Mike’s Top Hidden Gems of the Decade (30-21)
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.
At this point, if you aren’t sold purely on the words ‘Charlie Kaufman’ then I’m not sure what more I can do to sell you on this movie. It’s a beautifully-rendered stop motion animated film about life. The mundanity of life and how so many people coast through it without feeling or joy. It’s beautiful. But for some people — the ones who demand ‘things to happen’ — they’re never gonna like this movie. And honestly, good riddance. But if you get what Charlie Kaufman tries to do with his films, then this is entirely a movie for you. It’s beautiful. It’s really beautiful and is one of the best animated films of the decade and straight up one of the best films of the decade.
29. Another Earth
I loved this movie when I first saw it. It was in my top ten for its year, I loved it so much. It’s entirely forgotten now. It’s this super low budget sci fi that helped Brit Marling get on the map as an actress and filmmaker (though she’s sufficiently proved that she’d rather make her own weird stuff than go mainstream, which I appreciate). The film is about a woman who gets into a prestigious astronomy program on the day that they discover a second Earth-like planet in the sky. She goes out to celebrate and, while driving home, gets into an accident that kills a woman and child and puts a man in the hospital. Years later, her future ruined, she gets out of prison and goes back to find the man whose family died in the accident. She pretends to be a cleaner and starts cleaning his house for free, sort of as a way of atonement. They become friendly, and even more than friendly, and she’s hiding this secret from him the whole time, all while there’s this looming ‘contest’ of sorts where you could win a trip to the ‘other’ Earth. There’s some really cool themes going on here and I love how they handled the grounded nature of the sci fi while just making it a film about being human. It’s a really nice film that feels like one of those true hidden gems that is just kinda there but no one really ever notices.
28. Loving Vincent
One of the greatest accomplishments in film in the 2010s. For how the made it alone, you should go see it. They made a movie about Vincent Van Gogh’s final days, told through a mailman who has a letter he wrote to his brother just before he died. He’s bringing the letter to Theo and starts to investigate just exactly what happened to Vincent in those final days. The film was animated using hand-painted oil canvases. They shot actors against green screen and then took the images and painted every single frame of the movie on canvases. So everything you see on screen was done via humans and brush strokes. And it’s stunning. The story might not necessarily move you, but the animation style is some of the most gorgeous you will ever see. It’s worth it on that alone. You’re in for a real treat with this one.
I love talking about this one. Because it’s simple — it’s Tom Hardy, in a car, for 90 minutes, alone. That’s it. That’s the film. He’s a dude in a car on his way somewhere. And over the course of the drive, through various phone calls he has with people, we find out where he’s going and why he’s going there. And it’s wonderful. You don’t realize how interesting a movie about a guy in a car can be until you see this. It’s riveting. And Hardy is terrific in it. This is one of those movies where thank god the selling point is Tom Hardy, because otherwise I’d be sitting here going, “I know it sounds boring, a dude in a car, but just trust me on this.” At least knowing it’s him provides a certain amount of trust as a gimme.
Gaspar Noé. And perhaps the most pure version of what he does with his films on screen. Well, maybe Love, the 3D half-film, half-porno, might be the purest, but in terms of how I view his films and what I think he provides audiences, I think this might be the most pure. Basically, he provides these really intense collective experiences. Irreversible is an experience. Maybe not pleasant, but it’s an experience. Enter the Void is an experience. This is an experience. It’s about a dance troupe who are all in this undisclosed warehouse together to practice some sort of number. And after some opening interviews with the dancers to visually introduce you to all of them, we see that dance number. It’s this 8-minute unbroken shot of people dancing, and it’s stunning to look at. Then, they’re done, they’re happy, they’ve got it all down, they’re gonna celebrate and party during their last night there. Only, at some point, someone spikes the punch bowl with LSD. And so then whoever had the punch just starts losing their shit. And slowly this entire place begins losing its shit, to the point where the film (which never leaves the warehouse outside of some very brief moments (and even then all you see is snow surrounding it, so for all you know it could be in the middle of Siberia) becomes this figurative descent into hell/madness. It’s such an intense experience. But I think it’s one worth having, even if it can be unpleasant for some. It’s rare to have a film that actually makes you feel something like this. And I think that’s something people who love movies should experience.
25. Lady Macbeth
One of my absolute favorite discoveries of the decade. This is the film that gave us Florence Pugh. So your seeing it is your way of paying tribute to it for giving us this amazing actress. It’s not based on Shakespeare but instead on a Russian novel about a woman sold into marriage to an older man. And then, after some initial awkward stages, he leaves very suddenly and without notice. And so she’s now at this house alone with no idea when or if this guy is coming back. And then she ends up flirting with and eventually beginning an affair with one of the farmhands on the property. And that’s really all you need to know. It’s not the kind of film you think it’s gonna be. And by that I mean, you assume costume drama, Merchant Ivory, that sort of thing. But it’s not. There’s more to it than that. It’s a really strong piece and features an incredible Florence Pugh performance at its center. It’s really worth seeing.
24. The Impossible
Honestly, were it not for Naomi Watts being nominated for Best Actress for this (and maybe even despite that) no one would know this movie existed. I barely knew it existed until I saw it by chance. I had no clue what it was or what it was about and was absolutely blown away by it. I was watching this family go on vacation and all of a sudden a tsunami hit, and boom, the next 20 minutes are just in the destruction and watching people try to survive it. And that was so intense and amazing. And then it becomes this really stirring emotional film as you see the aftermath of everything and these people just trying to get back to one another. Watts is incredible here, as is Tom Holland, who is something like 14 in the film, but absolutely carries it for large chunks at a time. Ewan McGregor is also really good here and J.A. Bayona directs the absolute hell out of it. It’s one hell of an experience and one I would tell everyone who loves movies is one of the essential films of the decade. Maybe not objectively speaking, but in terms of what I would say you need to see, I’d put this on that list.
One of the best movies about race that came out this entire decade. Co-written by and starring Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, the best description of the movie is the one I saw coming out of Sundance — “A buddy comedy in a world that doesn’t want it to be one.” It’s about two friends in Oakland. Diggs just got out of prison and is just trying to lay low and get off probation and put his life back together, while Casal is his best friend. And the beauty of the relationship is that the black man is the one who is very law-abiding, not trying to cause trouble, and the white dude is the crazy one doing all the wild shit. And it gives you this set up where you assume things, and then twists them little by little. The reason why Diggs is in prison also isn’t what you think it is. It’s really smartly written. They also throw in an incredible moment where, on one of his last few nights of probation, while driving home to get in before curfew, he witnesses a white cop murder an unarmed black man in the street. And he’s faced with the anger and guilt and conflicting feelings about that moment, because he essentially witnesses a murder, but he’s also on parole and trying not to go back to prison. And that informs a lot of what the rest of the film is. It’s really insanely well done and is one of those films I’d tell everyone they need to see. It feels like it says all the right things in such a way that even the people who wouldn’t normally watch a movie like this will enjoy it and still take in the message even if they’re not consciously doing so.
22. Midnight Special
The most mainstream film of Jeff Nichols’ career, which is hilarious, because so few people have even seen this. Take Shelter is probably his most seen film. I’m sure a lot of film people know about Mud, whether or not they’ve seen it. Loving is his most classical film, but this is his most mainstream. This is essentially Close Encounters meets Starman, but through the lens of Jeff Nichols, which is more low key, about real people, and eschewing a lot of the ‘big’ moments you’d come to expect out of films like this. It begins with Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton taking Shannon’s son from a religious cult where he was being raised and driving him to an undisclosed location. You know Shannon is the boy’s father, and you see that the police are out looking for them, but you don’t know much more than that. And slowly the story begins to come into focus. As there’s some sort of supernatural element going on here (some sort of powers, aliens, etc). And it’s this really beautiful film about a father just trying to do right by his son. It’s really touching and really entertaining. There’s so much going on here but it’s better if you just experience it for yourself. Definitely one of those gems that I think most people will like and one of those that you can claim as a discovery even though this should be pretty widely known about and seen by now.
21. Killing Them Softly
Absolutely love this movie. Andrew Dominik has three films under his belt to this point (with hopefully the fourth coming later this year). Chopper is awesome and put Eric Bana on the map and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is one of my 15-20 favorite films of all time. It’s a masterpiece. This was his followup to that. And all three couldn’t be more different. I’m not sure the mainstream has ever fully warmed up to Dominik as a filmmaker, and they sure as hell didn’t do it from this film. This is a crime movie that takes place between the margins of all the other crime movies. It begins with two men holding up a mob-run card game. The mob, upset about this, hires a hitman to find and get rid of these guys. That’s Brad Pitt. And the movie is essentially him doing this job, but in reality, it’s about America, and it’s about capitalism, and it’s about the American Dream. There’s so few moments of action in this, the people who went into it expecting that when it came out got turned off and the movie got ignored. So many movies fall to oblivion because people expected one thing and when it wasn’t that, they dismissed it out of hand rather than accepting it for what it is. So much of this movie is people talking about stuff but not actually doing anything. And for some, that’s not enough. I loved it. I love everything it does, down to Pitt’s speech at the very end of the movie. It’s, in its own way, a masterpiece for representing what this country is. It’s not gonna be for everyone, but it should be seen.
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