Mike’s Top Hidden Gems of the Decade (120-111)
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.
There’s that refrain again — Steven Soderbergh always makes worthwhile movies. That should be turned into some kind of mnemonic because it’s never not true. This is the movie he shot entirely on an iPhone (encouraged, no doubt, from what Sean Baker pulled off with Tangerine). His first film back from his self-imposed retirement was Logan Lucky, but then he also quietly shot this on the side as well and all of a sudden this was gonna come out too. And I, along with a lot of people I imagine, figured, “How good could this be?” Turns out, really good. It’s Claire Foy as a woman who seems borderline mentally unstable. She’s constantly having mood swings and seeing things that might not be there and is convinced she has a stalker who’s been after her. Then, after one particular incident, she goes to a mental health clinic just to make sure she’s okay (because now even she’s having doubts), and before she knows it, she’s unknowingly (or unwillingly) signed herself in for treatment. The staff says she did it willingly and she’s adamant she didn’t. But now they legally can hold her, so now it’s a sort of ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ situation but as a thriller, where you’re not sure if she’s crazy or not, or if the hospital is just trying to help her or doing something sinister, and then after a certain point you wonder if there even is a stalker — there’s some really interesting stuff in this movie that start to unpack as you get further along. It’s not without its little revelations. It’s a really terrific piece of work.
One of those indie darlings everyone loved in 2011 but forgot about by 2015. Even now, when I bring this up, a bunch of people are gonna go, “Oh yeahhhh. I liked that movie.” But you don’t remember it at all. That’s kinda the point of why it’s on this list. It’s from Jonathan Levine (who’d later give us Warm Bodies, which is way better than you’d ever give it credit for, The Night Before, one of the best comedies of the decade, and Long Shot, which most people will admit to being one of the better rom coms we’ve gotten this decade) and based on a script from a real guy who got diagnosed with cancer in his 20s. And that’s the film. Young guy gets cancer and tries to beat it. It’s part drama, part comedy, never really veering into either. But really what shines through (as it does in all of Levin’s films) is its heart. There’s a really big heart on this movie and it’s really one of those films that’s impossible not to like. Even if you think the subject matter is gonna be too hard for you… trust me. It’s not that. You can handle it, and you’ll be charmed by it.
118. St. Vincent
Anytime Bill Murray is in something it’s a treat. Even if it’s a not-so-great movie about him playing FDR (which… that’s right. That movie happened). This is from Ted Melfi, who much more prominently made Hidden Figures after this movie, and has Murray as one of those characters that is right up his alley. He’s an old, cranky neighbor in Brooklyn who drinks and smokes even when he shouldn’t at his age, keeps hiring a Russian hooker, and also befriends the young boy next door. And the film is about the two of them hitting it off and him becoming a sort of mentor to this boy, who doesn’t have a father figure or friends in his life. It’s fun. I’m not sure what people were expecting out of this when it happened, but it’s a lot of fun and one of those movies you can just put on and watch and enjoy any time. There aren’t that many of those out there.
117. The Peanut Butter Falcon
A lovely little film that should be seen purely because of what it accomplishes on a social front. It’s also just a darling little comedy with a big heart that will make you smile. It might not change your life, but for something that’s only 90 minutes long, you won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time with it. It’s about a boy with Down’s Syndrome (played by an actual actor with Down’s Syndrome) who dreams of becoming a professional wrestler. So he escapes his facility to go travel to Florida to attend a wrestling school he’s seen advertised on his favorite wrestling tape. And along the way he meets Shia LaBeouf, who is just a small-time ne’er-do-well, who doesn’t want him alongside, but of course takes him because he’s really nice on the inside, and they become friends along the journey and eventually it becomes about just letting this kid live his dream. It’s a really sweet movie with a big heart and honestly if you aren’t charmed by this movie, you don’t have a heart. It’s that sweet and that well done. I’d recommend this one to literally everyone, full stop.
116. Top Five
This is Chris Rock’s, I think, third movie that he’s directed. The first is Head of State, and I’m not sure most people even realize he’s the one who directed that movie. Second is I Think I Love My Wife, which nobody saw. This, though — this is probably the best thing he’s made. It’s a really great movie. It’s his version of, I guess, a Woody Allen kinda movie. I’m trying to think of a better comparison, but that’s the feel of it. It’s also clearly got ties to his own life. It’s about a famous comedian coming off a drug habit and being tired of being known for generic, borderline racist comedy movies and wanting to do something serious, back in his hometown with a new epic about the Haitian Revolution. And the film is him spending a day in his old neighborhood, both coming to terms with his past and being interviewed by a journalist for the new film. It’s a really nice, sweet film that’s got both drama and comedy in it, and some amazing cameos along the way. I fell in love with this one in the theater and knew almost instantaneously that no one would ever see it. But it’s really good, and it deserves it.
115. Wind River
The third in Taylor Sheridan’s frontier trilogy, after Sicario and Hell or High Water. He directed this one, and I’m guessing it’s that fact that it’s about the awful treatment of Native Americans that’s the reason this doesn’t have the acclaim of those other two. It’s just as good in a lot of ways. I’ll admit I consider it the weakest of the three, but that’s only because the bar on the first two is so high. The fact that it comes as close as it does is a real sign of the strength of the film and Sheridan’s writing and direction of it. It’s about the death of a Native girl on a reservation and an FBI investigation into it, aided by a local tracker with ties to the Native American community. It’s pretty much a procedural and follows the investigation to completion. It’s a really strong piece of work and should not be ignored simply because it has spiritual ties to the other two. Don’t sleep on this one, because it’s also really good.
114. Bleed for This
Boxing movies are usually good, and this one is better than most. It’s a damn shame no one saw this, because this legitimately ranks among the better boxing movies of all time. It’s based on the real story of Vinny Pazienza, whose path to becoming champion is cut short by an auto accident that breaks his neck and leaves people wondering if he’s ever gonna walk again, let alone be healthy enough to box. And of course he’s determined to not give in, so of course he starts training again and gets back in the ring… you know the story. It’s a boxing movie. You know how these go. But it’s the character of the piece that you’ll enjoy. It’s got shades of The Fighter, with colorful characters surrounding him, and it’s also written and directed by the same guy who made Boiler Room, if that means anything to some of you. This is truly one of the better hidden gems of this decade. I know people get scared at the idea of a formula, but certain genres require formula, and it’s about the flavor they put on top of the formula that makes them work well. This has a lot of flavor.
113. The Sisters Brothers
An anti-western western. I knew the minute I started watching this that it was destined for the hidden gem scrapheap. Because there is no chance in hell that people would a) go en masse to see a western, even with Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly and Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed in it (and yes, that is the cast), and b) go see a western that deliberately tries to undercut every single western trope there is. It’s a very weird movie with an offbeat sense of humor, but that’s what I like about it. Everything you think is gonna happen doesn’t, and every time there’s gonna be a stereotypical ‘western’ scene — guess again, it’s gonna do something different. I liked that about it. I like that it’s this weird little movie and I really enjoyed it quite a bit and think people should give it a chance based on the cast. Maybe you don’t love it, but it’s worth a watch, because clearly all these people saw something of value in it.
112. Their Finest
This is one of those ‘can’t miss’ kinda movies. It’s light and charming enough that literally almost everyone will enjoy this at face value. Don’t expect anything too deep, but it’s truly just a charming ensemble British movie. And there’s always one of those coming out every few years. This is the third film about Dunkirk that came out in a short while, with Darkest Hour and Dunkirk. This one’s more about the home front — during the Blitz, a film studio sets out to make a propaganda film about the Dunkirk invasion, specifically based on a newspaper clipping about two girls who commandeered their father’s boat to go help out in the effort. And we follow their efforts to make the film and follow this cast of characters, which include Bill Nighy as an aging actor who still thinks he’s a leading man even though he’s now really only suited for the ‘grandpa’ parts, and Gemma Arterton as a writer who is originally relegated to writing the ‘slop’ (aka women’s dialogue) but ends up working her way up to being head writer and also (naturally) falling in love with another writer on set. It plays a lot of familiar notes, but it’s charming as hell and one of those movies that’s just likable. It’s not the kind of movie you look for faults in, because it’s just broadly for everyone and it’ll amuse you for two hours. This is the kind of hidden gem people should be watching.
111. The Lost City of Z
There’s a bit of a limited appeal to this one, admittedly, but that should be overcome by the fact that it’s a really good movie. At a certain point, overall quality trumps ‘I don’t really like those kinds of movies’. It’s James Gray, making to this point the most ambitious film of his career (he made The Yards and Two Lovers, We Own the Night… small scale stuff), and here he makes this epic movie that feels a bit like Aguirre. It’s about a British explorer who sets out to find this mythical city of gold, and spends several years going on expeditions to find it. There’s a lot of Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson (and eventually Tom Holland) walking around the jungle. But it’s really great. I know most people aren’t gonna get excited by the sound of it, but sometimes you just gotta watch shit because you can’t be a film fan and subside on Marvel movies and bullshit comedies. Branch out. This is a good movie.
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