Mike’s Top Hidden Gems of the Decade (80-71)

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.

80. Enter the Void

Gaspar Noé is a filmmaker who createst experiences. They may not always be pleasant experiences… but you’re going on a journey, and you’re gonna feel something. It might be horror, it might be disgust — but it’ll be something. This film is kind of like being on drugs without being on drugs. The first section of the film is done POV style and has actual moments of someone tripping out and the screen turns into various colors for a bit. And then the main character dies fairly early on and then becomes this spirit, hovering around the city, observing everything and coming to terms with his death. It’s a very odd movie, but quite the experience. I put this on at like 2:30 am one morning, not knowing what to expect, and honestly it felt like I was on drug for the two-plus hours of this film’s run time. I love what Noé does with his films. Even if I don’t necessarily need to rewatch his films again all that often, I do really appreciate what he’s able to do with film as an art form.

79. Where’d You Go, Bernadette

One of my absolute favorite films of 2019 that I knew immediately upon seeing it was not gonna be something I could truly recommend to others. The most I could do was say how much I liked it and leave it at that. Because I just know not everyone’s gonna love this. And that’s fine. Still gonna recommend it to you, though, because I do think it’s a great movie and a hidden gem hiding in plain sight. Richard Linklater is one of those filmmakers, like Steven Soderbergh, whose films are always worthwhile and always seem to be in the hidden gem category aside from the, like, one per decade that pops big. This one is… I don’t know what to call it, honestly. It’s a Cate Blanchett character film disguised as a quirky comedy. I like it because I can distill the way they sold it into the elements of the film that illustrate what it’s trying to say. It’s the performance, first and foremost, and it’s a movie about needing an outlet for creativity and what happens when you shut that up for too long. All the other stuff is ancillary. It’s fun and fine, but that core theme is really what I responded to here, and I think that people ought to check this one out, if only for Linklater, because maybe you’ll see in this what I do and enjoy it. Besides, aren’t hidden gems always more fun when either people don’t know they exist or the movie got so-so reviews and was totally forgotten about? This is one of those.

78. Light of My Life

So this got dumped on VOD, I’m guessing because Casey Affleck directed it, and people aren’t so keen on him nowadays. I’ll admit, it was kinda tough trying to sell this to people, because obviously there were those allegations against him, and this is a film about him in a post-apocalyptic world where there are no women. Kind of a hard sell if you’re already disinclined. But I really loved the film. I like what it had to say. It’s him as a father of a girl about to hit puberty, who he’s been disguising as a boy for years to keep her safe. And he knows he’s not gonna be able to do that for much longer, so he’s trying to make sure he does all she can to keep her prepared for survival. Since, in a world without women… you can imagine what happens when they find a woman. It’s a film about fatherhood, and I thought it was really tenderly made. It’s much more about the relationship between the two characters and the overall theme than it is a genre film. And that’s what I responded to most of all from it. I’m always a proponent of separating art from artist as much as humanly possible. I feel like you can enjoy the work even if the person may or may not be loathsome. Some people aren’t that way, and that’s fine. But I think, as a pure film, this is a really well made one and worth being seen.

77. Like Crazy

The early 2010s were the era for almost fully-improvised relationship dramas. This came right on the heels of Blue Valentine and, like that, was a film I loved very much upon seeing it. It kinda became outdated as the decade wore on, but I really loved this one at the time, and still think it largely holds up, if only because it’s based on director Drake Doremus’ own life. It’s Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones as a couple who meet and fall in love, only to encounter hardship when her visa is found to be expired and she’s deported. So now he’s in America and she’s in England and they’re trying to make it work. It’s a strong film and both actors really shine in it. I can’t say how you’ll respond to it, because now, ten years later, you’ve seen movies like this before. It’s hard to have someone go back to one of the early examples of a particular style and expect them to view it in context. But I do think it’s a very lovely film worthy of your time.

76. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

One of the truest definitions of hidden gem there is. This was a hidden gem before it even came out. That’s how destined for this list it was. It’s based on a true story, of the Japanese woman who thought Fargo was real and set out to North Dakota to find the buried sack of money and died. The Zellner brothers take that story and turn it into this film. The first half is about the woman (played by Rinko Kikuchi)’s life in Japan — unmarried, working a dead end job, constantly harangued by friends and family — and the second is her setting off on the adventure to North Dakota. It’s  very darkly funny, and it’s just a really grounded, yet off-the-wall kinda movie that I just love. I think it’s really delightful and I hope people check it out because it’s one of the more charming films from the decade.

75. Arbitrage

This movie is great. It’s essentially watching a rich white dude get away with murder, and I’ll admit that while that’s never palatable, it was much more so in 2012 than it is now. So I’ll admit that part up front. Not exactly escapist in 2020, I’ll admit. It’s Richard Gere as a businessman about to close a giant deal for his company. He’s trying to keep some fraudulent activity from being known by the buyers and is right about to close the deal, which will make him set for the rest of his life. Only, right on the eve of the deal closure, he ends up in a car accident with his mistress, and she ends up dead. So now, he’s gotta keep himself from being implicated in the crime all while dealing with this whole deal stuff. It’s a really terrific drama with an amazing performance by Gere. I can’t do much more to recommend it than that since — rich white people making more money. Hard to tell people to go watch that.

74. The Light Between Oceans

This is an old-fashioned melodrama and I am here for it. I love that it was unabashedly classical. If you took this exact plot, filmed it in 1956 in black-and-white, this would have been a classic film of the 50s. That’s just what it is. In 2016, when it came out, no one cared. I mean, part of that was because the two studios who put it out had dissolved their partnership, and this was the last film they were contractually obligated to release together, so they just kind of dumped it and let it tank as a ‘fuck you’, which really hurt the film. Anyway, it’s Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander. He’s a lighthouse keeper and she’s his wife. They meet, they fall in love, things are great. Only, she desperately wants to have a family and keeps having miscarriages. And just when all hope seems lost, a baby arrives magically in a rowboat to their shore. And, rather than return the baby to authorities, they decide, “Let’s raise it as our own.” And so they do. And things are great. Only, a few years later, they run into a woman in town who lost a baby in what sounds suspiciously like the same circumstances that led to them finding their baby. So of course that leads to tension and guilt, and things slowly start to unravel and all that stuff they never considered starts bubbling to the surface. It’s — I loved it. I thought the acting was tremendous and it’s a throwback to the kind of film they just don’t make anymore, unless it’s one of those Far from Heaven deals and they’re deliberately recreating a period style. I can’t do much more than to say it’s very good and hope you’ll see it. Hopefully Fassbender, Vikander, Rachel Weisz and Derek Cianfrance (who did Blue Valentine) are enough to get you to want to give it a shot.

73. Bachelorette

I say this every time this film comes up — I hated Bridesmaids. I just didn’t enjoy it as a film. And at best you’re gonna get me to say it was fine and that I didn’t really care, but I just never understood why people went so crazy for that film that they did. And this came out within a year of that film, and I thought it was the far superior film. This is what that film should have been, in my mind. It stars Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fisher and Rebel Wilson. All four are friends from high school/college age, though it’s pretty much just the first three. They’re all friends with Wilson, but they all always made fun of her behind her back. Now, Wilson is getting married (the first of the group to do so), and so they’re gonna reunite for the wedding. Dunst is the maid of honor (and in full alpha bitch mode the entire film) and is determined to make sure everything goes well. Only, during the bachelorette party, things get a bit out of hand and the wedding dress ends up ripped. So now the three of them are running around New York the night before the wedding, desperately trying to get it fixed (all while doing drugs, fucking dudes and things like that). I enjoy the shit out of this movie, and honestly, I’m not sure how much better to sell it than, “I think this is a better version of Bridesmaids.”

72. Bone Tomahawk

Aww yeah. I think the name is kind of out there, but I’m not sure how much the film is out there. Let’s leave this one as — it’s an experience. It’s a horror western. Some cannibals come and kidnap some townsfolk, including the doctor’s wife, and a group of men set out to go hunt them down and get everyone back. And so a lot of the film is men in the wilderness traveling toward this destination. Very low key, character-driven. But as you get closer to the destination, it’s almost like Apocalypse Now — you can feel the sense of tension and dread growing. And then they get to the place where the cannibals live, and… holy shit. It doesn’t go as far as it could, but it’s also some of the most horrific shit you’ve ever seen. It’s better if you don’t know and just experience it. But it’s a wonderful movie. S. Craig Zahler is a director who gives you primal theatrical experiences. He’ll have another film on this list that does the same. This is the one people know about, and while it’s best seen in a theater with a lot of people, just throwing it on with friends is enough. Be prepared for an experience.

71. American Honey

I remember when I saw this film. It was with a free birthday ticket I got from the theater, and it was the last day I could have used it. And this film had just come out and I felt like if I didn’t go see this, I probably wasn’t gonna see it before the end of the year. So I went. I didn’t know it was 3 hours long, and when I got to the theater, the crowd was so overwhelmingly hipster that I started to really be concerned for what I was about to subject myself to. But honestly, within about 15 minutes, I was hooked. I can’t explain it, but there’s a kind of magic to this film. You know how, in The Florida Project, there’s something enrapturing about the lazy realism of the film? Just watching people exist? This is that, but heightened. You’re sort of more aware this is a film than you are there, but it’s got that same sort of thing. It stars Sasha Lane in her first screen performance as a girl who lives in generic middle America, with an abusive father and two younger siblings. She hates things and wants to get out. And she comes across a crew of traveling magazine salespeople (all kids around her own age) and decides to drop everything and go along with them. And that’s the film. Her going with these people and selling magazines. I can’t explain why this one is so good, but it’s 3 hours long and I didn’t feel a minute of that screen time. You’re just so caught up in Lane and the film and the characters and just going along with it all that it just flies by. I can’t do a whole lot of selling it past that, but I do think it’s a film worth seeing and think a lot of people will enjoy it if they just gave it the time of day.

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