Boy, 2018 sure was a year, wasn’t it? So, as we’re down to its final few hours, here’s a look back at all the film and TV moments that shaped the year. Some were poignant snapshots that reflect the modern-day absurdity of our everyday lives, and others were conspicuous misfires that nonetheless provide a similar commentary, however unintentional. Or, at the very least, will be one we look back at in a few years and go “yeah, that was fuckin’ weird, wasn’t it?”
Anyway, here’s a look at the film and TV moments that defined 2018.
Most Egregious Marketing Campaign: The Walking Dead
Ever since news “leaked” over the summer that Andrew Lincoln was leaving The Walking Dead sometime in the show’s ninth season, everyone was up in arms over what it meant for his character, Rick Grimes, when he’d bow out of the long-running zombie soap-opera. The show’s marginally improved ninth season built up to it steadily in the first few episodes, all the way up to Rick being impaled on some rebar and surrounded by hordes of the undead.
After he miraculously cocka-doodeyed his way out of that jam, his farewell episode was filled with death rattle flashbacks from several dearly-departed characters (this was never a show about subtlety) before ending with him blowing himself up on a bridge to save the day.
That is, until the post-credits scene, which showed him being safely carted off by a helicopter courtesy of his former adversary, Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh). Within about 11 seconds of that world-class fake-out, it was revealed that Lincoln’s Rick Grimes would live on in not one, not two, but three(!) Walking Dead movies as part of the show’s desperate attempt to get on the shared-universe bandwagon. Great.
Best Pretentious Indulgence: The Shakespeare Dialogue in Vice
Adam McKay is not a filmmaker known for his subtlety, and in the opening seconds of Vice, there’s disclaimer about how McKay and company did “the best we fucking could” in adhering to the truth, given the former Vice President’s notoriously secretive legacy. This was revisited partway through the film as Cheney (Christian Bale) and his wife, Lynne (Amy Adams) discuss the pros and cons of becoming George W.’s running mate.
Then, the narrator (Jesse Plemons) revisits this notion, explaining how one, there’s no way of knowing what their conversation consisted of that fateful night (or if it even really took place at all), and two, the real-life drama that is life doesn’t work in these Shakespearean confines.
So what does McKay do? Cuts back to the happy couple who exchange a loosely approximated scene from Hamlet — in full Shakespearean dialect. It rubbed some the wrong way, sticking out as an obtuse moment that didn’t seem to fit. Others who held the correct opinion, meanwhile, saw it for what it was: McKay’s meta sensibilities satirizing the film’s real-life subject.
Most Subversive Fourth Wall-Breaking: The Judge’s Revelation in The Good Place
NBC’s fascinatingly good afterlife comedy The Good Place continued its increasingly grand ambitions at the end of season two by undoing the deaths of its four main characters and setting them loose back in the real world to test Michael’s (Ted Danson) theory about human rehabilitation.
After things predictably go awry, Michael repeatedly interferes, bucking the rules of the system once again. But when the Judge (Maya Rudolph) who signed off on the whole idea confronted Michael and Janet (Darcy Carden) about the ripple effect it had. Which included causing Brexit, and the fact that Blake Bortles had gone from punchline to competent NFL player. For a show that doubles down on its weirdness every single chance it gets, it was a delightful nod to our increasingly ridiculous real-world headlines.
Best Surprise Reveal: Miles the Bellboy in Bad Times at the El Royale
Drew Goddard’s neo-noir heist movie Bad Times at the El Royale might’ve fallen short of all-time classic, but it’s chocked full of enough twists and turns to keep even casual viewers engaged for its two-and-a-half hour runtime. Part of that is due to the one big reveal at the film’s bloody climax, where the inept junky Miles the Bellboy (Lewis Pullman) showed his true colors.
It was a little ridiculous and came out of nowhere, much like most of the big reveals, but it’s a moment of the film that’s most likely to elicit cheers when it happens.
Most Unexpected Horror Story: “Woods,” Atlanta
Atlanta’s Robbin’ Season was a daring, masterful master class of television that was littered with moments that will resonate for years to come. From Donald Glover’s ghastly delivery of Teddy Perkins to Zazie Beetz’ Van navigating a fake Drake Instagram party, every episode shattered the boundaries it pushed in its debut season.
While the season had veered strongly into horror, (see the aforementioned Teddy Perkins), it revisited again with an unnerving real-world sensibility with “Woods.” The episode followed Alfred ‘Paper Boi’ Miles (Bryan Tyree Henry), who was driven into the woods after an unexpected turn of events. It was void of any subplot to give you a relief from the steady uptick in tension, and like most of Atlanta, tended to stay with you long after viewing.
Best Camera Shot: Killmonger Takes the Throne in Black Panther
If Marvel’s Phase II was the studio dipping its toe in the idea of starting to shake off the convention of their films, Phase III was a full-on cannonball into the pool. Following the example set by Taika Waititi’s take on Thor: Ragnarok, Ryan Coogler unapologetically made Black Panther his own.
No moment was more representative of Coogler’s vision was when Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), having bested his cousin in combat, enters the throne room as the new leader of Wakanda. Bent on undoing the country’s sovereign isolationism, and upending global events in the process, the camera starts upside down, before slowly circling back as Killmonger struts toward his newly-won throne. It was a daring stylistic choice, and one that will go down as a landmark moment in the MCU.
Most Unsettling Moment: The Car Scene, Barry
HBO’s hitman comedy Barry never shied away from its dark comedy instincts, as Bill Hader’s titular character struggled to find meaning in his life while making a living ending others. While he finds solace in acting, his profession keeps complicating his life, and eventually entangling his buddy from the service, Chris (Chris Marquette).
It’s one of those scenes where you can see how it’s going to end long before it happens, making you dread the inevitable more and more until it happens. And when it does, it’s still shocking. But rather than rest on its laurels, Barry takes it one step further, showing not only the reality of his sociopathic behavior, but his calculations in the aftermath, as well as the emotions he has to contend with afterwards.
Best ‘Holy Shit I Can’t Fucking Believe A Major Studio Financed This’ Moment: The final act of Suspiria
The notion that Luca Guadagnino was going to follow up Call Me By Your Name with a remake of one of the most pivotal and influential horror films in history was enough to generate buzz. Then he took a 90-minute film and stretched it into a six-act epic (plus an epilogue), embellishing his creative instincts, juxtaposing the beautiful with the graphic, and unleashing a film he’d thought about making for 40-some years.
But it was the film’s sixth act, “Suspirium,” is a batshit crazy, Fellini-esque orgy of blood, guts, and Tilda Swinton’s prosthetic penis. It defies any real explanation, and definitely ended one of the most divisive films of the year with a bold exclamation point.
Most Terrifying Monologue: Gus Fring in Better Call Saul
There were so many jaw-dropping moments in Better Call Saul’s fourth season. From Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) callously shrugging off Howard’s (Patrick Fabian) guilt-ridden confession, to his delivery of his newly-adapted moniker in the closing seconds. But the series’ standout moment came when Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) sat beside the bed of his most hated foe, Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis).
Still unconscious after his stroke, courtesy of Nacho (Michael Mando), Gus spares no expense in making sure Hector will be rehabilitated. As he visits him in the hospital one night, he explains how, as a child, he caught a feral caoti that had stolen fruit from a tree he cared for. It was more than a simple act of revenge for the future crime lord, and it revealed a much darker side to a character who we know already threatened to kill an infant. He savored the death of this animal, much like he now savors Hector’s suffering, telling him simply “I believe you will wake” before he leaves the room.
Best Misuse of Music: Almost Every Scene in Gotti
Gotti is such a spectacular failure of a film it transcends the ‘it’s so bad it’s good’ trope all the way into hypnotic. John Travolta plays the eponymous gangster with his unique brand of self-serious b-movie gusto, while director Kevin Connolly (E from Entourage) tries to portray the crime boss as some kind of folk hero.
While Connolly constructs his film’s narrative with the kind of competency that could only come from someone who’s never actually watched a film from beginning to end, his lack of chops as a director are amplified every time he tries to cram whatever era-appropriate song he deems necessary to set the mood. It’s an absolute marvel of inability, put on display with an incredibly misguided sense of pride in the work itself.
Worst Case of Shared Universe Sensory Overload: Ready Player One
Everyone’s gunning for a shared universe these days. While Marvel maintains the billion-dollar golden goose, DC is still trying to wrangle their own (and largely failing), Universal tried (and also failed) to resurrect their classic monsters roster, and after Hulu’s experimental takes on Stephen King’s work with Castle Rock, both Netflix and Amazon are mining the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Roald Dahl to weave the fabric of their own.
In the midst of all this was Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s pop culture extol Ready Player One. Despite residing in the safe confines of Spielberg’s craftsmanship, the movie was an exhausting parade of non-stop references. Some littered frame after frame, others were pointed out with aggressive repetition, none of them were subtle. And ultimately, they all came at the expense of the story.
Best Case of Shared Universe Sensory Overload: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
On the opposite end of the spectrum, having mishandled their Spider-Man franchise since Sam Raimi’s third installment in 2007, all the way through Andrew Garfield’s Amazing run, while turning Venom into a tribal tattoo of a superhero flick earlier this year, Sony finally seems to have struck gold by going Into the Spider-Verse.
Amazingly, it was by allowing every iteration of Spider-Man to become canon, and filling a Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) origin story with a half-dozen other Spider-Men (Spiders-Man?) from alternate dimensions. It managed to crack Marvel’s comic staple, the Multiverse, into a digestible cinematic romp, and along the way they also created the best-looking animated film in a long, long time.
Most Likely To Continue Trend: Sensory Deprivation Horror
After John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place took SXSW by storm, and the pseudo-silent film proved to be a box-office and meme-generating success, it came out of 2018 as a serious Oscar contender. Then, as the entertainment industrial complex was in the midst of the coming awards’ season (*gestures vaguely around this very article*), Netflix released Bird Box, where instead of staying silent to survive the characters have to wear blindfolds.
It, too proved to be a wild success, with Netflix reporting somewhere north of 45 million accounts watched it — though they haven’t exactly clarified what constitutes a “watch.” This will all likely continue into the new year, particularly as the horror movie renaissance is in an upswing. Perhaps we’ll see the return of smell-o-vision as a result. Only time will smell.
Best Character (TV): Roman Roy, Succession
The spoiled, smarmy, Shkrellian son of media mogul Logan Roy (Brian Cox), Roman Roy was brought to despicable life by Kieran Culkin. In a show filled with despicable, duplicitous, and outright morally bankrupt characters, Roman stood out as the worst. He became the character that you reveled in hating, despising every action (or lack thereof) along the way.
Best Character (Movie): Cassius Green, Sorry To Bother You
Boots Riley’s Sorry To Bother You was the kind of film that should’ve made a much bigger impact than it did, although it will almost certainly live on as a cult classic that will be revered as terrifyingly prescient in the years to come. In the center of it all was Lakeith Stanfield’s Cassius Green, a low-level telemarketer who climbs the ranks of his company through the use of his white voice, courtesy of David Cross.
As Cassius continues to find success, he’s faced with a moral reckoning over what exactly he’s selling, which just happens to be the best examination of capitalistic dehumanization since Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.
MVP: Bryan Tyree Henry
One of the most standout careers in 2018 belongs to Bryan Tyree Henry. His character, Paper Boi, arguably became the lead in Atlanta, and after he played a dying junkie in Hotel Artemis, he scored roles in Oscar-Caliber films like Widows and If Beale Street Could Talk — while showing his dynamic range as an actor. To cap it all off, he got to voice Miles Morales’ dad, Jefferson Davis, in Into the Spider-Verse. Not a bad year at all.