Mike’s Top Hidden Gems of the Decade (60-51)

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.

60. The Perfection

One of my favorite hidden gems of the decade. This came out quietly on Netflix, didn’t make much of a splash at all, and all I really knew about it was that image they put on the screen for the film, which was clearly playing off Get Out, with a sinister-looking Alison Williams. So I expected one thing out of it, but that didn’t even tell half the story of this film. There’s so much more going on here that I just wasn’t prepared for. And I was telling people at the time — there’s about 20 minutes of this movie that is among the most tense and thrilling I’ve ever seen. It’s a very twisty movie, some might say too twisty for its own good, others will say, “Fuck it, bring it on.” It’s directed by Richard Shepherd, who is no stranger to hidden gems, with The Matador, The Hunting Party and Dom Hemingway. It’s about a child prodigy cellist who is forced to leave her prestigious training school when her mother gets sick. And now, ten years later, her mother has died, and she comes to watch one of the shows of the student who took her place. And that’s really all you need to get into the story. Because it’s gonna go so many places, it’s better if you just go along with it. Trust me when I say it’s awesome. You don’t know what you’re in for, it’s going to defy your expectations, and that’s a good thing. It’s Netflix. So it’s an easy ask. Just watch it. I promise you will at the very least be surprised by it.

59. Out of the Furnace

Scott Cooper’s second film, and followup to Crazy Heart. He seems to have this one-on, one-off deal where one of his films is very much known (Crazy Heart, Black Mass) and the followup very much isn’t (this, Hostiles). But he’s never not made a really good film, the only difference is that two of them just are unknown for whatever reason. Both the ones with Christian Bale, weirdly enough. I can’t explain it. But anyway, this is great. It’s a story of two brothers, Bale and Casey Affleck. Affleck is a war vet with PTSD who keeps getting himself into trouble, which Bale has to keep bailing him out of. Bale is a steel worker, in a steady relationship with Zoe Saldana, and his life is basically all set… until one night when he has to get Affleck out of another scrape and while driving home a bit drunk, hits another car and kills a guy. So he ends up in prison for a spell. And now when he’s out, that life is basically over and now Affleck is in deep shit with some bad people. It’s an intense drama/thriller with incredible performances. Both Bale and Affleck are amazing, Saldana is great in limited screen time (I’ve said many times on this site that the scene with Bale and Saldana when he gets out of prison and comes to see her is the best-acted scene of its year), Woody Harrelson is great as an absolute psychopath, Willem Dafoe is great and Sam Shepard is great. I don’t understand what led to this movie being so discarded and unwatched, but I’m doing my best to try to change that, because it’s really, really good.

58. You’re Next

An incredible horror movie that I first heard about because of its great marketing campaign, where they embedded the unsettling images of the killers in animal masks in other film posters of the movies being released around the same time by the same studio. It debuted in 2011 at Toronto and was only put into theaters in 2013, but still it’s gotten one hell of a cult following just because it’s so damn good. It starts with the standard ‘randos getting murdered’ scene you know from the genre, but then for the rest of the first act it turns into an indie drama. A family gets together at their lake house and all the little petty grievances and things start coming out. Who hates who’s wife, who feels they got short-changed out of the will, all that stuff. And just when you settle into that and the arguing hits a boiling point, boom. Murder. Just people come in, The Strangers style, and start killing everyone. But then it takes a turn. One of the victims decides, “I’m not dying,” and then starts killing back. And it’s awesome. It’s really awesome and a lot of fun. It definitely is one of the best horror movies of the decade and was a very promising start to Adam Wingard’s career, which he further expounded upon with this next film.

57. The Guest

So if You’re Next was a subversion of the slasher genre, this is a subversion of the suburban thriller. The movie starts with a setup you’ve seen before — soldier comes to a family’s door. “I served with your son. I was there when he died. I promised him I’d come see you.” And then they talk, and he’s gonna leave, but they demand he stay with them, and pretty soon he’s living with them and has ingratiated himself into their lives and things seem perfectly fine… except then some weird things start happening. The kid who bullied one of the kids at school had an accident. The boss who refused the father a promotion mysteriously killed himself. And so on and so forth. And you just know where it’s going and what’s going on. And that’s the beauty of the film. You know where it’s going. Which allows it to, once it goes there. Go somewhere else. And somewhere else. And somewhere else. And by the time you get to the third act, things have gone so insane that you don’t know how you got there and you don’t care, because it’s so much goddamn fun. The third act of this movie is amazing, all the way down to the final line and the final shot. It’s incredible and is one of those movies that you wish was something people flocked to in theaters because it’s best seen around a group of people who are all screaming and laughing together in one place. It’s that kind of fun, and is one of my favorite horror/thrillers of the decade. Both You’re Next and this should be seen, but for what it’s worth, I think this one is way more fun than that is.

56. Freaks

I remember watching this movie on a whim. I had a copy from late 2018 and wasn’t even sure I wanted to watch it. Then I closed the book on 2018 and was about to move over to 2019 stuff when I saw this was just sitting there. I had no idea what it was but figured, “Well, I saw Emile Hirsch and Bruce Dern as I quickly looked at it, so it must be something legit.” So I put it on as one of those things where, “I’ll start it, and if it seems interesting I’ll keep going. Otherwise I’ll stop and no harm no foul.” And so I put it on in the background as I was doing other stuff. And of course within five minutes, I stopped doing whatever I was doing and was focusing on the movie, and by fifteen minutes, the movie was the only thing I was paying attention to. From something that I wasn’t even sure I was gonna commit to, to something that ultimately was my favorite film of 2019 for a large chunk of the year, and remains one of my 20 favorite films from it even now, this is one of those hidden gems I have (and will be) constantly talking up to people because I think it’s absolutely brilliant. There’s gonna be another one of these in a little bit that I think the same of. But, the film is just this unassuming little sci fi movie that got quickly pushed into theaters and eventually went VOD and no one saw it because 1) they didn’t know how to sell it properly and 2) it’s hard to explain the film without giving too much away, and 3) it changes so much it’s just one of those where you have to listen to someone you trust and just put it on and go along for the ride.

Here’s the setup: Emile Hirsch and a 7 year old girl are alone and living in a house that’s falling apart. She’s never been outside and is being told that outside is dangerous. She, seeing children outside playing and an ice cream truck outside, desperately wants to go out. And through this whole section, we’re not sure — if he’s really her father, if there’s some sort of kidnapping situation going on, if this is a sci-fi/Cloverfield type situation, any of it. You’re sort of piecing it all together based on little clues of what’s happening and what you see in the margins of the frame. And the beauty of the film is, all these little clues and things that happen pay off later on. Every little thing they show you matter and builds into this larger story that somehow feels major in scope even though it’s not that big and not a lot of money was put into it. It’s really well done. By the time, about 15 minutes in, when she does end up leaving the house… you have no idea where it’s going, because the movie set up one set of expectations (as in, what she was told would happen if she went outside vs. what you, the non-believing filmgoer, thinks could be the case if that’s a lie) and then goes in directions you couldn’t even fathom at the start, and then just keeps building and getting more interesting and eventually becomes this insanely smart and well-crafted thriller.

This is the epitome of a hidden gem to me. I almost deliberately kept it to this point in the list because I feel like a true hidden gem — a real true hidden gem — shouldn’t be spoon fed to you. That even if you are being told it’s a hidden gem and to see it, some work should have to be done, just to maintain that sense of discovery and the “look what I found” of it all. So it’s randomly in this article and not the first or the second. Still, I adore this film and wish more people would see it.

55. Never Goin’ Back

II fell in love with this movie from the trailer. It just had a vibe and a humor and an attitude to it that I knew would be right up my alley. It’s a film that just feels like that kind of movie you don’t necessarily think you’re gonna love but do. It’s a hangout movie. My way of describing it is “Inside Llewyn Davis in high school.” You know how Llewyn Davis is a cyclical movie? It’s this one week in the life of the character, but you get the sense that this is what all the weeks in his life are like? That’s what this movie is. Two high school dropouts working as waitresses and living in a house in the middle of Texas with dudes desperately want to get away and go to the beach (which they’ve never been to, because they’re in the middle of Texas). So they’re trying to work extra shifts and save up their money just to get away for a few days and go to the beach. And of course in doing so, all this shit happens and their plans keep getting thwarted and it becomes this fun, sort of crazyish adventure that you just get the sense is how every week for them goes. It’s a lot of fun. This is one of those movies I think most people will like just because the character is such that you can’t help but be charmed by it. It’s not so much the plot of the movie as much as it is the tone and feel of the whole thing. It wins you over pretty quickly. And I think it’s just one of those that desperately deserves an audience just for people to realize that it is one of the better movies of the decade.

54. Spring

Ah yes, this movie. Before Sunrise with Sea Monsters. I think I saw it because I saw Guillermo Del Toro shouting it out when it was gonna be released after having played a bunch of festivals. It’s almost impossible to explain, and the kind of film that you have to spoil a little bit just to get people to see it. Because clearly the other way hasn’t worked. It starts as a regular indie movie that you’ve seen before — guy’s mother dies, and in his grief/after the funeral, he just decides, “Fuck it.” He gets on a plane and travels to Italy on a whim. And then he starts bouncing around, getting odd jobs and just doing that with his life. He meets some other Americans traveling abroad and is gonna go travel with them… until he meets this beautiful woman at a bar one day. He meets her and starts flirting with her, and she completely shuts him down, but he sees this glimmer of hope there that makes him think, “Maybe.” So he makes his choice not to go with the guys and stay around just to try to win her over. And he keeps at it. Little by little he starts working to break down her icy veneer. And it becomes this sweet little romantic comedy. Only, you find out little by little why she’s so cold toward people. And it’s because, every so often, at night, she turns into various primordial creatures. Kinda like being a werewolf, but it changes. And so she randomly turns into these things and hunts men down and murders them. And that’s how she ends up turning back to human. (And yes, of course, this can also be seen as a metaphor for commitment issues, which is partially why I love this movie so much.) So the movie becomes this sweet rom com as she starts to actually fall for him, only with the looming threat of, “What happens when he finds out about this condition?” It’s not straight horror, but there are, of course, those elements to it, and ultimately it’s a romance. And it’s quite beautiful. And I think if more people saw it and didn’t pay attention to what it seems or sounds like, they’d be charmed by it too. I am, of course, a big fan of these high concept horror movies where the main supernatural element can be viewed as a metaphor for something else. And at this point I feel like I could make a list of about ten of them from this decade that are amazing and are all worth seeing. I think people need to give this one a shot. There’s something here.

53. Patti Cake$

One of those completely feel-good movies that somehow never quite landed. Searchlight paid so much money for this out of Sundance, and they set it up for that late summer date that worked for things like The Help. And then… nothing. And I don’t know why. Because it’s charming as hell. It’s about a girl growing up in Jersey who wants to be a rapper. But she’s white, and doesn’t fit the traditional body type of what one might consider a music star. Plus, she’s no one, ultimately. She lives with her mother and grandmother. Her mother was a singer in the 80s and released one album but now owns a cop bar and sings karaoke there. So she, having been through a version of this, doesn’t like that her daughter wants to do this and doesn’t understand the music. The girl, of course, is determined to do this, and it’s about her, her friend and this other outcast they pick up along the way coming together to put some songs together for a demo tape in the hopes of being noticed. And that’s the film. Misfits coming together to make something. There are dozens of movies like this out there, and they’re almost always charming. This one has so much going for it. Amazing performances by Danielle Macdonald and Bridgett Everett and some incredible songs. I promise you that after you watch this movie, you will have at least one of the songs stuck in your head afterward. They’re really catchy and really entertaining. And this is the kind of movie that can’t help but put a smile on your face. It’s just really charming and worth your time.

52. In the Shadow of the Moon

Like Freaks, this is another really high concept kinda movie that is well worth your time and the kind of movie that really surprises you in the direction it takes. It’s a Netflix movie, so YOU CAN SEE THIS EASILY. I know a lot of people are always like, “Oh that sounds interesting… oh, what, it’s not readily available at a moment’s notice without me paying $7? Oh, fuck it.” And then they drop it and forget about it. This is Netflix. It’s always gonna be there streaming. And the title makes it sound like it’s gonna be some sort of space movie. Which it’s not. And maybe that’s why more people don’t know anything about this. It starts as a police procedural. Young cop (Boyd Holbrook) with a pregnant wife due any minute goes out on his nightly patrol (Training Day style) with his partner (Bokeem Woodbine). What starts as a regular boring night turns interesting when, suddenly around town, multiple people all die very suddenly of the same mysterious ailment. And there’s one suspect going around town who seems to be the culprit. But the question then becomes — how could this person kill all of these people in different locations at the same time? So the cop (who is ambitious) sets out to track this person down and make the collar. And it becomes this whole long chase that takes up the entire first act. And then it resolves itself and the threat is over and we move on. Cut to 12 years later. It’s the anniversary of the night. And now… it happens again. And there’s no tangible explanation as to why or how this can be happening again. But it is. And so the cop has to do it all again while also trying to figure out how this is even possible. And it becomes this incredible film that’s about one guy’s obsession with this one event that has ultimately shaped his life, and this constantly unfolding (clearly sci fi, but the extent of which doesn’t become known until later on in the film and gradually reveals itself in very surprising and delightful ways) larger plot of sorts that even the audience can’t quite figure out. It’s a really smart film and a really tense and well-made piece of work. I put this on with no expectation (hadn’t even watched a trailer or read a synopsis) other than the fact that it probably has something to do with space travel. It’s not, and it’s so much better than that. This is truly one of the best Netflix movies that’s been put out and I can’t say enough to you about how great this is and how much you should watch it.

51. The Edge of Seventeen

The best teen rom com/coming of age movie of this decade. There’s no discussion to be had. This is the best. I saw the trailer for this movie, and it’s like three-and-a-half minutes long. It’s an insanely long trailer and basically spells out the entire plot. But somehow, that completely sells you on the movie and isn’t even half of the amazing stuff that’s in it. If this movie came out a decade ago, it would have been Juno. It would have popped huge. And somehow, this decade, no one cared. It got some notice, but ultimately got forgotten about pretty quickly. It’s insanely smart, insanely well-written with incredible dialogue (and you don’t realize how mediocre most film dialogue is until you get a film like this) and an electric lead performance from Hailee Steinfeld, who continues to remind us all how great an actress she is and what great presence she has on screen. It’s about a high school student who is kind of an outcast and feels awkward and different (as a lot of teen girls do), mostly because she lives in the shadow of her star athlete/popular older brother, but doesn’t mind it so much because she has her best friend (the pretty, popular girl who would rather hang out with her than do all the popular kid stuff). But everything goes sideways when her best friend starts dating her brother. And then her life just implodes. It’s so good. It’s so funny and, again, so well-written, and also has an incredible supporting performance by Woody Harrelson as the sarcastic teacher who is her confidant and mentor (you know the exact kind of role he’s playing, but the film makes it feel different and fresh in a wonderful way). This is a movie built on a well-worn genre, but one that makes it feel vital and very much perfect for its age. It takes the trope and fits it like a glove to what a child of this era would be going through. It’s, in its own way, a perfect movie. And anyone who has any interest in this genre (which should literally be 95-99% of all people who like watching movies) needs to see this movie immediately if you haven’t, because it’s wonderful.

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