The Hidden Gems List (2008)
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 2008′s gems.
- I’ll always recommend a western, because they just don’t make them anymore. And I credit Ed Harris for finding a way to get one made. You can count the number of studio westerns made in the past decade on one hand, practically. This is also a really solid movie. So how about you see a member of America’s oldest film genre? Take a small break away from those fucking superhero movies and action bullshit.
- Another western. Only this one’s a Baz Luhrmann western, which means it’s a big, epic adventure film too. It’s like a mix of The Sundowners, King Solomon’s Mines and I guess, maybe some Out of Africa in there, too. It’s a big, epic, Australian western. And I love that. I think this movie is badly misunderstood. It wants to be like those Hollywood adventures of the 50s and 60s. And people were expecting something else entirely. Watch this movie in the vein of a fun, Hollywood adventure western. It works. It totally works. Completely underrated film.
3. Burn After Reading
- This, to me, is one of the Coen brothers’ best films. Bar none. It’s fucking hilarious, and people think of it as one of their lesser comedies. Especially since it came right after No Country for Old Men. It’s like how Lebowski came right after Fargo and immediately everyone was like, “What the fuck is that shit?” This is gonna come around in a few years. I’m telling you. This movie is so absurdly funny. Brad Pitt’s performance in this should have gotten him an Oscar nomination. It’s ridiculous to me that this movie didn’t get the attention it deserved. Seriously, watch this. It’s fucking hysterical. You can learn so much about comedy writing from this movie.
4. Definitely, Maybe
- I saw this movie in the theater during my pretentious years. I call my pretentious years 2005, 2006 and 2007. (This came out in February of 2008, so it counts.) Those were the three years that I felt I was better than the movies. Before that, I just watched shit, and after that, I learned enough to just let movies exist. I wasn’t gonna be an asshole about them. But this one was one where — I saw the set up, thought it was good, wanted to see it, and then, when I saw it, I came out of the theater being like, “Man, this could have been so much better. I wish I could have made this, I could have made it so much better.” Which I still feel. I feel like the movie was not written (or executed) up to its potential and has a great set up to it. But it was the kind of thing where my disappointment in the movie overshadowed the fact that I did like it. I think this movie is very adorable, very unassuming, and very likable. Most people won’t love it, but I don’t care. I think it’s better than most of these types of movies and I think it’s worth seeing. (This is coming from someone who’s an unabashed One Fine Day fan, so this shouldn’t be surprising that I’m saying this at all.)
5. The Duchess
- I only saw this movie once, but when I did, I loved it. Since at the time, I wasn’t very high on costume dramas (I hadn’t yet seen all the great ones of the 60s), so watching it, and being engaged and really liking it, was a new experience for me. You think you hate something and then you find out — “Shit, I actually like this quite a bit.” I almost put The Young Victoria on my 2009 list, but I didn’t like that film as much as I liked this one. This is one of those movies whose reputation has somehow gone up for me since I saw it. To the point where I hope I’m not disappointed when I see this again. But either way — this is terrific, almost no one saw it, and it’s definitely one of the more forgotten good films of 2008. So that more than qualifies it has a hidden gem.
6. Ghost Town
- What is it with these Ricky Gervais movies? The man makes comedies with more lofty aspirations, and nobody gives a shit. Granted, this one wasn’t all him, but even so, it was good. It’s your standard ghost movie plot — dead guy wants living guy to communicate with loved one and teaches him to be a better person. But it’s enjoyable. I was surprised at how much I liked this. And I know that no one saw it. I can say this title to 100 random people on the street and maybe like 10 of them will have a small clue as to what I’m talking about. This needs more people to see it.
7. The Happening
- Hands down, M. Night Shyamalan’s funniest movie. THE PLANTS ARE KILLING PEOPLE!!! How fucking great is that? There are so many fucking hilarious moments in this. Mark Wahlberg talking to the plant, the cough syrup story, “Why you eyein’ my lemon drink, boy?” … the list goes on. This movie is like The Wicker Man — if you watch it as a comedy, it’s incredible. That’s why this is a hidden gem — this is the comedy you didn’t know was a comedy. There’s a scene where a dude is perfectly explaining what’s going on, and then stops and talks about hot dogs. I shit you not. You need to watch this movie as a comedy if you haven’t — it’s fucking great.
8. In Bruges
- This is one of the best movies of the past decade. It’s so fucking funny. Martin McDonaugh wrote a masterpiece with this movie. This is a movie that everybody needs to see if they haven’t. I find it impossible to believe that people won’t/don’t like this movie. It’s so fucking good. Seriously, if you know nothing about this movie and haven’t seen it, don’t look anything up, don’t watch a trailer — just put this movie on and watch it. Trust me.
- It’s not incredible (and please don’t assume that to mean it’s bad. I just don’t want you going in with expectations), but it’s one of those movies that got so unfairly maligned when it came out. It’s a film that’s trying to be a comedy from the 40s and 50s — and what the fuck is wrong with that? I’m calling it a hidden gem because no one saw it and assumed it was bad. I want people to see it and go, “Actually, that was pretty good.” Because it is pretty good. And it’s ridiculous to think that public perception can keep people from seeing a movie like that, especially one with this cast and this director.
10. Let the Right One In
- If this were 2008, and I were making a Top Ten list, I would probably have this at either #1, #2 or #3 (#1 is between this and Wall-E, and Dark Knight may or may not have snuck in at 2. And then I’d have In Bruges top five as well). This movie was so fucking incredible. And forget Let Me In, the Americanized remake. It’s not as good. It doesn’t hit the emotional notes that this one hits. Just listen to the two scores and you’ll hear just how different the films are and what the tone was that each film was going for. This film is absolutely perfect, and not a single shot is wasted. (And I know it’s not a fluke, since Tomas Alfredson made Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which is also a perfect film in which nary a shot is wasted. He’s now on my list of people, like Rian Johnson, where whatever they want to make (until they make a couple of questionable ones in a row) where I will see anything they put out without question.) This is another one — you need to see it. This is a top film of the decade. I feel like I can still call it a hidden gem because it’s in Swedish and there’s an Americanized remake of it. Americans are dumb and only watch those versions and ignore things with subtitles. If you do that, you’re missing out on a movie that’s better than 90% of the stuff that came out between 2000 and 2009. I am not joking.
11. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
- You know how I know this is a hidden gem? 90% of people reading this just went, “What the hell is that?” You don’t have to pretend, that’s the point of this list. Somehow I knew about this film long before it came out and was paying attention to it. Frances McDormand is an unemployed governess who finds her way into ditzy socialite Amy Adams’ house and into a crazy 24 hours. It’s terrific. It’s one of those films whose heart is so firmly in the right place it’s impossible to not like it. A true hidden gem if ever there was one. You owe it to this film to give it a chance.
12. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
- I can’t believe I even liked this film. It started with two strikes against it. One was that it was a standard romantic comedy that seemed to have all the hallmarks of shit I hate. The second is that the characters are named after the characters in my favorite movie of all time (and if you don’t know what that is, you really ought to watch more movies). So I went in expecting to hate this. And yet — I actually liked it a lot. It was totally unexpected and a terrific surprise. I’m not sure what it was about this film, but it was consistently enjoyable throughout. The pacing was right, the characters were likable, nothing was too over the top and… you know, like all that shit all the comedies do nowadays that I hate. It worked. Some people didn’t share my enthusiasm for this movie when it came out, but my feelings about this movie were proven legitimate when its writer went on to write a film that’ll probably end up being on my 2012 Hidden Gems list — Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Chances are you haven’t seen this film and have certain thoughts about its quality and what you’d expect from it if you did see it — forget that and see it. I bet you don’t think it’s as bad as you’re expecting.
13. Nothing But the Truth
- This was one of the impetuses of this list. This movie. This movie was the casualty of a studio going bankrupt and being unable to properly release its films. The film got dumped in a few theaters because it was contractually obligated to be released theatrically, but then it was forgotten immediately. Which is a real shame. Not to mention, there was the other film that was being made around that time, that was also based about the Plame Affair (though directly), which became Fair Game. Turns out, that movie wasn’t particularly great. This one, though? I fucking loved it. Here’s the background — Valerie Plame was a CIA agent. Her husband was an ambassador who was very critical of the Bush administration. So members of the administration basically outed her as an agent and fucked up her career. Now, the actual movie based on it was political and got boring — this one used that as a basis to tell a compelling fictional story. Here’s the pitch: Kate Beckinsale is a journalist who knows Vera Farmiga as another mother of one of the kids at her kid’s school. And then she gets information that Farmiga is an FBI agent and publishes the story. And Farmiga is outed as an agent, and her life gets all fucked up, and Beckinsale is taken to court to reveal her source. And she refuses. So they throw her in jail until she reveals her source. And the rest of the film becomes about her fighting for her source and freedom of the press and all that — it’s fucking riveting. Just watch it. This is one of those movies I could and should be pushing very loudly on the blog, but I don’t, because I prefer to keep it hidden and unveil it to people and have them be like, “Holy shit, that was great.” Seriously. Very hush hush. This is the best kept secret of the 2000s.
14. Rachel Getting Married
- I had no intentions of seeing this film when it came out (this was right before I adopted the notion of seeing everything that came out. The transitional year). Then it showed up on my school’s film series, and other people I knew were going, and Anne Hathaway had gotten some Oscar buzz for it, so I said, “All right, I’ll go.” And I saw it, expecting it to be like, “Oh, great, indie movie. Something bad that everyone loves.” But this was actually a really terrific movie. The premise is that Anne Hathaway is coming home from rehab for a few days in order to attend her sister’s wedding. So she has to go back home and there are a lot of familial conflicts that rise to the surface during this. It’s — just see it. It’s really well-made. Jonathan Demme directed it, so it’s an indie by a director who knows what he’s doing. It’s a great film. And to me, Hathaway, based on performance, might have been worth winning the Oscar that year. (It was her and Meryl as the two best, even though Winslet needed to win, despite being nominated for the wrong film.) It’s a real hidden gem since I know not a lot of people actually saw this one.
15. Role Models
- One of my favorite comedies of the past decade. It’s so funny. It’s kind of hard to explain, because it doesn’t sound as good when you try to explain the plot, but, talk to anyone who’s seen it and they’ll go, “Oh man, that movie is fucking funny.” Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott work for an energy drink company. And they end up accidentally crashing their vehicle and destroying a statue. And they get a type of probation that makes them have to perform hours of community service by basically doing that Big Brother program thing, where they have to hang out with a kid. And Rudd gets Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who is a LARPer and has no friends, and Sean William Scott gets… well, just watch the movie. You’ll see. The movie is fucking hilarious. Just see it if you haven’t. I’m calling it a hidden gem because — unless these comedies pop huge, there’s really no telling just how “out there” they are. And I’d rather spend a spot telling people to see this than finding something else I don’t like as much.
16. Son of Rambow
- This movie had “me” written all over it. (It also had “Son of Rambow” written all over it, but that’s another story.) It’s about a kid who sees Rambo: First Blood and decides he wants to make a movie about Rambo. So he gets a camera, finds another kid, and they make a movie together. And they’re like, 10. It’s a movie about being a kid and about the moviemaking process. It’s fantastic. And I know that no one saw this movie. So this is a real hidden gem all around. It’s absolutely terrific. It’ll make the kid in you who did shit like this very happy.
17. Speed Racer
- I was supporting this film from the moment it came out. And everyone said I was fucking crazy. I don’t know what it was with this movie — the lingering feelings about those Matrix sequels, the fact that they spent a lot of money on this and based it on a show most felt didn’t need to be turned into a movie. There was one of those mindsets when it came out that led everyone to just mindlessly hate it. (Plus it came out like two weeks after Iron Man, which didn’t help matters.) So I waited. I bided my time, and let those feelings subside. And then I bought it on DVD and started showing it to people. And then, slowly, people started to go, “Wow, that was actually really entertaining.” And by 2010, I noticed that there was some chatter and people were starting to come out like the munchkins after Dorothy murders the Wicked Witch of the East. People were starting to admit, “You know… I actually like this one.” And by now, I think people are starting to do the official reconsidering of this one. Either way — this movie is fucking astoundingly good. It’s one of the most visually inventive films ever, it’s colorful as shit, and it’s completely entertaining all the way through. The only downside is that there are a bit too many “kiddie” scenes with the little brother and the monkey. But other than that, there’s no problem with the film whatsoever. Seriously, give this one a chance. You’ll be surprised how much you like it.
18. Synecdoche, New York
- Roger Ebert called this the best film of the decade. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, but for sure this is one of those films that somehow nobody saw. Charlie Kaufman wrote and directed it, and this is a man that wrote Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. So how can this film not get any traction? I’ll tell you why: because it’s about very heady philosophical stuff and is a very dense movie that doesn’t exactly make a whole lot of sense. That said, it’s fucking terrific. It’s so good. I can’t believe that almost nobody’s seen this movie. This is one of those movies I’d call one of the best hidden gems of the decade. It’s so, so good.
19. The Visitor
- Richard Jenkins got nominated for this movie. It was one of those movies I didn’t see until he got nominated. And I was expecting a certain thing — it’s an indie, so you figure, “All right, the movie’s not that great, he’s pretty good, and they’re nominating him because buzz spreads and people automatically say the performance is good and they want to nominate him.” But actually — this film is really good. He’s a professor who lives a solitary life, and one day goes up to his second apartment away from school, only to find a pair of illegal immigrants living in his apartment. He rarely went up there, so the landlord rented them the place and didn’t tell them. So Jenkins, feeling bad, lets them stay, and strikes up a friendship with them. And the husband helps Jenkins come out of his shell and learn to appreciate the world around him… and then the guy gets arrested for hopping a turnstile and the city gets ready to deport him. It’s — you should see it. It’s very good, and Jenkins is terrific in it. And even though some people might know about it, I know not enough people have seen this for me not to consider it a hidden gem.
20. Zack and Miri Make a Porno
- I feel weird that I have to do this. I’ve always been a fan of Smith’s stuff. It’s weird — no one really respects it even though we all enjoy it. And then this came out — I hadn’t really given much thought to this one before it came out, and had no expectations for it (which is weird, since I was eagerly awaiting Clerks 2 when it was coming out). And I watched this, and I laughed hysterically at it. This movie is so fucking funny. And it just didn’t open at all. No one saw this when it came out, and I still don’t feel like a lot of people have went back to see this after the fact. But this movie is so goddamn funny, I can’t imagine people haven’t seen it.