Sit back, relax: you might learn something.
This article is part of our 2022 Rewind. Follow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from this very strange year. In this entry, we explore the best video essays of 2022.
2022 has, inconceivably, come to an end. And in the spirit of reflection and gratitude, it’s time to appreciate the thing that had our back when times were tough; the thing that helped us wind down after a long day at work; the thing that made that first cup of coffee in the morning go down just a little easier: video essays.
This year, I had the pleasure of once again curating The Queue, a thrice-weekly column dedicated to highlighting short-form video content about films, television, and the craft of visual storytelling. As a result, the focus of the video essays below is movies and TV shows — if you’re wondering why there are no video essays on speed running mechanics or broadway musical drama, that’s why!
There were, it must be said, a heck of a lot of top-shelf video essays this year that fell outside the scope of this list (including, but not limited to, Jacob Geller’s poetic eulogy to sea monsters; People Make Games’ anthropological exploration of VRChat, and Jenny Nicholson’s sarcastically long portrait of Evermore, the theme park that tried to sue Taylor Swift).
Once again, I had a doozy of a time narrowing down a short list of this year’s selections. So if you could all stop making such good #content, that would be great (just kidding, never stop). I want to sincerely thank all the essayists I’ve covered this year for their hard work. I hope I get to continue seeing you in my feed in 2023 and beyond.
Bergman Island: Art, Love, and the Unbearable Process of Making
French director Mia Hansen-Løve embraces the notion of autobiographical filmmaking. And the video essay above does a beautiful job illustrating how her first English-language film, Bergman Island, draws attention to the process of its own making without sacrificing its own story. I love how this essayist unravels the tapestry of the film’s twisty relationship with metatext with tangible examples and accessible language.
This video essay on the metatextuality of Mia Hansen-Løve’s Bergman Island is by Broey Deschanel a self-described “snob (and YouTuber) whose video essays cover everything from new releases like Licorice Pizza and Euphoria to camp classics like Showgirls. You can subscribe to their YouTube account here and you can follow them on Twitter here.
Realism and Fantastic Cinema
We’re living during an interesting time in visual effects, where more often than not, realism is the goal. The following video essay offers a convincing gospel that preaches a different approach, which proposes that “fantastic cinema” that actively doesn’t chase photorealism or expose its own trickery is different, special, and worth fighting for. If you’ve found other arguments against modern CGI unconvincing — or if your love of practical effects starts and stops with fetishism — I urge you to give this a look.
This video essay on why the pursuit of realism in special effects is hurting the fantasy genre is by APLattanzi, a freelance filmmaker and illustrator who hails from the Philadelphia area. You can subscribe to them on YouTube here. Their essays cover a large swath of topics, from film scores to short films. You can also find them on Letterboxd here.
Gen Z needs more slacker movies
In all fairness, this video essay is preaching to the choir: I’m a huge sucker for slacker movies. And if for whatever reason you’re not, this essayist articulates something that feels True about what the sub-genre offers to the 2020s, an age where we’re increasingly bumping up against the political spirit of fucking off and the price of who can afford to do nothing.
This video essay on why the younger generation (I’m dating myself, whoops!) need some new slacker movies is by Niche Nonsense, a video essay channel that provides, well, just that: niche nonsense. The channel was only created in mid-December of 2021. And you can get in on the ground floor and subscribe here.
Leslie Cheung & Hong Kong LGBT Cinema
Love letters are contagious, and if you’re unfamiliar with Hong Kong star Leslie Cheung, this is a great introduction to one of the greatest LGBTQ+ icons in film history and how he left his impact on the Queer Hong Kong films that came in the wake of his trailblazing.
These videos on the impact of Leslie Cheung on Hong Kong queer cinema is by Accented Cinema, a Canadian-based YouTube video essay series with a focus on Asian cinema. You can subscribe to Accented Cinema for bi-weekly uploads here. You can follow them on Twitter here.
The Secret Ingredient That Makes Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man’ So Great
When people say that modern superhero movies feel soulless, you don’t always get a lot of concrete examples or arguments as to why this is the case aside from a general feeling. Luckily, the above video essay takes the time to nail something specific about why Sam Raimi‘s Spider-Man trilogy feels so much more sincere and front-the-heart than modern, irony-poisoned Marvel fare.
This video essay on why everyday people make Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films feel so special is co-written by Patrick (H) Willems and Siddhant Adlakha. You can find their own directorial efforts and their video essays on their channel here. You can also find Willems on Twitter here. And you can find Adlakha on Twitter here.
The Lion King and Disney’s Sequel Curse
Frankly, I didn’t know that I needed an hour-long defence of The Lion King 1 ½ until it was sitting in my YouTube subscriptions. The Disney animated feature-length sequel landscape is, by and large, pretty mid. And while The Lion King 2 is one of the better ones out there, The Lion King 1 ½ is in a class all of its own. If you’re not familiar, the sequel takes place during the events of the first film, but it’s told from the perspective of Timon and Pumba. The following video essay does a stellar job describing why it rules, how it ties into Shakespeare, and why it’s a great example of self-aware filmmaking.
This video on the incredible Disney sequel The Lion King 1 ½ is by Jace, a.k.a BREADSWORD, an LA-based video essayist who specializes in long-form nostalgia-heavy love letters. Impeccably edited and smoother than butter, BREADSWORD essays boast an unparalleled relaxed fit and an expressive narrative tone. Long essays like this take a lot of time to put together, and somehow BREADSWORD makes it all look effortless. You can subscribe to them on YouTube here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.
Twin Peaks Actually, ACTUALLY EXPLAINED (No, But For Real)
This is, quite frankly, one of the most lucid explanations of “why Twin Peaks is the way it is” that I’ve ever seen. Maybe its my small screen ignorance showing, but the idea that TV reflexivity is the key that unlocks Twin Peaks really feels capital-t True. The above is the first of a two-parter, and will hit harder if you’ve seen all three seasons and Fire Walk With Me. I’m also a massive fan of how this essayist choses to frame their work; the Socratic dialogue is alive and well.
This video essay on what Twin Peaks is about, actually, is by Maggie Mae Fish, a Los Angeles-based comedian, actress, and culture critic who releases short films and video essays on her YouTube account. Fish has been featured on College Humor, Screen Junkies, and JASH. She was also a former lead actor and writer at Cracked.com. You can follow Fish on Twitter here.
Nothing But Trouble is a Very Weird Movie
Even if you haven’t had the pleasure of watching Nothing But Trouble with your own two, God-given eyes, you may still have heard rumblings of its notorious status. I appreciate that this video essayist takes the time to give complicated stories — like the making of this movie and why it came to be thought of as a massive bomb — the time they deserve to breathe and speak for themselves.
This video essay on why Nothing But Trouble is good, actually comes to us from In Praise of Shadows, a video essay channel run by Zane Whitener and based in Asheville, North Carolina. The channel focuses on horror, history, and retrospectives. Under their “Anatomy of a Franchise” banner, they break down horror properties including Tremors, The Stepfather, and Re-Animator, in addition to The Hills Have Eyes. You can check out the series’ playlist here. And you can subscribe to the In Praise of Shadows YouTube channel here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.
Why The Bear Hits So Hard
There’s a special bond between cooking and the moving image and Hulu’s The Bear is the latest piece of pop culture to bring the two art forms together. I love how this video essay balances its analysis of the technical and scripted aspects of the show to explain the controlled chaos that defines the feel of the show. Breakdowns like this, that do as much showing as they do telling, are really what the video essay format is all about.
This video essay on the appeal of The Bear is by Virginia-based filmmaker and video editor Thomas Flight. He runs a YouTube channel under the same name. You can follow Thomas Flight and check out his back catalog of video essays on YouTube here. You can follow him on Twitter here.
Under The Skin | Audiovisual Alienation
While I do think that all movies partake in non-verbal storytelling (they are moving pictures, after all), I do think some films are more non-verbal than others. This isn’t to say that these films aren’t about anything or that, more disparagingly, they are “just vibes” (yeesh). Case in point: this thoughtful analysis of Under the Skin, a film that uses non-verbal storytelling to put us in the shoes of an alien visitor trying to make sense of the confusing, predatory, and often beautiful human world.
This video essay on how Under the Skin uses non-verbal storytelling to explore the question of what it means to be human is by Spikima Movies, a Korean-Canadian who’s been dropping gems on YouTube since 2019. You can subscribe to Spikima’s channel for more incredible essays here. And you can follow them on Letterboxd here.
How a 10-year-old girl wrote Japan’s most insane horror film
Just when I thought that House was starting to slip into that special category of movies that have been “talked to death,” someone goes ahead and makes a video essay like this. I adore the messy human stories behind canonized films. And the way that this video essayist describes the father-daughter relationship behind the deeply personal making of House is impeccable, even if you’re already familiar with the general beats.
This video essay on the uncanny origins of the 1977 horror film House is by kaptainkristian, a YouTube-based video essay channel that peddles visual love letters to filmmakers, musicians, and syndicated cartoons. The account is run by Kristian T. Williams, whom you can follow on Twitter here. You can subscribe to kaptainkristian, and check out their back catalog on YouTube here.
Studio LAIKA and the Ghosts of Invisible Labor
Given that conversations on labor and animation are becoming more and more prescient and pointed, this video essay feels like a must-watch. This essayist’s analysis is deeply insightful, compelling, and well-argued. The idea that animators on Laika films are in-universe Lovecraftian gods tickles my brain something fierce.
This video essay on the self-reflexive industrial allegory of Laika studios is written and directed by Mihaela Mihailova. It is produced by Alla Gadassik and edited by Gil Goletski, with Jacqueline Turner providing the narration. The end of the video credits the Vancouver-based Emily Carr University of Art and Design for support. Mihailova is an Assistant Professor in the School of Cinema at San Francisco State University. She is the editor of the essay collection Coraline: A Closer Look at Studio LAIKA’s Stop-Motion Witchcraft (Bloomsbury, 2021)
Why This 1950s Studio Made Movies Backwards
We love a gimmick. And we especially love a gimmick that produces some wildly kick-ass movie posters. This video essay offers a lucid explanation of how AIP cracked the code for making B-Movies: poster first, movie later. Has this principle of making a film from a marketing perspective mutated into something more insidious over time? Yep. Will that make me any less charmed by exploitation cinema? Nope. Look, someone had to make the movies that play at the drive-in while teens suck face in the back of their parents’ Cadillac.
This video on how American International Pictures marketed their films backward is by Andrew Saladino, who runs the Texas-based Royal Ocean Film Society. You can browse their back catalog of videos on their Vimeo account here. If Vimeo isn’t your speed, you can give them a follow on YouTube here.
Why Did Spaghetti Westerns Look Like That?
On the one hand, this is something of a biased pick because I eat Spaghetti Westerns for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On the other hand, this video essay does a really solid job honing in on one specific aspect of the sub-genre and asking: why? I love laser-focused topics like this, and the fact that it’s about one of the most iconic shot types in genre cinema is just icing on the cake.
This video essay on Sergio Leone’s filmography and how he perfected the use of the close-up shot is by Adam Tinius, who runs the YouTube channel Entertain the Elk. They are based in Pasadena, California. You can follow them on YouTube here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.
The Catharsis of Body Horror
Frankly, the fact that this video essay managed to stay online for as long as it has (thus far) without getting sent back to the shadow realm by YouTube’s AI censor bots is a straight-up miracle. Luckily, as of writing this, the essay is still live and absolutely worth your time, especially if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t vibe with body horror. There’s no shame in having likes and dislikes. But this essay very clearly articulates why body horror is a lot more than the sum of its goo-covered, fleshy parts.
This video essay on the catharsis themes of body horror is by Yhara Zayd. They provide insightful deep dives on young adult content from Skins to My Best Friend’s Wedding. You can check out more of their content and subscribe to their channel on YouTube here. If you like their stuff and you want to support them, you can check out their Patreon here.