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.
50. Swiss Army Man (2016)
Film in the twenty-tens could easily be broken down into two categories: big-budget blockbusters and everything else. In a decade where every film was a multi-million dollar spectacle, no one could’ve predicted that a little studio who specialized in releasing weird titles with no budgets, would become the most interesting film company working today. Within just 7 years, A24 became the king of the arthouse with its name holding as much currency to film nerds as Criterion. Its track record is phenomenal, with only a hand full of its releases being bad and while there are definitely better titles in their catalogue than Swiss Army Man (eleven of which show up on this list), few are as creative. Mixing the high brow with the low brow, the film tries to turn every crude taboo into a profound statement of freedom.
It’s a film in which a corpse (Daniel Radcliff) teaches an insane Paul Dano that farts are liberating. That they can be used as keys to unshackle ourselves from societal bonds. It’s a film in which the term “artsy-fartsy” isn’t an insult but an accurate description of its plot and tone. It’s an insane, wild ride that starts off infantile and moronic but becomes sweeter as it goes. It’s a love story that could never be made in any other decade. Thank God for A24.
49. Serenity (2019)
The strangest movie with the most left-field plot twist in recent memory is by far Serenity. Watching the trailer for this movie you think you’re getting a Lifetime Channel movie type of movie about a domestic violence survivor getting their revenge on their abuser. Until halfway through the movie that is exactly what you’re getting. Then everything changes and the world you think you know is put into question. Serenity received mixed reviews and a small box office haul upon arrival, but its stars, Anne Hathaway and Matthew McConaughey, never failed to go up to bat for it.
Perhaps most audiences and critics felt tricked or mislead by not fully knowing what they were going into but Serenity is an incredible watch and when you find other people who have seen it you will feel like you’re in a super-secret club. The biggest downfall is there are no extras on the home or digital release. If there was ever a movie I wanted to watch with commentary, it’s Serenity.
48. Much Ado About Nothing (2012)
What do you do if you’re on a contractual vacation? Well, if you’re Joss Whedon, you secretly shoot a modern-day black-and-white adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing with your closest friends.
Whedon shot the film at his Santa Monica residence over a span of twelve days. It features a number of Whedon’s regulars from shows like Angel (Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof) Firefly (Nathan Fillion, Sean Maher), Dollhouse (Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz), and Marvel’s The Avengers (Clark Gregg, Jillian Morgese). The film is bursting with talent, but also fun. All the actors look to be having a blast with this Shakespeare material. It’s that reason alone that makes this one of the better Shakespeare adaptations in recent memory.
47. Sleeping with Other People (2015)
Lainey and Jake lost their virginities to one another in college, and when they meet up again years later, they’re both damaged people, addicted to one night stands and toxic relationships. But they find some sense of normalcy with one another, and they remain determined to stay friends while leaving sex out of the equation, aware that acting on their attraction will destroy the connection they’ve made together.
There are some movies that when you begin to watch, you know exactly what you’re going to get. That can be said for most in the rom-com genre, but Sleeping With Other People was truly a pleasant surprise. Yes, it’s yet another romance surrounding two very attractive friends, and there are plenty of rom-com tropes to be had, including the expected, albeit frustrating, conversation to discuss whether or not men and women can just be friends. Thankfully a strong, witty script from Leslye Headland and incredible chemistry between Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie keeps Sleeping With Other People afloat amidst some of the more formulaic aspects of the movie.
46. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)
Hollywood was desperate to find it’s next leading man at the turn of the 2010s. What happened is that we saw periods where one actor was in 2 or 3 major productions over the course of 1 to 3 years. Sam Worthington had Terminator Salvation and Avatar in 2009, and Clash of the Titans in 2010. Then there was Taylor Kitsch who had the 2012 misfires Battleship and John Carter. Next, however, was the one actor I was really hoping would make it.
Jeremy Renner burst onto the scene with Oscar-nominated roles in The Hurt Locker and The Town, and quickly became Hollywood’s next ideal star. He was primed to take over not one, but two major franchises: Mission: Impossible and Bourne. History shows that never happened, but in-between playing Hawkeye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he made a film that really should have kickstarted a new franchise.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters answers “what happened next” in the fairy tale “Hansel & Gretel”. The siblings are all grown up and witch exterminators. It’s a film that dabbles in various genres (fantasy, action, and horror) and doesn’t take itself too seriously. All that is a recipe for a light and enjoyable viewing experience.
45. The Sacrament (2013)
Ti West had a lot of horror fans singing his praises at the beginning of this decade with his throwback to 70’s and 80’s horror of a more slow-burn atmosphere driven occult and ghost tales in The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. But it was his more realistic found footage film in 2013 that caught my attention. The Sacrament follows a news team that travels to an apparent paradise called Eden Parish, where one of the men is trying to find his missing sister. More of a psychological thriller that ramps up to a frantic third act with Gene Jones’ chilling performance as Father being enough reason to give this a watch.
44. Begin Again (2013)
Is it possible Keira Knightley’s decade-best performance wasn’t a period piece? That’s not meant to be dismissive of her incredible acting chops nor the niche of which she is synonymous. I merely ask because the case could be made for Begin Again as her most versatile and feeling portrayal, but it seems not enough folks have seen it to actually weigh-in. So, if you’re in the market for a low-key, well-written rom-com anchored by two industry icons Begin Again may be the best one you haven’t seen yet.
Mark Ruffalo weathers through the struggling middle of the music industry in engaging, charismatically unkempt fashion as Knightley serves as a brilliantly multi-talented artist that visits the deep well of emotion without overshooting. And the shared earbuds/playlist evening stroll is quite possibly the most romantically fun scene of the era. This one hits all the right notes and deserves placement alongside the genre’s heavy-hitters.
43. Bomb City (2017)
In 1997, in a small, conservative Texas town, a young man by the name of Brian Deneke was savagely beaten to death and his attacker walked away with probation and a fine, of which he never ended up paying. Deneke’s crime? He was a punk. This is the story of Deneke, his life, his lifestyle and the miscarriage of justice that let a killer walk away scot-free. It’s a scathing indictment on a broken system that demonizes and maligns anyone different. It’s a film designed to sadden you and to piss you off enough that you’ll want to do something about it but more importantly, it’s ultimate goal is to remind the world who Deneke was. A young man who liked punk and unfortunately became a martyr because of it.
42. The Standoff at Sparrow Creek (2018)
A dialogue heavy, one location drama, The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is 12 Angry Men if the jurors themselves were all on trial. To prevent further bloodshed from copycat shootings, an ex-cop (James Badge Dale) comes out of retirement to interrogate his old militia buddies to find out which one of them shot up a police funeral. If police procedures ain’t your bag, stay far away from this film because it’s nothing but a series of interrogations. A puzzle built on lies and facts that don’t add up, the film forces you to pay attention in order to piece it all together. It’s a smartly written, claustrophobic thriller with a great twist.
41. Cloud Atlas (2012)
Cloud Atlas is a mess. It has performances that run the gamut between great and downright laughable, makeup effects that are passable at best and offensive at worst and a structure that zip zaps all over the place. It’s too long, overly schmaltzy and way too cheesy. It has a laundry list of problems but ambition ain’t one of them. Cloud Atlas, for all its faults, is one of the most audacious works of art in a long time. Few films are as densely packed as this one is. There are multiple stories, set across different timelines (the film spans 479 years) and the main cast all play a different character in each story.
Some are different ethnicities, some are different ages but all are wildly different from each other. This is the only film in which you’ll see Halle Berry play a white Jew and Hugh Grant play a cannibal war chief for example. It’s a film about how our lives, whether we know it or not, have huge ramifications for all around us. Each of us is a raindrop that make up a larger body of water. Our actions may seem trivial, our lives insignificant but what is an ocean but a multitude of drops? This film tackles the subject of love being the most powerful force in the galaxy far better than Interstellar or The Fifth Element ever did.
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What do you think of the selection so far? What are some films from the 2010s that you think are hidden gems? Maybe they will show up further on the list!