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.
40. Comet (2014)
Written and directed by Sam Esmail who would go on to be Emmy nominated for his work on Mr. Robot. Starring Justin Long (Accepted) and Emily Rossum (The Phantom of the Opera). Comet is a trip through parallel universes that follows a couple through their ups and downs during a 6-year span. Long and Rossum put in career-high performances here. The chemistry between the two is absolutely electric. Long, who is mostly known for comedy, knocks the role of Dell out of the park. He’s still his quick-witted self that we see in most of his roles but he does not fall short when delivering the big moments. Rossum is a revelation. From beginning to end she never misses a beat as Kimberly. She is full of heart one moment and cold as ice the next. Truly something to behold. Comet leaves you wanting more of Dell and Kim.
39. Hounds of Love (2016)
There were a number of brutal movies this decade, but this was one gut punch that didn’t get enough recognition. Hounds of Love is a punishing movie about a couple that just happens to be serial killers as they kidnap women and terrorize them before ending their life. Vicki makes the mistake of hitching a ride with this stranger couple and what we witness next is the teenager being subjected to violence and domination as she does whatever she can to just survive. This is expertly made as a bleak throat punch that is not for the weak.
38. The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)
To journey through a film that captures a snapshot of reality in such tender, stunning fashion you can’t help but savor the way of which the story is served. So much to a point that we readily embrace the humanization, Joe Talbot unveils; because through the lens of racial gentrification, he’s not settling for merely putting a face on the issue … he’s reminding us the issue is inherently human, with history, with family, with hope, and with a story. No better way to capture it than through an earnest character-study. Yet, even among the growing critical praise, this one feels like that was destined to float just under the surface from day one.
One thing is certain, swimming in the ocean it cultivates is profound and uniquely suited for repeated viewings. Because there are films that inspire; films that challenge; films that paint pictures; films that speak truth. There are stories that matter; stories that speak of unwavering connection; stories that eloquently express the complexity of being. The Last Black in San Francisco is all of these. A film this beautiful and this important deserves to be seen and acknowledged. (Read my full review here.)
37. Little Woods (2019)
Ollie (Tessa Thompson) has been illicitly helping the struggling residents of her North Dakota oil boomtown access Canadian health care and medication for years but when the authorities catch on, she plans to abandon her crusade only to be dragged in even deeper after a desperate plea for help from her sister. A modern western with a female centric twist, Little Woods is Hell or High Water but with women. Both films are as subtle as a hammer when it comes to their messages—”banks are evil!”, “the US Healthcare system is fucked!”—but nobody praises a western for its social message anyhow.
You watch films about outlaws because rooting for the bad guy is always fun and while I wouldn’t use the word “fun” to describe Little Woods, it does do everything else well enough that it should be far more well known. The acting is stellar, the direction is great (the director got the Candyman remake off the strength of this debut) and the characters and drama are captivating. The only reason Little Woods isn’t in the same conversation with films such as Shotgun Stories or Wind River or Winter’s Bone is the fact that nobody saw it. Because if they had, there’s no question that this would be hailed as a modern classic.
36. The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
This film shouldn’t be on this list. What I mean is that Tintin should have never ended up as a hidden gem. Unfortunately, I guess a film that has Steven Spielberg directing, Peter Jackson producing, John Williams on score, and Edgar Wright writing is just too many checks in the win column. Now we know that the old saying “two wrongs make a right” works in reverse.
Seriously though, Tintin squeezes a lot of action, humor, and adventure in a 107 minute runtime. And I promise that you won’t be looking at your watch wondering when it will be over. The film effortlessly blends the best of each of the aforementioned Hollywood icons giving us a mixture of Indiana Jones, Frodo & Sam, and Baby (years before Wright even created him). The only negative thing I can say about this film is that it will leave you wanting a sequel that is nowhere close to happening anytime soon.
35. Giuseppe Makes a Movie (2014)
Adam Rifkin (the Dark Backward, the Last Movie Star) documents Giuseppe Andrews‘s (Independence Day, Detroit Rock City) attempt to make a movie in under two days. Giuseppe Makes a Movie is a wildly surreal look into the world of its titular character, a world populated with people that wouldn’t look out of place in a Harmony Korine or John Waters film. Alcoholics and drug addicts, crazy as hell senior citizens, trailer park residents and gutter bums. These are the people Giuseppe has brought together to make his movie and each are as fascinating as the last. Whether the film he’s making (Garbanzo Gas) is good or not is besides the point. What matters is the fact that Giuseppe has given these outcasts something to do with their lives. He’s given them a purpose. It’s a touching ode to the strange and an amazing document on do-it-yourself film-making.
34. The Dirties (2013)
When two best friends start making a movie about getting revenge on their bullies, the line between reality and fiction starts to blur for one of them and the movie starts evolving into an actual plan of murder. For obvious reasons, there haven’t been a ton of films about school shootings, so saying The Dirties is the best of the bunch isn’t saying much but a couple of those films are directed by Gus Van Sant and Denis Villeneuve and this was a directorial debut that only cost 10,000 dollars, so it ain’t nuttin’.
By never showing the documentarian who’s following the two leads around, the film is either making the point that we (the audience) are the director or alternatively, we’re the actual subjects of the film. As much as the film is about the bullied becoming bullies, it’s about film and how the act of watching a movie makes you a willing accomplice. Much like Funny Games, the film only exists because you chose to watch it. The Dirties has a lot to say about the relationship between a film and the viewer and it also serves as a deeply realistic portrait of a disturbed young man. It’s everything Elephant isn’t.
33. Melancholia (2011)
In an alternate universe, Lars von Trier’s masterpiece was heralded as such. Every #FilmTwitter Stan would have seen it, casual movie-goers could’ve given it a chance, and it cleaned up on the awards circuit culminating in Queen Kirsten Dunst’s deserved Oscar win. In hindsight, it seems plausible but it didn’t happen. Either way, Melancholia is as much a humanistic character study drenched in authentic nuance while operating as a metaphysical opus. No better understanding of the crippling effects of depression has been captured on screen this decade, nor has it been illuminated with as much tenderness as LvT treats Dunst’s leading performance.
As an end of the world tale, Melancholia both understands the weighty helplessness of it all without ever crossing over into Sci-Fi territory. Almost as if the ending of it all is secondary to the unquenchable hunger for connection deposited our fractured human spirits. Simply put, Melancholia is a fine wine film that delivers devastating beauty through the vehicle of inevitable circumstances. And it’s every bit as good as any of the decade’s heavily favored Oscar darlings.
32. Calvary (2014)
I have a rule. If Brendan Gleeson is in a movie, I will watch that movie. It’s a rule that has served me well (though, admittedly, I have not yet seen Assassin’s Creed), and Calvary is no exception. Fortunately, I watched this before I saw The Guard, another film from director John Michael McDonagh and another film starring Brendan Gleeson (and also well worth watching), so I wasn’t expecting the same tone and humor that that very different film employs. Calvary, like Philomena, another great film from the prior decade, is grappling with the sins of the Catholic Church. It’s dark at times, but it has its moments of humor, and it handles the subject matter with care and nuance. It’s a small drama about a much larger issue that has affected millions of people, and it’s very much worth seeing.
31. November (2017)
In a poor Estonian village, a group of peasants use magic and folk remedies to survive the winter, and a young woman tries to get a young man to love her. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film from Estonia before (I honestly don’t even know where the fuck that is) but if they’re all this crazy awesome, sign me up for all of their films. Every other country can stop producing shit as far as I’m concerned because ain’t nobody gonna top November. Not because it’s great (which it is) but because it’s so unique and unlike anything else. The film feels like Robert Eggers took the Brothers Grimm and Tarkovsky, threw ’em in a bag and made ’em knife fight each other to the death. It’s a dark fairy tale, a weird art-house film and a horrific supernatural fable all rolled into one.
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!