Mike’s Top Hidden Gems of the Decade (150-141)
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.
150. Never Let Me Go
There shouldn’t be a single hidden gems of the 2010s list without this film on it. This is the O.G. hidden gem. This was a hidden gem the minute it came out, that’s how good it is and underseen it is. It’s based on the Ishiguro novel and is just one of the more heartbreaking stories you’ll ever come across. It’s about three friends who meet at a quaint British boarding school and the direction their lives take. There’s a love triangle, as one of the girls has always had a crush on the boy, but the other girl ends up dating him (even though she knows how the other one feels about him), and it’s about them growing into adulthood, even though… well, let’s just say when you find out their… situation… it’s like dropping a two-ton anvil of emotion on your head. It’s really good, and directed by Mark Romanek, who has directed some of your favorite music videos and always makes really interesting films (One Hour Photo is his other one). And you’ve got young (or younger) Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield and Domhnall Gleeson. Truly one of the best films of the decade and yet perennially underseen.
149. All the Money in the World
There was so much press about this film and it was so ubiquitous in the culture because they cut Kevin Spacey out of it and recast and reshot the entire part within two months of the film coming out that no one actually bothered to go see the movie when it did. But it’s really good. When have you known Ridley Scott to make a truly bad movie? It doesn’t happen. Some may be misguided or fall short of the mark, but they’re always at the very least watchable. This is about the J. Paul Getty kidnapping, and it’s a really solid movie. It’s two movies in one — because you get the kidnapping itself and how that plays out, as well as the struggle between the kid’s mother and Getty himself (she’s the daughter-in-law and he never particularly loved her, and only really cares about money). It’s really watchable and has a great Christopher Plummer performance (which is amazing because he literally came on and shot his whole part in like three weeks after the rest of the movie was finished). Watch it for the history (and I’m talking about the event itself and what this movie means for a particular moment in Hollywood history), but also watch it because it’s a great movie.
148. Big Eyes
The Tim Burton movie you may not even know exists. Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who write all the cool, offbeat biopics like Ed Wood, People vs. Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon and Dolemite Is My Name, it’s about Margaret Keane, famous for those paintings of the little girls with (insert title here). And it’s about her husband, Walter Keane (played by Christoph Waltz), who takes credit for her work (and all the money) while also simultaneously making her a bit of a phenomenon. It’s really well done. Very toned down for Burton visually (though I’m guessing some of that is who he made the film for, but that’s a discussion for another time), but it’s a really solid movie with great performances and definitely fits the mold of one of those movies you see because it cross-lists with all your favorite people and then you go, “That was really great. How did I not come across this sooner?” And that’s exactly what this list is for.
Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, or as I like to jokingly refer to it, “Skatey Bird.” It’s really good. It’s very A24, and very specific to his own childhood growing up in Los Angeles in the 90s, but it’s still a really good movie. It doesn’t try to do anything other than show you what it’s like to be a kid at that age. That’s it. It covers his relationship with his brother, his mother, and the friend group he so desperately wants to fit in with. I say this a lot — when a movie is really personal to the person who made it, that usually translates to broader audiences even if they didn’t have those same experiences. That’s what you feel with this one. It may not be as hidden as gem as some others on this list, but it needs to be seen nevertheless.
This movie made a bunch of money and I suspect was seen by a lot of people, but it’s never really at the top of anyone’s mind when they think of really good movies. I’ll admit, I wasn’t sold on this one as I walked into seeing it. I expected it to be terrible. Then within 20 minutes I found myself going, “Oh this is actually pretty good.” And then there’s a moment where they shift narrative perspective for a while and I went, “Oh wow, this is really good.” Because that’s just not something you see in a movie like this. Usually they’re straightforward, don’t take any chances, and are just there to placate family audiences. This does that, but it’s also well-made in the process. It is your quintessential family movie — uplifting, lot of plotting you’d expect — but trust me when I say that it’s impossible not to be charmed by this movie.
145. Green Room
Not so much a hidden gem, but also not something I’m gonna assume most people have seen either. Some things could use a spotlight no matter how known they are. Because there’s always someone who hasn’t seen it. This one’s just one of those tactile, visceral experiences. Down and dirty. Simple premise: punk band plays a show for white supremacists, accidentally witnesses a murder, then gets trapped in a room while the white supremacists try to kill them. Pretty awesome, really well made and features Patrick Stewart as a Nazi, which I think we all consider an amazing piece of casting.
144. Blue Ruin
This is Jeremy Saulnier’s true hidden gem. Green Room is great, but that has the benefit of a cast. This one is the movie that got him Green Room. This debut really jumped out to a lot of people when it came around. It’s such a small movie that really stays with you. It’s about a guy whose parents were murdered by a man twenty years ago. He finds out the man is going to be released from prison and sets out to extract vengeance. And thus sets off a chain of seemingly never-ending violence. It’s pretty intense, but realistic. It’s what a regular person would do if they were gonna go murder someone for revenge. Not that anyone should ever do that, but that’s what it feels like. There’s no slick walking away from explosions here. It’s all very much grounded, and that’s what makes the movie so good.
143. End of Watch
It’s funny. David Ayer was a respected writer — Training Day, etc. And then he started directing, and made some solid movie like Harsh Times and Street Kings. Movies people think are fine, but not anything people would jump up and say are amazing. Then he made this, and I think this is what made people take him seriously as a filmmaker. There’s an energy to this one that you can’t explain. And that’s coming from me, someone who hates found footage films. But this one works. It’s about Jake Gyllenhaal, an LAPD cop and aspiring filmmaker, who takes his body cam footage and turns it into a document of his life. So the entire film is basically him filming all this stuff happening, including him and his partner (Michael Pena) going out on the job and ending up in the path of a local drug gang. It’s terrific. I think people know it’s terrific, but I’m just not sure how well-seen this is overall. So I figured it was better to include than to not include.
142. Brigsby Bear
I had no expectations for this movie to be good and was really surprised by it. There’s a sweetness and innocence to this that is really what makes it work. It’s about a boy who grows up in this underground bunker thing with his parents, isolated from the world. And the only thing he has is this show called Brigsby Bear, which teaches him life lessons and helps him cope with life. Then — and this is technically a spoiler, but it’s ten minutes into the movie and is the impetus for the plot, so either keep reading or don’t. It’s up to you. But you’re coming here for a reason to see the movie if you haven’t. So avoiding a minor spoiler for purity for something you’d probably never watch otherwise seems dumb — one day the cops come and arrest his ‘parents’. And we find out they kidnapped him as a child, and that’s why he’s been kept where he was all this time. So the film is him going to his real family’s house and trying to adjust to the world. And he keeps trying to go back to this show that comforted him all this time, but he finds out it isn’t real. And so he ends up setting out to try to film one final episode as a form of catharsis and moving on. I’m telling you, there’s a really big heart to this film, and it’ll surprise you with how much it impacts you emotionally.
141. Safety Not Guaranteed
I love offbeat movies that are really optimistic at heart. That’s this movie. It’s based on a real ad a guy took out looking for someone to join him in a time machine he’s building. So they took that and wrote this movie about it. Mark Duplass is the guy, and Aubrey Plaza is a journalist who sets out to interview the guy. And at first it’s to make fun of him, but pretty soon starts to root for him. It’s like when a child believes in Santa or something, and they’re so excited that you just want to go along with it because their joy is too infectious to destroy. There’s a real sweetness here and a really nice message about believing in yourself, following your dreams and just being who you are even if the world doesn’t agree with it. It’s definitely one of those charming indies that deserves as wide an audience as it can get.
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