Mike’s Top Hidden Gems of the Decade (140-131)
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.
I love this movie a lot. Because they made it for like no money at all. Under a million dollars for certain. And it’s a sci-fi movie, which is even better. They do a lot with a little here, constantly making you feel the threat of monsters without giving you monsters a lot of the time. The plot is about a meteor or something that lands between the U.S. and Mexico, unleashing a lot of sci-fi creatures. So of course both countries seal off the area, build a wall, use the military to keep the aliens at bay and keep everyone out of the zone. However, the film is about a photojournalist whose boss’s daughter is stuck in Mexico. So he basically forces the photojournalist to bring her back, which involves bringing her through the quarantine zone, which… could kill them. So the film is them traveling from the U.S. to Mexico in this zone with aliens and trying not to die. It’s really well done. They handle the tension well, they build the characters well, and the ending is really so much more than you ever thought possible for a film with a $500,000 budget. Put it this way — off this $500,000 film, Gareth Edwards directed Godzilla and then Rogue One. To go from this budget to that, you know there’s something good here.
What a great movie. What a simple little sci fi with big concepts but small (enough) execution. It’s about two geneticists who work with gene splicing who want to create a human-animal hybrid. Of course, their bosses tell them absolutely not to do that. But they do it anyway. So the film is about them doing it, and then raising the creature as their own. So a lot of it is just parenting stuff and raising a child… only that child just happens to be a genetically engineered creature. So it’s this sci-fi horror movie of sorts, but also pretty grounded and lower budget. I liked it a lot. It’s definitely genre, but it’s fun genre.
It’s a one-take movie. And not like 1917 or Birdman, I mean legitimately one take. It’s about a woman out on the town in Berlin with some people she meets, and then ending up with them as they go do something that puts her in danger. That’s really all you need. The plot isn’t twisty or anything, because it can’t be when you’re shooting something continuously. You’re watching it for the fact that they captured this all in one go and not for a plot. That’s the reason this should be seen. They pulled it off.
137. The Best Offer
This is from Giuseppe Tornatore, who made The Last Picture Show. I saw this on a whim and loved it at the time and couldn’t believe no one had heard of it. Geoffrey Rush is an eccentric auctioneer of very high end art. He’s always been very focused on his job and love of art, so he’s never had a relationship or anything like that. And then he meets a wealthy agoraphobic heiress who wants him to appraise a bunch of stuff her parents left her. And through their interactions, he begins to fall in love with her. So there’s a bit of an air of mystery about it but also this nice little romantic plot as well, which I quite enjoyed and wasn’t expecting. It’s really well-made and has a great score from Ennio Morricone to boot.
136. Infinitely Polar Bear
One of the most personal films on the list, as Maya Wolodarsky based her script around growing up with her own father, who suffered from bipolar disorder. And she cast her own daughter in it as, essentially, herself. And all of that really shines through, alongside a terrific Mark Ruffalo performance, to make one of those indies that feels a bit like essential viewing because it just is gonna strike some sort of a chord with a fair amount of people. Some indies are just indies. This one feels like it’s got a real chance at meaning something to people.
This is Scott Cooper’s fourth film, and the one almost no one knows exists. Probably because it’s a western and a revisionist western at that. For the record — Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace, Black Mass. That’s the pedigree Scott Cooper takes into this movie. So in case the genre doesn’t seem like it’s up your alley, consider that at a certain point, the skill of a director generally overcomes most concerns. The film is about an army captain (Christian Bale) who is assigned to transport a dying Native American chief and his family to his land so he can die in the place of his ancestors. He fought Native Americans in previous was and is both bitter and angry toward them as a people, so he’s not thrilled about the assignment but his duty compels him to see everything through properly. So of course it’s one of those movies where the racist-but-for-a-reason character realizes that the people he’s hated aren’t really the savages he thought they were, and of course the title is a play on just who the ‘hostiles’ really are. It’s a meditative kind of western without all that much ‘action’, so I get why it feels like a tough ask for some people to sit down and watch it. But it’s a really good film and there are some nice surprise cameos along the way. It’ll never be properly mentioned among Cooper’s best films (if it’s mentioned at all), but it’s really worth seeing. There’s a lot of great stuff here.
134. White Boy Rick
I followed the development of this film for years. I couldn’t wait for them to make it. The story is just so good and Yann Demange was a director whose work I really wanted to see. ’71 was great, and this was his followup. This felt like his chance to jump up and take that leap into the mainstream. Unfortunately the film felt like it got buried immediately upon release (I remember going to a theater opening weekend to see it and it was basically empty and the general word on the film was tepid at best) and it only got worse from there. This is all but forgotten less than five years since it came out. It’s about a 14-year-old boy in Detroit in the 80s who becomes a major drug dealer and, eventually, police informant. It’s a fun story, and there’s a lot to like about the film’s handling of it. McConaughey is amazing as his father, Bel Powley is great as his sister, the way they recreate 80s Detroit is pretty wonderful, and there’s some nice family moments in the film that, for me, make the drug and police stuff more palatable. I just think it’s one of those really solid films that unfortunately fell in a zone of being above average but not great, so people just sort of let it fall in with the rest of the pile and forgot about it. Which is a shame. Because it’s a solid 70-75/100 kinda movie.
133. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
It can be seen as potentially depressing by some, as the plot takes place around the time when the world is going to end. It’s not one of those where they get saved at the last minute or they leave or whatever. The movie ends with the end of the world. And the film is about what people choose to do with the time they have remaining in the face of certain death. And it’s a sweet little film that jumps between broad(ish) comedy and heartfelt drama and romance, and I just quite liked the messages it imparted along the way. Steve Carell and Keira Knightley are great, and it made me an instant fan of writer-director Lorene Scafaria, who now at least has become a bit of a household name after making Hustlers. I remember when this came out, it was released around the same time as Safety Not Guaranteed, and people always need to find one indie darling to hype up. And I kept siding with this one because I thought it was the better film. Fortunately now, time has relegated both films to hidden gems status and there’s no need to really play favorites. Go see them both. They’re terrific.
Richard Gere has always been one of those stars who rarely took the big Hollywood big budget role. His films have almost always been a little more thoughtful and a little more substantive than ‘cool guy shoots bad guy, gets girl’. Some people are great at that. He’s a more cerebral kind of actor and his films have always been a little more meat-on-the-bone than ‘boom boom wisecrack’. However, that also means that there’s a good percentage of his stuff that hasn’t properly seen the light of day, especially lately, when he’s made primarily what I call ‘adult dramas’. Which basically means — movies for adults. He doesn’t work all that often, but the majority of when he does feels like it’s been something special. Consider this — since 2002 (when he was in both Chicago and Unfaithful), he’s only been in 18 films (19, if you count Movie 43, which I’m pretty sure none of the cast does). So that’s about one a year. And I’d say about half of them are films I’d legitimately call hidden gems or be films I’d recommend for people to see. Last decade alone — The Hoax, The Hunting Party, I’m Not There, even Brooklyn’s Finest — all really solid movies that never quite attained the proper audiences. And also… if the only movie on that list you know is the last one, that’s a problem, because the other three are far better than it by a mile. Anyway, this decade — there’s probably only two films that made this hidden gems list, but I’d also recommend Time Out of Mind, where he plays a homeless man, which is also quite solid. Anyway, the point is, Richard Gere is great and don’t sleep on his filmography.
Anyway, Norman — the subtitle to this film is “The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer,” which I quite like, even if it spells out the entire plot. But hey, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. He plays a wheeler-dealer kinda guy who always knows someone or has a connection to this or that and just wants to rub elbows with the influential and get his foot in the door to all the best rooms. And eventually… it works out. One guy he helps one day goes on to become the Prime Minister of Israel. So now all of a sudden his friend is a really influential person. And it’s great! And then, of course, there’s the second half of the subtitle. It’s a really solid movie, and Gere is terrific in it. You spend about three minutes with the guy and you know everything about him as a person. That’s how quickly he characterizes the dude. And it’s just a great performance in a film that, to the subtitle’s point, only really has moderate pleasures, but how many times can you watch giant blue lights in the sky and people in spandex trying to stop it and save the world? Movies like this are worth your time too.
131. American Animals
This is one of the better heist films I’ve seen in a long time. It’s based on real events, and the film takes a docudrama approach to it, interviewing the real people throughout the film and then cutting to actors recreating the story. And at certain points, the actors themselves show up in the film, which provides a really nice moment of fourth-wall-foreshadowing. Which I thought was a really nice touch. The film is truly impeccably directed by Bart Layton. It’s about four kids in Kentucky who decide (each with his own reason) to steal some rare books from their college’s library. And it’s your typical heist movie — one guy befriends a dude, who pitches the idea, soon they’re both into it, recruit the others, figure out how they’re gonna do it, plan, and then there’s the execution (which never goes according to plan) and then the eventual fallout. Everyone knows how the heist movie works. But this one has such a flair to it that you can’t help but be charmed by it. When this movie came out, they put the first twelve minutes online for free. Which almost never happens with movies. That’s because they knew the film had the goods and wanted to entice people to go see the rest of it. Of course it didn’t work, and almost no one saw this, but trust me when I say this is one of the more entertaining movies you probably have never bothered to go look at.
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