Mike’s Top Hidden Gems of the Decade (40-31)
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.
40. First Man
I’m truly shocked that this never found an audience. Or, at least, hasn’t, because it’s relatively recent. It’s Damien Chazelle, coming off La La Land and Whipash, making a movie with Ryan Gosling about Neil Armstrong. How could this have no profile? The most I saw people talking about it was about some insane CGI flag or some shit, which was insane and I’m glad I don’t even know what that was about. But after that, no one talked about the movie or even seemed to care about it. But it’s really good. More straightforward than Chazelle’s last two films were. And by that I mean — more of a classical Hollywood studio picture. It’s not your standard biopic, though, since it does really interesting things with how it’s shot and the sound design, focusing a lot on Gosling’s acting and his face rather than doing the typical ‘big moments’ sort of movie. It’s really incredible and is one of the few space movies that really shows you the kind of balls it takes to go up into space. You don’t really feel just how slim the margins are when someone goes up there in the other movies. Here, you feel every second of it. The big metal tin that’s loud and rickety that could fall apart at any moment. You feel all of that in this movie. It’s really wonderfully done. And it uses the Moon Landing, an ending we all know is coming, as this big, emotionally cathartic moment, which is tough to pull off when you know it’s gonna happen. I really love this movie a lot and wish more people would see it so they’ll realize the same.
39. The Big Sick
This made some money and I think is widely known enough that it’s not the most hidden of gems on this list. But it’s still not known by a fair amount of people, so I’m not taking any chances here. This is a wonderful film based on actual events by the film’s cowriters Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. He’s Pakistani, she’s white, they date, even though his family wouldn’t approve. They break up, but soon after she goes into the hospital and ends up in a medically induced coma. He calls her parents and sticks around, and the film is about his time at the hospital during this whole episode. And it’s wonderful. It’s funny, it’s heartfelt, it’s got some nice drama to it — it’s one of the better written films of the decade and it’s hard not to fall in love with it. It’s truly wonderful. I’m sure you know about it, but just in case you haven’t and just in case you aren’t sure if the people you know haven’t seen this, reminder that you should make sure and get others to see it, because to not see it is to deprive yourself of one of the great cinematic joys of the 2010s.
38. Blue Valentine
An O.G. 2010s hidden gem. I can only imagine where this movie would be if it didn’t get those handful of small nominations it got at the time. Because so many other films took the blueprint of this one and did it with better budgets and more of a higher profile since then, which makes this look quaint. It’s like when people watch Jerry Maguire now and think, “That’s kinda corny.” That’s because it invented the corny. All the corny you’ve seen since is because of that movie. That’s what this is like. Largely improvised, largely built on Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams acting together — it’s just a wonderful film about the beginnings and ends of a relationship. It’s 500 Days of Summer without dancing. It’s straight indie drama. And the film cuts between both sides of the relationship, giving you a complete picture of it and these people and how they grow and change and how their relationship grows and changes. It’s wonderful. Maybe you’ve seen it, maybe you haven’t. But it’s one of the best (and in some ways, most important) films of the decade, and does deserve a watch if you love movies.
37. Motherless Brooklyn
Very recent, very much a movie that was judged by its cover and never properly given a chance. It’s Edward Norton’s second directorial effort, after Keeping the Faith back in 2000 (which is an amazing movie and also one of the top hidden gems of its decade). Everyone harped on the fact that he plays a detective with Tourette’s, and it was so easy to make fun of the disability and pile onto the movie for that. I suspect some people never bothered to watch it because reviews were positive but mixed enough to not sway the people on the fence and because they figured the Tourette’s thing would be too annoying for them to handle. But honestly, you forget it within six minutes. It’s really well-handled. It’s present, but it’s a function of the character and Norton really makes it work without making it distracting. And otherwise, it’s a really nice period detective story that has some wonderful elements to it, as well as a nice relatively-unknown history lesson of how New York was built, kinda like how Chinatown is a history lesson in how LA was built. This one’s a bit more straightforward in it, but the point is still there — it has something to say, which is a nice addition to the detective story. I think it’s worth seeing, and I think (or at least I hope, since we’re still really close to this one coming out) that history is gonna show this as one of those true hidden gems that people discover and go, “That was really good. I don’t know why I didn’t watch it at the time.” And just know — I’ll have said it all along, so just do yourself a favor and see this one now.
36. Sing Street
This is one of those movies I would recommend to anyone. It’s so charming that I would truly say that I think the only people who wouldn’t like this are people I just wouldn’t want to associate with. It’s impossible not to be charmed by this movie. It’s so great. It’s John Carney, who made Once (another hidden gem, despite being generally known in broad strokes), returning to make a musical rom com set in Ireland. Here it’s about a kid coming of age and starting a band to impress a girl. That’s it. That’s the movie. The songs are amazing and it’s just so damn fun. How this wasn’t immediately widely seen by people and turned into a runaway hit, I’ll never know. But, it’s very much out there and easy to see, and it’s your duty as someone who enjoys movies to see this and make sure the people who haven’t seen it do so. It’s not right to let this movie flounder in obscurity.
35. The Nice Guys
Shane Black. The dude created an entire genre. The buddy cop movie doesn’t happen without Lethal Weapon. And he’s got such a unique writing style that has only recently manifested itself into him directing his own films, beginning with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which, if I had made this Hidden Gems list for last decade, would have been in the top ten, if not top five. He then jumped into Iron Man, which made people forget just how great his own original stuff is. Then he came back with this. This, I think, because it was Gosling and Crowe, got a bunch of people to see it, but I’m not sure people were so ready to admit just how good and fun and rewatchable this movie is. I knew the second I saw it and have had it as a top ten movie for that year ever since. But I really don’t know if people ever saw it as that (and I can’t be too sure if people saw it at all, which is why it’s here). It’s so much damn fun and is just one of those movies where I can’t imagine people won’t enjoy it.
Watching the career trajectory of Rian Johnson has been amazing. Brick comes out, it’s met with raves from critics and the section of the population that actually watches cool indie movies. Then he makes The Brothers Bloom and no one sees it. It’s met with a cursory respect but no one bothers to watch it (but it’s awesome). Then he comes back with this — critically adored, a lot of people see it and love it. Then it gets forgotten about immediately. He gets a Star Wars Movie. And now, all of a sudden, anything he’s ever done pales in comparison to that movie. Then he comes out the other side with Knives Out and everyone loves it and thinks, “Man, isn’t he great?” Guys, he’s always been that great. You just haven’t been paying attention because of that Star Wars nonsense (which, I’ll say it… he’s still probably got the best film of that trilogy overall). But Looper — it’s a brilliantly crafted time travel movie with a great premise: people from the future want to get rid of people cleanly, so they send them back in time for hitmen to kill in exchange for a shitload of money. The caveat to this is that the hitmen are eventually meant to kill their future selves, thus ending the ‘loop’. So on the one hand, they get very rich and live very comfortable lives. On the other, they know when the end date is. And the film is about this mythical arch criminal in the future who is murdering all the hitmen. And the older version of the main character sets out to stop this from happening by killing that person as a child. It’s really great stuff. I know people know about this and most people probably have seen it, but it’s just a reminder of how good it is and how good every non-franchise Rian Johnson movie is.
33. Inside Llewyn Davis
It’s one of the overall best Coen brothers movies. Honestly at this point, if I were listing my top five favorite films of theirs, this would probably be in it. Of course, we’re all aware that they have like 10-15 best films and listing the top five is a reflection of your own favorites more than anything, but still. I really love this movie that much. (I’m not getting into listing the actual top five. The point is that this, if it’s not directly in it, is damn close.) I think this is one of their masterpieces, and it’s been so underrated since it came out, as a lot of their movies tend to be. I feel like with them, their usual method is — something comes out, it’s critically acclaimed, some people immediately love it. Doesn’t do that well at the box office, and then over time people realize how damn watchable it is and out of nowhere it becomes a movie people love. You forget that Lebowski wasn’t that well received when it came out. People still haven’t fully embraced Intolerable Cruelty even though it’s one of their funniest movies. I remember fighting loudly for Burn After Reading when it came out. Hail Caesar was met with respectful indifference at the time. Honestly, I feel like the only film they’ve made that was met with as much shrugging since it’s come out is A Serious Man. I don’t understand it. But I think this is just a perfect movie. It’s so funny in that perfectly Coen brothers kinda way, and it fits with their love of torturing their protagonists, making this dude live his own personal hell and never get anywhere, stuck in this endless loop of frustration seemingly forever. You should see any movie made by the Coen brothers regardless, but this truly is one of their best ones.
Nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, won Best Actress. Still not everyone’s seen this movie. It’s so damn good and really deserves the kind of audience some other films it was nominated against have gotten. What Lenny Abrahamson achieves in the first act of this movie, shooting it entirely in a 10×10 space and not making it feel cramped (beyond the obvious requirements) and keeping the camera angles fresh is a marvel in and of itself. But you also have two incredible lead performances from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, as well as a wonderful, underrated supporting turn from Joan Allen. It’s one of the best movies of the decade. Maybe it should start being treated as such.
31. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Just a reminder that this movie exists and is wonderful. Clearly it’s a known film. People know about it. BUT, not everyone has seen it, even despite its cult status and the fact that Edgar Wright has made it. And, if they have, a lot of people have forgotten about this one in the decade since it came out. So yeah, not a hidden gem like some of the others, but also one of the best films of the decade and a reminder that it is is one of those.
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