Mike’s Top Hidden Gems of the Decade (90-81)

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.

90. Mother!

This needs viewers. I feel like Darren Aronofsky films always need more viewers. They get them gradually over time, but some more than others. So in a way, all of them probably should be seen more. I can’t really make the case for Noah over the others, but the rest of them I think qualify. Requiem for a Dream could even use more. I’ll of course stump for The Fountain any day of the week. Black Swan I think probably has the right amount of visibility. The Wrestler sure could use more, though. And this one — this is Aronofsky in Fountain mode. He’s going super ambitious, to the point where some of his audience won’t fully understand it. There’s an incredible amount of artistry in this film. It takes place entirely in a house. And just wait until that third act to see just what he pulls off with those limitations. It’s a parable for human existence and, to some extent, artistry, dealing with religion and nature and human nature, and it’s all funneled into a seemingly Rosemary’s Baby-style thriller about a pregnant woman settling into a new home with her husband. It’s really good, but I understand that not everyone is gonna fully go for it. But if you love film, you owe it to yourself to see this. Because sometimes a film and a director are important enough that you have to see it just to educate yourself further on the art form. This is that kind of movie. There is something to be gotten out of this for everyone. Some films you show people because they’re treats. Others feel a bit like making people eat their vegetables. But ultimately its for their own cinematic good. And this is one of those movies. This will make you a better movie watcher.

89. Animal Kingdom

The fact that it was turned into a TV series helps visibility, but I still don’t think people are gonna take the time to see this. Somehow I feel like people would be easier told to watch 5 seasons of the TV show than to just watch this 130 minute movie. Thus is unfortunately the world we live in. But that doesn’t change how great this movie is. For those also unfamiliar with the show, it’s about an Australian crime family. That’s really all you need. You’ve got Guy Pearce, Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Jacki Weaver — it’s an incredible cast and an incredible film.

88. Philomena

The under-the-radar amazing drama of the decade. This was one of those ‘Oscar special’ kinda movies, where they put it out in the last two months of the year, in a few theaters, and you knew it was designed to get Judi Dench nominated, and then not only was she nominated, but the film was nominated for Best Picture too. And that’s because — it’s really good, and really affecting. It’s based on a true story of a journalist who takes up the story of an Irish woman who had a child out of wedlock in a convent years earlier. And so the convent took her baby and sold it off. So now, she, in her 80s, wants to find out what happened to the child. And he accompanies her on this journey as they look for her son, to find out what happened to him. And it’s this really sweet and touching journey with incredible performances from Steve Coogan and Judi Dench. There’s so much here to love. I can’t recommend this one enough.

87. All Is Lost

This is a one-man show. It’s Robert Redford on a boat, at sea, and the boat is slowly sinking. That’s it. That’s the film. There’s less than 40 lines of dialogue in the entire film (and even then it’s all basically white noise), and you’re just watching the dude survive on screen. It’s really riveting. I get that it’s not the kind of thing that’ll get people rush out to see it, but trust me when I say it’s worth your time. It’s one of cinema’s greatest legends putting on an acting clinic in one of those movies that’s thrilling without requiring set pieces and crazy action.

86. The Farewell

This was very critically acclaimed and made a fair amount of money and had a high profile. So I’m not really boosting the profile so much as getting at those people who have been meaning to watch it but haven’t for whatever reason. Put it this way — I’ve talked to a not-insignificant amount of people who told me they saw this movie and really enjoyed it. And these are people I would not take as people who would’ve gone out of their way to see this. They generally don’t do films with subtitles and if they did watch it, it probably would’ve been on cable or something and been a miraculous circumstance. But they either went out to the theater to see it or rented it on demand. And everyone’s come out and said they really enjoyed it. Because it is as good as everyone is saying — when the public at large agrees on something (also: Parasite), there’s usually a reason for it. So stop dilly-dallying. Just see it. It’s awesome.

85. The Beach Bum

This is a weird one to try to sell, but I love it, and I’m determined to get it as much of an audience as I can. This is Harmony Korine’s followup to Spring Breakers. And this visually shares a lot with that film visually — takes place in Florida and is very colorful and stylized — but narratively it’s its own thing. It’s basically McConaughey as a stoner who ambles around, getting into various hijinks along the way. It’s episodic in every way, with a parade of famous people coming in for a few minutes at a time (including Jimmy Buffet). There’s no real way to explain the film except that it’s fun as hell and McConaughey goes all out with this guy. Some people won’t get it, and others are gonna be glad they took the time to watch it. You’ll never know until you see it, so just see it.

84. The Death of Stalin

This has become so much of an easier sell as it would have been a few years ago. It’s Armando Iannucci, who did In the Loop and Veep. If you’ve seen either, then you know his brand of humor. And this is a comic look at the turmoil in Soviet Russia during Stalin’s death. It’s hilarious. Absolutely hilarious. This is one of those movies where chances are you knew about it because you know how brilliant this dude’s stuff is and and probably saw it. I’m not sure what I can say for those who haven’t/don’t know, but — this is one of the best comedies of the decade, full stop. So maybe see it.

83. The Old Man and the Gun

Just a lovely, lovely film. David Lowery, who made Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon and A Ghost Story. This is meant in a lot of ways to be Robert Redford’s cinematic swan song, and it’s a perfect way to wrap up his career in a lot of ways. It’s based on a real guy — who robbed banks into his 70s and 80s. And that’s the film. No frills, not trying to be this big action heist movie. It’s very laid back and reflective, and just a wonderful piece of work. And I’m surprised that the idea of Redford robbing banks wasn’t something that really crossed over to people, but I suspect that it’s because the audience for this film is generally older and while older people do frequent movies a bunch, the middle-aged group is more of the ‘I’ll just see it when it’s on cable’ crowd. And of course there’s so much stuff on cable that you’re talking at least two years before a reasonable amount of people could end up seeing it. Point is, there’s no way this has a proper audience, and it should.

82. Leave No Trace

An incredible drama with two great performances at its center. It’s about a veteran with PTSD who is unable to live in normal society, so he’s escaped with his daughter to live off the grid, hidden in a national park. And he’s raised her like this all her life. All she knows is living in the woods and hiding from people. But now she’s a teenager and is fascinated by the idea of a regular life, so she slips and watches a family hiking through the woods, ends up getting seen, which leads to them being caught. So much of the film is them being forced to reintegrate into society, which she’s thrilled about, but he isn’t. And you just watch them cope (or not) with this, and it’s truly wonderful. One of those films that was a critical darling the year it came out, but not something you ever felt got the right number of eyeballs on it. It’s definitely one of the better films of the decade.

81. Good Time

With all the noise and praise for Uncut Gems, all I could think whenever people would talk about it is, “You know they made that movie already, right?” Because Good Time is Uncut Gems two years earlier. Sure, some of the plot specifics are different, but it’s still a nervous two-hours about a dude on the edge trying to salvage his existence, and it also takes place over the same limited period of time. And the point there is — this is also a very good movie worth seeing. Robert Pattinson is terrific, and just like Uncut Gems, it’s got that frenetic pace that keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time. I’m not sure why one popped and one didn’t, but if there was a film that really deserved more of an audience, it’s this one.

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