Mike’s Top Hidden Gems of the Decade (10-1)

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.

10. Everybody Wants Some!!

Richard Linklater. I love that man. There’s this magical quality to all his films. He never makes a bad one. And unfortunately they also never pop like they should. This was his first film post-Boyhood, and you realize how quickly people went back to forgetting his movies existed. Everyone jumped all over Boyhood because of the gimmick of being shot over 12 years. But you forget just how little anyone cared about A Scanner Darkly or Me and Orson Welles or Bernie. This movie is a sequel to one of his TWO MOST FAMOUS FILMS — Dazed and Confused. It’s a ‘spiritual’ sequel, which basically means it’s the same thing but different characters. Dazed and Confused was set in the 70s and was about people in high school playing football. This is set in the 80s, is people in college playing baseball. It’s set during the two days before classes start and is about a pitching prospect coming to campus and meeting his teammates, building camaraderie with them and getting into some hijinks before classes start. And it’s fun as hell. It’s just people hanging out and various antics. The cast is wonderful. It’s a hangout film. You just sit with these people and enjoy the hell out of it. I can’t understand why no one went to see this movie. The reason Dazed and Confused works is the same reason this works. If you like that film, you’ll like this one. And if that’s not the case, then the only reason you like that film is because it reminds you of a period in your own life and it’s not about the film for you. But I don’t get it. So let me say this — if you love Dazed and Confused, you will like this movie. It’s that simple. And it’s Linklater. You know you can trust him. Just watch it. I promise it’s great.

9. Prisoners

This is the movie that gave us Denis Villeneuve. He had been working internationally for a lot of years, but this was his first American film, and immediately everyone realized that kind of talent he has, and so this began the run that also included Sicario and Arrival and Blade Runner and now Dune coming up. It’s this low key thriller about a father whose daughter goes missing with her friend on Thanksgiving Day. A local mentally disabled man was seen in the area and seems to be the prime suspect, but a lack of evidence as well as an alibi prevent him from being held and charged by police. The father, convinced the man knows something, upset the police are unable or unwilling to do anything and desperately wanting his daughter back, takes matters into his own hands and kidnaps the man, holding him captive and torturing him to try to get him to reveal what he knows. And the film is split between that — the rage and unraveling of this father — and the detective assigned to investigate the case. It’s an incredible film that most people would tell you is one of the best films of its year and of the decade. Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal are incredible here, and Roger Deakins shoots the hell out of it. It’s a stunning film. And Villeneuve is a really smart director, so he doesn’t embellish his film with a lot of set pieces and action beats. The most thrilling moment in the entire film is a race to the hospital in the rain. It’s just a car speeding through traffic. That’s it. And yet — I was more tense during that moment than I am during most blockbuster action sequences. It’s just this amazing piece of work that hasn’t gotten the kind of audience those later films he made have. And it deserves it because it just might be better than all of them.

8. Chef

This is Jon Favreau reminding us that he’s still the guy who made Swingers and the guy who is an incredible director. He veered off into blockbuster land for a while, first with Zathura (remember that movie?) then with Iron Man 1 and 2 and Cowboys and Aliens. And somewhere along the way, things soured for him. I think it’s the well-documented issues with Iron Man 2, where he wanted to make his kind of movie, but Marvel, with the success of the universe, wanted to reconfigure it to fit what they were trying to do. So they rushed it and forced certain things onto him and the result is a movie that’s not fully cooked. But it worked for what they wanted to do with their franchise and was part of their learning curve to how to make these movies. I’m guessing what happened is, Favreau had a bad taste in his mouth, very quickly wanted to get rid of it so he jumped onto Cowboys and Aliens to not think about it, and that, while fun and different, was a critical and commercial failure. And so I think what he did was go and take all those frustrations and channel it into this film, which clearly can be read as a metaphor for being a director or any creative.

He plays a head chef at a famous family Brentwood restaurant. And 20 years ago he was the hot new chef and had all these great recipes, but since has become the family-friendly, safe kinda chef whose place makes the same old meals and isn’t doing anything exciting anymore. And so he ends up getting into a Twitter fight with a food critic who shits on him and his food, but secretly realizes he does need to change things up. But then he fights with his boss, who wants the same old boring menu because it’s been consistently profitable for them for years. And all this comes to a head where he gets fired/quits because he can’t take it anymore. And so he ends up going on a vacation to Miami with his son and reinventing himself as a chef and a person by starting a food truck. So him and his son start this truck that makes cubanos, and they start small, just making them for locals, and through the son’s marketing on Twitter, the truck becomes a hit and they start traveling across the country, eventually making their way back to LA. It’s a beautiful story. It’s father-son story and just this really uplifting movie with a lot of heart. And I like that it’s also a movie that is venting his creative frustrations and not being allowed to make the kinds of movies he wants to make, because at a certain budget level, studios are only interested in ‘safe’ family fare and don’t care about trying new things. It’s a wonderful film, and I’ve yet to meet someone who saw this (especially after the fact) and didn’t find it a charming, lovable film.

7. About Time

This is Richard Curtis’s third film, after Love Actually and Pirate Radio, and he says it’s his final film. And while all three of his films are incredible and it’ll be sad to see him not direct anymore (despite him writing what feels like every major piece of British film of the past 30 years, not to mention some of its best TV), it’s nice knowing he has three either perfect or near perfect films on his resume. This one — I didn’t know this what this was gonna be going into it. Somehow the fact that it was Curtis didn’t fully land with me until I watched it. And it just destroyed me, and instantly became one of my absolute favorite films. It’s a time travel romantic comedy. That’s the best way to describe it. Domhnall Gleeson is sat down one day by his father (Bill Nighy) and told about the very peculiar trait the men in his family have — they’re able to, when going into a small, confined space like a closet, and concentrating, travel back in time. It’s only available to points in their own lives, and there are certain restrictions like, if they change something, it will alter the future (as most time travel is) and once they have a child, they become unable to travel back beyond that moment in time. So the beginning of the film is him trying it out, and avoiding certain embarrassments in his own life in his college and twenty-something years. Then it becomes about him meeting Rachel McAdams and falling for her and doing his best to redo all his interactions with her to make it go perfectly. Then they start a family and the time travel becomes more complicated, as he becomes worried about changing the great life he already has, even though death and tragedy does start to crop up. It’s very beautiful and very touching. It ultimately becomes a father-son movie, and it’s one of those movies that leaves me bawling like a child every time I see it. It’s so beautiful, and truly is one of the best movies of the decade. And I still find that almost no one knows it’s out there because it never properly came over to America. But trust me when I say — if you like Richard Curtis’s sense of humor (and most people do. Love Actually is beloved, and even stuff like Yesterday recently or Four Weddings and a Funeral from back in the day, or Bridget Jones’s Diary, or Notting Hill, or Mr. Bean, or Blackadder — all him, by the way), you’re gonna love this film, because his films always had heart, and while they often made you laugh and go, “Aww,” now it’s gonna rip your heart out in the best possible way. Truly one of those films I am so glad to be able to cherish for the rest of my life, and I can only hope more people discover it to be the same for themselves.

6. Remember

I’ve told so many people about this one, and so many people tell me how awesome it sounds, but so few of them actually go and watch it. I always say I don’t throw the term ‘Hitchcockian’ around lightly, but I throw it around with this one. Because it’s one of the few films that deserves the title. It’s an Atom Egoyan film (he made The Sweet Hereafter, if you’re one of those people who is swayed by who makes something) and stars Christopher Plummer as an old man in a retirement home with advancing Alzheimer’s whose wife just died. However, he keeps forgetting this and constantly has these memory lapses. Martin Landau, a fellow patient, comes to him one day and says, “Do you remember what we talked about? You said that once your wife died, you would go do the thing we talked about.” And Plummer, constantly forgetting stuff because of his condition, doesn’t. So Landau says, “We were both at Auschwitz. There was a sadistic guard who murdered our families and fled abroad under an assumed name. I’ve tracked the name down and it’s one of four people living in the country. You were gonna go visit each four men and find out which one he is and kill him.” Landau’s in a wheelchair so he can’t travel, making Plummer the only one truly capable of carrying this out. Only, he’s got the dementia, so he’s gotta carry around this letter with him that reminds him of everything along the way. So it’s kinda like Memento, but with Nazis. Plummer is going around the country, visiting four people, and one of them is gonna be the Nazi who killed his family, and he’s gonna murder them. And it’s dope. It’s so good. Because the thrills come inherently from the story, but then there are these moments where Plummer truly just forgets what his mission is at the worst possible moments. And it’s just this slow burn of, “Is he gonna get the guy before something bad happens or his condition gets the better of him?” It’s so good. I cannot say enough great things about this movie, and the fact that nobody knows it exists and nobody has expectations for it when they go into it makes the whole thing so much better. Truly, this is the kind of plot I could have seen Hitchcock making. And if he were alive today, I bet he’d have loved this movie. That’s the kind of film this is. Please do yourself a favor and see this.

5. Revenge

This movie is so badass. It’s not the greatest movie ever, but in terms of how much of a hidden gem it is, I felt comfortable putting it this high on the list. The point had to be made. This is one of those movies that will just entertain the shit out of you. It’s the B movie companion to The Revenant. This is the second movie on that double bill. It’s about a woman on vacation with her boyfriend, a rich French businessman (she’s his mistress). He’s there with his two Russian friends for a hunting trip. One day, while he’s out, she’s raped by one of the Russians, and the other sees it but does nothing to stop them. She freaks out and says she wants to leave… when the businessman pushes her off a cliff and leaves her for dead. But… turns out… she doesn’t die. And when you see the film you’ll see what I mean when I say it’s similar to The Revenant. And, as the title suggests, she’s not gonna take this lying down. And unlike The Revenant, they really focus on the revenge portion of the story. It’s so much fun. The violence is realistic and bloody. The third act has so much blood I truly couldn’t believe it. It’s nuts. But also fun as hell. You want a movie where you’ll be shouting and cheering at the screen for this woman to kill these douchebag men? This is the one. It’s a real crowd pleaser.

4. The Girl with All the Gifts

No one in America knows about this movie. Maybe in the U.K. it got seen, because it got a theatrical release there, but in the U.S., this got dumped on VOD and absolutely no one saw it. It’s a zombie apocalypse movie with an interesting angle — picture the 28 Days Later zombies, only whatever the virus is that is inside them has now adapted to stay alive. So the children born from this virus have become bonded with it and mutated. So the children are able to still function as children but are also zombies and have to eat flesh and stuff to stay alive. And it’s about a girl who lives in a military facility with a bunch of other children. They’re there in the hopes of finding a vaccine to cure whatever this zombie virus is. And this one girl in particular is the most human of the bunch, and has a special bond with her teacher. So when the base is overrun by zombies, they take her with them as they travel across the country in search of shelter and a possible cure. It’s — so, so good. Another one of my top ten movies of a year that almost no one knows exists. It’s one of the best zombie movies I’ve ever seen, and for this to have absolutely no audience whatsoever is one of the biggest cinematic travesties of the 2010s.

3. Waves

God, this movie. I didn’t know what I was walking into when I went to the theater to see it, and it’s one of those where I came out fully unable to process my feelings on it for a solid day after I saw it. Because I just had to sit with everything I’d seen. It’s a work of true beauty, and far and away a step above everything Trey Edward Shults had made to this point (Krisha, It Comes at Night). It’s a film told in two parts, but about the same family. The first half follows the brother, and the second half follows the sister. And both parents feature throughout. It’s absolutely incredible on every level. Truly one of the ten best films of its year and one of the overall best films of the decade, and it’s not a year yet since it’s been out and I’m doing everything I can to prevent this from going forgotten over the next decade. It’s too good to end up like that.

2. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

This was my #1 for an entire year. And not just any year 2015. With Spotlight and Fury Road and The Big Short and The Revenant and Room and Brooklyn and Inside Out. I’d still take this film over all those. And still there are far too many people who don’t even know this film exists. Maybe the title is such that you’ve at least heard of it, but I guarantee you that most people you talk to have never even bothered to see this movie. I love everything about it. It’s one of those indie comedy type scripts that you feel like you understand pretty intuitively at the start, but then it really just draws you in with its sweetness and heart, until it gets to the end when it just totally has you and really hits you with a nice emotional punch. The filmmaking style is also somehow really nice. I know you could call it out for being style for the sake of style, but I think that fits with the main characters and who they are. Mostly I just think this is a movie that a lot of people are gonna love, and I think it deserves as wide an audience as all the other films I’ve named in this entry. It’s my #1 film for an entire year. If you’re reading this site, you at least marginally trust my taste. Maybe you’ll disagree, but you have to at least be aware that maybe, just maybe, I see something in this that’s worthy of everyone seeing.

1. If Beale Street Could Talk

I refuse to stop calling this a hidden gem until this is considered on the same level as Moonlight. You will never convince me that enough people have seen this film, because there’s still a lot of people who haven’t even seen Moonlight. So this is for sure an underseen masterpiece, and is truly one of the absolute best pieces of cinema of the decade. It is truly on the same plane as Moonlight and is absolutely brilliant from start to finish. You truly do not love movies if you haven’t seen this.

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One response

  1. Just watched Waves…wow. Powerful stuff.

    July 1, 2020 at 6:11 am

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