Mike’s Top Hidden Gems of the Decade (160-151)

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.

160. Hardcore Henry

This is one of those movies everyone should see just because it does something different. Maybe it doesn’t work 100%, but it’s the kind of movie that exists to help people perfect this kind of thing when they try it again later. The entire film is done first person POV style. Like the video game Doom. Every moment is POV. I had heard about it when they tried to crowd-fund for funds to finish the movie and put up one of the sequences. And it was incredible. It was like watching a video game. I know some people aren’t big on that style, but I thought it was unique. The film is basically non-stop action and a walking video game. Sharlto Copley plays like fifteen characters, there’s crazy action stuff and there’s always another level. It’s just a fun time, and it’s worth seeing because it’s nice to not watch the same damn thing every time.

159. Upstream Color

Took people a while, but I think now Primer has become one of those movies that people will generally watch once they find out about it/show to people. The same cannot be said for this one. Shane Curruth movies are cerebral experiences that challenge the nature of reality and ask questions that feel like they’re just beyond the point of actual words. This is about a woman who is drugged with a very particular parasite that makes her highly suggestible. A man drugs her, comes to her home and ends up taking all her money and ruining her life. Later on, she meets and starts seeing a man, who she eventually realizes has gone through the same experience as her. It’s a very unexplainable kind of movie, kind of like Primer is. But it’s really worth your time. You might not love it, but it’s really worth the 90 minutes.

158. Fast Color

More color. This one is a superhero indie drama. Not a joke. It’s basically if you made a Sundance indie drama but the main character had superpowers. Utterly realistic in every way and doesn’t at all go for the superhero tropes. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a woman born with powers, powers she tried to suppress once she reached a certain age. She ended up using drugs to try to get rid of them in fit in, and it worked, only that’s left her with horrible seizures that cause local power outages. The film finds her, on the run from unnamed government officials who know she has powers and want to study them, trying to control her seizures and get back to her mother, who is in the care of her daughter, who she had and basically abandoned because she was (at the time) unfit to raise her. So now, having cleaned up her act, she wants to return to her daughter’s life and start over. It’s a really great film. All that big superhero stuff is on the fringe, and ultimately it’s a movie about mothers and daughters and about black girl magic. It’s quite lovely and well worth your time.

157. Faults

Love this movie. This was right after Smashed and me realizing Mary Elizabeth Winstead was one of our best actresses (though the world/Hollywood hasn’t seemingly yet caught up to that fact). This is about an author who has written numerous books about deprogramming cult members who is hired by parents to help their daughter who has joined a cult. Winstead is the daughter and is tremendous in it. The film is her and Leland Orser in a hotel room, and it’s basically a battle of wits of sorts. One of those where eventually you start to lose track of what’s up and what’s down as you start to wonder just who’s in control of the whole situation. It’s quite good.

157. The Art of Self-Defense

The second film from director Riley Stearns, who also did Faults. So it’s fitting to see the two back-to-back. While that is a straight psychological drama, this is a very offbeat dark comedy. The tone of this is not for everyone, but it’s worth seeing if it is or isn’t. Jesse Eisenberg plays a normal, boring man who one day gets attacked by a biker gang on the street at night. Fearing for his inability to defend himself, he joins a local karate class… and gets REALLY into it. That’s all you need to know. You’re either gonna be all in or all out on the humor within about 20 minutes. I think it’s a lot of fun and worth a watch. I responded to this more than I respond to 90% of comedies that come out nowadays.

155. Henry’s Crime

I get so happy whenever this movie comes up because I am 100% certain almost no one knows it exists. It’s a nice dark comedy about a guy — Keanu Reeves — who is very… well, let’s just say they cast it well. He’s just sort of a tabula rasa kinda guy. In the beginning of the movie, a friend asks him to drive him and his buddies somewhere, which he agrees. Turns out, he’s driving them to a bank heist. And when it goes wrong and they all get arrested, he’s sentenced for abetting the robbery, even though he had no idea it was happening. And then, during his time in prison, he decides, “Well, they put me in here for robbing the bank… so I think I deserve to actually rob the bank.” And he starts plotting this heist with his cellmate (James Caan). And… well, that’s really all you need to get into it. It takes some fun turns along the way. But mostly it’s an amusing movie that’s a lot of fun and has a heart to it and absolutely no one knows is even out there.

154. Contagion

Well, 2020’s made it easier to talk about this one. Not really a hidden gem anymore, what with the whole pandemic thing we’re going through. It’s kind of out there and people are going back and rewatching it. But when I put it on this list, there wasn’t a pandemic and people weren’t reminded of how good a movie this is. So let’s just leave this one at — this is a really good movie and Steven Soderbergh has a lot of hidden gems out there that are worth seeing. Most of them from this decade are gonna be on this list. But just go back and watch his stuff. It’s all really good and some of it is amazing and people never bothered to see it.

153. Haywire

Oh hey, there’s Steven Soderbergh again. I didn’t realize I was gonna be talking about him again so soon when I wrote that last entry. (Yes, I know technically the list was made by me, but that was a while ago. And I just take each film as it comes when I go down the list, so I have my unfiltered reaction to each of them. As you can guess, I don’t really prepare anything I say. It all just sort of comes out as it comes out.) This one is a different approach to what he tried with The Girlfriend Experience. That one cast a former porn star as an escort, giving a non-professional actor a lead role as something that’s not too far from a world they know. This takes Gina Carano, a recently-retired MMA fighter, and puts her as the lead in an action movie. Same deal, different genre. Soderbergh does a smart thing by casting the movie all around her. So it’s just a parade of familiar faces in cameos across the film. Someone comes on, they either help her or try to kill her, some of them end up dead, and we move along until we get to the end. The action scenes are fun and Soderbergh is always one to give you a different version of the movie you’re used to watching. He finds interesting ways to make the action interesting and never do the obvious thing. It’s crazy to me just how little his films end up being seen by the public at large, because they’re all so good.

152. Anna and the Apocalypse

This won’t be for everyone, but it’s worth putting on all these lists because there is a subset of people who this is extremely for. That’s who I’m talking about here. This is a zombie musical. Shaun of the Dead with show tunes. Bunch of high school kids in the UK trying to survive the zombie apocalypse in their high school. And there’s music. The songs are really good. Original film musicals are hard to come by, and it’s even harder to have worthwhile songs in them. This one does. The plot kind of loses focus around two-thirds in, but you’re not here for the plot. You’re here for zombies and music. And it delivers on that front.

151. The One I Love

This is a great indie that I’ve been trying to recommend to people since it came out because it’s too interesting to not want to check out. It’s basically a Twilight Zone episode. There are three people in the entire film. It’s Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss and Ted Danson. And Danson is their marriage counselor who is really just in the first scene. It’s about a couple whose marriage are falling apart who are ready to call it quits. Then their marriage counselor says, “Go to my cabin for the weekend, get away, and then reassess first thing next week.” So they go. Only, when they get there, they discover this weird thing where… it’s tough. I don’t want to give the twist away, but it’s kinda the selling point for the movie. Look, if you’re already sold, just go see it. If not, keep reading. Once they get there, they discover this weird thing where, when one of them is in a part of the house alone, a different version of the other shows up with them. So like, they have a fight, one storms out to the guest house, and while there, they interact with a sort of ‘ideal’ version of the other one until they end up in the same space. And so it becomes this interesting situation where there’s two versions of the couple, each set married to each other, but each set sort of swaps occasionally and starts to have feelings for the other version of their spouse. Really smart, really engaging, and a nice way to look at relationships and the things we want out of our partners and what they want out of us and the things we decide we can and can’t live with in a relationship. It’s very much worth your time and I’d say one of the most worthy hidden gems on this entire list.

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