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Over the past few days, I’ve sifted through multiple year-in-review lists, watched scores of trailers, and prowled Rotten Tomatoes for ratings.  Somewhere between The Dark Knight and Iron Man, the following 8 films may have escaped your viewing in 2008 but are now at the top of my to-do list.

These films aren’t necessarily Academy Award nominees or critics’ picks, though many of them are.  They were chosen for having an interesting premise and a fresh approach to their subject.

I’ve taken the liberty of compiling everything — movie posters, cast lists, ratings, synopses, trailers, and critics’ reviews — into one handy package for you.

So if you’re at the movie theater looking forlornly from The Day the Earth Stood Still to The Spirit, here are 8 alternatives for your consideration:

American Teen

Because it’s billed as a real-life ‘Breakfast Club’.

Directed by: Nanette Burstein

American Teen Rotten Tomatoes Rating

Documentary following the lives of four teenagers–a jock, the popular girl, the artsy girl and the geek–in one small town in Indiana through their senior year of high school. We see the insecurities, the cliques, the jealousies, the first loves and heartbreaks, and the struggle to make profound decisions about the future. Filming daily for ten months, filmmaker Nanette Burstein developed a deep understanding… See Full Description

Excerpts from critical reviews, courtesy of ChunkIt!’s My Chunks beta feature:

Cinematical.com’s James Rocchi’s Sundance 2008 review defends American Teen against concerns of overproduction and glossiness, and calls it “an engaging, stylish, and surprisingly smart piece of non-fiction entertainment”.

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I’m a sucker for hilarious documentaries of crappy middle America.  Spellbound, a film that follows the lives of six young competitors as they prepare for the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee, comes to mind as one of my favorites.  It was excellently done, showcasing humor in the inane (a misspelled “CONGRADULATIONS” sign honoring one contestant at the local Hooters, another contestant’s mother knowledgeably confiding, “I think Ted’s got the advantage of parents who think he’s great irregardless.”)

A modern-day Breakfast Club?

"A modern-day Breakfast Club"

American Teen, a documentary film by Nanette Burstein set in Warsaw, Indiana, promises to combine the tongue-in-cheek humor of Spellbound with the high school angst of The Breakfast Club.  It’s been lauded by critics so far, winning the Directing Award for documentaries at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.  The film’s tagline is, “The Jock.  The Geek.  The Rebel.  The Princess.  The Heartthrob.  Who Were You?”

I’m especially intrigued by the romance between Hannah (the rebel) and Mitch (the heartthrob) that is hinted at in the trailer.  Definitely an audible “awww”.

I just wish the film’s design team had had a high enough budget to come up with their own signature title look, rather than ripping off that of American Girl, purveyor of dolls and clothing for preteen girls:

Coincidence?

Coincidence?