My favourite Hidden Gems of the Decade - pt.1
Updated: Jan 2
While some of these movies may have gained some form of notoriety or an audience through some streaming service somewhere, these are all films I love that I rarely see talked about, either because few have seen them or few loved them as much as I did. Instead of being ranked according to quality or favoritism they are ranked by how obscure I think they are, from more likely to be known/seen to less likely. Generally these films earned no major awards, though one or two may have been nominated for a major award, and didn’t perform overly well domestically (if they opened wide at all). There are many films I haven’t seen that, if I had, I’d might include over some of these (namely foreign language films), but no list is perfect or all-encompassing.
Hon Mention #1 – Triangle (2009)
Written and Directed by Christopher Smith
Starring: Melissa George, Michael Dorman, Liam Hemsworth & Rachel Carpani
There are two films from 2009 I want to include so I’m slightly cheating, but it’s my list so I’ll do what I want. But this is simply a terrific genre film that is unlike anything you’re likely to see. It’s tense, engaging, well-acted, challenging, and has various ways you can interpret it. It’s the sort of film you’ll probably only appreciate more and more as you rewatch it. It just exists in its own universe. It's horror, science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, thriller and a great character study all in one terrific package.
Hon Mention #2 – My Dog Tulip (2009)
Written and Directed by Paul & Sarah Fierlinger
Starring: Christopher Plumber, Lynn Redgrave & Isabella Rossellini
This is quite a simple film based off the memoirs or J.R. Ackerley, an openly gay writer/editor that worked for the BBC for its earliest years (20s-50s). It’s about him and his relationship with his dog in old age and it’s quite an enjoyable watch. The animation is crude at times and inventive at others. Considering I hate films about dogs…that says how much I enjoyed this charming little film.
50. Buried (2010)
Directed by Rodrigo Cortes
Written by Chris Sparling
Starring: Ryan Reynolds
I’m assuming due to the attached star that this film has been seen quite a lot, but when it came out practically no one had heard of it. I suppose it was buried (kill me) by bigger films. Really, the film deserves props for being nothing but a guy in a box, buried underground, and making it not only engaging but also finding inventive ways to use the camera and to make that cramped space its own universe. Ryan Reynolds is also quite good. It’s a shame he doesn’t do more dramatic stuff. The movie isn’t amazing by any means, but it’s effective in what it sets out to do.
49. Overlord (2017)
Directed by Julius Avery
Written by Billy Ray & Mark L. Smith
Starring: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell & Mathilde Ollivier
This one didn’t perform absolutely terrible at the box office, but I’m not sure what kind of audience this film really found when it came to streaming. It’s just a really good genre flick mixed with a solid WWII film. The performances are all great. The action sequences are incredibly executed, especially that opening air raid sequence. The script is tight, the characters well-developed. It’s a perfect example of how no subject matter (basically Nazi Zombies) is impossible to make into a solid film. Wyatt Russell going full Kurt Russell is a joy to watch as well.
48. Everest (2016)
Directed by Baltasar Kormakur
Written by William Nicholson & Simon Beaufoy
Starring: Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Kelly, Josh Brolin, Emily Watson, John Hawkes, Sam Worthington, Kiera Knightley & Robin Wright
I saw this in IMAX 3D and it was an incredible feast for the eyes. I remember being quite underwhelmed by the story itself. But I rewatched it a year or so ago and appreciated it so much more. It’s very unHollywoodlike. It tells it like it is. There’s no manufactured conflict or drama for the sake of it being a movie. It’s just a depiction of real people who endured, or didn’t, unimaginable conditions. The matter-of-factness elevates the film over most disaster flicks. North America didn’t seem to care (43M take), but it made 160M worldwide so thankfully it wasn’t a flop as it seemed. On the flipside, the tremendous ensemble cast feels mostly wasted because of the approach to the story. They’re good, but in an almost documentary sense.
47. 12 Strong (2018)
Directed by Nicolai Fugslig
Written by Ted Tally & Peter Craig
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Navid Negahban, Michael Pena & Trevante Rhodes
I’m quite surprised this one was so panned by critics and that it made so little compared to other war films of the decade. The action is superbly directed (very little shaky cam) and there is an emphasis on military tactics, which I appreciated. The performances are all good and the bond between the soldiers feels authentic and provides some good laughs. I think what I admired most about the film was it wasn’t all AMERICA FUCK YEAH!! which makes so many war films unpalatable to non-Americans, and I suppose that’s thanks to having a Danish director. This is a solid 4-star war movie that doesn’t shove patriotism or politics down your throat and gives these soldiers their due.
I watched it with my stepdad (a special ops vet) and he got so into he was yelling commands and then he proceeded to have flashback nightmares…and considering he constantly bitches about realism in war/action films, that’s a big commendation for 12 Strong.
46. The Last Exorcism (2010)
Directed by Daniel Stamm
Written by Huck Botko & Andrew Gurland
Starring: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, Loius Herthum & Caleb Landry Jones
I know found footage is a turn off for most people, but when it’s done right, it can be extremely effective and that’s demonstrated here. Not only do you never really ask Why are they still filming? because they’re making a documentary on the priest’s final exorcism, so creepy stuff is meant to be filmed – with a general lack of movement of the characters, it’s easier to accept the tape as raw footage shoot in the moment (though there is still clear editing that probably hadn’t yet been done by the characters…but you have to not think about it to enjoy this style of film). I love the central character and the premise of a faithless preacher making a documentary about him performing fake exorcisms having a crisis of faith. The creepiness works really well and there’s lots of nice subtle touches. It’s made so that the audience questions if she’s possessed or not along with the priest. It has a wild ending that kills it for some people, but not for me.
All in all, this is probably the most underrated horror film of the decade in my eyes. I do not plan on ever watching the needless sequel.
45. Attack The Block (2011)
Written and Directed by Joe Cornish
Starring: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail & Leeon Jones
I know this film has gotten around when it comes to genre film lovers over the past eight years. I remember thinking…a film about monkeys from outer space? I assumed it would be a tongue-in-cheek horror film along the lines of Slither or Feast. And while it did have its comedic side to it, I was surprised at just how intense the film was and how seriously it took itself. Those space monkeys were nothing you want to fuck with and their design is creepy and badass. Similar to what I said about Overlord, Attack The Block is a perfect example of how a film about monkeys from space can be made into a solid film. John Boyega really steals the film as Moses. It’s a shame Star Wars didn’t give him anything interesting to do.
44. Ingrid Goes West (2017)
Directed by Matt Spicer
Written by Matt Spicer & David Branson Smith
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr. & Wyatt Russell
What a cautionary tale for our times this one is. Its depiction of social media addiction and how it fills similar voids as substance abuse in addition to how it forces people to constantly measure themselves against others is apt. There must be thousands of people out there like Ingrid who are bitter, envious, and alone, searching for a connection with someone and chasing some illusion of a perfect life to escape their own. It also lampoons the vapidity of Instagram celebrities while shining light on their own struggles in promoting their ostensibly perfect life because it’s their job. There’s plenty of dark humour along the way. All the performances are great, especially Plaza and Ice Cube Jr. And I can’t think of a film in so recent times that left me in disbelief at what I was seeing in regards to the outrageous lengths Ingrid goes to live a false life in ways that are hilarious and fucking depressing, often at the same time.
Honourable mention for Pinto’s obsessive love for Batman always making me laugh.
43. Fighting With My Family (2019)
Written and Directed by Stephen Merchant
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn, Nick Frost, Lena Headey & Dwayne Johnson
As a wrestling fan, I was excited for this film (even if I did question why her) as the story of Saraya Knight aka WWE Superstar Paige and her family. And I can say you don’t need to be a wrestling fan to enjoy this film. It’s funny, full of solid performances, and it tells a solid story about small town dreams, about being yourself, believing in yourself, and perseverance, that harkens back to many of the greatest sports films ever made. Most importantly, it does all the little things some films forget to do. It adds just enough dimension to each character to make them feel like human beings instead of caricatures, such as a short, simple scene that manages to make the beautiful former models training to make it in WWE into real people while it also makes Paige look like a judgmental bitch, and a flawed hero - all in about 30 seconds. In short, the script is well-structured, the characters well portrayed, and it’s pretty much perfectly paced.
For a hardcore WWE fan like myself, there is a lot of creative liberty in the final bit of the movie (it skips her entire run in NXT as the first ever NXT Women’s Champion) and totally changes the context of her debut, but I’m forgiving of that because it’s a movie.
42. A Ghost Story (2017)
Written and Directed by David Lowery
Starring: Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara
I’m going to talk about this film more in my top films of the decade list, but I’m putting it at the bottom as I am sure this film is widely known if only because its pie scene was famous before anyone really got a chance to see the film. To put it concisely, I fucking love this film.
41. Your Name (2016)
Written and Directed by Makoto Shinkai
I’m not an animeez though I assume this film has a major following in that community, but most people who don’t watch anime or non-Disney animated films likely have never heard of it and confuse it with the film about a gay minor having sex with a middle-aged man that people thought was weirdly sweet and romantic around the same time that Kevin Spacey being called out for hitting on minors (Hollywood is a strange, strange place).
The animation in Your Name is simply stunning, contrasting the ultra-realism of Tokyo with the fantastical mountain village. The capturing of light and shadow is brilliant. The initial concept of the film was something that could have easily been a farce, however, it’s written really well and develops into a much deeper story. The narrative itself takes some turns I didn’t see coming and it manages to blend science fiction and fantasy with a down-to-earth coming of age story about finding your place in the world. I can’t really describe why this film struck such a cord with me, but it did. Maybe it just took me by surprise.
40. Stoker (2013)
Directed by Chan-wook Park
Written by Wentworth Miller
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Matt Goode, Nicole Kidman & Jackie Weaver
I’m sure many film buffs sought this one out because it’s Park’s first American feature. I sought it out because Mia Wasikowska is one of my favourite actresses (you’ll see her again in this list) since I fell in love with her as an actress watching In Treatment. Stoker is just an incredible suspense film overflowing with tension, sexuality, stellar performances, and brilliant photography. And I still can’t believe the guy from Prison Break wrote this thing!
In terms of narrative it’s one of the most understatedly screwed up films I’ve seen in years featuring grisly killings, incestuous undertones, and psychopaths of various degrees. The editing is also something to be applauded with some great sequences like the growing shoes showing time passing and some others that venture into spoiler territory, but let’s just say it involves masturbating to some twisted shit. The character of India strongly inspired a central character in one of my novels.