Singing the praises of summer’s smaller films

Let’s hear it for the little movies!

Often, a small, umassuming summer film turns into a sleeper hit. “Little Miss Sunshine” is a perfect example. Or “Moonrise Kingdom.”

This year, no indie release has really turned into that kind of bigger success. But there are some worthy contenders — even if the public at large has yet to embrace them. So if these films come to a theater near you, go. And if they are only available on demand or on DVD, sign up.

“Twenty Feet from Stardom” is a documentary about back-up singers, focusing particularly on African-American female singers starting in the 1960s. It’s also the most captivating movie of the year. This is a wonderful work, full of interesting historical context, enlightening interviews, and wildly entertaining performance clips.

“Much Ado About Nothing” is a total charmer. Joss Whedon brought together some actor friends — many of whom were on his TV shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” — and had them perform “Much Ado” in modern-day garb and with American accents. Filmed in just a dozen days in Whedon’s home, this work fully captures Shakespeare’s humor and poetry, and the cast presents it all with modern zest.

Two very art-house-ish products were good, although probably too far off the beaten artistic track to ever have become true sleeper hits. But both are worth recommending: Noah Baumbach’s piece about female friendship and the (slow) maturation of a character played by quirky Greta Gerwig in “Frances Ha”; and “Before Midnight,” the follow-up to “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” that explores the challenges inherent in a long-term relationship, told in dialogue-focused fashion by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.

“The Way, Way Back” had the potential to be a sleeper ... but it’s disappointing. The plot points in this coming-of-age tale are unsurprising, and the characters are one-note creations. “The Way, Way Back” was written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who won an Oscar for co-writing “The Descendants,” and it was directed by the duo, too.

What is your favorite small movie of the summer?

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