A confession: this was originally going to turn out to be a double post of overrated and underrated, but I decided against it. For one thing, “overrated” is a petulant attitude to have: an easy one and certainly a fun one to have privately, but one based in the most subjective experience with the filmgoing community and that’s really not going to convince anyone. Plus my list of movies I really don’t care for as much as others is a long and versatile one – filled with those beloved of the mainstream, the arthouse folk, and even some that are recognized as representation of marginalized identities that it just feel outright mean to discuss in that context. I don’t feel like fighting that many people and those who know me personally and would like to lambast me know where to reach out to me for that full list, which will otherwise be under lock and key.
Which means I got to make more room for the underrated, the overlooked, the underseen, those darling pictures that I don’t have enough people to talk to about them or don’t get the love I feel they deserve or don’t get any love at all. The misunderstood, the misfits, that one man’s trash that is in fact my treasure. So much room in fact that this blew up to 50 films and I’ll try not to linger on all 50 here – especially since many of them will return in later lists – because I want to move forward on the rest of my 2010s wrap-up lists and ideally what’s going to follow will no longer surpass 30 entries. I just have so much to say and so much to defend.
The 50 Most Underrated Movies of the 2010s
(Presented in Order of Premiere Date)
Green Zone (2010, Paul Greengrass, France/Spain/USA/UK)
I mean, it’s exactly the perfect mix between message movie and entertainment that I want more of. The kind of movie that is able to double as action picture and outraged anti-War in the Middle East tale that we celebrated Starship Troopers for being eventually. I look forward to this movie gaining that reevaluation.
Film Socialisme (2010, Jean-Luc Godard, France)
Famously the movie that Mark Kermode walked out of at Cannes 2010 and made sure to save a spot for in every possible “worst of” list the movie could qualify for. Kermode was not alone in that attitude, but I just can’t relate. Godard – more than anyone else in movies outside of one more name that will show up later on this list – has always shown an interest in messing around with how we expect movies to work and the surprises in store were too much fun for me to bother with haters.
Resident Evil: Afterlife and Resident Evil: Retribution (2010/2012, Paul W.S. Anderson, Canada/France/UK/Germany/USA)
I can understand it with The Final Chapter (where satisfying as it was, the editing was physically painful for me to watch), but Afterlife and Retribution particularly stand as evidence on how Paul W.S. Anderson is able to put together effective 3D compositions and also how he knows exactly what to do with a screen personality as baller as Milla Jovovich. I don’t know what the other Paul Anderson could do with either and odds are he doesn’t either.
Burlesque (2010, Steven Antin, USA)
Trashiness is part of the job requirement for a movie with THAT title of all possible titles and I don’t intend to penalize Burlesque for the means by which it accomplishes that, basically by being Showgirls meets Cabaret. And BOTH of those movies are wise ones to aspire to imitate.
Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010, Panos Cosmatos, Canada)
This is a rotten tomatoes rating that really stunned me? I get that it’s not going to be for everyone (and unfairly, practically every psychedelic sci-fi cosmic horror aesthetical decision seems tailored to me as the same for Cosmatos’ follow-up) but 58%?! Say it ain’t so.
TRON: Legacy (2010, Joseph Kosinski, USA)
It is wild to me that, for a series where the whole point is showcasing the bleeding edge state-of-the-art effects, this movie isn’t recognized for being an outstanding step up from the original. Doesn’t it even satisfy y’all as an extended music video for Daft Punk?
Unknown (2011, Jaume Collet-Serra, USA/Germany/UK/France)
Would you believe me if I said knowing that the twist is totally ridiculous would only make the experience even better? It’s like Hitchcock says “the best thriller is when the audience knows something the characters don’t” and if there’s one thing this movie desperately wants to pretend to be…
A Dangerous Method (2011, David Cronenberg, Canada/Germany/UK)
We’ve had plenty enough non-body horror Cronenberg by 2011 to know that it’s not the only tool he relies on to deliver something his brand of strange so I don’t know what about this movie had convinced others that Cronenberg is now going extra straight-laced. Fassbender, Knightley, and (obviously) Mortensen seemed to be on Cronenberg’s wavelength without flaunting it so much, is that why the weirdness was missed?
Southwest (2011, Eduardo Nunes, Brazil)
A movie that I don’t think received very much of a stateside release – I know it’s available online for anybody to watch but I can’t recall ever hearing about it in a theater near me – which is an absolute shame because I can think of very few people who will go to Vimeo for an outlet on something this daring and gorgeous.
An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (2012, Terence Nance, USA)
The best kind of personal cinema that lets that function as the seed for some associative storytelling and a gleeful exploration into various film styles to communicate just how art can be as messy and indulgent as feelings are. I’m glad Nance is a better known name thanks to Random Acts of Flyness but I’m amiss at why it feels like this movie didn’t reach more romantics.
Mirror Mirror (2012, Tarsem Singh, USA)
We had two Snow White pictures come out in 2012 (3 if you lived in Spain!) and you guys somehow decided that the worse one was the one with costumes by Ishioka Eiko. Ishioka! Eiko! I swear the gorgeous eye candy of Tarsem Singh’s work is fated to be constantly misunderstood, whether The Cell, The Fall, or this. Do you all really prefer dour grey over the colorful since you prefer Snow White and the Huntsman over this?
The Lords of Salem (2012, Rob Zombie, USA/UK/Canada)
Does it feel insoluble as a horror film? Good. Does it feel indulgent and jagged? Even better. We’re so used to the concept of arthouse horror being austere and polished that when we finally receive something with such a dirty soul and quick turn hallucinatory, we just about give it no attention.
The Paperboy (2012, Lee Daniels, USA)
I feel like we as a generation have failed Lee Daniels as an effective master of sleazy and sweltering pulp trash cinema and that’s how we get the dude stuck making boring shit like The Butler.
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012, John Hyams, USA)
It’s a Universal Soldier direct-to-video sequel so it’s understandable how much we would underestimate it. But it is brainy in an appeasingly cool way and it’s a shame that that smart action movie is going to go on unsung because of its untrustworthy roots.
Post Tenebras Lux (2012, Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/France/Netherlands)
Yes, it is alienating enough that I can understand how so many viewers were put right off of it. But like most art cinema, if you were willing to meet it halfway, you’d be treated with a very intense blast of nostalgic memory in unconventional film form and that’s just the easiest way to get on my good side.
The Garden of Words (2013, Shinkai Makoto, Japan)
I mean, let’s be for real… that script is not underrated. It deserves every inch of hate it gets. But we’re missing the forest for the trees – if you’ll pardon the pun here – where Shinkai Makoto has been able to exercise his strength with water in a way that not only do I think he’s been unable to beat since, but also think animation has not caught up with. And that’s something I have to fall head over heels for.
Heli (2013, Amat Escalante, Mexico)
It’s a heavy heavy heavy serving of violence so I can understand what made distributors hesitant to touch it but, y’know, we’re at a dearth of exposure to Mexican cinema that’s not by the Three Amigos (though I’m optimistic Issa López will breakthrough) so maybe we shouldn’t be picky. Especially when something this devastating comes around.
Machete Kills (2013, Robert Rodriguez, USA)
Robert Rodriguez is hit or miss with me and Machete Kills was frankly the most solid hit he got with me since Planet Terror. So imagine my surprise when I find that this is not that well-received by the public, making me wonder if you all really thought this movie would be better straightlaced and serious as opposed to the bloody cartoon that it gets to be.
Boyhood (2014, Richard Linklater, USA)
I am certainly grateful to RedLetterMedia for a lot of things (and there are things about them that I don’t dig out) but the single worst thing in film criticism from this past decade is those guys emboldening a bunch of twerps into yelling “IT TOOK TWELVE YEARS TO MAKE!” I fail to see how that’s a little accomplishment or how that doesn’t add greatly to its time capsule value, but what do I know? It’s much more ambitious than Avengers: Infinity War having the money to buy celebrities into standing in front of a green screen.
Godzilla (2014, Gareth Edwards, USA)
On the one hand, I get it. The titular monster’s full screentime is extremely small. But on the other hand, I love the tease of it all. It plays extremely well with sustained anticipation, particularly because the sound and production design and specifically Gareth Edwards’ knowledge of scale helps keep things on the ground feeling insignificant and the largeness of the monsters feel unfathomable just by how obstructed they are to us. Godzilla may not have screentime here, but he has presence. That is undeniable.
The Homesman (2014, Tommy Lee Jones, USA/France)
I mean, I fell for it too. I read the premise, went to the premiere at Cannes expecting some feminist western and had the rug pulled out from under me. But the result was an experience I never stopped thinking about and eventually it came around to my realization that I approached the film wrong (and it seems a lot of folks did in the same way). It’s not a movie about strength in the brutal West, it’s about how easy that brutality can crack a person who isn’t already broken. And it goes about delivering that in a ballsy way that we don’t appreciate as much.
Maps to the Stars (2014, David Cronenberg, Canada/France/Germany/USA)
Seems weird how we’re always ready for another satire on how craven and plastic Hollywood is, but we weren’t ready for one on this level. It even finds a place to fit in Cronenberg’s body horror inclination.
Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, USA)
Practically every Best Picture winner meets with a sudden whiplash pushback, it’s only Newtonian physics. But this movie – at least around my neck of the woods – got met with the meanest of it and I admittedly can’t sit with the others that way. It is one of only two Iñárritu movies that I’ve found psychologically interesting and the only one that got him to show a sense of humor and it’s not the movie’s fault that he went right back to his miserablism with The Revenant (which, from what I understand, was shot before Birdman).
American Sniper (2014, Clint Eastwood, USA)
Seems like a movie that everyone made their mind about before it even came out. So we have here a lot of complexity regarding how mentally broken the “heroes” War Machine spits out become and how subtly antagonistic it is to Chris Kyle’s poisonous legacy and how doomed it is that both are valorized and mythologized. But no, we kind of threw the baby out with the bathwater here because a movie about Chris Kyle would HAVE to be glorifying by default according to right-wing and left-wing folk.
Blackhat (2015, Michael Mann, USA)
I mean, sure, I guess it is a silly concept with its selling of Chris Hemsworth as an intelligent cybercriminal and its desperate attempt to deliver an action picture out of some bros typing at keyboards. But it’s no less sleek or masculine as any other Michael Mann movie and it’s more sophisticated about it than any movie since Collateral, maybe even further back.
Jupiter Ascending (2015, Lana & Lilly Wachowski, USA/Australia)
I’m going to have A LOT more to say about this later on but suffice it to say that it’s so much fun and we have failed the Wachowski Sisters.
Knight of Cups (2015, Terrence Malick, USA)
Terrence Malick has now entered the game as that other filmmaker besides Godard who is trying to turn cinematic language up on its head after perfecting the impressionistic editing styles he’s relied on for the previous 3 decades he dominated (discounting the 80s because that’s cheating). And I can admit understanding why the “rich guy who fucks around ennui” premise is tired enough to not interest viewers on its own, but it’s not what your movie’s about but how it’s about it. And Knight of Cups is about it in a way I’ve never seen any other movie be about anything.
Crimson Peak (2015, Guillermo Del Toro, USA)
Is it the fact that the film isn’t really a ghost story? Because the movie addresses that. Is it how it had one of the most misleading ad campaigns in recent memory? Is it just the fact that Del Toro’s Spanish-language movies are not as good as his English-language films? Whatever the reason, that big spooky haunted house wins so much goodwill for me even before it proves to be satisfying as a Gothic romance that happens to involve ghosts. On a ballsy day, I’d dare to call it Del Toro’s best English-language movie and maybe even better than Pan’s Labyrinth.
The Belko Experiment (2016, Greg McLean, USA)
Seems to be there’s people who feel there isn’t enough of screenwriter James Gunn tongue-in-cheek satire and too much of director Greg McLean vicious violent nihilism. I like Greg McLean more so this is not at all a problem for me.
The Neon Demon (2016, Nicholas Winding Refn, France/Denmark/USA)
I loathe the antagonism towards “style over substance”, not only because I am a dyed-in-the-wool formalist when it comes to cinema but also because the two can be a part of each other in the best ways and when the substance is delivered by style… it’s a dream team. Refn’s last feature accomplishes this magnificently and reflects the shallowness and antagony of its subject matter just as efficiently as aestheticized violence could.
A Cure for Wellness (2016, Gore Verbinski, USA/Germany/Luxembourg)
Is it overlong? Absolutely. Is it gross in all definitions of the word? Yes. Is it gorgeous? Definitely. I guess maybe those three things don’t coalesce very well to people but for me… it felt like a big-budget exploitation film, finally taking advantage of studio money to deliver polished grotesqueries and I found that gleeful fun.
Mudbound (2017, Dee Rees, USA)
The biggest casualty of Hollywood’s previous allergy to recognizing Netflix films for their incredible accomplishments. This Great American Novel of a picture got buried under that debate and it’s unfortunate because 2017 was such a useless Oscar season that it wiped the floor with any Oscar contender outside of Phantom Thread.
First They Killed My Father (2017, Angelina Jolie, Cambodia/USA)
And this never even had a chance to be a casualty of the Netflix debate. Just out-and-out forgotten as soon as it was released, despite possibly being the most personally staked of Jolie’s films (outside of maybe By the Sea, which was trash). Maybe that energized her to deliver a much more powerful and scaled-down version of the message picture she developed into her second language for most of her directorial career.
Song to Song (2017, Terrence Malick, USA)
For a director infamously indiscriminatory with cutting actors from his movies as Terrence Malick, the dude really went on during his most experimental decade with giving a movie that pretty much trusts its four core actors to develop the material and carry things over. And since those four actors turned out to be Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman, and Rooney Mara, I fail to see how this was a losing situation but apparently that’s how most audiences saw it.
The Boss Baby (2017, Tom McGrath, USA)
It’s bold, it’s colorful, it is yoked stylistically in a flat but engaging way to the imagination of a child processing a fundamental change. What’s the bitch? The only thing more annoying to me than having to defend The Boss Baby’s Oscar nomination in the face of Ferdinand on the same slate was having to explain to people that no, The Boss Baby did not steal Your Name.’s spot… Your Name. was eligible in 2016 so get mad at Zootopia instead.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017, Luc Besson, France)
The concept that Star Wars: The Last Jedi had better special effects and more realized space opera worlds than this most comic book of comic book movies is wild to me.
Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017, Dan Gilroy, USA)
We deemed it Oscarbait and we weren’t wrong to deem it so, but it’s so out there and pursues both its ideas and its ideals in such a one-track vicious mind that I had a lot more fun witnessing it go down than most of that year’s Oscarbait.
The Commuter (2018, Jaume Collet-Serra, USA/UK/France)
Like the other Collet-Serra/Neeson collaboration up on this list, it’s sub-Hitchcockian but even more than that… it’s an unmistakable knock-off of The Lady Vanishes. Except y’know, masterpiece that that movie is, it didn’t have Liam Neeson kill a man with a guitar.
Everybody Knows (2018, Asghar Farhadi, Spain/France/Italy)
I really don’t get it. Especially so shortly after everyone decided The Salesman was the best thing ever and we gave the milquetoast melodrama of A Star Is Born Oscar praise, I don’t get how Everybody Knows became too much melodrama for others. It delivers the best of Spanish telenovella and Iranian realism flavors for a smacking combo.
Life of the Party (2018, Ben Falcone, USA)
Sometimes a movie comes around and people treat it like it’s meant to be anything more than a good time. It feels like this movie was the unlucky winner of that brand in 2018, which is shameful because in addition to being one of McCarthy’s underappreciated charmingly relaxed performances, it boasts all-timer supporting turns by Maya Rudolph (the performance that convinced me she was the dopest) and Gillian Jacobs.
Hotel Artemis (2018, Drew Pearce, USA)
Come on, the design of the hotel alone is a lot of fun to explore and inhabited by nicely hardboiled archetypes. I don’t understand what about it earns the unfair rating it got on Rotten Tomatoes. 57%!
Incredibles 2 (2018, Brad Bird, USA)
There are people that would have you believe that this movie is not as good or not better than its predecessor despite featuring action setpieces that rival those in Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Their loss.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018, J.A. Bayona, USA)
I know that “second best Jurassic Park movie” is not a very worthwhile accomplishment, but this movie knows full well the worst case scenario of its characters’ decisions and puts them through it… including the resultant Haunted House movie it turns into by the final act. It’s like a version of The Lost World: Jurassic Park that knows its characters are in the wrong but doesn’t treat them with contempt, just gleefully has them jump through hoops to make it out.
The Possession of Hannah Grace (2018, Diederik van Rooijen, USA)
Listen, it’s damp. It’s decrepit. It’s spooky. What else does a possession movie need? They can’t all be epics like The Wailing and would that they’re not and remain this small scale with impressive enough control of atmosphere.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019, Dean DeBlois, USA)
Can you believe that even in a year as empty for phenomenal animation as 2019, people seriously passed on this? It don’t get it: it improves on the incredible lighting principles of the last two movies and gives one of the most satisfying ending notes of any movie series from my lifetime. Largely because it relaxes and doesn’t stress those.
Ready or Not (2019, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett, USA)
Born to be a cult classic eventually but that’s way too long to wait, especially considering how 2019 turned out to be the year for “eat the rich” pictures. The fact that Knives Out robbed all of its power only adds to my angry energy about this movie.
Joker (2019, Todd Phillips, USA)
A movie that could just as easily go into overrated as underrated, but there’s still that remaining eagerness to paint anyone who likes the movie (of which I’m not) as the worst type of human being that I just don’t buy anymore and find very lazy. Your taste in movies is not enough to deem you morally bankrupt or pure-hearted. Anyway, this is very strongly the last time I will listen to Film Twitter’s debates, y’all straight up lost your shit defending or condemning this movie before it even came out. At least it distinguishes itself in a way that none of the MCU or DCEU movies really do.
Harriet (2019, Kasi Lemmons, USA)
The morality of turning the story of Harriet Tubman into a muted revenge western picture is up for debate and a conversation that I honestly have no place in (especially if it causes me to scold black women for making this). But the fact is that it is a much more interesting approach to the boring biopic genre than most filmmakers are willing to dive into.
3 from Hell (2019, Rob Zombie, USA)
Can’t tell if people are bitter with the fact that it erases the excellent final note of The Devil’s Rejects (I can relate to that) or if they just still haven’t subscribed to the fact that Rob Zombie is the best neo-grindhouse director around (can’t relate to that). In any case, it’s satisfyingly grungy and affrontive the way that the exploitation pictures are meant to be and it features Bill Moseley and Sheri Moon Zombie’s finest hours in these well-worn characters (and arguably Sid Haig’s too).
Gemini Man (2019, Ang Lee, USA)
Let me get this straight: we had an action movie… made in an abnormally high frame rate… in 3D… and we said no?! I mean it makes sense since The Hobbit movies made HFR 3D a nightmarishly bad thing, but Gemini Man redeemed it all on its own and we punished it for doing so.