Mike’s Top Hidden Gems of the Decade (70-61)
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.
Originally Tangerine was gonna be in this spot, but I figured, “People know about Tangerine, and Starlet could use the praise more than that could.” So consider this an all-purpose Sean Baker spot (don’t worry, I’m sure Florida Project will make an appearance later on the list. But just in case it doesn’t, go see that too). He is a real humanist filmmaker who finds interesting nooks and crannies for his stories and tells these hyper real stories about people in the margins of daily life. Tangerine is about two trans women in Hollywood. And anyone who lives in Hollywood has seen trans women in that exact part of town all the time. And Baker is the only one who thought, “What are those people’s lives like?” And wrote a movie around it and cast trans women in the leads. The fact that he shot it on an iPhone is what got all the press, but it’s the subject matter that is most striking to me. So that film is great, but not that hidden a gem. It’s out there and has name. This film, made three years before Tangerine, is a true hidden gem. No one’s heard about this one. This film is about a young woman living in the Valley who lives with some roommates (and the film gradually reveals what she does, though you can guess really early on). One day, she buys an item from a yard sale of an older woman, and finds it stuffed with a bunch of money. Initially thinking of spending it on herself, she ends up trying to give it back to the woman and eventually befriends her. And it becomes this weird friendship. Like if Sean Baker were gonna remake Harold and Maude, but platonically. It’s a very low-key, but touching film. The film is more about the people than about the story, and it just casually reveals these details way after the point where you care about these people, and some of them are just heartbreaking. The end of this movie is really something. And it’s not — I can’t explain it unless you’ve seen it. It’s not a ‘big’ ending, and it doesn’t dwell on anything or really make any points, but the way it’s presented, it just destroys you, and really speaks to the power of Baker as a filmmaker. I can’t tell you enough great things about this film. So, if you haven’t seen Tangerine, start there, along with The Florida Project, but if you have seen either or both of those films, go for this one. It’s worthy of being included with those other two and truly is a wonderful piece of work.
A completely off-the-wall kinda movie that I loved almost instantaneously. The selling point is Michael Fassbender wearing the giant papier-mâché head throughout the film, but there’s so much more going on here. (Plus it’s the film Lenny Abrahamson made before Room, if that means anything to you.) It’s a film about friendship and mental illness, ultimately. Domhnall Gleeson plays an aspiring songwriter who ends up joining this experimental music group led by Frank (Fassbender in the head). And at first he’s just weirded out by the whole thing but eventually comes to love Frank and his weirdness. I can’t properly explain it except to say — there’s a real heart here. For some reason the one comparison I want to make is A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. You know how, in that movie, the journalist keeps trying to find some hidden dark side to Mr. Rogers but instead realizes the beauty in what he does and comes to love him? That’s the relationship here. Gleeson at first is just dead set on seeing him without the mask and figuring out what his deal is, but eventually he realizes he’s just this beautiful, unique human being. And while I know this film isn’t gonna be for everyone, some people are really gonna love this. The ending is just so touching, and I think it’ll resonate with a lot of people.
Ken Lonergan’s lost film. He made You Can Count on Me in 2000 and set out in 2005, I believe, to make this film, and that started this insane 6 or 7 year odyssey of getting this film made and put out. He shot it around 2005, but then so many lawsuits started flying back and forth over I think the cut of the movie that the film was in litigation until 2011, when a version was put out. That version I believe was an arbitrated cut, and not Lonergan’s preferred version of the film. And then it took until 2014 for all lawsuits to end and for him to get his Director’s Cut version out there. The regular cut I think is 2½ hours and the longer cut is 3 hours. Either way, it’s an incredible film. The shorter cut is almost like watching the version that’s out of Magnificent Ambersons and knowing there’s even more of a cut out there. But fortunately, with this one, we were eventually able to see that cut. It’s — first off, for those who don’t recognize the name Ken Lonergan, after this film, he made Manchester by the Sea. So yeah, that’s the guy — a movie about a high school student, played by Anna Paquin (who was still playing high school students in 2005), who goes about her life and one day, while flirting with Mark Ruffalo, a bus driver, distracts him and causes him to run over a woman crossing the street (Allison Janney in one absolutely powerhouse unforgettable scene). And the film is about the aftermath of this accident and what it does to all involved (even tangentially). It’s a meditation on grief and trauma (like Manchester by the Sea) is, and it’s absolutely wonderful. I hesitated putting this movie higher on the list, because as an objective piece of cinema, it’s absolutely incredible. But I’m also aware that this is an either 150 or 180-minute commitment (or, if you’re like me, both) and that like Manchester by the Sea, you can only take so much depressing tragedy in your life and it’s kind of an ask to willingly put yourself through it in the name of art. So here seems fine. I’m not gonna try to say you need to see this, because everyone’s their own person and has their own shit, but I will say this — this is one of the absolute best films of the 2010s, this is, when all is said and done, one of the 100 most essential films of the 2010s, and if you care about cinema as an art form and truly love watching movies, this is one of the films from the decade you need to have seen.
67. Side Effects
Steven Soderbergh, man. This was the one. This sort of changed everything about my perception of him, and came right at the moment where I think I was fully coming into my own as an objective movie watcher (since the 17-25 ages are where you develop your strong, subjective opinions) and also the one where, for a few years at least, was going to be his last film. Behind the Candelabra came out after this, but it came out on TV and I think may have been shot before? Either way, this was gonna be his final theatrical film until Logan Lucky came out (and started this most recent amazing run he’s been on). Before this, he was a filmmaker I liked, because he made films like Traffic and Erin Brockovich and the Ocean’s films, but I never quite understood his commitment to ‘weird’ little stuff like Bubble. I always was fine with those films. But with the run he had near this ‘end’ of Girlfriend Experience and Haywire and this, I sort of realized — “Oh, this guy can do anything. And he’s trying to do everything.” And that’s when it finally clicked for me just how amazing a filmmaker he is and how he’s never made a bad film.
This is a film — and I’m gonna say it again because I truly do not throw this phrase around lightly — it’s a Hitchcock kinda movie. That’s the film. I guess Hitchcockian is the phrase, because no one can do Hitchcock (as much as Brian De Palma would like to), you can only emulate Hitchcock. And that’s what this does. It’s a thriller about the opioid crisis, seemingly before that became a big national news story on the level it is now.
There’s also gonna be some spoilers in this entry, so if you’re squeamish about that, stop reading. But I have to sell the film somehow and it’s not like you gave a shit about it before this moment, so let’s not pretend like you’re doing anything other than being high and mighty for no reason.
Rooney Mara plays a housewife whose husband (Channing Tatum) is recently released from prison for insider trading. She’s filled with all sorts of anxiety and this manifests in a suicide attempt. So her doctor (Jude Law) prescribes antidepressants… which don’t work. So he contacts her previous psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who says he should prescribe this new experimental drug. Only that causes her to start sleepwalking. And then one night, while sleepwalking, she murders her husband. So now it becomes this twisted web of multiple doctors, the medication, did she know what she was doing — and it’s this twisty little thriller with all sorts of turns and reveals and cool stuff. It’s really amazing. It’s one of those movies that reminds you why you love movies so much. That was always the joy of Hitchcock as a filmmaker. He elevated what could be a throwaway genre into an art form and when you watched his stuff, you remembered why you love it all so much. And that’s kind of what this film does. While this does have something to say about pharmaceutical drugs and what they’re doing to people, it’s really just about enjoying a good old-fashioned movie and coming out the other side happy you did it. You can’t put a price on that.
66. The Final Girls
One of the great sub genres of this decade is the meta horror comedy. And this is one of the finer ones that’s come out. And I think what makes this work is that, at its core, it’s a story built on emotion rather than playfulness. It’s a mother-daughter story. Taissa Farmiga is the daughter of Malin Akerman, an actress known mainly for her roles in two Friday the 13th-style slasher films. In the opening scene of the film, we see the car crash that took Akerman’s life. So now, Farmiga, living with that grief and loss, is invited by friends to go see a midnight double feature of her mother’s most famous films. She agrees to go, and during the film, the theater catches fire and through movie magic Farmiga and her friends are transported into the film. So they show up inside the movie, where they can interact with all the characters and bad dialogue and tropes and all that. Oh yeah, and the killer is on the loose. So at first they’re there just watching the movie play out as it does on screen… but pretty soon the killer becomes aware that they’re also there and starts targeting them as well. And it’s got a lot of in-jokes about how slow the killer walks and bits where when things like slo-mo happen they experience them the way you would if that suddenly happened in life. But really it’s a film about this girl getting to see her mother again, even if it is in the context of this weird situation. And that’s what holds the film together and makes it such a great film to watch and something that, for me, holds up. It also features not one but two stripteases that are essential to the plot, the second of which is somehow also really emotional? I can’t explain it, but you somehow know a movie has to be good if you can say that about it.
This is Jeff Nichols, coming off Take Shelter and Mud and Midnight Story. He takes on a very important historical story, based on the Loving v. Virginia case that led to the legalization of interracial marriage in the U.S. But because it’s Jeff Nichols making it and not another filmmaker, it doesn’t follow all the tropes that those other biopics do. It’s this very low key movie about a couple in love, and the hardships they face. It’s Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, and it’s just this heartwarming story. For better or worse, this is not the film you’d expect it to be going in. If you’ve seen a Jeff Nichols for, you kinda know you’re not gonna get one of those other movies. But it’s really not that. The Supreme Court case is only the third act of the movie and it basically happens entirely off screen. It’s almost not even important because, while it is essential to their livelihoods and future, it’s almost so far removed from their daily life that the movie instead just sort of focuses on them doing their thing and then finding out over the phone, “Hey, we won.” And honestly, the way this film handles that big climactic moment of them winning — that’s everything you need to know about the film and Nichols as a filmmaker. It’s so quiet and so touching that one might mistake it for not doing enough or not handling it properly. Because you’re so trained by those other movies (most of which people hate because they’re too overly sappy and trying to wring emotion out of you) that when something goes the other way and understates it, you think, “Oh that was bad.” And I have to imagine that’s why no one really saw this movie. I’m sure there are other reasons for that too, but I don’t need to get into those here. But let me just say — this is an incredible film and should be seen by all because it is an account of a very important event (that should have happened way sooner, but I digress) and is beautifully rendered.
There was a trio of superhero films that came out all within a year of one another that dealt with the same topic — ordinary people trying to be superheroes. Kick-Ass was the first, and that took more of a comic, comic book kinda feel to it. It was heightened, even though the violence was real. But even then, it was sorta not real, if that makes sense. Then there was Defendor, which played up the mental illness aspect of it. Where clearly someone has to be not all there to think that they can stop crime by dressing up in an outfit. And no one knows that movie exists at all (but features an incredible Woody Harrelson performance), and it’s probably the weakest of the three but still one I’d recommend people check out. This one, though — this is my favorite of the three and is really the one that goes in directions I just could not have anticipated when I put it on. It’s James Gunn, and it’s the movie that turned him from guy who made weird horror comedies into the guy that makes Guardians of the Galaxy movies. This was his second film, and this is the one that got him Guardians. It’s a film that takes the aspects of those other ones — namely mental illness and violence — and shows them in a way that really amplifies both while also keeping it firmly rooted as a dark comedy.
Rainn Wilson plays an ordinary (though slightly off) guy who married Liv Tyler, his dream woman. She had a rough past, filled with drug abuse and things, and he met her right at that moment where she was changing her life over, and so they got married. But then suddenly, she leaves him. She leave him for Kevin Bacon (as you do), a local drug kingpin. So Wilson, after a mental breakdown that includes him seeing this crackpot religious video, decides to become a superhero, The Crimson Bolt. And his goal is ultimately to get his wife back and stop Bacon (who he considers as having kidnapped his wife), but also to go around stopping all the injustices of the world. But, because he’s just this regular dude with no powers, it basically is just him walking around, hitting people with wrenches and saying, “Shut up, crime!” So like, someone cut in line, he comes up and HITS THEM WITH A WRENCH. And in other movies, that’s just a thing that happens. Here, the person’s nose is broken, they’re bleeding profusely, there’s people screaming. The violence is real. And that’s how this movie plays it. Somehow it’s also funny, which is kinda fucked up, but it’s all part of the whole dark comedy aspect of it. Then there’s Ellen Page, as a comic book nerd who decides she wants to join in on the fun and becomes his sidekick. And — man, do things get fucked up from there. Let me just say this… the violence in this movie is sudden and graphic (as violence should be. It gets laughs, but it also shows you what true violence is in real life) and — this is a bit of a spoiler but I can’t not mention it — it’s the only film I’ve ever seen that has a female-on-male superhero rape scene (I specified gender because technically there’s a rape scene in Watchmen). So there’s that too. I just enjoy the hell out of this movie and love that it’s this weird, dark little oddity that most people don’t want to acknowledge because it’s so offbeat and fucked up.
63. Morris from America
Love this movie. Love it so much. A coming-of-age story about a black American boy growing up with a single father in Berlin. So he’s attending school, learning German and coming into his own as he tries to eventually become a rapper one day. But really it’s just about a kid in high school coming into his own. There’s a lot of the relationship with his father, a lot of him trying to date this cute German girl — it’s all the usual stuff. But because there’s such a unique angle to it, the whole thing feels really fresh. Plus, Craig Robinson is just so, so good in this as his father. If I can stress two things about this movie, one is that it’s amazing and needs to be seen, and two is that Craig Robinson delivers the performance of his career in this movie. A true indie that was destined to never find its proper audience, it’s one of my favorite films of the decade and really deserves to be seen.
I was all in on this movie from its trailer. It’s one of those movies you don’t know exists until right before it’s coming out. And I was aware of the Christine Chubbuck story before I saw the film. I’m not sure if it’s a spoiler to say it or not, since the film seems to want to play it as if you don’t know the ending, even though the ending is kinda what makes the film the film. It’s almost like making Titanic and trying not to let on that the boat sinks. It’s public knowledge, even if this story isn’t necessarily as out there as others. But, Chubbuck was a news anchor who killed herself live on the air in the 70s. So the film is about her and her life leading up to that moment. And oh my god, is it incredible. I remember going to see this in a theater, knowing no one else was gonna go see it. And I think I was either alone in the theater or there were like two other people in it total. And I was just in awe the entire time. Because Rebecca Hall delivers the performance of the year in this film. That year, the best performance given by an actor was by her in this movie. Full stop. And also the film is told in this 70s-style way, where the only thing missing was that grainy film stock they had back then. You watch this woman, and her general look and demeanor tells you that something’s off, and there’s clearly some undiagnosed mental illness there. And you watch her try so hard to get somewhere and make something of herself, and you also see all these little flaws that are gonna lead to what ultimately happens, as well as some real issues that are there and are either being ignored by others or exacerbated by them. And it’s this really amazing character study anchored solely by Hall’s performance. I know this isn’t gonna be a film for everyone, but I love it a lot and think that it’s really worth the watch. See it for Hall’s performance and then maybe you’ll come out loving it as a film the way I do.
61. You Were Never Really Here
It’s weird how people know about this film but also it still feels under-appreciated and under-discussed in the film community at large. And I think that it’s because it’s a small film about difficult subject matter that most people don’t know what to do with, even if we’re all generally in agreement that it’s great. It’s like Lynne Ramsey’s previous film, We Need to Talk About Kevin, which, now that I think about it, probably should also have made this list. It’s another great film about difficult subject matter anchored by powerful direction and a great central performance. So go see that one as well. This film, though, is based on a novella, and it feels like in different hands, this film would have been a generic crime thriller. Because you can see all the turns this film could have taken as it doesn’t take them. Joaquin Phoenix plays this vigilante who goes around rescuing girls who have been kidnapped by human traffickers. And he’s just this low key guy who lives in an unassuming house with his elderly mother and then goes out with a small bag of pliers and brass knuckles and things and fucks dudes up as he gets these girls back. And then of course there’s one job that doesn’t go well, and things start to unravel, because he touched upon a bigger coverup… you know how these movies usually go. But you also, as you watch this movie, realize it’s not gonna go like that. It doesn’t go in for those big dramatic action scenes. Here, one of the main action sequences, of Joaquin going into a house and fucking up a bunch of dudes with a hammer, is shown through security footage. And a lot of it happens just off-screen or on the fringes, so rather than the immediacy of the violence, it’s always kept at arms’ length. One major sequence in the film happens entirely off-screen and we never even see it. The highlight of the film is a kitchen fight between Joaquin and another dude, and it’s just really close quarters and brutal and utterly realistic. It’s an incredible piece of direction from Lynne Ramsey, and it’s one of those films that is no doubt elevated by her handling of it, even though her handling of it is one of the things that kept this film from finding its proper audience. But it’s one of the better films of the decade and should be seen, difficult as the subject matter may be.
A lot of this list is just me trying to get people to veer out of their lane a little bit. There are 200 movies on this list. And I’m aware that most people aren’t gonna watch most of these movies. My job isn’t to get you to watch all of them. My job is to get you to watch the right ones. I’m trying to do my best to sell these to you, when in reality, it really just comes down to you. At a certain point, you have to go watch something you wouldn’t normally watch. And that goes to the people who only watch superhero movies and superficial action stuff as well as the people who only watch experimental foreign films about a monk with a vow of silence trying to hold in a fart for two hours. Not everything is gonna appeal to you, but there’s really some wonderful stuff out there if you’ll just give it the time of day and give it a shot.
I don’t know why I chose this article to make that plea, but I’m kinda just writing this all off the top of my head as I go (in case that wasn’t, and isn’t always, painfully obvious with me), so this is when it ended up being said. It’s like when a show does something really huge and tone shifting for its overall arc in episode 6 of season 2, even though you expect the big stuff to happen in either episode 1, 9 or 10 to bookmark the season. That’s just how it happened. Now this will just be here and there probably won’t be anything at the very top of the list. So congrats to everyone reading this. This is my ‘randomly putting a gay sex scene in the middle of Good Will Hunting just to check to see if you’re even reading it’ moment.
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