The Hidden Gems List (2009)
My Hidden Gems list is an in-depth look at all the films I feel are in some way, underseen, underappreciated, or just plain unknown, and they really shouldn’t be that way.
I have a lot of lists of films I really like on this blog. But there are a lot of films out there that I like, so it can be overwhelming for someone who just wants to find a few movies to watch. Plus, I assume that people reading this know enough about movies and have seen enough to where they know what big shit (Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, etc) they need to see. I don’t need to tell you that. Plus, everyone loves when you can find a movie that not a lot of people know about that’s really good that you can now show other people who don’t know about it.
So the idea was to write, in depth, about some movies that I love that I think people need to see. From each year. And what I’m gonna do is go very slowly go through all of them, and give them their time in the spotlight. And then you can read them and maybe find some to go, “All right, I should check that out,” and maybe add them to your Netflix queue.
The idea is to give you things to see (specifically ones I feel most people would ignore, have ignored, or would assume it wasn’t something they need to see, that I think are really good and worthwhile that not enough people know about), and to show some love to more stuff than the big things from each year. We get enough of that. The big stuff is always there, but it’s these ones that fill out a collection.
You can always buy a diamond, but isn’t it more fun to pan a gem from the rest of the dirt? Here are 2009′s gems.
I won’t include it on my lit, but let me just say — I really enjoy the shit out of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, even though it’s a terrible movie. It’s not a hidden gem, I just wanted to point out that I love it despite it being terrible. So there.
1. The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
- I fucking love this movie. It’s so — perfect. I can’t even explain it. What a perfect pairing or actor and director. Cage delivers one of his best performances, and the story is so darkly funny. I don’t think people realize just how funny this movie is. And then Cage’s performance goes from good to crazy to just flat out batshit insane. The whole thing is just so good. This is one of those movies that I know not enough people saw, and I think it’s one of the best films of the decade (so does Roger Ebert). It’s so perfectly plotted and put together. I can’t think of a bad moment in the movie. Seriously, if you’re gonna find a gem from 2009, start with this one.
2. Big Fan
- Now this is an indie movie I can get behind. Patton Oswalt plays a dude in his 30s who is obsessed with the Giants. He calls into sports talk radio shows at midnight and composes these long diatribes about things. He lives with his mother and works as an attendant in a parking garage. And the movie is about him and a friend following their favorite player to a strip club after the game, and the player beating the shit out of him because he thinks it’s weird that he followed him, and then the aftermath of that, with the police wanting Oswalt to make a statement, and Oswalt not wanting to say anything because then the player would be suspended and the team would lose and miss the playoffs. It’s a really fascinating character study of those people that call in on sports talk radio shows. I think that a lot of people, if they saw this, would really enjoy it. (Also, there’s a scene in the middle of this movie that they shot in the diner that’s right around the corner from my house back home. So that was weird. I’ve been to that diner about a hundred times in my life.)
3. Black Dynamite
- It has a cult reputation, but I don’t care — this film is fucking incredible (in three years it’s become one of my top 40 or so — I don’t put specific numbers on these things — favorite movies of all time), it’s hilarious, and everyone needs to see it. The end. It’s also a hidden gem because there are still people who don’t know the brilliance that is this movie.
4. The Boat That Rocked (aka Pirate Radio)
- I was surprised when this came out. I’d been tracking it for a while. Love Actually is a great film, and when I heard Richard Curtis was writing a movie about a pirate radio ship off the coast of England in the 60s that played rock and roll in a time when such music was outlawed on the radio, I was sold right there. And then the film got released six months earlier in the U.K., and got not so great reviews. But I managed to see it before the U.S. release and I liked the film a lot. Then they retitled the film and re-edited it, and it didn’t really go over here at all. But — I don’t see what was so wrong with it to make people not see this and not think it was very good. I thought it was pretty entertaining. The story’s not great, and it feels not fully fleshed out, but when you’re talking about a hidden gem, you’re not necessarily looking for a top ten movie, you just want something that’s enjoyable that you didn’t know about. And this movie is a lot of fun. The cast, the music — how can you not have a good time here? I don’t get it. What were people expecting out of this? (By the way, I never saw the American cut of the film, so I’m basing this solely on the British cut. The Boat That Rocked, not Pirate Radio.)
5. The Brothers Bloom
- Rian johnson is a perfect three for three right now on films. This year, he made Looper, and his first film was the incredible Brick, which is on my 2005 Hidden Gems list. This is the most likely of his three films to be a hidden gem, just because I feel like even the Rian Johnson fans probably haven’t seen this one, compared to his other two. It’s incredible, though. It’s one of those movies about con artists, so it’s impossible to tell what’s on the up and up and what’s part of the con. It’s so much goddamn fun. Look — if you haven’t seen this, and you have seen Johnson’s other two films (and if you haven’t seen any of them, what kind of fucking movies do you watch?), look at the company it’s in. Do you really think this is gonna be bad?
6. The Cove
- A documentary on this list? What? I know. I was surprised too. But I really loved this documentary. It was so riveting to me how they shot it and what they did. These are like Woody Allen movies for me — if there’s one I really like, I feel like I should promote it. It’s about dolphin killing in Japan, and a bunch of activists doing a James Bond/Ocean’s Eleven style infiltration of the area to expose all this stuff that’s going on. It’s — if you haven’t seen this movie by now, you need to see it. It’s powerful as shit.
7. Fantastic Mr. Fox
- I know a lot of people have probably seen this, but I don’t care. This is, to me, Wes Anderson’s best movie, and one of the top five best films of 2009. It’s so fucking good, and I feel like this got completely overshadowed when it came out. This movie is amazing, and you just need to see it to know. So if you haven’t, stop what you’re doing right now and go watch this movie. No joke, one of the absolute best movies of the year.
8. Enter the Void
- Incredible. Absolutely incredible. One of the best directed films of the past decade. I don’t want to spoil this. If you haven’t seen this, go out right now, find it/rent it, whatever you need to do, put it on the biggest screen you have in the darkest room you have, eliminate all other distractions and watch this movie. It’s a fucking experience. Absolutely incredible.
9. The Informant!
10. The Invention of Lying
- I’m surprised this movie doesn’t have more of a reputation. It’s terrific. I guess it’s because it tries to be a comedy and also deal with huge issues, and Americans just can’t deal with that. Think about this set up — a society where people are incapable of lying or telling untruths. So we spend the first act dealing with the potential funny aspects of this life (all the movies are basically history textbooks, people flat out say mean things to other people without realizing it’s mean, etc.), and then our protagonist somehow realizes how to lie. So he starts lying. And he gets famous and rich and everything seems great. Only, his mother is dying. And as she dies, she’s terrified, so he tells her that she’s going to a better place, and that whole spiel about heaven. Only, the nurses overhear him, and they tell everyone that he knows about this “man in the sky,” and now he has to explain to the world about this place, and everyone is going to believe every word he says because to them, there’s no other alternative than for this to be the truth. It’s an incredible set up. I can’t imagine why people haven’t seen this/won’t give it the time of day. It’s so fucking good, it’s really funny, and it has something to say. I really don’t get it. People just assume this isn’t great, and yet — every time I watch it, I’m reminded how fucking good it is. I guess people just don’t want to deal with the shit the film wants to say. I have no idea. But it’s incredible, and this is one of the best hidden gems of the year. Bar none. If I had to narrow this list down to five, I’d make sure this was one of my five. I really think this film needs to be seen more.
11. Me and Orson Welles
- This is a real hidden gem in the hidden sense of the phrase. This was almost impossible to find, and didn’t even get released on DVD for over a year after it came out. It’s your standard story when they want to write about a famous person like this — that Last King of Scotland, My Week with Marilyn formula, of the young kid meeting the figure and having the figure influence them in some way. Zac Efron is a young kid in New York who stumbles upon Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre company and gets a job performing with them. And we get glimpses of Welles, and he goes from being this larger than life, charismatic figure to being manipulative, and even kind of a dick. Like most of these films. And it’s mostly about Efron trying to romance this one chick, who’s also Welle’s mistress (and aspiring actress), and also kind of romancing this regular chick, and it’s clear how shit’s gonna turn out. But, no one knows about this film, it barely even got released, and the real joy of the film is watching Christian McKay’s performance as Welles. And the fact that so few people saw this (not to mention — Claire Danes is the mistress, Zoe Kazan is the other chick, and Eddie Marsan plays John Houseman), it’s too good to go unseen.
12. The Messenger
- This movie is so good. It almost had to be, with the setup it has. It’s about a dude who gets wounded while serving in the Middle East, and, while he recovers back home, is put on duty delivering the news to soldiers’ families that they died in combat. It’s a fascinating character study in how people respond to these sorts of things. Some people get angry, some cry, some are totally numb to it. And then we see Woody Harrelson’s character, who’s been doing this for twenty years. He’s had to go through this for twenty years, delivering the news. He’s built up an outside wall to it, but it’s clear that it affects him. There’s one moment in the middle of this film that’s so powerful — I can’t imagine that anyone who sees this won’t be affected by it in some way. It’s a terrific film. And I know not enough people saw it. Harrelson got a well-deserved Supporting Actor nomination for it (and would have been my vote if Christoph Waltz weren’t so goddamn good in Basterds), and it got a really limited release and didn’t get as much press as the bigger films of the year. Seek this one out, it’s more than worth your time.
13. A Serious Man
- It got nominated for Best Picture, but how many people are honestly gonna know/remember that? This is already one of the Coen brothers’ forgotten movies, up there with Intolerable Cruelty and The Man Who Wasn’t There and The Hudsucker Proxy. Of course, Coen brothers fans know all these movies, because they’re all great (even The Ladykillers is better than its reputation suggests, though it’s clearly the weak link of their filmography). But this one isn’t as flashy as their more prominent films, so people are gonna forget about it. But this movie is hilarious. Michael Stuhlbarg and Fred Melamed are terrific in it, and the film is just a joy to watch. Give it a shot. It’s a really great movie. Just don’t compare it to their other films. Watch it on its own. You might not understand it all, but you’ll laugh. That’s the genius of the Coen brothers.
- I’ll say it every time — I hate sci fi. It’s just not my cup of tea. And yet — I was riveted throughout this movie. It was fascinating to me what angle they chose for this one. The premise is that Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley are husband and wife scientists who are trying to splice together different types of DNA to create hybrid species. And Polley (I believe after finding out she can’t have children), puts her DNA in the group and ends up creating this creature that’s part human part — other things. And the rest of the movie is them deciding to become parents to this creature and treating it like a child. And they try to shelter it, because if anyone found out it existed, they’d fire them and kill it. And what’s fascinating is how the creature exhibits all the usual states of growing up, which is so nice, because you really get to feel for it — and then the third act happens. I’m not gonna spoil it. It’s just — I don’t know what it is, but… it’s memorable. I’ll leave it at that. I really loved this one, and it was one of those that didn’t really get a complete release, so I don’t know how many people saw this one. Either way, it’s one of the best films of 2009 that not enough people know about.
15. The Taking of Pelham 123
- This movie is so good for 80% of it. The third act (literally) goes off the rails (that being more of a pun than a statement) — it’s not that bad, it’s just — the first two acts are so good, using the dialogue between Denzel and Travolta, and really creating this great character study, and then having that third act. Then again, it could have been much, much worse, and almost all the third acts they could have had would have been a let down, but it doesn’t change the fact that most of this film is very good. And I feel like not enough people have seen it and will give it credit for that. Do people even remember this came out? I think this one ought to be given a fair shot. There’s some great character work here, specifically with James Gandolfini as the mayor.
- This movie was so fucking good. I’ll start by saying I knew nothing about the graphic novel until it came out (and subsequently purchased and read it because of the movie) and really don’t like Zack Snyder’s stuff. (And by that I mean, the green screen style. I’ve enjoyed most of his movies, it’s just — the style turns me off. And Sucker Punch… jesus.) And then, all the hype surrounding this — I wasn’t expecting much. But man, I was blown away. This is still one of the best movies of 2009. It’s so engaging and so well-made. I love this one. And I think it continues to be underrated because people just sort of forget about it and don’t really think twice about it. I don’t think people realize just how good this actually is.
17. Whatever Works
- This is one of the few Woody Allen movies I legitimately really liked. It’s not a perfect film, there are parts I didn’t like (specifically once Evan Rachel Wood’s parents got involved), but man — all the scenes of Larry David berating other people were fucking hilarious to me. And honestly, because of the limited amount of Woody Allen films I like, I feel like the ones I do like I need to promote. So I’m promoting this one as a hidden gem, because honestly, do people really know any of Woody’s films between Match Point and Midnight in Paris anyway? I feel like people only cherry pick the good ones nowadays and ignore the rest of them.
18. Where the Wild Things Are
- It’s so goddamn joyous and innocent. I don’t care if this made money and people know about it. Everyone needs to see this movie. This movie is what being a kid is all about. That’s it.
19. Whip It
- This was a beautiful movie. It’s about a girl who lives in small-town Texas and doesn’t fit in. Her mother’s been putting her in beauty pageants for years, but she hates it and wants nothing to do with them. She can’t find anything to make her life tolerable, until she sneaks out to see a women’s roller derby league game. She decides that’s what she wants to do. So she joins the team and finally finds something that makes her happy. And it’s your standard story — she does it, tries to hide it from the parents, eventually they find out, Mom is upset, but Dad has a touching speech about how she’s happy and should do it (Daniel Stern kills this moment. He’s so fucking good in this) — it’s not reinventing the wheel, but the film has so much personality and so much heart — if this doesn’t make you feel good, you have no soul. And almost no one’s seen this, and this is legit one of the absolute best films of 2009.
20. World’s Greatest Dad
- Oh, you know I love me some fucked up comedies. Here’s the pitch: Robin Williams is a poetry professor whose student don’t give a fuck about poetry. He has the biggest asshole of a son in the world. Seriously. It’s incredible. Think of the worst kid in the world — that’s his son. Nobody likes this kid. And then the kid dies auto-erotically asphyxiating himself. And Robin Williams, dutiful father, puts the kid’s dick away and pretends it was a suicide. And he writes this fake suicide note that’s so eloquent that all the kids at his school think the kid had all this depth that no one got to know about, and they want to know if there’s any more of the kid’s writing, so Williams writes a fake diary, which becomes this big sensation. It is a dark comedy. Seriously. A dark comedy. It was so fucking funny. And this is Bobcat Goldthwait, the man who directed Shakes the Clown, the Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown movies, and Sleeping Dogs Lie, which is about a chick who once fucked her dog. He’s no stranger to the dark comedy. And there’s almost no better comedy than the dark comedy. See this one. You owe it to the comedy gods.
– – – – –
- In the Loop — Other people loved this more than I did, but I still enjoyed this one. It’s a lot of fun, and nobody knows about it. If you like British humor, you’ll love this movie. (And it got a Screenplay nomination, so even the Academy liked it.)
- Knowing — This movie is not as bad as you’d think. In fact, up until the last fifteen minutes or so, this is a top-notch movie. Really solid all around (aside from the moose on fire). Watch it. You’ll see. Be objective about it. The film is really engaging, and that one-take airplane scene is brilliantly shot.
- Moon — Everyone loves this movie. I think it’s good. I’m not over the… something… about it, but it’s a good, solid film. Still, even though this is a cult favorite now, it still doesn’t preclude it from still being a hidden gem.
- Observe and Report — This is so fucked up. I love how fucked up this is. This movie is one of those comedies that makes you laugh despite how disturbing it is. Kind of like Super. Another one of those ‘clearly mentally disturbed person thinks they’re doing the right thing’ films. It’s fucking — wow.
- This Is It — a documentary of Michael Jackson’s tour before he died. It’s amazing. You get to see him performing numbers and stuff… it’s a brilliant tribute to the man. You’ll be singing and dancing along for the entire film.