Ben Pearson’s Top 10 Movies of the Decade

Ben Pearson's top 10 movies of the decade

(This article is part of our Best of the Decade series.)

The 2010s were a tumultuous era for movies, but reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated. While television made a powerful surge to try to usurp the crown and become the defining medium of the past decade, movies held their own and occasionally reminded us why we love them so much in the first place. Here are my ten favorite films of the 2010s.

Attack the Block

10. Attack the Block

You know that feeling when you’re sitting in a theater, finally watching a movie you’ve been excited to see, and it starts to be even better than you hoped? That’s a magical feeling for me, and Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block gave it to me continually throughout most of its runtime. It’s one of the most purely fun sci-fi comedies of this century, and along with the knowledge that we were seeing a rising star in up-and-coming actor John Boyega, it announced Cornish as a major directing talent to watch. The South London accents, the hilarious dialogue (“He’s ghostin’, bruv!”), the unbelievably good creature design of the aliens with glow-in-the-dark teeth, the way the film starts with a robbery and then expands its perspective to makes us ultimately understand and care about the teenaged robbers…quite simply, this movie rules. I can’t wait to rewatch it.

Whiplash

9. Whiplash

When a person achieves perfection in their art, is the final result all that ultimately matters? If a brutally strict authority figure’s methods drives one student to suicide but pushes another student to immortality, is it all worth it in the end? Whiplash deals with all of these questions and more as it puts an aspiring young drummer through hell, with the devil himself hurling insults and cymbals alike at him while clad in a tight black T-shirt. J.K. Simmons is scary good in this movie, and it’s the only film so far in which Miles Teller has felt like a bona fide movie star. It literally shows the blood, sweat, and tears that go into the obsessive pursuit of legendary status, but there’s also a trail of broken chairs and broken dreams that lie shattered in its wake. Perfection requires sacrifice, and Damien Chazelle’s precise, unflinching look at that sacrifice (and the glory that can be achieved in a rare, special moment) is one of my favorite movies of the past ten years.

Inception

8. Inception

Christopher Nolan’s best movie is…The Prestige. Twist! You thought I was going to say it was Inception, didn’t you? Inception is no The Prestige, but it is in the top three of Nolan’s filmography, and the best thing he’s made in the past ten years. I’ve heard all the complaints that this should be called Exposition: The Movie, and, yes, while Ariadne asks approximately 1.5 billion questions in it and seemingly 75% of its run time is spent explaining the rules of how exactly this weird dream logic works and how exactly the mind heist goes down, I do not consider any of that to be a flaw. You know why? Because I just used the phrase “mind heist,” which is such an unbelievably cool concept that I’m not sure why it hadn’t been utilized dozens of times before this movie came out back in 2010. The tagline is: “Your Mind is the Scene of the Crime.” How awesome is that? Pretty damn awesome, and thankfully, the movie itself is cool enough to live up to it. That oft-imitated Hans Zimmer score is propulsive as hell, the cast is perfect, the visuals are aces (shout-out to cinematographer Wally Pfister), and that incredible cross-cutting climax between the Bond-style compound, the van plummeting into the river, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s spinning hallway fight is still one of the most audacious chunks of any action movie I’ve ever seen.

Arrival

7. Arrival

A hyper-detailed, process-driven sci-fi film with a tear-jerker of an ending, Arrival stands as the peak of director Denis Villeneuve’s accomplishments over the past ten years. Eric Heisserer’s script brilliantly brings Ted Chiang’s short story to life, taking a realistic look at what might happen if alien ships made landfall across the globe. It’s a story about language, but ultimately about the power of communication – not just between governments and organizations, but between people. It’s a profoundly human story which features the best film performance in Amy Adams’ consistently undervalued career, top-tier work from Jeremy Renner, and an ideal blend of intelligence and emotionality. Arrival shines so brightly on every level that it makes all others pale in comparison until the buzz eventually wears off.

sing street

6. Sing Street

John Carney’s semi-autobiographical coming of age story set in 1980s Ireland is an ode to the creative spirit, a joyous celebration of making music, and a sweet romance all rolled into one. It’s about a teen boy who essentially bluffs a band into existence in order to impress a girl, and while the band starts out as something of a scheme, it quickly turns into a full-blown passion for the frontman and his ragtag bandmates. Musically, there’s a little something for everybody: the band (who refer to themselves as “futurists”) mimic the styles of recognizable acts like Duran Duran and Hall & Oates, but there are some soft ballads thrown in (“Up” and “To Find You” are stealth faves) alongside the show-stopping banger of “Drive It Like You Stole It,” which is hands down the best original movie song in ages. It’s also one of the best sibling movies ever, with the relationship between the band’s frontman and his older brother serving as the true heart of the story. It’s a small movie that may have slipped past your radar, but do yourselves a favor and seek it out. Its endless charm, catchy tunes, and several surprisingly moving moments lead me to believe you won’t regret it.

Fast Five

5. Fast Five

You bet your ass Fast Five is on my list. This is the movie that kicked the Fast franchise to a whole new level, and even though those movies have dropped off tremendously since Furious 7, this one remains the best of the bunch. Never has it been more clear that Paul Walker’s good-natured Brian O’Conner is truly the glue that holds this makeshift #family together, and the introduction of The Rock into this franchise is a total game-changer that added some much-needed levity and a physically imposing rival to Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto. This film contains some of the most ludicrous action scenes in any major Hollywood film franchise (that Rio bank vault chase!), and as silly and cheesy as it gets at times, there’s an unmistakable sense of joy that permeates it and extends all the way to the playful and legitimately gasp-inducing post-credits scene. (“Do you believe in ghosts?”)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

4. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire begins as a very matter-of-fact movie about a painter tasked with capturing the likeness of a stubborn subject who refuses to sit for her portrait. So the painter poses as the subject’s walking companion, sneaks glances during their walks, and tries to recapture the essence of this person behind closed doors. Like the painter, Sciamma’s camera focuses on loads of little details: the way sunlight changes the color of an ear lobe, or a quick glimpse of a piercing gaze. Slowly, all of that looking begins to turn into something beyond a professional requirement, and as the painter begins to break down her subject’s walls and slowly fall for her, we fall hard for them as a pair. Portrait is a rare look into a world almost completely devoid of men, and considering its overtly male-dominated time period, the fact that these characters (and the movie itself) are so completely uninterested in a male perspective makes me yearn for the chance to experience the untold amounts of female-created art that have been suppressed over the years. With outstanding lead performances, a heart-wrenching script, and some of the most beautiful cinematography in years, Sciamma’s movie is one of the most sensual, swooning romances ever made. My heart hurt in the best way after watching it.

spider-man into the spider-verse

3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a high-flying, action-packed piece of storytelling which, more than any other animated movie this side of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, feels like the best version of a comic book that’s come to life. I could spend this entire blurb praising its jaw-dropping visuals, but those wouldn’t mean nearly as much if they weren’t in service of a spectacular story about identity, finding your place in the world, and how everyone can wear Spider-Man’s mask, not just a clean-cut white guy. It’s consistently laugh-out-loud funny, which is something most studio comedies aspire to, but, in my experience, almost never actually achieve. But there’s also real pain in these characters, and a palpable interiority that’s rare for any superhero film, let alone an animated one. A year after its release, Into the Spider-Verse is still not just the best Spider-Man movie of all time, but the best superhero movie ever made.

Star Wars The Last Jedi

2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I haven’t done a full rewatch of the Skywalker saga in the lead-up toThe Rise of Skywalker, but I’ve seen enough of each of the movies recently to say that, for me, Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi is unequivocally the best Star Wars film yet. It’s a movie that knows how much these stories mean to people, and it tries to recapture the excitement of A New Hope in a bold, exciting way: it takes a hard look at the state of the saga thus far, and peels back layers of mythologizing and myth-making to get to the very heart of these characters and the tough decisions they have to make during their fight for survival. It’s the peak of what studio franchise filmmaking could be in the 2010s: thrilling, funny, dazzling, moving, and surprising. We may never see anything like it again.

parasite

1. Parasite

Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece switches genres like a speeding car changing lanes on a highway, moving so quickly from one thing to another that you almost don’t realize it until it’s too late. It’s a perfectly-constructed thriller, a laugh-out-loud funny comedy, a searing commentary on income inequality and social structures, and a darkly violent look at the horrific truth of late stage capitalism, all at the same time, and the movie ultimately concludes with a hard-hitting message: for one group to rise, another must fall. Its brutal and bleak final few minutes left me feeling despair about the state of the world, but also beaming about witnessing a stone-cold masterpiece from one of cinema’s most intuitive and intelligent filmmakers. Believe the hype. Parasite is for real.

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