Some companies are obviously great investments -- in hindsight. Yet for every stock out there screaming "buy me," others simply give us a nudge and a nod. How can we tell tomorrow's obviously great investments from the thousands of pretenders?

The stars' walk of fame
On Motley Fool CAPS, these opportunities can be found among our four-star stocks. In CAPS' proprietary ratings system, they rank higher than most of the other 5,300 starred companies, but they're just shy of superstardom. Their five-star peers get all of the attention, but we can sift through CAPS to find four-star companies approaching greatness. Here are a handful of them.

  • ConAgra Foods (NYSE:CAG)
  • DreamWorks Animation (NYSE:DWA)
  • Humana (NYSE:HUM)
  • Legg Mason (NYSE:LM)

Some of these names might surprise you. Commercial-food-products giant ConAgra has exuded buttery goodness for decades, almost as if you'd put Blue Bonnet on it. Almost great? Even familiar names can still offer some of the best opportunities. Perhaps we've just forgotten the potential they still hold. However, the 130,000-plus CAPS members chose these companies as less obvious sources for tomorrow's great buys, so let's see why they might merit your attention.

In the sight of greatness?
Cinco de Mayo typically has me thinking about slamming back shots of Patron, practicing toreador moves on my dog, and wondering whether my significant other will let me take an unchaperoned trip to Tijuana. But the investor side of my brain not besotted by tequila also notes that Legg Mason reports earnings that day.

Ever since legendary value investor Bill Miller broke his streak of 15 straight years of beating the S&P 500, investors who haven't forgiven him for his early bets on housing and financials have battered his fund like a pinata. Some smart Fools raised the possibility that he may have lost his mind, but others were wondering what he was imbibing when he called a market bottom last December. Shares of Legg Mason are down 17% since the beginning of the year -- and are off more than 70% from their 52-week highs.

But Miller didn't become a legend by being timid, and he's no longer exposed to the risky structured investment vehicles, or SIVs, that rolled his fund's performance like a drunk in a border town. SIVs borrow money by issuing low-interest, short-term securities and then lending that money by purchasing long-term securities at higher rates. When demand for short-term bonds dried up, financial companies such as Legg Mason, Barclays (NYSE:BCS), and Citibank (NYSE:C) were forced to give them financial support.

Legg Mason said last month it was recording a $610 million charge to eliminate its SIV exposure, and it sold off the remaining $49 million balance it had. When that was all said and done, the company was left with $1.5 billion in cash. That may mean this money manager is indeed poised to pop.

It was only a year ago that Legg Mason boasted of having $950 billion in assets under management, a key indicator of an asset manager's health. Those figures have fallen by 30% in the intervening 12-month period to $665 billion. Combined with a plummeting stock price, debt issues, and poor fund performance, it's not surprising that investors fled as if they were running through the streets of Pamplona with a herd of angry bulls chasing them.

You can't undo your past mistakes, as I keep trying to tell my wife, but you can work on making the future better. Some of CAPS' top-rated members seem to agree. All-Star Caligiuri, who ranks higher than 95% of all other members, doesn't believe that valuation the market has applied to Legg Mason's stock and sees it as a value investment, perhaps much the same sort Bill Miller would search for.

Book value of .35. Rough Economic times, but the company usually makes pretty good money. Event the current cash flow statement does really warrant a .35 book value. Company pays a dividend which I like. This is very much a value pick.

Analysts aren't expecting much next quarter, but when you've set the bar low enough you might be able to easily step over it and surprise them. Looking further out, we see Wall Street expecting Bill Miller to return to his legendary ways, and that's a result worth raising a glass to. Tequila!

A great opportunity for you
These four-star investments seem to be on their way to five-star greatness, and it pays to start your own research on these stocks on Motley Fool CAPS. Read a company's financial reports, scrutinize key data and charts, and examine the comments your fellow investors have made -- all from a stock's CAPS page.

Sign up today for the completely free service, and let's hear what you have to say about the great -- and almost great -- companies that interest you.

DreamWorks Animation SKG is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Legg Mason is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. The Fool owns shares of Legg Mason. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey owns shares of DreamWorks but has no financial position in any of the other stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.