Let’s be honest, 2018 was not a year for the history books when it came to movies. Admittedly, any year that followed the absolutely insane smorgasbord of 2017 was going to look anaemic by comparison, much like how 2015 following 2014 would have looked utterly insignificant even if that weren’t the worst year for films this decade. But the prevailing sentiment from many of our writers as they handed in their ballots, cos this is not just me editorialising I swear, was that this was something of a weak year for the most part. It’s an understandable view to have. For one thing, as is customary, many of the year’s most acclaimed releases and frequent fixtures on other websites’ Best Of lists are being withheld from British eyes until early next year, which is an issue since most of us writing for this site are British. For another, it’s certainly been a year outside of movies, one marked by the feeling of a country wobbling towards a precipice that ultimately seems inevitable and impossible to recover from. And for a third, it was a rather slow year in a film landscape that feels like it’s in the midst of transition. Into what, we’re unsure, but in transition nonetheless, so big movies often fizzled or were rather non-existent even whilst Hollywood celebrated its most successful year at the Box Office yet.
But enough fixating on what could or should have been, for even in such trying times did we get some truly fantastic movies. After all, the stuff we loved, we really loved. Superhero movies almost managed to bat a perfect game this year, and perhaps even did if you’re one of those who loved Aquaman and “loved” Venom. Horror effectively subsumed Action movies wholesale and produced creative renaissances for both genres, although that’s not to say straight Horror and straight Action movies didn’t produce instant-classic highlights themselves. A long-overdue pushback to the forced bloat of modern cinema finally came about with the resurgence of the 90-minute movie ably supported by works like Game Night, Thoroughbreds, Revenge, Unsane, Upgrade, You Were Never Really Here and so many others that just missed out on the Top 10. Once untouchable directors long-assumed to have lost their touch smashed fiery comebacks out the park, insurgent newcomers bottled lightning in their debuts, pigeonholed directors revealed new talents one might never have expected of them. And Netflix. For all the rightly-deserved guff that Netflix gets about its business practices, algorithm-focussed designs, and inability to market its shit decently, the streaming behemoth had a banner year for Original Movies with Roma, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before to name just a few.
Back in July, we did a Mid-Year countdown of 2018’s movies and comparing that Top 15 with the Top 15 that shook out six months later is astonishing. 9 of those 15 repeated here, but almost all of them changed positions dramatically. Our #2 film at the halfway point, A Quiet Place, dropped to #11 in the past six months, so you won’t be seeing words on it in this Top 10. Revenge climbed from #15 to #13 and missed out on the Top 10 by just three points. Many others sank without a trace, a few clawed their way into even higher standing, and a certain film remained rock-solid at the head of the table when all was said and done, the heads it ripped off of and scars it left on unsuspecting moviegoers upon its release back in June remaining as fresh as ever now that the year has concluded. Only two films cracked more than 10 lists when all was said and done, but every film featured had its passionate advocates because, again, the stuff we loved, we really loved.
Our process was simple and the definition of democratic. Every writer affiliated with Set the Tape, regardless of how active they were or are, was given the chance to submit a ranked ballot of between 1 and 10 films. They didn’t have to reach 10, but they could pick no more than 10 and, above all else, they needed to be RANKED. Eligible films were determined by whether or not they received a UK release in 2018, regardless of whether they had been released in other countries in prior years, utilising the release schedule featured on the Film Distributors Association website as a guide. Irrespective of how many entries were featured on each ballot, the points distribution was still the same: 10 points for first place, 9 for second, 8 for third, and so on and so forth. Ballots were then collated into the overall list with ties determined first by which film appeared on the more ballots and then by which film topped the most ballots. 21 writers submitted for this list and, because we’re only covering the collective Top 10, you can head here to peruse those individual ballots for snubs and hidden gems.
Here, then, are the cream of the crop. Set the Tape’s Top 10 Films of 2018. Cheers to those lucky enough to make the cut, and here’s to hoping for an equally strong line-up in 2019! – Callum Petch
10] Widows (35 points, 6 lists)
There have been some great cinematic partnerships over the years. Laurel and Hardy. Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Even Batman and Robin! But if Widows is anything to go by, then Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn are a force to be reckoned with. Considering his hard-hitting yet outstanding record, this is by far Steve McQueen’s most accessible film. It may look like your typical heist movie, but interwoven through its engaging narrative is a multi-layered, political spectacle encapsulating race, power and greed that speaks volumes about our current climate. Its uncompromising look at female grief is a fearless show of a film refusing to bow down to gender stereotypes. With a survival of the fittest mentality, it boasts an incredible ensemble performance with a perfectly measured Hans Zimmer score. It may have underperformed at the Box Office, but it’s still one of the best films of 2018. – Kelechi Ehenulo
09] Lady Bird (35 points, 7 lists)
Cinema has given some great coming of age stories, and 2018 handed us what might end up being a future classic. Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird came out of nowhere and astounded us with its subtle and emotional exploration of growing up, being a parent, friendship and first loves. With a 2002 setting, the central story of Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) who rechristens herself Lady Bird as she deals with a volatile relationship with her mother and the emotional complexities of graduating high school, only confirmed that Ronan is one of the best actresses working today, while leading writer and director Greta Gerwig to become a directing talent to watch. Incredibly subtle, and featuring superb, career-best performances from Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, the film deservedly earned award nominations for the two central females in front of the camera and the one behind it and may very well become a firm favourite for this and future generations. – Eamon Hennedy
08] Annihilation (37 points, 6 lists)
Annihilation is many things. A clever Sci-Fi movie, a sometimes Horror movie, a glorious visual spectacle, an auditory treat, a feminist movie, but more than all these things? It’s a reminder that Natalie Portman is a hell of an actress. Brought to us by Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine, Dredd), Annihilation is a tale of strange goings-on within a bizarre alien landscape trapped behind a wall of energy known as “The Shimmer;” the story of a trip into a beautiful and terrifying heart of otherness, where the laws of reality bend and twist as an all-female team of scientists and soldiers must attempt to find out not only what lies at the heart of this bizarre place, but what happened to the other teams sent in before them that have never been heard from again. The film is based on the first in a series of books by Jeff VanderMeer (the Southern Reach Trilogy) and while each of the other characters gets their own scenes and their own arcs, the focus of the story is most definitely on Natalie Portman’s Lena and she delivers in spades, driving the story forward to its decidedly ambiguous ending. This film is not for everyone, definitely not for those who like a grounded storyline or a well-defined villain, but if you’re looking for a weird, slightly trippy, cerebral Sci-Fi movie, Annihilation is well worth a watch. Also, did I mention Natalie Portman is in it and she’s bloody excellent? Well she is, and she is. – Shaun Rodger
07] Phantom Thread (39 points, 4 lists)
Daniel Day Lewis claims he’s retiring from acting (we’ll see about that), but if he does, Phantom Thread isn’t a bad film to go out on. The second collaboration between Lewis and director Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood) takes the pair to the fashion world of 1950s England. Lewis is Reynolds Woodcock, a famous and revered dress designer, who meets a young waitress (Vicky Krieps) and takes her on as a lover and a muse. There are many ways a film like this could go, but PTA isn’t interested in the expected. Instead of a love story, or a story about how men treat women as disposable, or the story of how behind every genius man is a long-suffering woman, he makes a film about the struggle for power and respect in a relationship. Reynolds is fussy and exacting, Alma is headstrong and stubborn, and neither are willing to back down. Their push and pull is captivating and darkly hilarious, and Lesley Manville has one of the most quotable (and GIF-ed!) scenes of the year. Phantom Thread is one we’re still thinking about months after its release, and likely will be for years to come. – Jenn Reid
06] Deadpool 2 (40 points, 6 lists)
How do you follow up a phenomenon like Deadpool? Highest grossing R-rated movie, gave a studio the balls to OK a violent and bloody Logan, blah-de-blah-de-blah. You know what you do? You turn that shit up to eleven and take aim at all of it! Deadpool 2 came in and proved that the instant greenlighting of a sequel doesn’t mean we’re going to get a rubbish cash-in churned out. Upping the ante in all departments, DP2 was awash with fan favourites for us to gorge on. From Josh Brolin’s great turn as Cable, to the all too brief promise of an X-Force spin-off, The Merc with the Mouth’s return was one that refused to shy away from what made the first so successful and brought the laughs and the gross-out moments in equal measure. But the real ace in the hole had to be behind the camera, replacing DP1 helmer Tim Miller with Atomic Blonde and John Wick (co) Director David Leitch. Bringing in a bonafide action director with a talent for fight choreography was the ingredient the sequel needed to raise it up and allow it to stand proud on its own. – Andrew Brooker
05] BlacKkKlansman (46 points, 8 lists)
It is tempting to call BlacKkKlansman Spike Lee’s best film for decades. This would be unfair though: it is Spike Lee’s best film, full stop. Based on a true story, it follows Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), through the 1970s, as the first black officer to join the Colorado Springs Police Department. Stallworth immediately faces deep antipathy and discrimination, finding himself relegated to working in archives. So far, so Spike Lee. In trying to break through the glass ceiling, Stallworth volunteers to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan, then under the leadership of David Duke (Topher Grace). To get around the deception, fellow officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) will represent Ron in person, as they work their way further into the organisation. BlacKkKlansman is a work of art, managing to be both an outstanding comedy (the premise, itself, comedic) yet also a biting political commentary that speaks to our times (Duke being a high profile supporter of the incumbent US President). It’s far lighter than typical for Lee, without sacrificing any authority. It avoids any clashing of tone between the serious and the flippant, and is underpinned by a truly exceptional soundtrack. BlacKkKlansman belongs amongst the very cream of 2018’s releases. – Dave Bond
04] Mission: Impossible – Fallout (52 points, 6 lists)
Here’s a challenge: name a sixth film in any franchise which is better than either the original movie, or some of the sequels. Star Wars? Revenge of the Sith better than A New Hope? Nah. Star Trek? The Undiscovered Country stronger than The Wrath of Khan? Not quite. Keep going. Try and find a film with the scope, grandeur, reach and stylishness of Mission Impossible: Fallout that is number six in any franchise. I’ll be waiting over here… Fallout, I’m convinced, is an anomaly. There isn’t a better Tom Cruise-led MI movie before it (I can say that now confidently after three viewings), and I doubt a better one will follow it. Christopher McQuarrie delivers not just the first true sequel in the franchise, after laying the groundwork in the stylish and fun Rogue Nation, but also the closest I’ve seen an action franchise get to feeling like a Christopher Nolan film that isn’t directed by the man himself. It has set pieces that blow you away, a plot filled with suspense, great performances – particularly from an (almost literally) moustache twirling Henry Cavill – and you even feel the emotional weight of it like never before. Up until a week ago, Fallout was my favourite film of the year, and the most fun I’ve had at the movies in 2018. – Tony Black
03] Avengers: Infinity War (59 points, 9 lists)
For obvious reasons, the nineteenth entry in a saga is no place to begin viewing. But other than Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther, the informational price-of-entry for the outstanding Avengers: Infinity War is surprisingly low. The goodies are great and our baddie is surprisingly nuanced (although his ‘plan’ is demonstrably nonsensical). Everyone gets their moment to shine and 149 minutes whizz by with no drag. There’s little room for character development in a two-and-a-half-hour fight-scene, but the directorial Russo Brothers bring a sense of finality that’s been lacking from earlier entries. Although magnificent as it turns out to be, this is of course only the beginning of the end of the beginning. The MCU has been a hell of a ride so far, and Infinity War promises a fitting closure for its first volume. Casualties are plentiful by necessity, and the amount of time spent on each certainly seems to suggest who’s gone for good and who’ll be back from the void by the end of April 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. Apart from anything else, some of those bowing out are scheduled for future sequels of their own, so…
Best bit: WE WILL DEEP FRY YOUR KEBAB. – Ian Paterson
02] Black Panther (60 points, 13 lists)
You want to know why Marvel keeps getting away with all their many missteps – giant universe-altering cross-overs that some of us were left underwhelmed by, the occasional mediocre entry coasting on brand recognition, chasing away talented directors via accidental condescension, or being accused of once again MURDERING CINEMA (somehow)? It’s because they do things like letting Ryan Coogler, the wonderkid responsible for Fruitvale Station and Creed, have free reign to create this incredibly powerful ode to Black heritage, African culture, the strength of Black people and especially the strength and determination of Black women. To rewrite the character of Erik Killmonger into a walking confliction between justifiable rage at White oppression (and Black negligence of their fellow man) and the blind conqueror’s lust for power of American imperialism, gift that role to the brilliant Michael B. Jordan, and come up with one of the best superhero movie villains of all-time. To let Coogler indulge his every glorious design choice, to feed his blockbuster full of explorations about Black identity, to make the utopia of Wakanda and its people all instantly iconic and fascinating to watch and speculate on. To let Coogler make not only the best superhero movie of the year, but perhaps the best of the decade and maybe even one of the best of all-time… and have it never once like anything but a Ryan Coogler film. THAT’S how you build the trust required to weather any storms; you let once-in-a-generation visionaries do their fucking jobs. – Callum Petch
01] Hereditary (74 points, 11 lists)
It’d probably be something of an understatement to say that Ari Aster’s feature debut made a bit of a mark in 2018. This supernatural horror (of sorts) not only features amazing, almost unbearable moments of pure tension, it was the build up to these scenes that made them work so well, Aster doing a great job of working through the scenes and slowly pulling us through to a sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes terrifying reveal and then onto an ending that may seem random but still works if you have been following the hints and events throughout Hereditary. But of course, none of this would work if it wasn’t for the top-notch performances and Toni Collette is simply stunning as a mum grieving the loss of her mother. But Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro also put in great performances as the children trying to cope through this difficult period while something sinister lurks in the background affecting them on levels that are genuinely creepy. Also boasting a great score which helps make the film even more chilling, there weren’t many better films, horror and otherwise, in 2018 than Hereditary. – Adam Massingham
There’s our list. Disagree? We bet you do. Head on down into the comments to tell us your favourite films of 2018 and then click on over here to check out the complete ballots from our voting process in order to see what didn’t quite make the cut. Thanks for sticking with us, folks! We’ll see you in 2019!