My Favourite Hidden Gems of the Decade - pt.2
Updated: Jan 3
39. Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012)
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger
Written by Rashida Jones & Will McCormack
Starring: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts & Chris Messina
I tend not to like Romantic Comedies except when they are unconventional, then I can love them. Celeste and Jesse Forever is about two people who were best friends, got married, got divorced, yet are still best friends and live together. There is a lot of good humour from that concept. And unlike a rom-com with a meet cute and them coming together in the end, the film is about Celeste and Jesse coming apart and their difficulties in establishing a new life away from each other, and one has more trouble than the other.
Rashida Jones is excellent in this film. There was a movement in film in the early part of the decade where women were frustrated there were so few good roles for women in films so they wrote their own parts. The results were pretty good…some are on this list; some are too well known to be on it, like Bridesmaids. And then somehow it all changed and people just started complaining until others wrote them instead The passion and drive in Rashida Jones shines through in this film because she took it upon herself to help her own career.
38. A Monster Calls (2016)
Directed by J.A. Bayona
Written by Patrick Ness
Starring: Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver & Liam Neeson
I am a massive fan of J.A. Bayona. The Orphanage is my favourite horror film. The Impossible was a fantastic film from a filmmaking perspective, but the narrative was a letdown. I even liked Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom because of his visual flair despite it being a massively flawed flick. A Monster Calls, much like The Orphanage, is a film about grief, in this case about boy coming to grips with the fact his mother is going to die of cancer. It’s a gut punching film and few films affect me the way this one did. The design of The Monster is stunning and its role in helping the boy overcome grief and his social problems at school is a real nice story.
This certainly isn’t a feel good film by any means yet it’s a truly rare film that can appeal to children of a certain age that doesn’t sugarcoat the realities of life and the miserable things we’re all going to have to deal with at some point or another. Most importantly, it shows the value of escapism in art and imagination while also demonstrating that that very escapism can be reflective and therapeutic and grant us strength in dark times. I understand why this film flopped at the box office (not like BFG did though…ouch!) though it’s a shame so few people got to experience it on the big screen.
37. While We’re Young (2014)
Written and Directed by Noah Baumbach
Starring: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver & Amanda Seyfried
We’ve seen films about someone experiencing a mid-life crisis before, but rarely do we see films about a married couple having a mid-life crisis together: they’re childless, their friendships are waning, and they’re unsatisfied with their careers. That married couple, in their early 40s, meet a young couple in their 20s, and are reinvigorated with life. In many ways they are envious of the younger generation (hipsters) and their seemingly deep connection with things and with people they seem to lack. The young couple has the passion they once saw in themselves, possess the energy they now lack and, most importantly, that zest for being present in the moment with people. There’s some great irony in this film about aging and in generational shifts, a lot of which is told through visuals alone. The performances are all great, especially from Stiller who absolutely shines in the right role. It’s truly a perfect film for people of about any age and I imagine if they watched this film every ten years, they’d see it differently each time.
Since The Squid and the Whale, Baumbach has been one of my favourite filmmakers and this year’s Marriage Story cements him as an all-time favourite.
36. 20th Century Women (2017)
Written and Directed by Mike Mills
Starring: Annette Benning, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, Billy Crudup & Lucas Jade Zumann
20th Century Women is a film you can view three different ways: 1) a film about three generations of women raising a young man in a new age 2) a film about a young man getting mind-fucked by 3 different generations of feminist influence, or 3) a combination of the two. It is a fascinating film when it comes to feminism because it is both respectful of it and critical of it. It shows the conflict between generations of experience and schools of thought and the confusion that comes with feminism for young men in the 70s. The performances are all top notch and the writing is on point with sharp wit and a critical eye. I wish I could remember more specifics of the film other than really enjoying it. I just never got around to rewatching it. I almost bought it for 15 bucks or I could’ve bought 3 other films for 15 bucks…I go for volume!
35. Upstream Color (2013)
Written and Directed by Shane Carruth
Starring: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth & Andrew Sensenig
This is a difficult film to recommend to people because it is very ambiguous and the most “artsy-fartsy” film on this list. I’ve seen it a few times and I still don’t fully grasp it. However, I doubt it’s a film you’re supposed to grasp in a literal or narrative sense. It’s a strange fucking movie also. As a follow up to Primer, it’s a lesser film in some ways and a better film in others. Roger Ebert said it can be described as an “oblique romantic science-fiction mystery thriller” and if you’ve never heard of this film and that description confuses you, then you’ve got a primer for this film. Chances are you’ve never seen a film like it and after you’ve watched it, you never will see another film like it – if you’re anything like me, that’s reason enough to check it out. It’s best to go into this film totally blind and just experience it for yourself so I’m not saying anything else.
34. Leave No Trace (2018)
Directed by Debra Granik
Written by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini
Starring: Thomasin McKenzie & Ben Foster
This film has a lot in common with Room, a film I love about the same yet is too well-known for this list. It tells the story of a young girl who has been living in the woods for years with her father, a veteran with PTSD, and how they both deal with their idyllic, private life in nature being disrupted by the society they live beside. Ben Foster has been the most underrated actor for years. Since I saw him in Six Feet Under I knew he was a special talent. He really showed his chops in small roles in the mid-2000s in 3:10 to Yuma and 30 Days of Night. But then he vanished for awhile. I’m happy he’s been killing it the past few years with great work in Hell or High Water and Hostiles. Leave No Trace is the best work of his career. His performance is so nuanced he can convey frantic anxiety with only his eyes as a man who just simply cannot be around people. Yet it is virtual newcomer Thomasin McKenzie who steals the show. Considering my love for Foster’s work, that’s high praise. He’s never not been my favourite performance in one of his films.
I don’t put any stock in RottenTomatoes scores, but Leave No Trace is still sitting at 100%. I have trouble believing anyone who likes a great film with great acting with that manages to be simplistic and deep at once wouldn’t enjoy this film let alone not love this film. Much like A Ghost Story, I’m going to save talking about this one until I do my Top Films of the Decade in a few months. I just wanted to rave about the performances.
33. Loving (2016)
Written and Directed by Jeff Nichols
Starring: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Michael Shannon & Nick Kroll
I was excited for this film for two reasons: Jeff Nichols is one of the best writer/directors working today and Joel Edgerton is simply a phenomenal actor (his decade of film was incredible). Telling the true story of the historical supreme court battle of Loving v. Virginia, we see the toll of interracial marriage took in Virginia in the 60s from the perspective of the people embroiled in the lawsuit. Both Negga and Edgerton do phenomenal work in this film, which is an affecting portrayal of the power of love and how it can change the world around it. I was also quite surprised at Nick Kroll in this film who did an excellent job as the Loving’s attorney. While this is probably my least favourite Nichols film, it’s still a very solid film.
32. The Skeleton Twins (2014)
Directed by Craig Johnson
Written by Craig Johnson & Mark Heyman
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell & Boyd Holbrook
This film is a big reason why I wanted Bill Hader to play Richie Tozier in IT Chapter Two and then he was cast and, to no surprise, he was great. This is definitely a bit of an odd ball film about estranged twins coming back together in an effort to repair their broken relationship and their broken lives. However it is very funny and handles the subject matter with tact and heart. These are the sorts of movies that really connect with me – movies that can make me both laugh and get that twinge in my heart, with well-drawn up characters and good performances. All in all, this is an excellent indie film that I never see anyone talk about and it’s a shame because there are few things more wonderful than experiencing comedic actors step out of their comfort zone with aplomb.
31. Anomalisa (2015)
Written and Directed by Charlie Kaufman
Starring: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh & Tom Noonan
Anyone who knows me knows I love Charlie Kaufman, and anyone who knows me knows that Synecdoche, New York is my favourite film. So waiting nearly a decade for his follow up was difficult. Boy was it worth it. Here he takes the puppet aspect from Being John Malkovich and makes it the film’s entire world. The puppets here, similar to Team America: World Police are incredible in design except with the goal to make everything as realistic as possible. The stop-motion animation is spectacular in that the simplest things like taking a drink or wiping fog from a mirror take on a new degree of appreciation. Of course, despite the adherence to replicating real-life down to the tiniest details in this puppet film, it of course has its touches of surrealism as any Kaufman film does. Also like Team America we see puppet sex except instead of over the top ridiculousness, it’s tender and romantic.
The fact alone we’re watching such lifelike puppets in a realistic fake world somehow makes them more human than human as you watch nuanced life exist where it should not. Anomalisa is like Lost in Translation with puppets so if you love Lost in Translation as much as I do, you’re sure to love this film too.
30. Stake Land (2010)
Directed by Jim Mickle
Written by Jim Mickle & Nick Damici
Starring: Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Kelly McGillis & Michael Cerveris
In an age where vampires had little more to do than sparkle, fall in love with high school girls, or shoot guns while wearing skintight leather outfits, Stake Land was a breath of fresh air. Here vampires are indomitable again – vicious, blood thirsty creatures that exist only to consume blood. The vampirism in Stake Land is treated as a zombie apocalypse so the world is barren, rusting, with sporadic communities trying to survive as most of the population has turned into immortal consumers of human beings. The opening scene is chilling and gruesome and lets you know right off the bat the vampires in this film don’t fuck around.
The story focuses around a teenager who is being watched over by a vampire hunter named Mister, a stoic badass with a good heart. This is a pretty atmospheric horror with a dramatic edge and a nice slow burn with spurts of tense action sprinkled throughout and one of my personal favourite depictions of a post-apocalyptic world in an era full of post-apocalyptic stuff. A must watch for any horror fan.