Bill Gibron at PopMatters is trying to argue that this is a phenomenon unique to this year, one that will be remembered as an integral part of the cinematic landscape when we look back on 2010:
Of course, we are talking about middling hit Kick-Ass, the measureable [sic] flops Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Let Me In, and the Merchant/Ivory makeover known as Never Let Me Go. In each case, high expectations were met with limited interest - and it's a shame. All four are excellent examples of the artform, each pushing boundaries and established genre types while still maintaining a perceivable level of inherent quality. A couple were critical darlings. The others were definitely lost in the always deadly "love it or loathe it" dichotomy. But the end result was the same - movies that should have made an impact, that should have stood side by side with other breakthrough titles and argued for their aesthetic merits instead, became question marks, cautionary examples requiring second guessing and analytical conjecture.
I don't exactly agree with his estimation of all these films - Kick-Ass is fine and all, but its lasting legacy will matter only to superhero geeks like myself, and I haven't seen Let Me In - but he's more or less correct in noting they are under-appreciated when stacked against what has qualified as important filmmaking this year (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Never Let Me Go are astounding achievements on every level that will hopefully gain greater recognition in the coming years).
But regardless of what individual films you pick, this is, undoubtedly, something that happens. It's just not something unique to 2010 at all. These are just (a few of) the films that fit the bill this year. Last year? Observe and Report, The Informant!, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Whip It, and in some corners, Where the Wild Things Are were all terrific, mainstream films that saw little appreciation in any serious corners. The year before? Speed Racer, Pineapple Express, Che, and Synecdoche, New York. Even 2007, a year in which masterpieces were aplenty and largely appreciated, saw the burying of such films as Death Proof, Sunshine, Across the Universe, Into the Wild, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Darjeeling Limited, and I'm Not There. 2006? Nacho Libre, Crank, Marie Antoinette, The Fountain, and Rocky Balboa.
I'm not interested in whether or not you agree with me that each and every one of these films are amazing, important works of art. You could just as easily have your own list of secret, misunderstood masterpieces, and that's fine. That's the whole point - that this happens every single year, and will continue to for decades to come. Sometimes it's the fault of advertisers driving consumers towards a different sort of film altogether, sometimes audiences don't see what is so clearly there, and too often critics are dismissive of something that tries (much less succeeds) to push film forward. So get out there, and watch movies anew. Great filmmaking is not limited simply to the films we all agree on; you'll be surprised at how much great stuff there is.