My Favourite Hidden Gems of the Decade - pt.3
29. Young Adult (2011)
Directed by Jason Reitman
Written by Diablo Cody
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson & Elizabeth Reaser
When one thinks of a midlife crisis, one generally thinks of an overweight man on a Harley dressed like a member of The Village People; one doesn't tend to think of a gorgeous woman like Charlize Theron chugging a warm 2L bottle of Diet Coke off her bedroom floor for breakfast before running off to destroy someone's marriage. Her character of Mavis Gary was the prom queen in rural Minnesota and moved to ‘the mini apple’ (Minneapolis) where she lives as a ghost writer for a young adult book series. However she is a self-loathing alcoholic totally unsatisfied with her life while she looks at everyone as if they’re beneath her, especially the people in her hometown after a picture of her high school sweetheart’s new baby sends her there to win him back, no matter the body count.
I appreciate a film where the main character is detestable. In many ways the film is written by Diablo Cody as a revenge film: what if the high school prom queen you despised ended up miserable and alone? While the film manages to make us empathize with Mavis’ struggles, it also eventually makes us feel foolish for believing in her at all. Some people just are what they are. It’s a comically brilliant look at denial and narcissism and Theron kills it. Her supporting cast shines: Patton Oswalt, who is one of the best and most sardonic voices of reason in any film, is superb, along with Patrick Wilson, who manages the difficult task of being polite and aloof in regards to Mavis’s advances.
28. Jane Eyre (2011)
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
Written by Moira Buffini
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench & Jamie Bell
As a big fan of the novel, I knew Wasikowska was perfect for the role seeing as the term ‘plain Jane’ came from Jane Eyre and she is has the perfect face and presence to play the titular character; add in a stoic and mysterious Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester and you’ve got a great adaptation on your hands –and that is exactly what this is. Fukunaga brings this gothic romance to life with terrific visuals and a brooding atmosphere and lets his gifted cast bring the classic characters to life. When Fukunaga was first signed on to direct IT, this was the film that made me excited for what he could bring atmospherically to the project. If you’re a fan of the novel, watch this. If you’ve never read the novel, watch this and then read the novel: they’re both great.
27. Ruby Sparks (2012)
Directed by Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
Written by Zoe Kazan
Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Benning, Antonio Banderas & Steve Coogan
This one of those films I spoke about with Celeste and Jesse Forever, a woman who wrote a part for herself, and Zoe Kazan knocks it out of the park. Perhaps this film speaks to me more than most because writers can relate more to films about writers though I’d like to believe it’s just because it’s funny and creative. The basic premise is a young, lonely writer struggling to overcome writer’s block after debut success, who writes about a girl name Ruby Sparks who appears in his apartment the following morning. It’s a science-fiction story without any science, but plenty of fiction since Kazan has a blast coming up with inspired and fun ways to use the premise to its full potential and she clearly has a blast playing a scripted woman who thinks she’s autonomous, no doubt symbolic of her frustration with opportunities at the time. One would think a woman who will be anything you want her to be is any man’s dream yet the film tackles that fantasy head on; when fantasy meets reality, the idealism of fantasy is inevitably poisoned.
The whole cast is very good here too and the characters are scripted in a way where there is inherent conflict simply through the disparate personality types. As I also said with Celeste and Jesse Forever, when a romantic comedy is unconventional I can love it, and Ruby Sparks is that and more.
26. Shame (2011)
Directed by Steve McQueen
Written by Steve McQueen & Abi Morgan
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan & James Badge Dale
Sex addiction is something that is often joked about, especially among celebrity scandals, but in Shame we see just how damaging sex addiction can be. I think it’s something that is often used to excuse philandering or just being promiscuous and I think the stigma and perceived illegitimacy to the psychological condition makes it incredibly difficult to be treated for. Most other addictions have groups to attend while a pack of sex addicts in a room must be fraught with temptation because unlike other addictions like drugs or gambling, all you need is a body to get a fix.
Fassbender portrays the condition without reservations. I wasn’t expecting this film to be quite as depraved as it was…or maybe I expected it to be more depraved, I’m not sure which. But we see him as a man who, at one point, is so needing to ejaculate he doesn’t even care if it’s a man or a woman who makes him do it: I think the idea of sexuality is a foreign concept to him because everyone else on the planet is just a nameless body, something to get him off. The only emotional relationship he seems to have is with his troubled sister and between them there is unspoken trauma, something that both made them who they are or was a result of who they are. We never get an answer and that’s what’s stuck with me most about this film. I hope this sleeper film got more eyes on it after McQueen’s follow ups, 12 Years a Slave and Widows.
25. Midnight Special (2016)
Written and Directed by Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Jaeden Martell (Lieberher), Kirsten Dunst & Adam Driver
This was released half a year before Nichols’ Loving, so I was very happy this year with film. Midnight Special, like all of Nichols’ films, is a film that respects its audience enough to understand the film without guiding them through it like so many scripts do. It’s a special film that slowly unfolds at a very deliberate pace, where a lot happens without it feeling as if a lot is happening. Before you know it a small little story about two men on the run with a child becomes a story with a large scope that leads somewhere incredible and unexpected, a visual revelation that really has to be seen on the big screen for its splendor to hit 100%. This is a film that’s best to know little about it. Just let this slow burn, dramatic, science fiction, suspense film unfold before you. It’s one of the most original films of the decade.
If you need a push to watch this one, it’s made by one of the best filmmakers of the decade and stars several of the best actors working today and one of the best young actors in the business.
24. Another Year (2010)
Written and Directed by Mike Leigh
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, Leslie Manville, Oliver Maltman & Peter Wight
Mike Leigh is the most underrated and/or unknown writer/director working today. And despite this and other films of his getting sporadic Oscar nominations including Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture and Best Actress, he seems to just fly under the radar despite decades of quality work. Hell, I only discovered him because Another Year was nominated for Best Original Screenplay and I try to watch every film nominated for every major Oscar. I can understand why he doesn’t have mainstream success as his films are pretty much just people sitting around talking. I am still perplexed as to how when it comes to film buffs I almost never hear his name or films come up.
I’ve watched Another Year at least 15 times this decade. It’s hilarious, flawlessly written, perfectly added, filmed well, and it finds a way to worm inside you of you by the ending. Leslie Manville not being nominated for Best Supporting Actress is a travesty. I can easily put her in my top 10 favourite performances for the decade and not lose any sleep over it. She’s simply brilliant. I sometimes wonder if she and/or her character of Mary were so brilliant Mike Leigh couldn’t help, but essentially shifts the film to being secretly about her despite the focus on the happily married couple she’s friends with.
The final shot of this film is easily also in my favourite shots of the decade. It’s so understated and brilliant.
23. The Double (2013)
Directed by Richard Ayoade
Written by Richard Ayoade & Avi Korine
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Yasmin Paige & Noah Taylor
I wanted to see this film at TIFF but a ticket cost $45 and once you add in the $30 for a train to Toronto and the subway, not to mention food and drinks, I just couldn’t bring myself to drop $100 to see a movie. Without reiterating my adoration of Mia Wasikowska, the story is based on a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky, one of my favourite writers, and I love the film so much that I wish I had spent the money now to see this beautifully weird film on the big screen. It was the other doppelganger film of 2013, along with Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy (filmed/set in Toronto) and is the lesser known of the two, mainly due to the way Villeneuve broke out afterwards with Sicario, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049. And I’m probably in the minority who has seen both who prefers this one.
Like other films in this list, I’ll go into more detail in the future, so I want to say instead why I prefer this to Enemy. The imaginative world that seems both futuristic and antiquated simultaneously that’s set in a city of eternal nighttime containing a nightmarish depiction of Communism; pair that with the quirky editing, creative production design, mechanical sound editing, a terrific score and the surreal visuals, and it’s a treat for the senses. The world is so oppressive that it allows for a shitload of dark humour as you laugh at the character of Simon who is so oppressed by the world around him that every tiny detail of his universe seems alive, as if it is maliciously zeroing in on Simon, from elevators to card readers to waitresses to security guards to the societal systems themselves, to ensure his unending misery…if you’re able to laugh at a character’s misfortunes then you will laugh your ass off. As good as Enemy is, it lacks the sheer creativity and lack of abashment that makes The Double so great to me.
22. Infinitely Polar Bear (2014)
Written and Directed by Maya Forbes
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Imogene Wolodarksy & Ashley Aufderheide
This is probably my favourite Mark Ruffalo performance and that’s saying something because he has many great performances. Zoe Saldana is also dynamic in a tough role and I wish we got to see her in more films where she’s not blue or green or in space. The two actresses who play their children are also quite good and together they make this film about a family struggling to deal with the father’s Bipolar Disorder both sad and heartwarming and oftentimes quite funny. The two daughters are reaching the age where they can see all the faults in their father and they fluctuate finding their father’s childishness endearing and utterly terrifying. They’re more responsible and adult than he is in most respects and when their mother takes a job in the city and their father must take care of them, the chaos that is his head overtakes their lives in small and large ways. There is a hilarious visual homage to The Shining during one scene where they flee from their manic father.
Infinitely Polar Bear takes a long look at Bipolar Disorder, based off the childhood of the writer/director’s own childhood living with a Bipolar father so, as ridiculous as some of it is, it all feels to stem from a place of genuine experience. And while Ruffalo’s character is at times portrayed in the film as some kind of horror movie maniac it’s done in such a charming, quirky way that never seems to villainze those suffering from the condition even if it does have a little fun with it along the way. If dramedies are your thing, as they are mine, this is an easy recommendation.
21. Under The Shadow (2016)
Written and Directed by Babak Anvari
Starring: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi & Arash Marandi
This has been on Netflix for awhile so I’m not sure what kind of viewership it’s gained (IMDB has 20k ratings and RT has 4.7k so probably not much), but this Iranian horror film set in Tehran after the Islamic Revolution in the 80s is a very good watch. Everyone should be warned, however, that this is not a traditional horror film. There’s little in the way of jump scares or even spooky things. It is more drama than horror and the horror is a blend of realistic horror of a societal upheaval, systemic oppression, warfare, an undetonated missile above your apartment, and then the spooky elements are set on top. And it is an excellent drama about a woman trying to protect her daughter from the evils of society and the supernatural.