The number of films produced within a year, let alone a decade, is staggering and it’s only getting bigger. The podcast 80s All Over—which involved two critics watching and reviewing every major film of the decade, one month at a time—recently ended with about half of the decade getting reviewed. They had to pull the plug on it early because it was just too time-consuming for them to track down and review every film on their watchlist. It was just too hard for them and they were doing the 80s, a decade with far fewer films than the 2010s. I only mention them and their podcast to illustrate my point: there are a shit ton of films out there which, for a cinephile, is hell because it’s impossible to see them all. There are hundreds of thousands of movies and if you don’t know where to look, you’re bound to miss some good ones. This list was a collaborative effort to help shine a light on a select few you might not have seen that we think are worth your time.
This is The 100 Greatest Hidden Gems of the 2010s.
20. A Royal Affair (2012)
Set in 18th century Denmark, A Royal Affair is an epic saga of love and politics. Mads Mikkelsen plays Johann, the royal physician to King Christian VII of Denmark. The King has started to go a little crazy and a large part of this is down to the romantic tension between his wife Caroline (Alicia Vikander) and his trusted royal physician. The chemistry between Mikkelsen and Vikander is off the charts, as the inevitable rise and fall of their revolution plays out. Terrific performances and beautiful visuals, A Royal Affair never got the love it truly deserved.
19. The Rover (2014)
It’s hard to describe The Rover to someone who’s never seen it without it sounding like some sort of Mad Max ripoff. It’s set in the dusty Australian outback after some sort of social or economic collapse, it’s a chase film, and it’s a revenge film. Sounds like some cannibalized cinematic monster the Italians made from parts and pieces of different George Miller Mad Max films, right? You’d be right to say yes, but this is that rare film that manages to be derivative and yet somehow it’s own thing that works because of its own unique set of strengths.
Writer/director David Michôd (and co-writer Joel Edgerton, who does not play a role in the film) takes elements of Miller’s films, punches up the realism, and uses the dystopian setting to tell a story about humanity. I absolutely adore Miller’s movies, but Michôd steers away from the fantastical elements that characterize many of the popular dystopian genre movies, and, in doing so, presents a vision of the future that is so much more compelling because of how frighteningly realistic it is. And no discussion of The Rover would be complete without mentioning Robert Pattinson’s award-worthy performance as Guy Pearce’s hapless hostage/accomplice. The film is worth your time on its own, but Pattinson makes this a must-see movie.
18. Housebound (2014)
This was a fun change of pace horror-comedy movie that let the scares play out without stifling them with humor. Director Gerard Johnstone does a terrific job of balancing several genres while maintaining the humor and suspense throughout. Morgana O’Reilly at the center of this as a troubled young woman who is under house arrest and had to put up with her mother who believes her house to be haunted. It’s a fun and unpredictable ride that is a breath of fresh air.
17. Blindspotting (2018)
The back half of the 2010s is as divided America has been in generations. Blindspotting tackles some of the issues most prevalent America faces as social commentary that covers topics such as gentrification, police brutality, economic inequality, and racism. Written and starring lifelong friends, Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs, Blindspotting is set in current day Oakland as Collin (Diggs) just gets out of prison and given probation. He is met with his best most volatile friend Miles (Casal). Trying to balance his life as an ex-con knowing he will forever have that title; Collin is just trying to get by without making too much noise with a friend holding a megaphone to his face. This film beautifully incorporated powerful spoken word poetry by Diggs and it is executed to perfection. Blindspotting garnered some slight awards buzz but was mostly overlooked. Perhaps it was too political for some but overall it gives a voice to some who are dying to speak.
16. Apollo 11 (2019)
A story about the Apollo 11 mission isn’t anything new, nor are stories about Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. We know these men and we’ve seen their story a hundred times but this doc offers some new insights into the men, as well as unearthed footage never before seen. Eliminating all artifice and trying to be as objective as possible, the film has no narration, no cutaway interviews, and no recreations. Just original material synced with some music and the occasional diagram. Which makes for a pulse-pounding adventure that looks so stunning, it’s almost unbelievable that it happened 50 years ago. This is more than a doc, it is historical preservation as art.
15. The King of Pigs (2011)
A bleak as hell drama about the ramifications of bullying from the director of Train to Busan, The King of Pigs is an oppressive and relentless experience not for the faint of heart. It attacks the viewer with a barrage of horrific scenes and nasty violence, each one more unpleasant than the last. It’s misery porn taken to the extreme. Almost every frame is designed to challenge you: you will feel nauseous and you will feel like you need to take a shower but if the film accomplished its goal, you’ll also understand. The King of Pigs is an angry film that throws hatchets, not darts, at its targets.
14. Tigers are Not Afraid (2019)
A dark fairy tale about a gang of five children trying to survive the horrific violence of the cartels and the ghosts created every day by the drug war. Terrifying, poignant, and emotionally devastating, Tigers are Not Afraid is a mashup of Pan’s Labyrinth and City of God but scarier than the former and as brutal as the latter. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to show children in peril, not for the shock value ala Troma films but because for many, death is an everyday occurrence. With terrific performances from the five leads and a sense of dread that permeates throughout every frame, Tigers are Not Afraid is a devastating piece of cinema not to be missed.
13. Snowtown (2011)
Based on the notorious ‘Snowtown Murders’, Snowtown is about a 16-year-old who falls in with his mother’s new boyfriend and his crowd of self-appointed neighborhood watchmen, a relationship that eventually leads to torture and murder. Not including the extreme shit only die-hard gorehounds know about, this is easily one of the heaviest, repulsive, hard-to-look-at-the-screen films to come out in a long time. You have to go all the way back to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer to find a film so unapologetically brutal and realistically heinous. The fact that this film is based on a true story, makes it all the more insane. The marketing department should’ve stolen the tagline of The Last House on the Left for this film: “To avoid fainting, keep repeating, it’s only a movie. Only a movie. Only a movie. Only a movie…”
12. Sing Street (2016)
The very definition of a hidden gem. Sing Street was wrongfully snubbed at the Academy Awards and only received one nomination at the Golden Globes. Hollywood acted like “Drive It Like You Stole It,” one of the best original songs to come out that year (I’d even wager the decade), didn’t even exist. But sure, let’s nominate two songs from La La Land.
Sing Street revolves around a boy starting a band to impress a girl in 1980s Ireland. I remember being hesitant to watch this film with my girlfriend at the time because it sounded boring. Then she told me it was set in the 1980s and I was on cautiously onboard. Then the film makes a Back to the Future reference and I was 100% sold. I love Sing Street, and you probably will too if you love 80s music, Ireland, musicals, or coming-of-age dramas. So go watch it.
11. Drug War (2012)
After getting busted in a raid, a drug kingpin is forced to team up with his nemesis, a no-nonsense police commander, to infiltrate a drug network made up of former accomplices and family members as part of an undercover operation. It wouldn’t surprise me if this was the third part of a larger trilogy nor would it surprise me if the original cut was twice as long but was cut down to the most essential parts because there’s so much history on the periphery of every scene. We have never met these characters in any other film but within ten minutes, you feel as though you have. The animosity and hatred between the two leads are palpable. You get immediately that this is an uneasy alliance that neither wants to be apart of but you understand their motivations. One is bound by duty and the other is terrified of dying (producing 50 grams of drugs is a death sentence in China) which is all the ingredients the film needs to create a tense, action-filled drama.
What have you thought of the list so far? Do you think you know what hidden gems will be in the top 10?