The Hidden Gems List (2002)
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 2002′s gems.
1. About Schmidt
- This movie is Jack Nicholson’s best dramatic performance (along with The Pledge) since the 80s. He’s so fucking good here. He is the movie. That’s really the strength of Alexander Payne’s movies. It’s not the writing, it’s the fact that he takes a star (Nicholson, Clooney), and gives them a juicy part they can run with, and that carries over to the rest of the film. But whatever. A good movie is a good movie. And this is a good movie. But make no mistake — this is Jack’s show. And I feel like, of all the Alexander Payne films (at least, of the recent four, that everybody knows), this is the one that I find the most people go, “I haven’t seen that/that’s Alexander Payne?” That’s why this is here.
2. Changing Lanes
- I really liked this when I saw it. I still remember it very fondly. It’s a small movie. It takes place over a day (and I like when things take place over a day), and is about two people (Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson) who have an accident on the FDR Drive and end up in a small little feud over the course of the day. Affleck’s a lawyer going to a meeting that will get his firm power of attorney over a dead guy’s estate, and Jackson’s on his way to a custody hearing for his children. And the two of them end up fixating on the other and their behavior starts escalating over the course of the day. I thought this was a terrific movie that didn’t get enough attention because it got dumped in April (and was quickly overshadowed by that big fat Greek movie).
3. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
- This is the first movie George Clooney directed, and it’s based off a script by Charlie Kaufman. Though Kaufman disowned the movie because the script didn’t resemble his at all. Either way — this is a weird, crazy movie, and is awesome. It’s so weird. It’s based on Chuck Barris’s memoir, that at night after hosting The Gong Show and The Dating Game, he was secretly a spy for the government, and would go to other countries and assassinate people. The movie just sort of takes that (very questionable) claim as true and runs with it. And it’s awesome. Sam Rockwell is great in it, and — honestly, just see this, if you haven’t. This is one of those movies where the claim is so outrageous, it doesn’t even matter if it’s true or not, because you have to assume it’s true just so they could make this movie about it.
4. Death to Smoochy
- I love this movie so much. It seems like people hate this. And I don’t get it. It’s such a great dark comedy. It starts with Robin Williams as a children’s show host who is arrested for accepting bribes to get kids on his show. The network decides to replace him with someone who is without scandal. They find Edward Norton, the most idealistic person, who dresses up as Smoochy the Rhino and sings and plays guitar for meth addicts. And he becomes the new overnight sensation, which introduces him to the dark underbelly of children’s television. How is that setup not hilarious? I think this movie got a real raw deal when it came out. I also think that not enough people have actually seen this, even though the title is pretty well-known. I think I was sold on this movie the moment I saw that shot where there’s a dude having a “Save the Rhino” campaign, and out of nowhere you just see Robin Williams jump into the frame and tackle the guy out of nowhere.
- I feel like this is pretty well-known. But, you can’t be too careful. This movie is like The Matrix meets 1984. It’s entertaining as shit. And if you don’t know anything about this movie (which is probably not likely), you should see this, because it’s a lot of fun.
6. Far from Heaven
- Incredible movie. Julianne Moore should have won Best Actress for this. If you don’t know about this movie — Todd Haynes decided to make a Douglas Sirk movie in 2002. He took the basic plot overtones of the Sirk films and was able to show them more completely than Sirk could. Here, Julianne Moore is a 1950s housewife who is in a pretty bland marriage. The reason for that, as she finds out, is because her husband (Dennis Quaid, who should have been nominated for Supporting Actor for this) is actually gay. She sees him “working late” in his office with another man. She then gets close to her gardener (Dennis Haysbert), who is African-American. This is stuff you couldn’t show in the 50s, yet is perfectly in line with a Sirk plot. Plus Haynes uses colors the way Sirk does — it’s a terrific film. And again, Julianne Moore is fucking terrific in it. If you love movies, this is one for you.
- I’m sure people know about this, but I don’t care. It’s great. I enjoy this movie more than I enjoyed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Mostly because of the colors. The setup to this movie is — Jet Li arrives at the emperor’s palace in China (this is back around 200 BC, when China was just a series of warring states), claiming to have killed three of the deadliest assassins, Long Sky, Broken Sword and Flying Snow. No one is allowed within 100 paces of the emperor. The story is framed around Li telling the emperor his stories and being allowed to move closer to the emperor as he tells them. And then we get to see all these fight scenes in between, each with their own specific color palette. It’s incredible. And the story is actually pretty great, narratively, and it has a great message at the end of it. At least, in terms of the story. There’s an ultimate purpose at work, and I actually like how they did that. Big fan of this one. If you haven’t seen it, be prepared for one of those experiences that can only happen at the movies.
8. In America
- I love this movie so much. This movie is so sweet and charming, you can’t help but love it. This might be my favorite Jim Sheridan movie, which is saying something. I’m calling it a hidden gem because I don’t think this really has the reputation it deserves. And I want everyone who hasn’t seen this movie to go out and see it immediately. It’s one of my favorites.
9. Infernal Affairs
- This is the Chinese version of The Departed. William Monahan took this film and turned it into The Departed. A lot of people (mostly film people. You know, the more pretentious ones) like this film better. I don’t compare them. I see two different films to different ends. I like them both. But this film is just as good, and I assume less people in America have seen it because it’s a Hong Kong film. So, see this, because it’s terrific. Watch how the story differs from the English version. I find it weird that I don’t prefer one ending to the other.
- This is Christoper Nolan’s most forgotten film. Do people even know this is a Christopher Nolan film? It’s pretty great. It’s a remake of a Swedish film from five years earlier. Al Pacino plays a cop who is sent up to Alaska to investigate the murder of a girl in a small town. The film takes place during the six months of daylight there, and Pacino finds himself unable to sleep at all. It affects his judgment, and this leads to a great movie. I’m not gonna ruin anything. Basically — Robin Williams is an author who is Pacino’s primary suspect, and there’s a nice psychological back and forth between the two men. It’s pretty great. See this. It’s terrific. Among Nolan’s other films, this definitely counts as a hidden gem.
11. One Hour Photo
- Robin Williams’ best performance of the past decade. His best since Good Will Hunting (though I am partial to What Dreams May Come). He’s so creepy and unsettling here. This is such a creepy and unsettling movie. It’s so good. Very underrated. Just put it on and watch it. I bet it unsettles you. One of the best gems of this year that not enough people know about.
12. Punch-Drunk Love
- This is Paul Thomas Anderson’s most underrated movie. This got completely ignored when it came out. He was coming off of Boogie Nights and Magnolia, and this was a weird movie with Adam Sandler. So people wrote it off. (Then he came back with There Will Be Blood, which is his masterpiece.) Even I did when I saw it the first time. I went, “What the fuck is this?” And then we watched it as part of my color class in college, and I got to see it on the big screen and with fresh eyes. And holy shit, is this movie funny. Not only funny, but terrific. The relationship between Sandler and Emily Watson is so sweet, and Anderson really finds a great way to use that anger Sandler had in his earlier performances and harness it into a really great character. I’m such a big fan of this movie. (He uses a song from Popeye as a love heme! How amazing is that?) I bet you’ll enjoy the hell out of this movie if you see it. Especially Philip Seymour Hoffman. He’s so good (in everything).
13. Road to Perdition
- Sometimes I think I like this better than American Beauty. But I don’t. Just because that movie is so good. But this — I love the setting. Nothing like a good 20/30s-set gangster picture. The cinematography and set design is terrific. And the cast. Do people even remember that Daniel Craig is in this? And Jude Law is so fucking good here. But yeah, this movie is spectacular, and I don’t think people necessarily remember this. So I’m putting it here. Let’s remember how good this movie is.
- I know everyone has seen this movie. This is here because this movie is actually really good. And I don’t think people actually do remember how good this movie is until those last six minutes. So this is here to get people to revisit this film and see how fucking great it is for 100 minutes. (Seriously. This shit is riveting until the very end because you don’t have any idea what the fuck is going on. That bigfoot shot on the TV with the kids. That’s fucking terrifying.)
15. 25th Hour
- Last, but certainly not least. This is my favorite movie on this list. I love this movie. I was all over this when it came out, and this is only proved to be one of my favorite movies since it came out. I love it more each time I see it. This, to me, is Spike Lee’s best movie since Do the Right Thing. The premise is — Edward Norton was a drug dealer who was caught and is now going to prison. It’s his last day of freedom and he wants to spend it with the people he loves. They include his girlfriend, Rosario Dawson, his two best friends, Barry Pepper and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and his father, Brian Cox. And the movie, aside from being a story about them, is also a meditation on a post-9/11 America. There are two monologues in this film that are absolutely jaw-dropping. The first is Edward Norton’s monologue into the mirror, which will remind you of a similar moment in Do the Right Thing, but the real star of the film is the final monologue by Brian Cox. It’s so perfect. That shit gets me every time. It’s so powerful. I know not enough people have seen this film, otherwise it would be considered one of the absolute best of the past decade and would have a much higher profile than it does. People need to go out and see this so it can get the reputation it deserves.
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- John Q — I loved this movie. I know it’s overly melodramatic, but I don’t give a fuck. I loved it. I think it’s engaging as hell and does everything a good movie ought to do. Lower your expectations. You’re telling me you won’t watch this all the way through every time it’s on TNT or TBS (which is like, a dozen times a month)?
- Phone Booth — Another movie that people overlook. This probably should have been on the list proper, but whatever. I loved this. It’s such a simple set up and it’s engaging as hell. How can a movie about a dude stuck in a phone booth for 90 minutes not be interesting? Like Man on a Ledge — it’s almost impossible to fuck up that premise. And this movie is really good, and I think people too easily write this off as not being good. I know it has a little bit of a following now, but I don’t think enough people are willing to show this movie enough respect. (I’m not asking for much, just calling it successful in what it tries to do is enough for me.)
- The Rules of Attraction — This movie is so fucked up. I love it. I’m not even gonna say anything else. I know you haven’t seen it, and I know this is so fucked up that some people are going to love it. (It’s based on a Brett Easton Ellis novel. Aka the dude who wrote “American Psycho.” The main character is meant to be Patrick Bateman’s younger brother.) Also, this movie has a scene in it that caused me to be unable to listen to Harry Nilsson’s “Without You” for about nine years.
- Treasure Planet — I don’t usually include Disney movies, just because people know about them, but I wanted to include this one because I think it has a bad rap. It lost a lot of money when it came out, and even I assumed it would suck (as I’m sure most of you do/did). But I watched this as part of my Ranking Disney articles, and I really liked it. It’s basically “Treasure Island” in space. The visuals are great and the film is really engaging. I don’t see why this didn’t go over. It’s a really solid film. It’s a gem because people assume this sucks, and it doesn’t. Far from it, actually. (Also, no joke, I’d say this is a better movie than the last two Pixar films.)
- Welcome to Collinwood — this is a (mostly) American remake of Big Deal on Madonna Street. I didn’t know about that until last year. I randomly saw this when it came out (back when we had an illegal cable hookup and I got all the pay per view channels for free, which led to my being able to see all the movies that showed up there. That was actually very helpful in me seeing all the movies I saw in my youth), and really enjoyed it. It was one of those movies I liked a lot that I knew no one had ever heard of. It’s a really entertaining movie, and it has a stacked cast — William H. Macy, Isaiah Washington, Sam Rockwell, Michael Jeter, Luis Guzman, Patricia Clarkson, Jennifer Esposito, Giancarlo Esposito, and a cameo by George Clooney. Clooney produced this movie too. I really liked this. I think people ought to see it, because I think a lot of people will also really like this. It’s a very entertaining movie, and it got completely overlooked when it came out.