It has been quite a year. Between watching tentpole franchise films in all their big-screen splendour, daring originals in small-screen comfort, and political newscasts through the cracks in our fingers, 2018 hasn’t passed by unnoticed. But we can’t see the year off without arbitrarily organising the last twelve months of popular media into lists that people can argue about so on that note here are my ten favourite films of the year presented in order of awesomeness. And don’t bother telling me I’m wrong because I’m not and I wouldn’t care even if I was – which I’m not.
Aquaman is the only comic book film on this list, and in a year that also included Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, it seems somewhat egregious that the latest offering from DC would make my coveted Top 10. Yet here we are.
Perhaps it’s just a consequence of me seeing it right in the middle of various very serious Awards-worthy end-of-year dramas, but I loved Aquaman without any irony whatsoever. It’s two hours of Jason Momoa doing alpha **** and James Wan flexing his obviously ample FX budget, and there’s an octopus that plays the bongos, and Nicole Kidman kicks people through walls, and a totally serious dialogue exchange ends with one character just hopping on a passing whale and speeding off. It is nuts, but there’s more visual wit and inventiveness here than in virtually any other blockbuster this year.
9. Creed II
I’m a sucker for all the Rocky movies, even the ones I know are terrible, but luckily Creed II isn’t terrible. It might lack the directorial panache of Ryan Coogler and Tony Bellew’s proudly indecipherable Liverpudlian accent, but what it does have is Dolph Lundgren and his Genetic Jackpot-winning on-screen offspring rolling through Philadelphia and looking disgustedly up at the Rocky statue. It also does a good job of developing compelling characters in interesting ways and cashing in on 40+ years of worldbuilding, which I suppose is pretty integral to its success too.
8. Hold the Dark
I still insist that Hold the Dark is Jeremy Saulnier’s least-focused and therefore weakest film, so the fact it’s still the eighth best of the year regardless says a lot about his ability to craft demented nightmare fantasias. It’s worth the inclusion for the masterfully blood-soaked centerpiece on its own, and even though the film doesn’t really have anywhere to go in its aftermath, that lingering sense of dread and those weird masks are always there to creepily hold your hand and whisper sweet nothings in your ear about the fundamental hopelessness and savagery of humanity. Or something along those lines, anyway.
7. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Basically a love letter to the Coen brothers’ tragicomic oeuvre and their endless fascination for the studio Western, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is the kind of anthology film that justifies the format by including tonally, formally and conceptually distinct stories that are all knitted together by an overriding theme, which in this case is basically the Coens showing off about how well they sneak humor into seriousness and locate pathos in nonsense. This is also the best-looking film of the year that won’t receive any official recognition for looking good, probably because it went straight to Netflix and strongly implies that Liam Neeson throws Dudley Dursley off a bridge because he falls in love with a chicken. Then again, The Shape of Water won Best Picture, so what do I know?
6. The Night Comes For Us
The Night Comes For Us is The Raid on steroids and mescaline, directed by a man who is evidently deranged. That’s a recipe for success if you ask me, and while I have no idea what’s in the water in Indonesia, it’s quite clearly something that compels filmmakers to indulge in go-for-broke genre movies, so I’m not complaining. Speaking of water, this is also the third movie on this list to debut exclusively on Netflix, so that theory about streaming platforms killing the industry isn’t holding much of the stuff, is it?
5. You Were Never Really Here
A film I liked so much that I resorted to one of those obnoxiously self-indulgent literary reviews just to express that feeling to the masses, You Were Never Really Here is a haunting character study that follows Joaquin Phoenix as a beardy hammer enthusiast as he clubs nonces to death and goes for dangerously lengthy swims.
While unashamedly a celebration of battle rap as the final frontier of acceptable inappropriateness, Bodied is also an enthusiastic skewering of political correctness, leftist posturing, and cultural appropriation, and is one of the most audacious and hysterical films of the year by quite a margin.
3. A Prayer Before Dawn
I’ve never been to any prison, much less one in Thailand, but by the time A Prayer Before Dawn had finished I felt very much like I’d just completed a stretch in a notorious Thai hellhole where I became addicted to opiates, narrowly avoided rape and AIDS, although weirdly not in the same instance, took up Thai boxing, and had sex with a ladyboy. I can’t say I strictly enjoyed the experience, but of all the wild nights out I’ve had, this has certainly stuck with me the longest.
2. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
A modern masterpiece of action cinema and practical effects, Mission: Impossible – Fallout distills the essence of Tom Cruise as the world’s most unflappable pop-cultural icon into a series of masterfully-constructed stunts and set-pieces. It repurposes the franchise’s long-standing mythology and iconography, and reduces Cruise from the enigmatic Space Pope to a flawed human being who can’t beat up Henry Cavill, keep his wife happy or jump between buildings without snapping an ankle. There was no better big-budget franchise film this year, and beyond Mad Max: Fury Road, there hasn’t been a better action flick for a decade.
Timely and powerful, and as much a buddy comedy as it is a blistering social critique, Blindspotting contains two of the year’s finest breakout performances and a finale that hasn’t been remotely rivaled by anything else in 2018. Unbelievably the debut of first-timer Carlos López Estrada, this film is an urgent examination of race relations, the justice system, and the gradual erasure of community and culture in the name of ingrained ignorance and profiteering big-business. A masterpiece.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.