Mike’s Top Hidden Gems of the Decade (190-181)
Of all the lists I’m making for this Top Tens of the Decade feature, I need to explain this one the most. Since the phrase ‘hidden gem’ can apply various different ways to a film and can mean different things: a) a movie you don’t know about that’s great and should be seen; b) a movie you may have heard of but probably haven’t seen that you should see; c) a movie you know and may have even seen, but is being underrated by the film community; d) a movie that straight up just needs to be seen by more people.
Obviously there are way more than just 200 gems from this decade. In my first run-through, simply compiling a list of things I might have on this list, before I considered whether they fit the criteria I wanted to use for it while also trying to be as exclusive as possible, I had over 250 films. I get that this isn’t a be-all, end-all list. These are just the 200 I chose to talk about because they’re the ones I felt deserved the most notice in this particular article and are the ones I wanted to shout out the most.
Now, how I went about the rankings was more vague. Part of it had to be how much I liked each of the films. I don’t see how it couldn’t be. But it’s not just that. Because that’s just a top films list, which I’m gonna do after this one’s done. This one’s also about just how much of a hidden gem I felt the movie is, or how much I wanted to give you that nudge in the direction of, “Hey, maybe you’re wrong about this and should give it a (or another) shot.” Or how much I wanted to emphasize, “You need to see this movie.”
I think it goes without saying – just because something is on this list doesn’t mean I assume you don’t know it. It’s because I figure (or know) there’s a larger percentage of people than I want to guess that either haven’t seen the movie or don’t fully appreciate the movie, and the goal is to introduce it to them. If you’re already in the camp of having seen it, good for you. I’m pretty sure most people reading this will have at least a quarter of this list that they haven’t seen. I suspect it’s more, but I truly don’t know how crazy most people are in relation to me in terms of seeing everything. I think most people will get some cool movies out of this.
What makes this movie is the main character. Gregg Turkington’s altar ego “Neil Hamburger” is the basis for the comedian in this film, and he’s perfect. That combover, always holding multiple drinks in his hand and delivering these one-liner jokes that would have been corny and dated in 1992. It’s the perfect mix for Rick Alverson’s style, which is best described as indie comedy existential. It’s this really dry and awkward type of humor, where the laughs are about how awkward and uncomfortable everything is, and then there’s this weird existential journey of this comedian through the midwest, as he’s deeply unhappy and going to all these tourist sites and is getting absolutely nothing out of it. It’s definitely a nice little hidden gem for people who like a certain type of humor. I had trouble with Alverson’s followup, but this, I think, will work for more people because of the comic style of Turkington.
189. Promised Land
No one bothered to see this movie. Matt Damon and John Krasinski wrote it, and Damon was gonna direct it for a while before he decided not to and just had Gus Van Sant do it. It’s a really nice little adult drama. Damon plays a guy who works for an energy company and basically is sent to this small town to convince them to allow his company to start fracking the land. And he works his charms and things are great… until Krasinski shows up and is vehemently against Damon and thwarts him at every turn. And it’s a really nice little movie. Frances McDormand and Hal Holbrook are in it. It’s really well-written, well-performed and just one of those movies nobody knows about that a lot of people would really enjoy.
Ever see the movie Odd Man Out, from Carol Reed? With James Mason as an I.R.A. hiding from police in a small town? That’s this movie, only Jack O’Connell is a loyalist British soldier in an Irish town, and he’s gotta avoid being killed. It’s really well done and is incredibly well-directed by Yann Demange. When this came out, everyone thought Jack O’Connell was gonna be the next big movie star and Demange was gonna be the next big director. It’s really well done, and so few people know it even exists, because all anyone would ever really know those two from are their follow ups to this (and even then, maybe not, since they didn’t pop the way people anticipated they would).
187. The Lincoln Lawyer
This is the beginning of the McConnaissance. This film, right here. He had that nice cameo in Tropic Thunder in ’08, but this was the first leading role in a real movie that was actually better than anyone thought it was ever going to be. And then everything else followed from it. Magic Mike, Mud, The Paperboy, Dallas Buyers Club, Wolf of Wall Street, True Detective — all after this. This is based on one of those paperback John Grisham type novels about a lawyer who works from his car and not an office. And it’s one of those crafty slick kinda movies where he’s on one case and all this shit is going down and somehow he’s gotta figure all this stuff out and make everything work out okay — you understand legal thrillers. You’ve seen The Firm and all that other stuff. It’s awesome. McConaughey is great, it’s a lot of fun, and I’m still seeing people not really know it’s out there or bother to watch it. But from those who have, it’s one I’m consistently hearing is one of those really good movies people underrate.
Great idea, great execution, solid little movie. Unfortunately… okay, I’m not gonna make a buried joke, but you get the idea. Simple premise — Ryan Reynolds is in a coffin for the entire film. He’s a contractor in Iraq (truck driver, not security guard). He was captured, thrown in a coffin with a cell phone and told he only has a certain amount of air left before he dies and is told to get a ransom for some crazy amount of money or else they’re gonna leave him there to die. And so he’s frantically using the phone to call people, prepare his possible goodbyes and find a way out of the situation. It’s just a nice little 90 minute thriller that does everything you want out of a movie.
185. The Bad Batch
People have generally seen or hear of Ana Lily Amirpour’s first feature, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Maybe they bothered to go see that or at least are aware of its existence (and just in case that film is not on this list — it’s an Iranian vampire western. Go see it. It’s fun as hell, even if it is a little hipster bait). I’m pretty certain no one’s aware of this one. I remember seeing this at a screening almost a year before the film actually got a release (dumped on VOD, but a release) and thinking, “Man, this is fun as hell.” The premise — the world has decided certain criminals are beyond rehabilitation and says, “Okay, here’s a cordoned off section between the U.S./Mexico border — you’re exiled here.” And there’s no law in there, it’s guarded on the outside, but once you’re in, you’re basically just free to do whatever. Anything that happens there is legal. So it’s about this woman who gets sent there (we never find out why). And we just follow her. There are cannibals (one of whom is Jason Momoa), Keanu Reeves as a cult leader, and Jim Carrey as an almost unrecognizable homeless dude who doesn’t speak a word but gets some of the biggest laughs of the film. It’s fun. I’m not sure why this never caught on anywhere, but if you’re looking for a fun, different little film with a cool cast from a director worth seeing, this is a good one to check out.
184. Drive Angry
A lot of people, like me, love Nicolas Cage. It’s impossible not to. The people who don’t generally hate the movies he’s made of late, and that’s understandable. And since I’m the connoisseur, people generally come to me and ask, “Which ones of his should I see lately?” Usually they come across one of the VOD ones and go, “Is this worth seeing?” And my answer, a lot of the time, is no. It’s fine, but they’re usually at best watchable and not really worth your time unless you’re, like me, really into Cage. There’s only a small handful from this decade that have what people are looking for — which is all out Cage mayhem. Where the plot is crazy or he’s going nuts, or both. You know what I mean. The last really committed Cage performance I saw was probably Bad Lieutenant. And that was 2009. It’s been a bit of a mixed bag this decade.
Off-hand, the ones from this decade I’d recommend that probably aren’t on this list are Joe (which has some real acting of his and is a nice little David Gordon Green indie), Primal (which is Snakes on a Plane on a boat where he’s a big game hunter and a serial killer on board has let all the animals loose, so he has to hunt them down and help catch the killer. Not amazing, but… listen to that synopsis), Arsenal (which isn’t very good, but interesting as an artifact in that he plays the exact same character he played in Deadfall. Which — that’s really what we’re here for. If you haven’t seen Deadfall, it features the greatest early insane Cage performance you’ve never seen. On par with Vampire’s Kiss, which you typically see a lot of the memes use), and Between Worlds (which features a scene where he is fucking his girlfriend’s daughter who is possessed by the spirit of his dead wife while reading a book written by Nicolas Cage about acting. You read that correctly). That’s the run down of worthwhile Cage movies from this decade. Everything else is either not great or only has small parts worth mentioning and really is only worth it if you really want more Cage in your life. I notice that most people won’t watch one of the movies I suggested let alone the three that are gonna be on this list, including this one. So I’m not going out of my way to talk about the others.
Now, this one — this one is one of the more fun entries on the list. It’s in 3D, because it came out in 2011 when that gimmick was still a thing, and it uses it to full extent (it’s constantly throwing stuff at you). The opening scene is Cage in a muscle car driving out of the gates of Hell. That’s the opening. And he plays a dead guy who escapes from hell so he can chase down the men who killed his daughter and are after his granddaughter (who is played by Amber Heard). William Fichtner is a demon who has to chase after Cage and bring him back. Which he’s doing, but… he really likes being outside Hell for a bit. So he’s just enjoying being able to do crazy shit and is taking his sweet ass time. Cage, meanwhile — you can see from the image up there. There’s a scene where he’s fucking a chick, smoking a big cigar and swigging from a bottle of whiskey and gunmen come into the room and he starts murdering them while still fucking the chick. It’s insane. But it’s fun as hell. If you want pure fun Cage where it’s crazy and hilarious at the same time — this is the one. This is definitely one to watch. It’s batshit and amazing.
183. The Polka King
Netflix movie by Maya Forbes who I believe has another film on this list. This one’s based on a real story of a Polish polka star in Philadelphia who ends up running a Ponzi scheme. Jack Black is masterful as the dude and delivers one of several performances from this decade that are amazing that no one talks about. It’s really funny and has a really awesome cast on it. It’s Netflix. It’s right there. You have no excuse not to check this one out.
182. The Mule
This is not the Clint Eastwood movie, and that movie’s existence only further draws attention away from this one. This one is the much more entertaining of the two. It’s about a guy who goes on vacation to Thailand with his mates and ends up (because he needs the money) agreeing to transport heroin on his flight back. Which involves putting it in condoms and swallowing it. Only, he gets picked up by drug agents at customs. Problem is, they can’t prove that he’s trafficking, but they are allowed to hold him. Basically, they have the right to hold him for a week. If drugs are found, he’s fucked. If not, he’s free to go. However, that means they keep him in a hotel room for a week, and he has to not shit during that time, because if he does, the condoms come out and he’s fucked. So it’s basically a dude sitting in a hotel room with police for a week trying desperately not to shit himself because if he does, he’s gonna go to jail. It’s so entertaining. The idea of it is a bit icky (and it has some… moments), but mostly it’s a comedy and just a really humorous movie. Definitely worth a watch.
One of two teen black movies from this decade that got some notice but not a whole lot. Dear White People at least got the TV show which gave it more of a profile. I haven’t heard anyone talking about this one. It’s about a black teen in South Central — top of his class, great kid, applying to all the best schools. Also hugely into 90s hip hop. And it’s him just trying to survive his tough neighborhood with his friends, and eventually after going to a party, end up in this madcap adventure all around the city. It’s fun. It’s got a black voice behind it, which is sadly all too rare, and it’s just a really well-made, enjoyable film. It deserves much more of a profile than it has.
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