Mike’s Top Hidden Gems of the Decade (50-41)
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.
50. Ready or Not
Pretty much from here on out, I’d say the majority of the films are ones where the overall quality/my love of them generally outweighs the ‘hidden’ aspect. They all have some degree of visibility, so it’s not really about me helping people ‘discover’ them so much as it’s about just boosting their visibility for the moment, just in case there are people who haven’t seen them. It’s not a gold strike so much as it’s a jewelry store. The gold’s there, you just gotta walk inside and pick something. Still, I think we can agree that for most of these, it’s worth just making sure people go out and see them if they haven’t.
This is one of the best horror movies of the past decade, and it’s one of those fun, subversive horror comedies. With a genius concept, too. Woman married into a rich a family built on a board game empire. On her wedding night her husband says it’s tradition to play a game with the family at midnight. 90% of these games are harmless. They play them and they move on and it seems dumb but okay. One of them, Hide and Seek, is not. Because that means the bride has to hide, and the rest of the family is gonna hunt her down with weapons and kill her if they catch her. This is because the family believes that the patriarch of the family achieved his fame through a deal with the devil, or some evil spirit, who dictated this is what they do or else risk being killed by an evil curse. That old story. So now you’ve got this movie where an unsuspecting bride is being hunted down by her in-laws, and is just trying not to die. It’s hilarious and fun as hell. And further shows just how awesome and badass Samara Weaving is. Every time I go back and see this movie I enjoy it more, and I can’t imagine anyone who sees this isn’t gonna enjoy it.
49. The Florida Project
We did a big Sean Baker entry a little further back with Starlet and mentioning Tangerine. This is the big one for him. Tangerine is sort of the ‘prototype’ film, but this is his best film. It’s just beautiful. And when I saw this I thought this was gonna get all sorts of awards attention, but it didn’t. Because no one bothered to watch it. And I can only imagine that has become further the case with the public at large, because how could this be an easy sell to a random movie watcher? It’s about a young girl who lives with her single mother in a motel about a mile outside Disney World. And it’s a slice of life kinda movie. You just follow her and her friends around as they get into trouble over the course of the summer, as well as Willem Dafoe, the motel super. There’s really not so much of a plot so much as it’s creating the lives of these people and letting you live with them for a while. And it’s incredible. It’s so sweet and so touching. I say this every time I bring it up, but when I saw this, at a screening with a lot of older industry people who I assumed wouldn’t get it or wouldn’t care about it, when we got to the very end of the film, an older white gentleman who was at minimum 75 said, “Oh wow.” And for me, knowing that segment of Hollywood people, for him to say that was a big eye opener for me. Because most people in that segment don’t like stuff like this. So for him (and a lot of others in that audience) to react the way they did to it shows me that there is something magical to this movie and it will have an effect of most people who see it.
48. Steve Jobs
I can’t believe this movie is as forgotten as it is. It’s Aaron Sorkin. Which — let’s not forget what scripts Aaron Sorkin has his name on this decade — The Social Network, Moneyball, Steve Jobs, Molly’s Game. Moneyball he shares with Steve Zaillian, but the other three are all him. And somehow this is the one that no one saw or cares about. I couldn’t believe how, even at the time, this got ignored. Michael Fassbender is incredible here, as is the rest of the cast — Kate Winslet, Katherine Waterston, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Seth Rogen. And Danny Boyle directs the hell out of it, taking three one-act plays, essentially, and filming them as if to evoke the change in technology over that time. He shoots the first section, which is before the Mac launch of 1984, in 16mm. He shoots the second section, in 1988, in 35mm. And he shoots the final section, in 1998 with the iMac launch, in digital. And it’s a subtle way of underscoring just how much this man helped further computer technology in his lifetime. But really, we should all know by now that the real star of any movie with an Aaron Sorkin script is the Aaron Sorkin script. There’s not a bad one there. It’s always great and always incredibly well-written. And it’s just unfathomable to me that this isn’t as widely out there as his other films. Even Molly’s Game (which may or may not also appear on this list, I truly can’t remember what the hell I picked) feels like it has a higher profile than this. It’s Aaron Sorkin. People should be watching his movies like they would a Scorsese or Tarantino. They’re event cinema. Treat them as such and go see them, people.
47. Roman J. Israel, Esq.
This movie became a punchline because of the title. But honestly, the fact that people make fun of the title means they remember the title. It was gonna be called “Inner City” I think, for a time, and if it were called that, you’d assume it was just another throwaway Denzel action movie and assume you knew what it was all about. This is a noir. If you shot this in 1956 in black and white, this would be a noir. And I think that, mixed with the fact that he plays a lawyer on the spectrum and the fact that Dan Gilroy’s previous film was Nightcrawler and audiences stupidly expect the same thing every time, led to no one bothering to see this. But it’s great. It’s exactly the followup to Nightcrawler I’d expect just because it’s the same kind of thing — an elevated B movie. Denzel plays a brilliant lawyer who is on the spectrum so therefore is not someone who can be put into court. He’s been working for the same Civil Rights lawyer for 40 years, making the same meager salary every week. He has a brilliant memory and cares very much for social causes. When his mentor dies, he ends up being courted by Colin Farrell, one of his mentor’s other proteges, who has went on to work at a high-priced firm with big fees — you get the idea. He of course, hates the idea, but nevertheless ends up going to work there. Of course, he’s not the best fit at the firm and things are rocky. And the film is about his morals slowly eroding in this new, cynical world, while also making a decision that could get him in a lot of trouble with local gang members when he illegally uses attorney-client information to collect a bounty on a wanted murderer. It’s a really interesting film. Mainly a character piece focused on Denzel and his performance (which is terrific), but what I like most about it is the fact that it’s very much of that noir style — take away all the bells and whistles and it is a simple morality play. I think there’s a lot here to like, and I think it’s worth seeing just because there are so many positive things to take away from it, even if someone might not necessarily like the film as a whole.
46. Logan Lucky
I was so thrilled when Steven Soderbergh came out of retirement. And then he came back with a heist movie in the vein of his Ocean’s films, but set in the south and about a NASCAR heist (so… as the film calls it, “Ocean’s 7-11”). And the cast was great, the tone looked amazing. I ran to a theater to see this. And then… no one else did. And I can’t understand why. Because this is one of the most rewatchable movies of this decade and gets better every time I go back and watch it. I don’t even know how to sell this because it should already be apparent why you should see it. This is a hidden gem hiding in plain sight and one of those movies I would guarantee that most people will enjoy.
It’s been almost a decade and they made a TV show out of this movie and people still don’t even know it exists. Joe Wright had made Pride and Prejudice and Atonement and then jumped into The Soloist, which didn’t really work. He came back with this, which I’m sure the people who were super into his first two films didn’t like or understand, because how dare someone try new genres. But this is a somewhat down and dirty action film with a lot of great themes and emotional resonance. There’s real human drama here and it’s not just mindless ‘beating the shit out of people’ action, even though there are some great sequences in it. It’s about a girl raised in the forest by her father (ex-CIA or equivalent). All she’s known is to fight and fend for herself, training for the day when she would be sent back into the world… to kill this one woman. And so it’s sort of that film of the sheltered kid who wants to go see the world, only with this whole spy/murder/conspiracy plot on top of it. So you get these two interesting channels that work pretty well together. There are a lot of scenes of this girl being put into society and not understanding anything about it as well as some badass action scenes. And you get information along the way as to why this is all happening and all that as well. But it’s just a wonderful film and is still something I consider one of the ten best films of its year and a film that more people should see just because it’s a great movie from a great director. Why would anyone skip one of those?
44. Dark Waters
This was a hidden gem the moment it came out. No one knew about it, no one heard about it, it just immediately sank to the middle of the pile, making it impossible for people to find it without help. Even weirder? It’s a TODD HAYNES MOVIE. Todd Haynes, Velvet Goldmine, Far form Heaven, I’m Not There, Carol — THAT Todd Haynes. It’s a real ‘traditional’ kinda movie for him, but it also means his directorial expertise (not having ever made a truly bad movie) goes into this and maybe even gets people who look at his filmography to go check it out. It’s a straight trial film. Corporate lawyer who usually defends high-powered companies gets information from a local farmer that says DuPont is and has been knowingly poisoning the local water supply, which has caused all his animals to start dying and all the local population to develop various forms of cancer. So we watch him slowly start to become invested in the case, to the point where it becomes his life’s work. You watch this basic David vs. Goliath story as you uncover that this company knowingly, through its creation of Teflon, created this synthetic that causes cancer and even killed THE PEOPLE WORKING IN THE FACTORY ON IT and just casually ignored it and sent it out to the American public because profit was greater than human life. It’s a great movie. Low key and about a social issue. It’s designed to make you upset. That’s its goal. That’s how these movies work. And as you know, trial movies are never not interesting. And you have Mark Ruffalo and Anne Hathaway and Bill Camp and Tim Robbins. Terrific cast, great director, really good movie, and no one knows it exists. Which is insane. Do yourself a favor and see this one, if only to see how brazenly fucked up what this company did is.
43. Son of Saul
One of the most intense film experiences I had this decade. It’s a Holocaust film set in a concentration camp, which automatically makes it a horrific movie to try to watch, but the way they shoot it arguably makes it more harrowing. The film is shot, just as that image above shows, tight on its main actor’s (Geza Rohrig’s) face the entire time. So all the horrible shit you know about (gassing people in the showers, etc) all happens just outside the edges of the frame. HE sees it all, but we don’t. Which makes it even worse, because you’re bouncing it off this face of his, which is just devoid of real outward emotion, just because he’s sort of numb to it all. It’s a real intense experience, and one of the best foreign films of the decade and possibly even ever. I know it’s a tough ask to willingly put on a Holocaust movie that’s gonna put you through the emotional ringer for two hours, but trust me when I say this is one of the absolute best movies out there and demands to be seen by anyone who loves film.
42. The Ghost Writer
Roman Polanski has always been a variable filmmaker for me. Some of his films are masterpieces, others I just don’t care for. And in the past 20 years or so, his movies have been much more variable than they had previously. He made an Oliver Twist movie in 2005. Does anyone even remember that? That’s the mixed bag of him as a filmmaker. This film, though, is his best movie in a long time. It’s so good. It’s a taut, tense thriller based on a paperback novel, the kind that you’d find on a spinning rack at an airport bookstore. It’s designed for you to eat it up like junk food. And those always make the best movies. It stars Ewan McGregor as a writer who is hired to ghost write the memoirs of a recent British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan, clearly based on Tony Blair). The previous ghost writer died, and he’s meant to take over and finish the book. So now he goes into this situation, and the whole thing is really weird and murky and he starts getting into some shit where he doesn’t know who to trust. Is Brosnan lying? Did the previous ghost writer really drown by accident? What’s going on? And it’s just this great thrill ride of a mystery all the way down to its final shot. Which is a real doozie. One of the best final shots of the decade, for sure. It’s a really powerful film that most people would really enjoy. And I don’t think a lot of people either know about this or, if they do, ever saw it. This is one of those where you see it and go, “Oh yeah, I heard that was good.” But you never actually watched it. And you should. Because it’s great.
41. The Adjustment Bureau
Another film I consider basically a top ten film for its year. It’s always hanging around #10, #11, depending on how I feel each time I look at the list. It’s right there. It’s a wonderful romance/sci fi based on Philip K. Dick. It’s Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. He’s a politician running for office and she’s a woman he meets by accident the night he loses an election. And sparks fly and there’s instant chemistry. Only he never sees her again. Until one random day when he does happen to see her, which we find out… wasn’t supposed to happen. Because, as it turns out, there’s this mysterious group of ‘men in black’ who operate within the shadows making sure things go ‘according to plan’. You can read divinity into this if you want, it’s clearly hinting at it. And after Damon accidentally sees behind the curtain, they straight up level with him — you have a plan. You’re gonna do great things. But you have to never see her again. And he’s like, “I don’t understand. Why? Maybe the plan is wrong.” So it’s basically the romantic narrative — couple meet, fall in love, there are obstacles to them being together and they try to overcome them. And it’s a really brilliant film. They juggle the sci fi and romantic stuff really well, and it’s just this really sweet ‘love conquers all’ kinda message on top of this really thrilling and smartly crafted sci fi movie. One of my favorites of the decade, and at worst this is something no one saw. At best, maybe you’ve heard of it or maybe you saw it and just forgot it even existed. Either way, this is me telling you to go and revisit this one, because it’s way better than you think/remember.
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