Story Pile: The 2021 Summary

I’m not a movie reviewer, I don’t need a top ten, and I’m not doing anything in a timely fashion. When I write about something it’s almost always because I enjoyed it, or I enjoy talking about some idea in it, or I found something awful and I want to show it to you because it annoyed or disgusted me and I got to wave it around like a gross thing I found in the fridge and I want you to share in my pain or be deeply amused by my performatively flailing it around.

That’s what happens when I watch a movie like Now You See Me 2, which isn’t exactly an article I’d hold up afterwards as a great article. I mean you’re not going to get some sort of thoughtful engagement with the story and its themes, you’re going to get me mad about the way people fail to respect pretendy wizards. Which is fun, but it isn’t something I necessarily can read back, myself, now, without seeing the ways I just fall into a weaker writing style.

This isn’t just a review of what media I enjoyed the most this year. That list is a lot longer and a lot harder to manage, because, well, I like a lot of things. Instead what I want to highlight here is the ten Story Pile articles that I think make for the best reading this year, and why you might enjoy them. Presented then, in no particular order, and with minimal additional work, The Story Pile 2021 Top 10!

Toy Story

Oh boy, I get to talk about toys and games and making things and unintended products by taking a beloved childredn’s classic and poking holes in it! But I didn’t poke the same holes other people picked in the past like pointing out that Andy’s parents got a divorce between movies, or anything like that, I talk about how this movie basically wants you to buy your childhood and never create anything of your own. It’s a totem of ‘the right way to play (for republican teens)’ and that sucks.

In The Mouth Of Madness

I grappled with the last few slots on this list of ten. It was really, fantastically difficult and this was one of the ones I argued about. After all, the movie was great, but so were the movies that this bumped. I could have talked about Mitchells Vs The Machines, a movie I really enjoyed and left me immediately full of angry feelings. Like what the hell bro.

No, it was this article that stuck with me because of how I couldn’t help but see this movie’s central horror – the idea of a breakdown of consensus reality on a wide scale – is something we see actually happening. There are people who are very literally doing the thing in this movie – trying to live in a parallel reality that requires they berate other people for not agreeing with them. A real threat is right here, and they are standing by, and think that the people fighting the problem are the problem.

Con Air

This stupid bloody movie, I swear.

Con Air was part of my Nicholas Cage month, and with that came a time to deeply examine one of the dumbest movies I’d willingly watched. I thought about this movie that was, for some reason, treated as a classic, and a good movie, a great movie even, with all this star talent despite doing all these things that I think of as bad storytelling, or bad filmmaking, and mostly serves to make an audience feel good about keeping the hellmonsters in prison there, because they’re mostly super-bad white serial killers.

I think I hate this movie now, and I started hating it because I watched it and took it seriously for once.

Poolhall Junkies

I need to reiterate: This movie uses hard-r N-bombs, repeatedly, and at least once it’s from a character we’re meant to like. This movie is also probably one of my favourite movies of its type, period, which is pretty weird to say. I guess what I’m saying is that even as I wish that section wasn’t in the movie, I apparently don’t see it as a deal breaker?

This movie is also really cool to watch if you’re into genre media because this movie has just a bunch of actors you’ve seen in other things before or since, and it’s to tell a pretty damn smart movie about pool.

The Hork-Bajir Chronicles

And finally, finally, I start to talk about Animorphs, but like, an actual Animorphs book, rather than just discussing the ideas of the setting or the ways or reasons one might get to engage with the piece in a high-level hypothetical way.

I tried to take my time on this and really dig into not only this book as a story to itself, but in how the storytelling is done, and in how it shows the way Animorphs elevate a lot of the kind of stories it was presenting to the audience. It was a story about grappling with a problem, not about having a correct, decisive answer to it. It was about getting what you could done.

Moneyball

Boy, didn’t this movie get more complicated with that cameo from Bobby Kotick talking about not being able to pay people for a better workplace, huh? No, that was just me? Oh well.

This story is an interesting one because, I’ve been informed, the actual narrative of people living through it was extremely different – systems against systems, an actual piece of your infrastructural life that can be somehow seen as not the system, something that can oppose that group over there.

… and the movie itself, well, it’s difficult men who can’t communicate, to play a game.

Gen:Lock

I really liked Gen:Lock! I liked it so much I put merch of it on my personal wish list! I liked it so much I spent my time grappling with the very real problems of how Rooster Teeth treat their animators, and put that feeling out there!

This is also a work that I think of because a friend of mine recommended to me, and then I spent the rest of the year realising and remembering that oh, yeah, my friends rule.

The Narnia Books (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

There are seven Narnia books, and this year, I finally sat down and put down my thoughts on the books, and their pernicious, fawning Anglicanism. I liked writing about them much more than I liked revisiting the books, I’ll tell you that much.

These articles, in my opinion, work really well as a long-form piece, because it gives you a long, rolling set of jokes to flow together, and references between the five articles are fun.

This One Fucking Episode Of West Wing

There is a challenge with Story Piling my way through long series where there’s a lot of different elements to dig into. I think that there’s a lot of stuff in West Wing that are kinda cool, and it’s great at making its moments just swell, or its actors deliver impressive, clipped dialogue. It’s an impressively made series, but to really talk about it comprehensively is an arduous task unto itself and it’s very hard to not walk away with the general message that it ‘sucks all over.’

That’s unfair. After all, for all that there are good things in it, The West Wing sucks in some remarkably deep and specific ways.

I think this kind of article, taking a single episode to task – both by pulling it out of its context and providing the framing in summary, is very doable. I also think it let me hold up this awful moment for its awfulness, to show how the ‘smart’ kind of TV we were raised on demonstrates a barely coherent understanding of reality, and I think that worked well here.

Go read it, read it aloud.

Chess

It feels strange to realise that this year is when I wrote about Chess. Like, surely I’d done it before. Surely this soundtrack of character songs had been on the Pile before now. But no, this is the first year I put down my thoughts about Chess, and really shared it somewhere people could read it.

What I love about this article is the way that I finally coherently draw a line between the culture of ‘gamers’ now and the way that these game-players were established, decades before, as classic archetypes. That ‘gamer culture’ we treat now like a punchline is just the latest extension of treating men like our feelings are other people’s problems, and we can’t be expected to do things like communicate or respect people.

I still like Walter, but I’m fond of the guy who gets things done when everyone else is being overwhelmed by their stupid uncopeable feelings.

Well?

Okay, with that all understood… what was this year like, overall, in terms of Story Pile articles? Is there anything I can think about in hindsight, that stands out to me?

First, I watched a lot more anime and read a lot more manga this year than I normally do. I’ve tried to make sure I have dedicated reading time and apps available to me. While my time to read (public transport and waiting for it) has been similarly limited this year that didn’t stop me from just spending an entire day on my computer swiping through not-advertising-for-them book websites or pdfs. What’s more, there’s stuff I watched that didn’t even make it into the Story Pile.

(Yet.)

Also, weirdly, the anime I looked at this year was just kinda all good? Oh, I did dig into a few historical anime I thought were terrible (Robotech, Tenchi Muyo), and I did talk about how The Great Pretender completely lost me, but otherwise? It was pretty much a bunch of hits.

It also made me think about how anime as a movement has changed a lot, which is funny considering how static I think of it as being. I’m used to the idea of ignoring underaged sexualisation as a sort of price of entry of anime, for example, or that yeah, you’re gunna see some face-plants into boobs or some underwear and like… I didn’t, really, this year? There’s definitely some stuff I’m not wild about, but when I rewatched the 90s classic Tenchi Muyo, it made me realise just how much more I like more recent anime. Anime is a mistake, sure, but the ways it’s a mistake are getting better bit by bit.

I also wrote about books, including giving Narnia the long-form thrashing I meant to give it years ago, divided up into five articles. I put my toe in the water of finally writing about the enormous weight of Great Books that Terry Pratchett put into my life, and even wrote about an Animorphs book! Books feel weirdly difficult to write about – because I dunno, it just seems to me that reading about a book is me giving you a crap version of a complicated, better thing. Still, I do want to talk more about other books – the Animorphs and Discwolrd books are both very important to me, after all.

I think I might have to handle those in a form like we have with the Disney Animated Canonball, a cousin series to the Story Pile.

And finally, if even now you’re still feeling around for things to read or engage with this Decemberween, and you find an article of mine you really liked… please tell me. I really do thrive on positive feedback and engagement, and that, I think shows in how I’ve been making my work more complex and more prone to include jokes that get people to yell at me.