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.
90. Personal Shopper (2016)
A big theme of the 2010s in film, especially in thriller and horror, was grief. Manchester by the Sea, Hereditary and The Babadook are just few that deal with this theme, but Olivier Assayas’ 2016 film, Personal Shopper, is a little gem that’s a personal look at grief. Kristen Stewart pretty much singlehandedly leads this mysterious ghost story, as a high-fashion personal shopper to celebrities who is grieving the death of her twin brother. It’s a unique and somewhat unsettling film that hinges on the viewer engaging with Stewart in her story.
89. Prospect (2018)
With a map to a large deposit of elusive gems hidden in the depths of a toxic forest on a remote alien moon in their possession, a teenage girl (Sophie Thatcher) and her father (Jay Duplass) must fend off all sorts of malevolent beings intent on stealing the map if they want to strike it rich or even make it off the moon alive. An extremely low budget but high concept sci-fi film, Prospect punches far above its weight. Originality and character isn’t one of the film’s strong suits (you’ve seen this story a hundred times before and the characters aren’t much more than stock caricatures) but what the film does do well, it does extremely well. The world building is first rate, the performances are good enough that you’ll forgive the cliched aspects of their characters and Pedro Pascal kills as the quasi sorta baddie. Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl somehow turned their 14 minute short into a minor sci-fi gem.
88. What If (2013)
With his ten year Harry Potter career behind him, it’s been quite the adventure watching what Daniel Radcliffe does next. His choices have been rather quickly, and at times, questionable, but it’s hard to deny they’ve always been interesting. So it was a bit of a surprise when he waded into the not so deep waters of the rom-com genre. What was surprising was that Radcliffe managed to avoid a stale, formulaic production, opting for the low budget indie romance, What If. Radcliffe stars as Wallace, a medical school drop out who experiences a near perfect meet-cute moment with animator Chantry, played by the ever reliable Zoe Kazan. Unfortunately for Wallace, Chantry has a long-time boyfriend, and the two eventually grow to become best friends. Their path to a potential happily ever after takes much longer than either would probably like, but it’s so worth the journey. Radcliffe and Kazan boast some undeniable chemistry and the film itself stays true to its rom-com roots while successfully breaking free of the tired and expected clichés. What If is both funny and romantic, fueled by relatable leads and fantastic supporting turns by Adam Driver and Mackenzie Davis. It’s near impossible to replicate the charm and romance that made When Harry Met Sally such a classic, but What If could be considered a worthy successor.
87. Red White & Blue (2010)
The film follows three characters: Erica (Amanda Fuller), a damaged woman who cruise’s the local bar’s in search of random hook-ups to numb the pain of her dark secrets, Nate (Noah Taylor), a former army interrogator whom she forms an unlikely bond with and Franki (Marc Senter), a musician caring for his cancer stricken mother who Erica met during a drunken tryst. As the film slowly progresses it becomes apparent that these three people are on a violent collision course towards a horrific final act. More gruesome than any horror film and more tense than any thriller, Red White & Blue is an unrelenting drama that’ll push you to your limits. It’s Blue Ruin‘s bleak as fuck cousin.
86. American Honey (2016)
Ladies and Gentlemen, Andrea Arnold reinvented the coming-of-age genre for the 21st Century, and it never looked this viscerally awesome before. Also, we can be grateful for this title as it welcomed Shia LeBeouf back to the fold. Dude electrified the screen in this turn. Newcomer Sasha Lane is a force to be reckoned with carrying the film on her shoulders. American Honey is the most honest exploration of Americana we’ve seen this century. In an era of teen-films boasting mediocre adaptations of futuristic utopia or shimmering vampires — AH is a gritty, stripped-down, near three hour epic of filthy — yet — beautiful illumination of the misfits we often ignore. Watch the trailer and tell me you’re not compelled to dive-in — I dare you. A modern American masterpiece in every sense of the term. Can we get a Criterion release on this already?
85. The Illusionist (2010)
It’s easy to forget that cinema, first and foremost, is a visual medium. Indeed, some of the more potent displays of humanity and art can be found in less; the richness of innocent discovery and simplistic yet wonder-filled storytelling found in the mechanics of old. And that, is where Sylvian Chomet master work resides–in the ember of aged life blended with childlike discovery. The Illusionist isn’t just a perfect animated film, it’s a testament to the most honest and pure sort of filmmaking one can conjure. Through minimal dialogue, hand drawn visuals of yesteryear, and a tender, pulsing score we follow an old-time French illusionist to Scotland.
He finds himself on a gentle venture across the country with perhaps the last true fan of the now forgotten enjoyment of light-hearted illusionary entertainment of yesteryear. A tale of losing time before your ready hearkening back to the inner child of us all and the beauty that it can bring. The closing 10 minute segment, a farewell piano-laced suite is precisely the delicate but shattering beauty you’d want in a film with little to say but much to feel. The Illusionist is a tapestry of genuine expression that almost feels too good for us.
84. Beast (2017)
At its most basic premise, Beast is a movie about a serial killer. Yet Michael Pierce’s directorial debut subverts all expectations and is so much more than that. Set in a small island community, Moll (Jessie Buckley) is a troubled young woman who falls for the mysterious Pascal (Johnny Flynn). The wider community is on-edge following a string of unsolved murders of young women in the area and as an outsider, Pascal is under suspicion. Beast will have you guessing as the story develops and even when the conclusion is reached, much is left open to interpretation. Superb storytelling with two powerhouse performances.
83. Partisan (2015)
Partisan is an exercise in subtlety. It’s a movie about a commune of child assassins, their mothers, and the lone patriarch (played by Vincent Cassell in perhaps his finest performance to date) who dominates their lives at the edge of a crumbling, Eastern European city. The setting is dystopian, the plot seems torn straight from a comic book, and there’s zero exposition to center the audience in the fictional world freshman director Ariel Kleiman has dropped us into. Which allows the director to focus his movie on the characters and their story.
Partisan is often quiet and contemplative, and its slow pace and refusal to give a simple explanation for the world it depicts has frustrated some critics. But the easy answers Partisan might give up are far less interesting than the questions it leaves with those patient enough to stick with it until the end.
82. The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)
Robert Downey Jr had the comeback of the century about ten years ago, Matthew McConaughey had his McConaissance a little bit later than that, Michael Keaton is still enjoying the fruits of his career resurgence from a couple of years ago and this year it’s Shia’s turn. 2019 was the year of the LaBeef. He had two indie darlings release this year and while I like elements of Honey Boy more, I found this film, on the whole, more consistently entertaining. It’s a gentle film about an unlikely pair of outlaws.
One is a troubled fisherman (LaBeouf) and the other is a young man with autism (Zack Gottsagen) who escaped from an assisted care living facility. Since neither man can go back home for various reasons, they, along with the caretaker in charge of finding the young man (Dakota Johnson) decide to help him pursue his dream of wrestling. It’s a road trip movie that’s reminiscent of Little Miss Sunshine in that both films are about a group of social outcasts on a journey to help one of their own achieve their dreams and while it’s not as good as that, it’s filled with just as much charm and warmth.
81. The Voices (2014)
Ryan Reynolds doesn’t have the biggest set of tools in his acting bag but what he’s really good at, almost better than anyone else, is making insane killers or the most obnoxious d-bags likable. It’s more than just charisma, it’s as if he’s managed to some how weaponize likability. You can’t help but like him. Hell, he even makes romcoms watchable. He uses this super power to great effect in The Voices. A mentally unhinged factory worker must decide whether to listen to his talking cat and become a killer, or follow his dog’s advice to keep striving for normalcy.
The best performance of his career by a country mile, The Voices is the best use of hitman like likability. He will disarm you will his personality, you will be taken off guard by his talking pets (both voiced by Reynolds) and you will continue to root for him after he fills his refrigerator with severed heads. No other actor could’ve done this role justice and no other actor could’ve gotten it made. It’s a whole lotta messed up but because Reynolds is in it, you’ll love it.
100-91 | 80-71
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!