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’s 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.
30. First Reformed (2018)
Ethan Hawke is one of the most consistently great actors there is out there regardless of how good the movie is. In First Reformed, he turns in arguably his best performance (my favorite of his) as a conflicted priest dealing with his own demons while trying to help congregants of his parish. Writer/director Paul Schrader, who wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, delivers a character study with some stinging commentary on politics, religion and society without it feeling preachy. Simply a man’s struggles with these issues and letting Hawke do incredible work.
29. The Survivalist (2015)
In a post apocalyptic future where every stranger is a potential enemy and food is scarce, a survivalist lives off a small plot of land hidden deep in forest. When two women seeking food and shelter discover his farm, he finds his existence threatened. Unlike the action packed films that make up the bulk of the subgenre, this film is far more of a character study that just so happens to be tense as shit. It’s much closer to films like The Rover and The Road than Mad Max and Escape From New York. This isn’t a world of badasses, leather gangs and souped-up hot rods. It’s a world where every bullet counts, every piece of food is worth its weight in gold and every interaction could potentially be life ending. Leaner than a steak and meaner than a snake, The Survivalist is a stripped down version of the apocalypse that’s as unrelentingly harsh and terrifyingly realistic as it is meticulous and minimal.
28. Big Bad Wolves (2013)
A series of unspeakable murders link together three very different men: the father of a missing girl, the man suspected of taking her and a police detective who believes he did it. Taking the law into their own hands, the two men begin torturing their captive in the hopes that he’ll confess. But the problem is, he maintains he’s innocent and neither man has any real evidence that he did do it. All they have to go on is their gut, which is enough for them because, as the film brilliantly addresses over and over again, torture is a necessary evil who’s ends justify the means. Or does it? Tarantino’s favorite film of 2013 and its easy to see why. With its torture porn-esque gruesomeness, white knuckle suspense and a smart script that raises a ton of moral and ethical questions, Big Bad Wolves is a satirical black comedy that isn’t afraid to go all the way.
27. Man Up (2015)
While on her way to her parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, a somewhat aimless, cynical woman named Nancy finds herself sitting with a chirpy optimist who is reading a book called 6 Billion People and You. After a rude confrontation, Nancy falls asleep and when she wakes, she finds the woman left her a copy of the book, opened up to a chapter titled Your Negative Thoughts are Ruining Your Life (and Everyone Else’s…). Irritated, Nancy leaves the train to find the woman and return the book, but she is quickly mistaken by a man named Jack to be his blind date. Rather than correct him, Nancy decides to pretend to be who he thinks she is, and the two embark on a rather eventful evening of lies, honesty, and ex-lovers.
Lake Bell and Simon Pegg are perfectly matched here, breathing life into two characters who feel so refreshingly removed from the classic rom-com archetypes. Their goofy, yet sexy, chemistry is such a joy to watch that it’s easy to ignore the film’s (few) flaws. Man Up doesn’t try to reinvent the genre, but it does a darn good job at giving it something new with its low key charm and hilariously honest take on dating in the modern world.
26. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014)
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is the story of Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi), a peculiar young woman who convinces herself that the film Fargo, a work of fiction, is real and that the bag of money Buscemi’s character buries at the end is still there, waiting to be discovered. Her bizarre journey to Brainerd, Minnesota for “untold riches” makes for an entertaining watch. Kumiko is a quirky character and her determination, however misguided, is infectious.
Because she’s just so gosh darned likable, It’s hard not to root for her even though again, she’s using a fictitious movie as a treasure map to find non-existent loot but since this is loosely based on the tragic life of Takako Konishi, Kumiko’s every action takes on an extra layer of profound sadness. The character, as well as the film, has an undercurrent of devastating heartbreak raging just below the surface. At first glance, her adventure (that she takes with her adorable bunny) is the type of wacky normally reserved for low budget indie comedies but as the film goes on, it becomes increasingly apparent that this story won’t have a happy ending. Treading the fine line between truth and fiction and harsh truths and easy lies, Kumiko is more than just an homage to the Cohen brothers, it’s in some ways, better than their best work. It’s that good
25. The Invisible Guest (2016)
The Invisible Guest might be the best whodunit thriller since The Usual Suspects. The set up is simple: a witness preparation expert makes a successful entrepreneur accused of murder, recount the events that lead up to the bizarre murder of his lover but the case itself is a bit trickier. The accused wakes up in a hotel room, locked from the inside, along with his lover, who was murdered while he was unconscious. No one saw anyone leave the room and the windows have a special key to open. If someone did kill her, how did they do it and why? Every fifteen or so minutes, there’s a new revelation that makes you rethink everything that came before. The film makes you flip flop between thinking he’s innocent to knowing he’s guilty so many times, you’re bound to get whiplash. It’s twisty turvy pulpy murder mystery that’ll keep you guessing till the very end.
24. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
Yorgos Lanthimos gave us a new twist on the classic revenge tale. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is equally as poetic as it is disturbing. This psychological thriller starring Collin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, and Barry Keoghan is about a surgeon (Farrell) who befriends a teenage boy whose father had died. As the story progresses Farrell is forced into ethical dilemmas that puts the fate of his family in his hands. This film is not fun to watch but needs to be seen much like We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Lanthimos has full artistic control and you feel it. He does an incredible job at putting the audience in the moment and making them feel the tension of the situations. Our leads are far from perfect people, but you see and sympathize with their flaws. The performances feel very robotic at times and it is very deliberate in that. The actors are wonderful despite speaking in a monotone voice for the majority of the film. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is chilling until the final frame and will stick with you long after the credits roll.
23. Enemy (2013)
Why didn’t more folks talk about this one? Denis Villeneuve is arguably the director of the decade. The maestro churned out six impeccable films in eight years and in that light we bow to the master craftsman and all his majestic glory. Nestled in-between two of his more commercial hits of Prisoners and Sicario sets a deliciously trippy A24 treat. Enemy is a dreary slow burn of obsession and doppelgangers of the highest
order. To be completely honest, the less you know about this one going-in the better. But it is certainly a title that’ll leave you with a lasting, memorable experience.
Villeneuve is incredible at slipping under your skin no matter how stripped down or grandiose the production design may be. His narratives grab hold of us at our emotional core while tantalizing our sense of wonderful confusion along the way. You’re always in good hands with Denis. So, if all that mastery and a gripping performance from Jake Gyllenhaal isn’t enough to convince you to dive in sight unseen, than I’m not sure how else I can help.
22. Tower (2016)
On the first day of August in 1966, a gunman opened fire from the University of Texas clock tower, killing 16 people. It could’ve been far more if it wasn’t for a handful of brave students willing to risk their lives in order to save complete strangers. Tower is the story about the heroes, the victims and the survivors, not the gunman. One of the few documentaries about a famous crime that isn’t about the perpetrator, the film instead focuses on the unfortunate souls that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and how it felt to be there while it was happening. Through a combination of animation, testimony, and archival footage, Tower manages to bring the past alive and turns what are essentially names on a memorial, into flesh and blood people.
21. Locke (2013)
Set entirely within the confines of a single vehicle, Locke is a unique experience in which it’s difficult to imagine anyone other than Tom Hardy playing the lead role. Rather than supervise a record-breaking concrete pour, construction foreman Ivan Locke sets off in his car where he engages in a number of phone calls (36 to be precise). The reasons for jeopardizing his entire career gradually unfold through the course of the 90-minute car journey. The plot is gripping but the real attraction here is Hardy’s exceptional performance in limited circumstances.
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What have you thought of the selection so far? Are there some hidden gems we haven’t covered yet that you think should make the list? Keep coming back to see if they’ll make it!