The stories, shows & movies I most enjoyed through the year.
As we are now into a new year, I decided to do a previous-year retrospective of things I enjoyed enough to recommend, so that you may possibly get a chance to enjoy them this year. These may not necessarily be stories that actually released this past year, though I'm sure many of them are. But this list will deal with what I enjoyed in 2021, regardless of their release date.
Honorable mention - Video Game;
I don't usually include games in a list like this because their stories are written to be interactive, where you the player are essentially the protagonist just in the skin of the main character. It's still story, just a very different kind. It'd take a real mold-breaker of a story to get on this list then, and this year there was one...
God Of War (2018)
I finally got around to playing this game after sitting on my shelf for like 2 years. I am appalled that I let that much time go by before enjoying it. Filled with action, dark fantasy, myths, & monsters, God Of War also tells an amazing father & son story that hits you in all the right heartstrings. Some claim the game itself is simple gameplay wise, mainly single-button quicktime events, and there's some merit to that opinion. But I'm speaking of the story. The nuanced and emotional core that this tale has proves games are indeed art. I just wish more of those came along more often...
5. Fevre Dream by George RR Martin (1982)
Martin is of course known for A Song Of Ice & Fire (Game Of Thrones), but here is an often overlooked vampire tale set in the world of riverboat captains and river cruises during the 1850s. Abner Marsh makes for one of the most unconventional protagonists I've ever read, and the vampires are foreboding, endearing, and worthy of their place in vampire lore. You just need to get used A LOT of steamboat technical jargon.
I have a bit of a longer writeup of FEVRE DREAM here...
4. Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel (2014)
One of the bleakest end-of-the-world novels I've read in some time, Station Eleven is elevated by incredible prose and a powerful ending that I could only compare to existential poetry in novel form. Definitely one of the best post-apocalyptic tales I've ever read, and now that there is a TV series on HBO I'll have to check that out!
3. The Deep by Nick Cutter (2015)
The Thing meets The Abyss in a very claustrophobic thriller set at the bottom of the ocean. While I was a little let down when it came to the setup of the story that was really interesting then seemingly forgotten about, the actual plot at the deep sea research station had me on the edge of my seat. Excellent environmental descriptions in the book turned the setting into a character in of itself.
I have a bit of a longer writeup of THE DEEP here...
2. Nightmares & Dreamscapes by Stephen King (1993)
Like most anthologies, there are both hits and misses in this short story collection. But the ones that are hits are REALLY hits. My favourites were Umney's Last Case, Crouch End, & Sorry Right Number. I've always felt King's strengths were in his short fiction, and this collection I'll hold up along with Night Shift as a great example of that.
I have a bit of a longer writeup of Nightmares & Dreamscapes here...
1. Primeval by David L. Golemon (2010)
I've been going through the Event Group series a piece at a time, and while I enjoyed the initial Event book, I really need to give props to this book as well. You don't see many books in the vein of Bigfoot horror/thrillers, but this one really delivers. The lack of that topic makes me want to write something in that regard....
Campy as all heck, don't expect a deep experience with this one. But as long as you are aware of such, Malignant is a fun romp that reminds me of the Liam Neeson Darkman movies from the 90s. In fact, those were made by Sam Raimi, and I really feel like Malignant is taking cues from the Raimi school of filmmaking. At times it feels like they are trying to create a new horror icon like Freddy or Jason or even Pennywise, but while this monstrous force is unique and clever, I don't see it catching on to those levels. Still really fun though.
4. Zack Snyder's Justice League
Comparing this MUCH longer cut on HBO to the original theatrical movie is a disservice. ZSJL is a completely different experience that shows Snyder really did know what he was doing, but studio interference etc just got in the way of that vision. That vision is here now though, and it is the absolute best that DC comics has done for its movies in recent years. It's just really unfortunate this universe isn't continuing. Henry Cavill is Superman. No question.
3. Spider-Man: No Way Home
Another comic book property, I've held an unpopular opinion for a while now; I'm not a fan of the Tom Holland version of Spider-Man. He's too needy in regards to father figures (Stark in 1st movie, Fury in second, now Strange in this one), and always leans on those other people's abilities etc to get things done. Spider-Man is a loner first, reluctant team player second. That's why I've enjoyed the previous 2 versions of Peter Parker more, those in the forms of Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire. And that's why I enjoyed this movie so much more. I don't want to spoil things, so that's about all I can say. But yes, nostalgia bit me big time with this one.
2. The Empty Man
There are movies that you start watching, not expecting a major experience other than a moment or two of entertainment, but ultimately get completely surprised by how good it actually is. The Empty Man is such a movie. Not since IT parts 1 & 2 have I enjoyed a horror film so much. Yes it's got a long runtime, but that time is spent with great characters, a creepy-ass monster, and an overall aesthetic that I was not at all expecting to be so well done. From the eerie prologue to the harrowing end, I felt like I was watching a well-written horror novel in visual form, and am so glad I saw it.
Dune was an experience. Seeing it in Imax, the world Frank Herbert created some 60+ years ago has finally been realized on screen in such a faithful way. I absolutely loved every minute of this visual smorgasbord of sci-fi splendour. I can see why some people felt let down, that it's only half the book and now we have to wait 2 years until the next part releases. I get it. But I so so so much prefer that to cramming the entire book into one truncated movie, cutting too much and changing most of it (Looking at you, Dark Tower). IT was split into 2 and worked great. Dune might even be in 3! But I'll be there, butt in seat for it.
5. Love, Death & Robots season 2
I love the highlights of different animation styles and stories in this series. Sometimes thrilling, sometimes silly, sometimes sombre and heart wrenching, it's a great series of snack-sized greatness.
4. Castlevania season 4
Being a fan of the Castlevania game series, I may be a bit biased with this show. But wow is it ever the definition of dark fantasy. I enjoyed the world, the characters, all of it. I did see moments in this season when the budget seemed to be stretched a bit (during fight scenes mainly), but I still thought it was overall a superb series.
3. Squid Game season 1
I didn't know what to expect when I started this show. It was smashing all the charts, so I thought I'd give it a go, while figuring it was an extreme-ification of Most Extreme Elimination Challenge-type shows. While it it kind of in that vein, it's so much deeper. It opened my eyes to the class-system in Korea, and taught me a lot about society there. There's a lot of heart in the show too, with a handful of characters you really root and/or boo for.
2. Arcane season 1
Another series that was getting high praise, I checked it out not knowing what to expect as I don't know the game series at all. Well, you don't need to know any of it, as this story packs a punch by its own merit. Political intrigue, mystical backstories, great characters and an awesome world, I look forward to the next season.
1. Midnight Mass
I'll never stop praising this show. I am definitely a Mike Flanagan fan, enjoying literally everything he's made, but Midnight Mass takes the cake. It hit all the right notes for me, I really cared about the characters, and I felt like I was watching an entire novel unfolding before me. Great themes that I certainly identify with, this was a masterpiece of what a multi-episode story arc is capable of.
Looking back at the TV show list, I just now realize they were all Netflix shows. I did in fact see other shows on other platforms, but interesting that my top 5 all coincided on the same streaming service....neat.
Well there we have it. The best stories I enjoyed through 2021. Did any of these make your top list? Anything that you think deserved to be here, let me know. Perhaps I just never got the chance yet and would love to hear recommendations from you guys.