to other, more obnoxious "MPDG" actresses like Kirsten Dunst and Natalie Portman. A great supporting cast including Lea Thompson, Christopher McDonald and Dean Winters round out the appeal.
How you can see it: "Splinterheads" opens only in New York City this weekend and then in Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon next week. But the film -- following the "Paranormal" lead -- does have a Demand it! page at Eventful, so start requesting that it come to your next of the woods next.
What it is: Documentary about soul singer Bill Withers ("Lean on Me"; "Ain't No Sunshine"; "Use Me").
Reasons to see it: Regardless of whether or not you're familiar with Withers -- chances are you at least know some of his hits -- you'll immediately become a fan of the man if not the music. He's hilarious and wise, and both his anecdotes and his documented life will inspire you. It's especially recommended that fathers and daughters see this one together.
How you can see it: Distributor B-Side has a great DIY model where they provide the film at no cost (save for shipping) to anyone who wants to host a public or private screening of the doc. This weekend the film will be playing publicly in Seattle and Philadelphia, and other planned screenings are scheduled through January. If your location hasn't been pegged for a showing yet, do it yourself.
"Precious: Based on the Novel PUSH by Sapphire"
What it is: Grim but hopeful melodrama about Precious (Gabourey Sidibe), an obese, illiterate teenager who is pregnant by her father and abused by her mother (Mo'Nique). She copes by fantasizing about a life in which she's a superstar and finds potential real world salvation in an alternative high school.
Reasons to see it: Following audience awards (read: bestowed by normal folk) at the Sundance and Toronto film festivals this year, Oscar buzz for the film has seen a meteoric ascent. It's up for debate whether Mo'Nique or Mariah Carey are more deserving of a Best Supporting Actress nomination, but really it doesn't matter: both are said to give terrific performances. And newcomer Sidibe, a strong Best Actress contender, is worth watching as well.
How you can see it: Fortunately, "Precious" is being rolled out in increasingly wider releases over the next month. But it probably wouldn't hurt to check with your favorite local theater to make sure they'll be playing the film when it expands on November 20.