Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The 50 best special effects in all of cinema. Contemporary feminism explored through Claws and Handmaid’s Tale. A retrospective about working on The Jerry Springer Show. Sixty minutes of K-pop. Movies where Matt Damon makes a friend. 2018 was a tumultuous year, but The A.V. Club’s commitment to pop culture, and those who love it, remains consistent no matter what. Below are 19 of the pieces The A.V. Club staff is proudest of this year.

The 50 greatest special effects movies of all time

Illustration: Karl Gustafson

“Consider this a chronological cataloguing of the movies that still dazzle and amaze and disgust us; whether achieved through purely physical/organic means, through the digital magic available at a mouse click, or through something as simple as a cut, the effects within them hold a monopoly on our imaginations.” —by The A.V. Club

The 25 best set pieces of Steven Spielberg’s career

“Broadly defined, a set piece is a thriller within a film, a self-contained showstopper-slash-showcase whose success depends in large part on a director’s chops. Since the 1970s, Steven Spielberg has reigned as its Hollywood master; regardless of what one thinks of his sentimental or narrative instincts, it’s hard to deny that the man knows spectacle.”—by The A.V. Club

Matt Damon is here to make friends: 11 movies where the actor finds a buddy (or 10)

Photo: Matt Damon (Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images), and friends: Jude Law (Dave Hogan/Getty Images), Edward Norton (Ron Galella/Getty Images), George Clooney (KMazur/Getty Images), and Brad Pitt (Dave Benett/Getty Images), GIF: Natalie Peeples.

“In celebration of our favorite Harvard dropout’s 48th birthday, we give you 11 movies in which Matt Damon kicks it with some old comrades or finds a few new familiars. Turns out the friends Matt Damon made along the way were... the friends Matt Damon made along the way.”—by The A.V. Club

8 graphic novels to get your kids hooked on comics

Graphic: Nick Wanserski, Image: Nicole Antonuccio

“Comics for kids are an awesome gateway—you want to get your children closer to chapter books, and they provide lots of visual stimulation along with some basic reading comprehension.” —by The A.V. Club

On Mission: Impossible, Edge Of Tomorrow, and the morbid star power of Tom Cruise

Screenshot: Mission: Impossible 2, Photo: Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol (Paramount), Mission: Impossible—Fallout (Paramount), Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio

“In the face of such gleefully reckless self-endangerment, the temptation to psychoanalyze can be overwhelming. Is Cruise just a sensation junkie, an Evel Knievel with a nine-digit budget to splurge on his daredevil addiction? Is all of this a protracted midlife crisis, the way for an aging movie star to stave off dread about his advancing years and waning celebrity?”—by A.A. Dowd

Netflix created a monster with its Cloverfield stunt, and Altered Carbon won’t be the last victim

Photo: Netflix

“The streaming service sacrificed a potentially more rewarding and lucrative series for the quick-fix rush of its Cloverfield marketing gimmick (with a much less positively reviewed product, at that), and like many who buy into the hype for J.J. Abrams’ mystery-box style of storytelling, they may soon find it empty at the center.”—by Alex McLevy

Here’s a look at the Chicago city block that Hollywood loves to destroy

Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

“If you like going to Hollywood blockbusters—The Dark Knight, Divergent, and most recently, Rampage—there’s one city block that by now should look very familiar. Located at East Upper Wacker Drive between North State and North Wabash in The A.V. Club’s hometown of Chicago, the block is a one-of-a-kind collection of architectural styles gathered on opposite sides of the Chicago River.”—by Baraka Kaseko, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky

This season, The Handmaid’s Tale is making the connection between Gilead and present-day America explicit

Photo: Hulu

The Handmaid’s Tale is showing us: See how these people experienced the same things you experience, and see where all this can lead. See how the commonplace marginalization and oppression we’re accustomed to, how the rollback of civil rights, could look in a worst-case scenario.”—Caitlin PenzeyMoog

The Road, A Quiet Place, and the golden age of prepper pop culture

Photo: Paramount Pictures

“Preppers are inspired by a whole range of issues, from the fragility of the global economy to the inevitability of climate change, and these pop culture apocalypses are precipitated by a similar variety of calamities, supernatural or otherwise. But the assumption among them all is the same: that the shit is going to hit the fan, and that if you can secure a plot of land for you and yours, and protect it against the evils of other men, you might just get by all right.”—by Clayton Purdom

God Of War is a great game about terrible dads

Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment

“Rather than just make a whole new Kratos, it’s the same one from those earlier games, haunted by his terrible past and attempting to raise a doe-eyed, faux-hawked son. He has cast aside his life of astonishing mutilation and womanizing for a quieter life in the woods. He has a longer beard now, so you know it’s real.”—by Clayton Purdom

For the women of Claws, time’s been up

Niecy Nash, Judy Reyes, Jenn Lyon, Carrie Preston, and Karrueche Tran star in Claws
Graphic: Natalie Peeples

“Studies continue to show that there’s a disproportionately low number of well-rounded women characters on TV, which is why Claws five female leads and their distinct personalities are groundbreaking. But unlike the complex women who are kept apart in genre storytelling, Desna, Polly, Jennifer, Virginia, and Quiet Ann mostly act as a cohesive unit. They’re all flawed and as such are capable of betraying each other, but the women of Claws look after each other.”—by Danette Chavez

“We need to see more”: 5 queer TV creators discuss the present and future of LBGTQIA+ representation

Photo: Daniel Zuchnik (Getty Images), Rodin Eckenroth (Getty Images), Dave Kotinsky (Getty Images), Graphic: Natalie Peeples

“It’s hard to tell just how much the needle’s moved, so we interviewed five queer creators to get their thoughts on the expansion of LGBTQIA+ stories, what makes them optimistic about the future of queer TV, and what’s currently standing in their way.”—by Danette Chavez

The rules of The Good Place were meant to be broken

Ted Danson (left), D’Arcy Carden, William Jackson Harper, Manny Jacinto, Jameela Jamil, Kristen Bell
Photo: Colleen Hayes (NBC)

“Rules give shape to The Good Place, but character gives it life, and consistency and rigor in that department is what has truly kept the show from rocketing off of its axis.”—by Erik Adams

Another Star Is Born: Why Hollywood keeps returning to this tragic Cinderella story

Photo: Janet Gaynor, 1937 (The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images), Judy Garland, 1954 (Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images), Barbra Streisand, 1976 (Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images), Lady Gaga, 2018 (Warner Bros., Graphic: Natalie Peeples

“[A Star Is Born is] a classic story with many elements of myth, but Cooper improved on the preceding 1976 version with vulnerable performances and dialogue that seems almost improvisational, and more intimate.”—by Gwen Ihnat

The incomplete and incomparable Orson Welles

Photo: Netflix

“The release of the film is a major event. It represents the last important addition to a filmography defined by its lost or misplaced pieces, paralleling the plots of so many of his films, from Citizen Kane’s mysterious “Rosebud” on. This is part of the Welles mystique, the contradiction of his career.”—by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky

Get caught up on K-pop in 60 minutes

Clockwise from bottom left: Twice (Photo: TPG via Getty Images), EXO (Photo: Ilgan Sports via Getty Images), and BTS (Photo: RB/Bauer-Griffin via Getty Images). Graphic: Emi Tolibas.

“There is a dire need for a critical mindset that evaluates foreign art based on what it is and doesn’t ignore it based on where it came from. Yes, BTS fans are overwhelmingly young, drawn in by the group’s slick grooming, and carefully tended to, but it shouldn’t be assumed that the group’s pretty faces and coordinated dance moves are all they have to offer.”—by Joshua Calixto

BlacKkKlansman doesn’t let white women off the hook—and it shouldn’t

Photo: David Lee (Focus Features)

“With its satirical roadmap charting the path from The Birth Of A Nation through the turbulent 1970s all the way to the racists currently occupying the White House, BlacKkKlansman’s historical and political scope is much wider than simply a statement on intersectional feminism. But, as was mentioned up top, the role white women have played in all of these events cannot be ignored.”—by Katie Rife

Trash, class, and free cigarettes: My life with The Jerry Springer Show

Photo: Getty Images, Graphic: Natalie Peeples

“Of the many lessons I’ve learned the hard way in my life, one of the hardest has been this: Never take a job for the story. Sure, you’ll win every game of “two truths and a lie” at every icebreaker function for the rest of your life if you take a job on The Jerry Springer Show, as I did when I was 22 years old and much more committed to irony than I am now. But is the cocktail party banter really worth the damage to your soul? I can only speak for myself here, but honestly? Not really.”—by Katie Rife

The PlayStation VR turns 2: How much of a jackass am I for buying one?

Photo: Toru Yamanaka/AFP (Getty Images)

“If you ever wanted a handy portrait of the anxieties that have dominated most of my adult life, the weekend I bought a PlayStation VR would probably illustrate them nicely.”—by William Hughes

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