The Hidden Gems List (2011)
I wish I had a sticker or jpeg I could put on all the films I talk about on the blog that I consider to be hidden gems, but this blog (as well as myself) is not that advanced. So we’ll just have to make due with these lists.
This is a new feature on the blog. I got the idea for it earlier in the year, as I was thinking of ways to fill out days. Basically the idea behind this was — I have a shitload of lists available of films I really like. But say someone clicks on one of them, say my Top Tens of 1970-1979. There’s somewhere between 200 and 300 movies there. And that’s just that decade. It can be overwhelming for someone who just wants one movie. And invariably someone goes through and sees something they haven’t seen in a while and goes, “I should rewatch that.” Or they just skip over all the stuff they know nothing about because I don’t really elaborate on stuff in those lists, I just list them. So the idea was — say someone wants to watch a movie, one they haven’t seen before. I’m the person who’s seen a lot of movies, so I’m always the person delegated to pick out the movie for the group to watch. And the only directions you’re ever given are, “Pick something I haven’t seen. Something good.” And people know what they haven’t seen/need to see, so they don’t want you to say, “You haven’t seen Gone With the Wind, watch Gone With the Wind.” People know they need to see Citizen Kane. People don’t know they needed to see something like Murder by Death until they’ve seen it.
So the idea behind these lists is to point out films that (for the most part) nobody knows about. Ones people will watch and go, “Man, that was really good,” and then be able to recommend to other people and turn them onto it. That’s what we want. We want to see movies that make us go, “You gotta see this one…” If you wanted to see something you hadn’t seen, and I showed you 2001: A Space Odyssey — even if you loved it, I don’t think you’d have that feeling of excitement about it that you would for something more obscure. You might have a strong reaction to the film, but it wouldn’t give you that feeling we all love, which is the feeling of being on the inside of an exclusive club. People love knowing about something before other people do and being able to tell them about it. That’s what these lists are.
Remember in the early 2000s when we were all excited to show our friends Battle Royale or Oldboy, because no one had seen it over here, and you just knew that once people saw it, they’d love it and go and show it to their friends? That’s all we want. We want to Pay it Forward. (And the answer is yes. I’ll go anywhere.)
So what I did was go backwards (though the lists will go forwards) from 2011 and list a bunch of hidden gems from every year. Films that I feel like not enough people know about, have seen, or maybe even films that I feel not enough people gave a fair shot to. Each will have its own set of circumstances.
Of course, some of these films will have gotten a lot of attention, but they still, I feel, are underrated in some way and still constitute hidden gems. Remember, there are people who still don’t know what The Artist is. To them, these might still be hidden gems. The point is to get people to see the movies if they haven’t.
The best thing about them is, even if they aren’t hidden gems and a lot of people know about them, none of them are really films where you’d go, “No, that’s not a hidden gem. That’s not a film you should push for people to see.” Because none of them are films you wouldn’t want me to talk about. They’re all ones where, if you’ve seen them, you want to talk about them. You want more people to know about them. It’s never a bad thing to talk about them. (Or I’m calling them hidden gems because other people think they suck and I think they’re not that bad. You’ll still think some of the films on these lists are terrible.)
Now, some years aren’t so strong, so I may occasionally dip into something more well known (or the year may be strong and I may do it anyway because I really want to beat the drum of how good that movie is and how everyone needs to see it). But overall, trust me, there will be more than enough hidden gems here to allow for the occasional big name film to be dropped. Plus, like I said, a lot of the bigger films are ones where most people will go, “Oh, yeah, anyone who hasn’t seen that one needs to see that one.” So we should all end up happy.
Remember, the goal here isn’t anything more than giving people something good to watch that they don’t know about. These will be good for people who’ve seen very little and want to type, “What movie should I watch?” into Google, or for people who’ve seen as many movies as I have and want something they didn’t know about (because trust me, there are some films in these lists with the type of casts that make you go, “How have I not heard of this movie before?” I had that reaction when I found out about them). There’s something for everyone here, and the end result is that we all get to see great movies and share them.
Everyone should have these lists. This is why movies exist. Share your hidden gems with people. They’re what keep the industry going and what keep the art form relevant throughout time.
We’ll start with 2011, and work our way back. I was originally going to do a decade at a time, but then I realized, “Wait, that would be just as overwhelming as the lists are, only with more shit to read.” So I’ll just do one year at a time, and people can delve deeply into every year and find shit they might not have seen/don’t know about.
Since this year is recent, I have a lot of them — and a few are stuff that I know is more well-known… I just want to peddle it anyway, because I think it’s terrific and deserves to be seen. (You have to understand, box office does heavily factor into this. Especially recently. Movie people might know about stuff, but if it didn’t crack $40 million domestically, it hasn’t had enough time on DVD to have been seen by people to not be considered a hidden gem. You know?)
Anyway, here they are…
1. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
- This was in my top ten last year at #4. And honestly, after 11 months (and in another month, I’m gonna redo my Top Ten to account for the passage of time. So look out for that article), I’d put this at #3. I love this movie so, so much. I feel like not only have not enough people seen this, but that not enough people will see this, because the film was almost exclusively shut out of the Oscars. Oldman got his nomination, and the screenplay got one and the score got one, but that’s it. This is a film that should have been nominated for Best Picture (looking at you, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close). So, while this will probably gain a reputation over time, right now, I’m considering this a real gem that’s hidden enough under the pile of Best Picture nominees and stuff like that to be counted on this list. And in case you needed a reason to see it — it’s a Cold War spy thriller, which, to me, are just as interesting as courtroom movies. You can’t really make a bad spy thriller (when it’s not action-based). The cast is ridiculously good, the whole movie is so perfectly plotted, and the camera work and set direction grounds you in the reality of the film. It’s so good. Seriously, if you sit down to watch this, I find it hard to believe you won’t be riveted.
- Another one from my top ten. This is one of those — while I’m aware it’s not great enough to be considered a top ten above some other films in terms of quality, I really didn’t enjoy many films as much as I enjoyed this one. I’m still torn as to whether this will remain in my top ten, but honestly — I really love it and I think it was supremely underrated. Most people will see this and go, “Yeah, it was pretty good.” I understand that. But this is one of those films that I loved every second of, and that I think is almost perfectly plotted (until the third act… that, I know, was a compromise. But it’s still better than what was scripted). I also think that not enough people saw this, so I can easily make the claim of it being a hidden gem. It’s terrific. It’s about a girl who was brought up a certain way, as a killer, and now is thrust into the world of normal people. I love that. Sure, the execution is not perfect (but fuck that. A good movie is a good movie), but this is so much better than people would think (if they even know about this at all).
3. Another Earth
- God, I loved this movie. I need to see it again, to see if it’s still a top ten film for me for 2011, but damn — this was pretty amazing. What I liked about it was that the central conceit of the film — that there’s another earth in the sky that may or may not have life on it — is secondary to the plot of the rest of the film. This is about a girl who’s made a terrible mistake and is trying to atone for it and find a way to start over. And I really liked that. And I know that no one has seen this movie and that it’s definitely one of the better, if not best, films of the year. If you want the true definition of a hidden gem, look no further than this one.
4. The Adjustment Bureau
- Easy top ten for me. I loved this movie. I’m sure it’s high profile, but still, I don’t know if a lot of people have seen this (despite how much money it’s made). At the end of the year, when I was talking this up as a top ten, everyone was like, “Wasn’t that not that good?” Which means they didn’t see it and were going by reviews (as it usually is). This movie is so much more entertaining than you might think. I’m not kidding. I hate sci fi movies, and yet I went with this one completely. I’ve seen this about five times since it came out, and at this point, there’s no way this isn’t a top ten for me for 2011. So if you haven’t seen this, and don’t think it’ll be good — give it a shot. It’s terrific.
- This is a film that I think people are starting to slowly discover now. My mother was telling me a few weeks ago how she caught this on TV and really liked it. So it’s getting out there. This is definitely one of the most underrated and underseen movies of the year, bar none. It’s so good. It’s a movie about a guy with cancer, but it’s so sweet and so charming — look, Joseph Gordon-Levitt doesn’t pick bad projects (look at his track record). You owe it to yourself to see this, because I bet this was on a shitload of people’s top ten lists last year and I know not enough people actually saw this for me not to put it on this list.
6. Like Crazy
- I’m the first one to say… I don’t really like indie movies, for the most part. But this one had me really early. I think what I liked about it was that it was an objective look at a relationship, where neither person is the victim or innocent. Both make decisions and live with the consequences of those decisions. Basically it’s two people meeting in school — he’s American and she’s British — and we see them start dating and fall in love. And they’re so in love that they ignore almost everything else, and she ends up overstaying her visa. So they deport her. And she starts fighting to get back, but is stuck in England for something like two years. And we see them trying to have a long distance relationship over that time, and how they start to grow apart, and sort of start to see other people, and — it’s such an honest look that it’s almost hard to watch sometimes. It’s a very raw movie, emotionally. And I know a few people who didn’t like it because of that. Which is why I loved it. I think it’s better when you have a movie that makes you feel something, even if it isn’t a positive feeling. It doesn’t leave you on a note of hope or anything, it doesn’t resolve everything, it just — is. And I like movies like that, especially when the rest of them is worthwhile, because it makes them linger longer in my mind than the mainstream stuff. That old, “some movies you see, others you feel” tagline. I really think this is one of the best movies of last year, and I think that if I had to pick only five films from this list, let alone ten, this would be one of those five movies.
- Oh my god. Talk about a movie that’s so fucked up. If you like dark comedies, and especially dark comedies with a lot of twisted humor — this is your movie. I went into this sort of knowing what it was, but not really knowing what to expect. And holy shit was I blown away. This movie is so sickly funny, I can’t even (and don’t even want to, really) explain it. It’s the third in the series of movies that depict “real life” superheroes, after Kick-Ass and Defendor. Defendor is one of the hidden gems of 2010, while Kick-Ass is a movie that I’m sure most people enjoyed. And as we go along, each of them gets more and more realistic, which makes them more and more disturbing, because, by definition, someone who actually goes around as a superhero is mentally disturbed and actually kind of dangerous. And we see that from the start here. We see that Rainn Wilson’s character is very much not right, and they do such a perfect job of depicting it. It’s the classic naive narrator trick (like in Forrest Gump), where the narrator sees and knows one reality, but the film shows us the actual reality, and we immediately know what the situation actually is, and can understand how they see it the way they do. And then — things get crazy. Put it this way — the way he dreams he gets his superpowers involves tentacle rape. Tentacles from God come into his house and touch his brain. And that’s just in the first twenty minutes. And then he goes around, beating the shit out of people with a wrench and saying, “Shut up, crime.” Trust me — you want to see this one. It has a lot of those “I just shot Marvin in the face” laughs. Everything you see is so disturbing, and you’ll laugh at it anyway. This movie is so, so good. See this. You won’t regret it. (Well, you might, but you’ll laugh anyway.) This movie is better than Kick-Ass.
8. Young Adult
- You know why this is a hidden gem? Because it makes you feel bad. Nobody is likable, nobody really seems to change, nothing gets resolved, and it doesn’t end happily (or sadly). I knew when I saw this that a lot of people were going to hate it, and that’s precisely why everyone should see it and why it’s a hidden gem. Because I bet a lot of people went to their friends and said, “Oh, how was that?” and your friends said, “Oh, it was terrible,” because they didn’t like how it subverts narrative tendencies and how unlikable everyone is. Fuck that — that’s why it’s good. The second to last scene of this movie is so good — I don’t even want to spoil it — but it’s so good that, when you think about it afterward (and you will. This is one of those movies where, if you give it a couple of days, you’ll find yourself still thinking about moments from it), you’ll realize how great it was that they had the balls to do it. Seriously, watch this one. You may hate it, but that’s the point. Think about how a movie of this sort would normally end, and watch how this one ends. This is one of those hidden gems that people are going to hate, and that really makes it even better for those who understand it. And it’s a lot easier to be in the camp of people who hate it. Just sayin’.
9. The Ides of March
- Those who read this blog know how big a fan I am of the 70s. It’s really the only decade in American cinema that had the balls to end movies (I’m talking as a decade, now, not individual movies) the way they should be ended based on their story, rather than by the formula of, “Oh, it needs a happy ending.” This movie is entirely like that. It ends the movie how it needed to end. Too often nowadays do you see movies end with a somewhat happy ending, which either kills everything that came before it, because it clearly wasn’t setting up for that, or it kills what came before it because it’s such a cop out ending to the story. This movie has a real 70s ending. And I’m telling you — when you see it — it makes it a more complete film than almost every other film of 2011. Watch this film and compare its ending to all the other endings of 2011. Let me know which endings feel most powerful, most satisfying and most fitting. This is one of the few that’ll hit inside the center of that Venn diagram. It’s so good. The movie itself is solid, but it’s the ending that really makes it work. If this movie ended any other way, it wouldn’t be here. George Clooney is one of the few people who knows how to and can get away with ending a movie the way it needs to be ended. (And he loves the 70s, which also helps.)
- This got press, but I feel like this got the kind of press where everyone knows about it but no one’s actually seen it. This is a terrific movie. I don’t think I really need to call this one a hidden gem, but you know what? I really don’t think enough people actually watched this movie to know it. So I’m using one of my spots to tell you — see this. It’s a great movie. What made this movie work as well as it did for me was the dynamic between Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. Those two performances are so wonderfully yin and yang that they really give the film a solid core to work from. And yeah, I know, there’s nudity and all that, but whatever. The film is such an interesting portrait of this man (and his sister, but mostly him) that I can’t imagine that most people wouldn’t find it interesting and engaging. Hidden gem.
11. The Big Year
- I had such low expectations about this movie. When I had the chance to watch it, I knew this much: It was a $40 million movie about bird watching, starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson. See what I mean? I’m pretty sure the only reason I watched it was because I wanted to see how bad it was. Then, thirty minutes in, I realized I was enjoying it. Then, sixty minutes in, I realized I liked it. Then, by the time it was over, I went, “Holy shit, I really liked this.” I don’t know what it was, but there was something fascinating to me about so many scenes being about people looking for birds to watch. Maybe it’s my displeasure with how many films fit a certain formula nowadays that it was nice to see something like that be the primary action in a movie. Of course, they do sort of put that formula around this as a frame (like, Steve Martin has to decide between wanting to do work and show up for a major presentation or go look for a hard bird to find, and things like that), but most of the action is them going around and looking for birds. And that was just engaging to me. And keep in mind — I’m not usually a fan of any of these leads (almost all the movies they’ve made in the past decade are not for me), and I had very low expectations for this. So the fact that I’m calling this a hidden gem should say to you how entertaining I think it was. Now, I’m sure a lot of people, if they saw this, would go, “Meh, it was okay,” but think about it — what do you think about this now? Do you even know about this now? If you saw this and it was totally watchable, wouldn’t you consider that as better than what you thought going in? Give this a shot. You might really like it the way I did. Isn’t that why we watch movies?
12. Henry’s Crime
- This is why I do previews at the beginning of the year. I find stuff like this, know nothing about it, but go, “Oh, that sounds interesting,” and then I track it throughout the year. Maybe I watch it, maybe I don’t. This one, I got to see, and man, am I glad I did. Because it was great. And I can guarantee that almost no one knows about this movie. Keanu Reeves is one of those dudes — very Candide. Simple, unassuming, the kind of character we assume Keanu always is. His friends rob a bank, and he doesn’t really realize it, and even when he does, he just sort of goes along with it. He’s the getaway driver. And he’s arrested even though he hasn’t done anything and thrown in jail. It’s very existential / Kafka-esque. Then in jail, he becomes friends with James Caan, a lifer, one of those dudes who just prefers prison. And then Keanu decides, “Well, they arrested me for robbing this bank, let’s actually rob it.” And Caan is one of those guys — he talks a lot, but he doesn’t really want to get out of prison, even though he’s been such a good inmate that he could the second he asked for parole. So Keanu convinces him to come out and they plan to rob this bank together. And Keanu meets Vera Farmiga, who is an actress in a local theater, and just sort of becomes an actor. He stumbles into it. And he starts acting while they also plan to rob the bank. It’s — it’s very funny. It’s a very funny movie. A real hidden gem. No one has seen this and it’s so good. See this one. This has my official hidden gem stamp. You should see this one because I can guarantee that you probably know nothing about it.
13. The Lincoln Lawyer
- I always say I love movies that remind me of those movies I’d go/sneak into when I was a kid — those mid-range movies that are just entertaining. The paperback novel bunch. This is one of those. Based on those books that people pick up at airports as cheap and quick entertainment. They read easy, they’re entertaining from front cover to back cover and that’s it. This is that movie. You put it on, it engages you for 100 minutes, and that’s it. There’s nothing that says a movie like this can’t be a hidden gem. Seriously, watch it. You’ll get more entertainment out of this than you will out of something like Green Lantern. Try it. I bet this’ll be better than you’re expecting it to be.
14. Winnie the Pooh
- It’s 63 minutes long, with credits. You have no reason not to see this one. It’s pure, unadulterated innocence. It’s so happy and colorful, and the visual gags are absolutely terrific. It’s bound to be a forgotten film because it’s so short and wasn’t made for much, and most people went, “Well it was really kiddie, I don’t need to see this.” No, yes you do. It’s a Disney canon film (it’s the film they made between Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph), it’s gorgeously hand-drawn (which so few films are anymore), and it makes you so goddamn happy that I don’t see how you have any reason not to see it. Seriously, don’t be a schmuck, see this. I don’t see how you can not like it.
- I know nobody saw this one. That automatically makes it a hidden gem. This movie was shot in 2007, I believe, and sat on the shelf because of legal problems and barely got released. It’s about a young girl who sees a bus accident (which is a terrific scene in the film) and struggles with what to do afterwards. A woman dies, and basically it’s sort of her fault, since she was trying to get the bus driver’s attention, and he was flirting with her and didn’t realize the light had changed. And then she lies to the police because she thinks it’s the right thing to do at the time, and slowly starts finding out more about the woman and her family, and starts to think that she should tell the truth and find a way to make it right for this woman’s family. It’s actually a pretty powerful film. There are a lot of shades of gray here. Because there’s a whole thing about right thing to do, wrong people and such. You’ll know what I mean when you see it. But — no one saw this, it’s gonna be forgotten because it got so screwed out of a release, and it’s too good to be forgotten. So see this if only so more people can have seen this. It’s also good enough to where you should see it on principle. So see it.
16. Take Shelter
- A terrific film, one that a lot of people spoke very highly of last year (specifically Michael Shannon’s performance). But it’s still a hidden gem because the people who only tend to watch the big wide releases know nothing about this movie. And it’s so good. Basically it’s about a dude whose family has a history of mental problems who starts to see things and wonders whether or not it’s real or not. He becomes convinced that the end of the world is coming and that he needs to build a fallout shelter so his family can survive. And it consumes him. And he starts to lose it, and we wonder whether or not he’s going crazy. And — well, I’ll leave it there. The quality of the film, and of Michael Shannon’s performance, is good enough to where I don’t have to say anything. See this. Definitely one of the hidden gems of 2011.
17. Kill the Irishman
- This movie so badly loves and wants to be those classic crime movies that everybody loves — the entire cast is basically all the Italian actors you’ve seen in Goodfellas and The Sopranos and all that stuff. It so clearly wants to be them. But if you can get past that — this is really solid. Basically it’s about an Irish guy that stands up to the Italian mob and brazenly starts killing them and dares them to come kill him. To the point where everyone knows where he lives and he tells them, “I’ll be right here, every day, come and get me.” It’s pretty great. It’s not a movie that’ll be in anybody’s top ten for the year, but it’s one of those movies that — considering almost no one knows about it — when people see it, they’re gonna go, “Damn, that was good. How come I didn’t know about that?” And what better definition of a hidden gem is there?
18. Red State
- Narratively, this is one of those 2011 films that takes so many sudden turns that it’s worth seeing just for that. Plus it’s like 90 minutes long with credits, so it’s such an easy movie to see. Go into this one trying to figure out where it’s going to go next — on that level, I bet you enjoy this purely because it’s so hard to figure out. I like when movies do that. I want a movie where I can go, “Oh, I bet this’ll happen next,” and then I’ll allow for something sort of similar to that, but then what happens is not even something I considered. I want a movie to keep surprising me. And this movie surprised me. It’s not perfect, but as a 90 minute film that was made for no money that no one saw — this one is pretty damn spry.
19. A Better Life
- It’s Bicycle Thieves but with immigrants in Los Angeles. It’s a great movie, and one of those movies that’s allowed to take its basic premise from something else because it’s so fittingly adapted. Demían Bichir got a Best Actor nomination for this, which will help more people to see this, but it’s still destined to go down as one of the more forgotten films of the year. People looking at the Oscar nominations lists will have no idea what this one is. But it’s a really solid film, and is one people should see, because how many fucking times are you gonna watch Thor?
- Holy shit. This is a true hidden gem. No one saw this movie. It’s such a quiet movie, and it’s so powerful. Peter Mullan (most people will remember him from Children of Men as Syd, the “fascist pig” refugee camp guard, and he was also the kid’s father in War Horse) plays a dude who is just so angry and violent. That’s just his nature. He’s angry, violent, and miserable. And we see him meet a kind woman, and start to lighten up and change. And that’s the movie. It’s not like most other movies, and those people who only like mainstream stuff will probably hate this, but I don’t care. It’s a hidden gem, and it’s terrific. It’s a very powerful movie.
– – – – –
(Basically just some extras to rapid-fire)
- Drive Angry — complete batshit and fun as hell.
- Submarine — this’ll be on most people’s hidden gems list. Very good film.
- The Three Musketeers — not perfect, but a lot of fun and very underrated. Seriously. Try it. It’s not horrible.
- Friends with Benefits / In Time — a JT double pack. They’re both very solid films (though again, not perfect). But I think they might be skipped by more people than necessary because of a perception that they’re a certain thing. I think they’re worth a look.
- And…Our Idiot Brother — I really liked this one. It won me mover more than I thought was possible.