The sleeper: that great film with a modest budget, extremely talented but not necessarily "A-list" stars, tight direction and cinematography and a smart, thought-provoking story.
This is the holy grail of the movie buff. Partly, we want bragging rights at having found a terrific film that may have escaped the notice of the general movie public, but, mostly, it's just exciting to find a well-crafted bit of cinema that doesn't rely on over-rated star power, ridiculous special effects, juvenile gross-out humor, or excessive marketing campaigns.
One such film is Panic (2000). The confoundingly-named movie follows Alex (William H. Macy), a mild-mannered family man with a loving wife (Tracey Ullman) and a precocious son (David Dorfman). He works for his father (Donald Sutherland) in the family business, but he is stricken with a bit of mid-life malaise and begins to see a psychologist (John Ritter). In the waiting room he meets and is immediately smitten with the smart but troubled young Sarah (Neve Campbell).
Let me guess: you're thinking this all sounds very, very familiar.
Let's see. . . oh. Did I mention that the family business is killing for hire?
Aha. This is where it gets interesting.
Now, Panic could very easily have been taken down the path of black comedy absurdism, but writer-director Henry Bromell chose to go for the character-driven angle with great success.
The characters are three-dimensional and real, even if, as I said, little David Dorfman is particularly precocious.
Macy is outstanding, Campbell is beguiling, and Sutherland is a thoroughly charming monster.
I am more than happy to exercise my bragging rights on finding this film for you (though I will admit to still being a bit puzzled by the title).