Mike’s Top Hidden Gems of the Decade (180-171)

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.

180. Damsel

From the directors of Kumiko the Treasure Hunter (which maybe some people know about and I’m sure we’ll get to later on in this list) comes this revisionist western that I’m certain almost nobody bothered to watch. It’s got a very weird sense of humor, it’s a western, and it completely dismantles the genre in a really fun way. It starts with Robert Pattinson, a very affectatious city man who comes out to the west to get back his sweetheart, who he says has been kidnapped by, and marry her. He encounters a lot of weird shit along the way, and the movie takes a decided shift once it gets to its destination. I don’t wanna get too deep into it without giving a lot of the fun surprises away, but just know that the title is a part of the revisionism of the film and the message of the story is very much female-driven. It’s really smart and really well-done. More people should see this.

179. Compliance

A really great underseen indie that brought us Ann Dowd in a bunch of memorable supporting turns in other films throughout the decade. This is the one that got her noticed. It’s based on real events (as in, this is something that happens a shocking amount of times), about the manager of (essentially) a McDonalds who gets a call from someone claiming to be a cop who says one of her employees has stolen something and forces her to bring the woman into her office and subjects her to all sorts of horrible and degrading things. It’s essentially a story of how people will blindly listen to those claiming to be an authority and out of fear of being wrong even though their better senses tell them not to. It’s really great. Small, which is why it didn’t have any sort of profile, but really tense and really well-acted.

178. Enough Said

The penultimate film of James Gandolfini, it’s a really sweet rom com with him and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I suspect people have heard of this because of got some bit of a profile after his passing, but I’m sure most people never bothered to actually watch it. It’s a romance film for grown-ups. That’s all it is. It doesn’t have all the silly shit most rom coms have nowadays and is simply just a charming, unassuming movie. It deserves a proper audience.

177. A Late Quartet

I had no idea what this was, but I responded to the cast, three of whom you can see in that photo above. It’s a film about a world famous string quartet who have to disband when one of their members says he’s been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and can no longer play. So now, faced with the idea of disbanding, all the little things that were simmering under the surface all those years start to boil to the surface. It’s a really nice drama, and I think the fact that it’s just a straight drama with acting performances and nothing showy in the way of set pieces and things is why no one ever knew this existed. But it’s a really nice movie with some fine acting from some true professionals.

176. Dave Made a Maze

I love everything about this movie and was sold the minute I saw a trailer and heard what it was about. Very much an indie movie, but the joy is that basically the entire set (the maze) was constructed out of cardboard and basic art supplies. The film is about a guy who, while his girlfriend is gone for the weekend, creates this giant cardboard box maze… and then gets stuck in it. So she comes home and sees this relatively tiny little maze in the living room and thinks, “You’ve gotta be kidding me.” But then other people show up and go inside — and then it’s magically huge, and complex and there’s all sort of dangerous things inside, and it becomes this crazy (comic) journey for survival. It’s fun. All the cool things they build out of cardboard and paper and tissue and things like that are so much fun, and it’s also a nice metaphor for soul searching and digging deep within yourself. I think it’ll have something for you if you wanna go out and see it.

175. Give Me Liberty

Really solid indie that I only heard about after the Indie Spirit Awards nominated it (which is, admittedly the purpose of those awards, to raise the profile of true independent films, but I’ll admit I don’t have a very high success ratio with a lot of stuff they nominate). It’s about a second-generation Russian guy who works as a shuttle driver for old people and disabled people. And the whole film basically takes place over one afternoon as he’s overworked, dealing with all sorts of crazy stuff. A group of old Russians need to go from the retirement home to their friend’s funeral, a woman with ALS needs to get to her appointment, and he’s trying to do all this while somehow picking up this weird Russian dude who is weird and just wants to hang out and party with everyone. It’s kinda nuts, but also kinda great, because it feels like real life and all the situations just are amusingly frustrating. And Lolo Spencer, who actually has ALS, shines in this. She’s truly spectacular. But the entire film is just really charming, and I’d say — I mean, I’d say this for the majority of films on this list — go watch this before you watch some dumb studio horror movie. Or watch another two episodes of whatever show you’ve seen a hundred times. You get nothing out of those. You’ll get something out of a movie like this.

174. Madeline’s Madeline

This movie — while very artsy (not quite pretentious, but you can see it that way) and not for everyone — features what I call the greatest acting performance of 2018. Helena Howard is tremendous in this, in her debut film. It’s about a teenager (who may have some undisclosed mental illness) who is part of an experimental theater troupe who takes her acting very seriously. And the troupe’s director starts to meld the girl’s role a bit too much with real life, which starts to cause her to go way down the rabbit hole. It’s — I’ll admit it’s not for everyone. It’s a very peaks and valleys kind of film. But when it peaks, it really peaks. And a lot of that has to do with Helena Howard. I think this is the kind of film that deserves a shot because it does have some really incredible moments in it, and as I said up there — what are you getting out of some bullshit exorcism movie? At least this might have something that sticks with you. And also — best performance (full stop) of 2018. Right here.

173. What They Had

Incredible family indie based on the writer-director’s own family. The star of the film is essentially Robert Forster, who gives an award-worthy performance in one of his final screen roles. It’s also got Blythe Danner and Hilary Swank and Michael Shannon and Taissa Farmiga. It’s basically — the mother (Danner) has Alzheimer’s and the father (Forster), who’s been married to her forever and loves her and cares for her, is getting a bit too old to be able to do it. So the kids — one of whom (Shannon) lives nearby and the other of whom (Swank) lives out in LA — come back together after an incident to try to figure out the best course of action. It’s a family drama that will strike some sort of chord with you because it’s based on someone’s life. And even if you can’t fully engage with it on the level of having gone through it personally, when you can sense something is real, it lands. And this is real. This was somebody’s life. The performances are great, the film is very solid and it just deserves to be seen. See it for Robert Forster alone, because my god, that man is so good in this.

172. I Kill Giants

This is a really lovely film, and the kind that, as soon as I saw it I said was the kind of film I’d have randomly discovered on cable or something when I was eleven and just fell in love with and adored and then realized when I was older that almost no one even knew what it was (I suspect a lot of us have films like that. I could rattle off about four right now of my own that almost nobody knows about but were mainstays in my life from a young age). It’s about a young girl with no friends who is seen as the weird girl in school because she dresses differently and says she is a monster hunter. And, without giving too much away, it’s one of those — kid escapes into a world of fantasy to get away from the difficulties in her everyday life. Not quite a Pan’s Labyrinth. Probably more in line with A Monster Calls, but even then it’s much more about the girl specifically and what she’s going through, and only by the end do you get the full picture of what’s going on. It’s quite affecting, and really well done. And unfortunately absolutely nobody even knows this movie exists. But I really love this one quite a bit and wish more people gave it the time of day.

171. Bad Words

This one’s a real easy sell — Jason Bateman, a former spelling bee champion and runner up of the big competition, uses a loophole in the bylaws to enter into the competition as an adult. So basically the movie is Bateman cursing at children, and it’s quite funny. Definitely one of the more amusing, unseen comedies of the decade.

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