Mike’s Top Hidden Gems of the Decade (110-101)

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.

110. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

I’m so saddened by the fact that this film doesn’t have a higher profile. It’s based on a short story which was made once into a film in 1947 with Danny Kaye, but both are different from the source material. The film stars (and is directed by) Ben Stiller, who plays a Life magazine employee who handles all the photographs for their issues, as well as the covers. The company is about to downsize and move to online only, so they’re about to publish their last print issue ever. And he’s trying to make the cover image be one from a very famous photographer whose stuff he’s always loved and featured prominently in the magazine for years. And so the photographer sends him a bunch of negatives and says that one of them is ‘the quintessence of Life’ and should be used for the final cover. Only Stiller can’t find it. It’s not there. And that leads him on a globe-trotting adventure (which is very much unlike his general demeanor and something he’d normally NEVER do) in search of the photographer to try to get the negative for the final issue. It’s really such a sweet film. Maybe it doesn’t 100% work, but the ideas and themes in it are so beautiful and make me emotional just thinking about them. I really think this is one of those movies that deserves an audience because there are people who are gonna get something profound out of this film. There’s really something here, and it’s something that I can only explain by telling you to see it. Either you’re gonna feel it or you just won’t get it. But I do love this movie quite a bit and really would urge people to give this a shot.

109. The Congress

So this is a live action/animation hybrid from Ari Folman, directed of Waltz with Bashir. It’s… heavy, man. There are some crazy themes in this and there’s some really intellectual stuff going on. Which isn’t to say it’s not a very good movie, but if you want penguins dancing, this isn’t the film for you. Robin Wright plays an aging Hollywood actress who is unable to find work anymore and is offered one last job — they’re gonna pay her an exorbitant amount of money to digitize her likeness. On the condition that she never act again, they bring her in, she goes into this chamber that records (along with her old footage) readouts of her performing all sorts of expressions and saying all sorts of lines and acting out scenes, and from that they make an exact digital copy of her that will continue to be in movies going forward. It’s basically that technology you keep hearing floated about that talks about using CGI versions of actors and not needing the real ones. So the first half of the film is that — her getting to the point and doing the process. Then the film becomes animated, and takes place in the future with all sorts of interesting concepts. It gets too difficult to try to explain from there, but let me just say — there’s a lot to take in with this one and it’s a very worthwhile experience.

108. They Came Together

God, this movie is so much fun. It’s from David Wain and Michael Showalter, and is for anyone who enjoys the humor of The State and/or Wet Hot American Summer. It’s a stereotypical rom com that’s also stretching those situations into absurdity. It stars Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler as a couple who start telling the story of how they got together one night at dinner. And it’s just every single rom com situation you can think of, but played for deliberate laughs because what they do with it is just so insane. Truly one of my favorite comedies of this decade and woefully underseen.

107. Colossal

This is that ‘Anne Hathaway Godzilla’ movie you may have heard of but probably haven’t seen. Don’t be fooled by that pitch — that’s just to get you in the seat. There’s so much more to it than that. And maybe the fact that it really isn’t about the Godzilla stuff is why people never properly appreciated it. It’s really a movie about addiction and abusive relationships. Hathaway is an alcoholic whose life falls apart, causing her to return to her small town, whereupon she meets Jason Sudeikis, who she knew when she was a kid and now runs a bar. And she continues her drinking ways while also getting into a relationship with him and through all this, she discovers that when she stands in a particular place in a local playground, a giant monster appears in Seoul at the exact same moment. So the monster is both real in the context of the film but also entirely metaphor. And there’s some really amazing stuff that gets revealed along the way as well as a tremendous Hathaway performance. Truly her best complete dramatic work of the decade. It’s definitely worth seeing. There’s great stuff here being hidden in plain sight.

106. The Christmas Chronicles

This is the Kurt Russell Netflix movie. And yes, I’m serious. This movie is so damn fun and does not take itself seriously for one minute. It’s about two kids who are about to face their first Christmas without their father (who died during the year). And the little girl is determined to ‘catch’ Santa in the act by setting up a video camera to record him. Well, they do. And then they end up in Santa’s sleigh, which causes some issues and eventually cause him to lose the sleigh. So now they have to accompany him to try to get it back and make up for all the lost time in giving presents to people. What makes the movie work is the way they write Russell as Santa. Most of the time they play Santa a particular way. Here, he leans into it. Every time he walks up to a random person he’s like, “Hey, Timmy. You wanted that fire truck in the second grade” and just starts popping off all this personal information about them, and they’re like, “Who the hell are you and how do you know that?” No one buys that he’s Santa at all, and it’s hilarious. And at one point Santa’s in a stolen GTO in a chase with the cops, the elves are about to take a chainsaw to a guy’s nuts and Santa ends up doing a musical number in a jail cell with the E Street Band. I’m telling you, this is not what you think it is, and it’s so much damn fun. There’s throwaway Christmas movies, and then there’s fun throwaway Christmas movies, and this is the latter.

105. Take Shelter

This is when Jeff Nichols announced himself as a filmmaker to watch and introduced the world to the greatness that is Michael Shannon. I mean, sure, Shannon was in other stuff and even had an Oscar nomination by this point for Revolutionary Road, but let’s be honest… who really cared about anything he was in before this movie? He and Fassbender in Shame were those two really great performances that year you just knew they were gonna forget about when it came time for nominations and cause their films to fall into obscurity. And guess what? It happened! This film at least has the performance to keep people semi-aware of it, so this is more of a reminder of how good it is more than anything. I doubt a lot of people are gonna discover this out of nowhere from this entry. This is more one of those “oh yeah, I have been meaning to eventually see that” kinda films. It’s about a regular guy who one day sees a vision that convinces him that the world is ending. And, like Noah, he begins building a storm shelter in his backyard that is designed to save him and his family from this impending disaster. And naturally, like Noah, everything thinks he’s crazy and it causes problems with his family and his neighbors. And it’s a really interesting film, because for all of it (and maybe including the very end, depending on how you interpret it), you’re not sure if he’s crazy or the sanest person there. But that’s the beauty of it. And Shannon is amazing in it. It’s a really great movie and I think it’s been on enough ‘best of the decade’ lists for people to at least be aware that it’s worth seeing. I’m just nudging you along.

104. Piercing

LOVE this movie. It’s only like 85 minutes long, and it’s a pure B movie in every way. I explain it to people as this — a B movie grindhouse version of Phantom Thread. That’s what this is. It’s based on a Murakami graphic novel and is about a average businessman who, to fight his urges to kill his infant child (that’s the opening shot, him holding an ice pick over his infant daughter’s face), decides to go to a hotel, hire a prostitute and then murder her. As one might do, I guess. And so the first section of the film is him planning this and going over what he’s gonna do when she gets there (which, even though it’s just him miming it, is way more graphic than anything else) and then the night progressing after she gets there. It’s — yeah. It’s not a film you expect in a lot of ways and I think it’s one of the better hidden gems out there. Also, again, like 80 minutes, so really easy to get through.

103. Not Fade Away

A completely unknown movie that didn’t even get notices when it came out. It’s David Shore’s first project post-Sopranos and it’s about a college-age kid in Jersey in the 60s who wants to start a band. That’s pretty much it. Him and his friends starting this band to try to make it, and his relationship with his father. It’s a really sweet film and features an incredible performance by James Gandolfini as the father. It might not change your life, but considering how good it is and how absolutely nobody knows this movie exists — it deserves for you to see it just on the off chance this is actually one of the best movies of the decade and the only thing keeping it from being labeled is such is getting more people to see it.

102. The Red Turtle

One of the most stunning animated films of the decade and for sure one of the ten best to come out during it. It’s a stunning achievement, this film. It’s wordless, so the entire film is conveyed through images, sound and music. It’s a co-production from French animators and Studio Ghibli, and it’s a metaphor for life and existence, about a man marooned on a desert island alone and a mysterious red turtle that arrives at one point during his time there. It’s just a stunning film and the ideas it conveys through its simple story are truly universal. I cannot say enough great things about this movie and am straight up telling you that this is better than 90% of Disney and Pixar films that came out this decade. It’s better. It is.

101. Knight and Day

Took me a couple years to come around on this movie, but eventually quality just wins out. James Mangold, as I say, doesn’t make bad movies. They’re always watchable, and to put a finer point on it, they’re always rewatchable. And sometimes being able to easily throw something on again and again and again is a sign that it’s a really good movie. This one is, more than anything else, a lot of fun. The story is fine. It’s not rewriting the wheel, but it’s just having a good time and not taking itself too seriously. Tom Cruise plays off his screen persona in a really fun way and it’s just a thrill ride from start to finish. I suspect a fair amount of people have discovered/do know and enjoy this one, but you never can be too careful, and I’m putting it here to remind everyone just how enjoyable it is.

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