For the previous few years, video essays have gained increasingly more prominence on YouTube. With increasingly more creators selecting a video essay — or video essay-inspired — format, there are video essays about virtually any matter you wish to be taught extra about.
To debate what makes a video essay one of many finest of the yr, let’s first break down what a video essay was within the yr 2020. There’s extra grey space between codecs than it initially could appear, particularly given what number of movies that lack an essay construction tackle an essay aesthetic. We used the next standards for this checklist:
- The video should be scripted. Momentary improvised asides are tremendous, particularly if they arrive within the type of voice over added in enhancing, however the video should in any other case comply with a written script.
- The video will need to have a thesis, and that thesis should be greater than “that is good” or “that is unhealthy.” The thesis ought to concern the influence of the subject material, not simply its content material. This implies no straight critiques (like La’Ron Readus’s assessment of Candyman), no commentary/dialogue movies (like Sherliza Moé’s collection on cultural appropriation within the Star Wars prequels and Avatar: The Final Airbender), no lore recaps (like My Title Is Byf’s meticulous archival works of the Future 2 lore), and no straight-up histories (like Sarah Z’s retelling of the notorious DashCon).
- The video additionally shouldn’t be a documentary (like NoClip’s documentary concerning the making of Pyre). The main focus must be a topic from an analytical standpoint, not an interview standpoint.
- However this doesn’t imply the video ought to essentially goal for pure objectivity; private video essays are, actually, a factor.
This isn’t to say the excluded movies aren’t nice. Quite the opposite: those talked about above completely rule. Defining the parameters of a video essay, although, places the movies mentioned right here on an equal taking part in area. If you watch, you’ll come away understanding the subject material, and sure how artwork and society influence one another, a little bit higher. Nearly all of those movies comprise spoilers, so watch at your personal threat — however most will be loved no matter your familiarity with the subject material, too.
1. “In Search of Flat Earth,” Dan Olson (Folding Concepts)
Dan Olson of Folding Concepts has been a video essayist for years, serving to solidify the medium on YouTube. “In Search of Flat Earth,” although, is his masterpiece to this point. The video is shot fantastically, with loving and reverent pictures of nature that not solely contribute to the video’s content material and ideas, but additionally seize a way of nonetheless magnificence. If the video seeks to say that flat earthers really feel powerlessness within the face of the federal government and science, the best way this video is shot makes the declare that perhaps our powerlessness will be good, truly. However “In Search of Flat Earth” isn’t only a response to flat earthers; it’s additionally a response to Olson’s contemporaries who’ve made movies attempting to persuade flat earthers that their concepts are incorrect. “In Search of Flat Earth” argues that flat earthers, and folks with related mindsets, can’t be logicked out of their mindsets — which turns right into a shock, mind-blowing third-act twist.
2. “The Satirical Resurgence of Reefer Insanity,” Yhara Zayd
Yhara Zayd is considerably of a newcomer to video essays, posting her first, “The Remake That Couldn’t: Skins U.S.” in June 2019. Her catalogue of labor has boomed in 2020, making deciding on a video to function tough; her work is constantly standout, mixing evaluation with dry comedy and heavy aesthetics. In a landmark yr for marijuana legalization, “The Satirical Resurgence of Reefer Insanity” feels particularly well timed and necessary, but it surely’s additionally only a delight to observe. The video isn’t just a glance right into a criminally underrated musical starring Kristen Bell, Alan Cummings, and Ana Gasteyer. It’s a glance into the true 1936 propaganda movie of the identical title, how the legal guidelines round marijuana criminalization have been shaped, and the deeply racist roots of anti-marijuana campaigns. Zayd’s tender however direct voice and distinctly internet-culture-informed humor make the video constantly partaking and enjoyable whereas by no means shying away from what makes Reefer Insanity so worthy of a campy parody musical.
3. “The Unusual Actuality of Curler Coaster Tycoon,” Jacob Geller
Curler Coaster Tycoon is a nostalgic basic — however what can it train us about dying? A bizarre quantity, as Geller explains in “The Unusual Actuality of Curler Coaster Tycoon.” This video opens with the sentence, “There may be no less than one curler coaster designed particularly to kill you.” The “Euthanasia Coaster,” Geller explains, was by no means made, however would successfully kill a rider in nearly a minute. As he breaks down the rituals round dying, he winds his approach round curves and loops, masterfully bringing the viewers again to the sport on the core of the video: Curler Coaster Tycoon. In simply over 18 minutes, Geller’s evaluation breaks down how the sport permits for significant wrestle in its mechanics — which the video essayist notes are related of their coding to a curler coaster — whereas permitting for monstrosities, deadly curler coasters that carry your digital park-goers to their grave. A curler coaster is supposed to scare us, meant to spike adrenaline, meant to place the worry of dying proper in us, however enjoyable! Geller’s dialogue of Curler Coaster Tycoon reveals simply how a lot coasters, actual or digital, say about how we take care of dying.
Disclosure: Jacob Geller has written for Polygon.
4. “CATS! And the Bizarre Thoughts of TS Eliot,” Maggie Mae Fish
Cats could have come out in 2019, however Maggie Mae Fish’s video essay on it got here out in March 2020, so early into what the remainder of the yr would change into. It was a small, however splendidly unhinged blessing for video essay lovers who wanted one thing bonkers to maintain us afloat throughout quarantine. Fish’s efficiency background is in comedy and improv, notably working with Cracked earlier than beginning on her personal video essays. Her writing and efficiency have a stage of effervescent delight and bewilderment at a lot of the trash media she discusses, coming by most in her dialogue of Cats.
However whereas a video on why Cats was unhealthy may have been partaking and humorous, Fish takes a step deeper, trying into the musical’s supply materials: the poetry of T.S. Eliot, a homophobic, antisemitic weirdo. Fish doesn’t simply specific Eliot’s politics, however explains why Cats pulls from fascist ideologies in its depiction of a tradition-heavy dying cult. (Simply, , with cats.) From there, Fish’s evaluation goes even deeper. This video isn’t about not liking problematic media, and even “unhealthy” media. It’s a video about deeply loving one thing that winds up parodying and subverting its roots.
5. “The Anatomy of Stan Tradition,” Elexus Jionde (Intelexual Media)
Historian Elexius Jionde of Intelexual Media typically takes a cultural anthropology lens in her movies, discussing subjects like life within the American 1970s and the historical past of Black homelessness. In “The Anatomy of Stan Tradition,” Jionde breaks down a present social phenomenon by a historic lens, asking why we stan and the way we obtained right here. Jionde dissects “movie star worship dysfunction” and the way followers obsess over their favourite celebrities, whereas not letting individuals who assume they’re too good for the goss off the hook both. Utilizing examples starting from Bhad Babie to Selena Quintanilla to Victorian actors, Jionde reveals how present movie star tradition is rooted in the whole lot from politics to evolutionary biology. This 18-minute video is a crash course in how the movie star trade runs, and it’s additionally an evaluation of how we work together with movie star proper now. How do stans go from liking Ariana Grande’s music to replicating Ariana Grande’s voice to sending dying threats to individuals who besmirch Ariana Grande’s title? Jionde doesn’t essentially decide stans; as a substitute, she reveals how movie star tradition impacts the remainder of tradition.
6. “On Writing: Psychological Sickness in Video Video games,” Tim Hickson (Good day Future Me)
Earlier than speaking about what makes this video essay nice, a warning: this video discusses struggles with psychological well being, together with a number of facets of suicide. It’s the heaviest video essay on this checklist, so ensure you know what you’re moving into earlier than you watch.
Tim Hickson of the channel Good day Future Me opens the video by disclosing his expertise working for a youth psychological well being and suicide intervention hotline. From there, he first discusses the methods by which video video games, immersive narratives the place gamers have management and make selections, will be cathartic for folks with psychological sicknesses and informative for individuals who don’t. Citing video games from World of Warcraft to Celeste to Prey to Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Hickson reveals the alternative ways video games dive into despair, social anxiousness, and schizophrenia. A section centered on Life is Unusual’s Kate Marsh dissects how a narrative will be cathartic for one particular person, however dangerous for an additional. It’s a deeply empathetic video essay with wealthy analysis. It’s sobering, emotional, and shifting.
7. “Why Anime is for Black Individuals – Hip Hop x Anime,” Yedoye Travis (Past the Bot)
Past the Bot is a brand new New York-based collective making video essays about how anime impacts tradition, and like with Yhara Zaid’s work, it was tough to decide on a favourite. “Why Anime is for Black Individuals” is a standout for simply how deep the evaluation goes into the crossover between Black and East Asian tradition. Going again to ’70s Blaxploitation and kung fu movies, host and author Yedoye Travis chronicles how East Asian media permeated Black tradition, finally resulting in the Wu-Tang Clan sourcing their samples from movies like The 36th Chamber of Shaolin and Shaolin and Wu Tang. Legendary producer J Dilla would later go on to pattern East Asian music as properly. And, after all, Travis spends an excellent deal speaking concerning the necessary of the Toonami block of Grownup Swim, and the significance of the community taking part in music from bands like Gorillaz and their lo-fi hip-hop mattress music for bumps. Travis explains how the reveals themselves — particularly Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and, after all, The Boondocks — made an influence on Black youth who grew up alongside the programming. The historic lens of the cross-culture influences permits this evaluation to go deeper than related video essays, however the tone stays informal, giving loads of asides and jokes for folks conversant in the content material.
8. “What Is *Good* Queer Illustration in 2020?,” Princess Weekes (MelinaPendulum)
2020 has been a landmark yr for queer illustration within the media, and Princess Weekes’ “What Is *Good* Queer Illustration in 2020?” seeks to choose aside what has been “good,” what has been “unhealthy,” and most frequently, what has simply been difficult. Like several dialogue of illustration, Weekes talks about how necessary it’s for queer folks to see completely different variations of queer folks in a wide range of media, and the tendency for queer folks to miss works by queer creators, or decide them extra harshly than works by creators who aren’t queer. She breaks down queer assimilation and respectability politics, taking a stance that’s emotional and private, whereas nonetheless being relatable and pervasive. This video essay is a good begin for a way we are able to begin discussing methods to complicate illustration, to maneuver away from the sanitization of queer narratives, and perceive that what makes one particular person really feel seen may do the alternative for another person.
9. “Fallout: New Vegas Is Genius, And Right here’s Why,” Harry Brewis (hbomberguy)
Harry Brewis’ development of surprisingly lengthy movies with sarcastically simplistic titles continues along with his hour-and-a-half testomony to what makes an excellent narrative-heavy RPG, utilizing Fallout: New Vegas for example of one of the best of one of the best. Don’t let the title trick you into pondering the video is a assessment. It’s a lot nearer to a masterclass on writing for video games, and implementing your story and worldbuilding into each single side of that recreation. From the world to the companions to the primary plot to the facet quests to the fight to the continuity of penalties, Brewis lays out how Fallout: New Vegas offers its gamers real selections, after which makes these selections genuinely important within the recreation. He argues the sport truly offers in “grey morality” as a substitute of simply saying it does whereas pushing gamers to be Good or Evil. The alternatives within the recreation typically go away the participant ambivalent, whereas putting them in a wild world that gamers can select to make even wilder. Brewis makes use of the video to speak about what makes Fallout: New Vegas work, and why so many video games pale compared. It isn’t simply that Fallout: New Vegas is sweet —it’s that it’s a meticulous recreation made by individuals who cared about each single element they developed.
10. “Whisper of the Coronary heart: How Does It Really feel to Be an Artist,” Accented Cinema
Whisper of the Coronary heart is likely one of the quieter Studio Ghibli movies, and likewise, this video essay by Accented Cinema is quiet, beautiful, and tender. Accented Cinema is a video essay channel that focuses on overseas (no less than, overseas to the US) media and its influence. “Whisper of the Coronary heart: How Does It Really feel to Be an Artist” is essentially the most private essay on this checklist, a necessity for an evaluation of the very private feeling of making artwork. Within the video, the host discusses how most artists don’t have the frenzied drive media typically depicts. As an alternative, they’ve the sluggish, typically irritating, typically euphoric drive of anybody who does one thing as a result of it’s who they’re. This video additionally comes with a warning that it discusses a tragic dying within the studio — however the best way it brings the dialogue of that dying again to the essay’s thesis is spectacular.