January 4, 2019
Year-in-Review

The 10 Most Essential Video Essays of 2018

Our cinematic education reached new heights thanks in part to this year's excellent video essays.

It seems as though video essays continued to grow and evolve every year, and 2018 was no different. What were, at first, individual and largely isolated studies into some of the most iconic films and filmmakers, have now multiplied and become deeply collective explorations of every corner of cinematic history, from its furthest reaches to its most popular.

This, of course, means that 2018 has seen a ridiculous number of well-written and intriguingly entertaining videos about obscure film movements, genres, and director trademarks pop up on Vimeo and YouTube and are now just floating in the darkness of the interwebs, waiting for you to hit play.

I know what you're thinking—how do you know which ones really earned that 6-minute runtime? "I'm a very busy person and had very limited time for frivolities this past year. I'd like to catch up on all of the great video essays that 2018 had to offer, but I'm not quite sure how to find them or know which ones are worth my precious time."

I feel you. And I gotchu.

Here's this year's list of 10 truly phenomenal video essays that were uploaded in 2018 that I think all filmmakers, film students, and cinephiles alike should watch. (Click on the link in each title to read our write-ups of each video.)

See also: Best New Video Essays: Your 2017 Cinema Studies Curriculum

The Art of Overanalyzing Movies - Now You See It

How meta, right? Jack Nugent of Now You See It, takes on the very thing he and his fellow video essayists do on the daily: film analysis. And it's so good and might be my #1 favorite video essay of the year! Is analyzing films futile? Is it important? Are we seeing things in films that just aren't there? Nugent says maybe, but that's not the point. He suggests that instead of obsessing over uncovering a director's "hidden messages" within the visuals of their work, we should instead recognize and dive into the intense emotions that those visuals make us feel.

How Many Genres Are There In 'Kill Bill'? - Fandor

Quentin Tarantino is definitely a genre-bending director, and in no film does he make that known more than in Kill Bill: Vol. 1. Elements of martial arts films, including bits taken from kung fu and wuxia films, blaxploitation, as well as spaghetti westerns can be easily recognized in the film, but just how many other genres does Tarantino's masterpiece contain? This video from Fandor aims to answer that question.

Deconstructing Funny: Coen Brothers - The Discarded Image

We all know that the Coen Brothers are funny, what with all of their dark, morbid, gallows humor and black comedy. But why? And how? Julian Palmer of The Discarded Image unpacks Joel and Ethan Coen's weird brand of comedy in this video essay, paying particular attention to their use of repetition. 

Editing & Empathy in Big Little Lies - mzak

This one from Michal Zak is definitely in my top 3 favorite video essays of the year because he does what a lot of us do when we look at the cinematography in a movie: we deconstruct the hell out of it. He explores how the Big Little Lies director Jean-Marc Vallée uses blocking, Greek Chorus, as well as the theme of people watching to produce this hellish whodunit.

Snow White: The Making of Walt's First Masterpiece - One Hundred Years of Cinema

It's always good to learn about where things come from. If you're a big fan of animation, then this video essay from One Hundred Years of CInema is a definite must-see. In it, you'll learn about how Walt Disney, as well as his most beloved animated characters, became internationally recognized icons, starting with the history of Snow White's incredible cultural and emotional success.

The Beach Party Genre - The Royal Ocean Film Society

One reason I fell in love with video essays is that they let me basically watch normal people talk really intelligently about cinematic history on my phone. (The alternative is reading a friggin' history textbook and, honey, I've done my time.) This video essay from Andrew Saladino of The Royal Ocean Film Society explores the "rise and fall of one short-lived subgenre: the high school surf party," a topic that is, yeah, totally obscure and weird and may not appeal to all of you but is actually kind of important because it's so obscure and weird.

Film Tone - StudioBinder

StudioBinder has had an incredible year on YouTube, churning out dozens of excellent educational content for filmmakers to learn from. While most of their videos are geared more toward production, they do post a good video essay every once in a while. Here they break down how filmmakers establish tone in their films, including using lighting to set the mood and tailoring sets to fit their vision.

Finding Nemo: Secrets to Being a Good Parent - ScreenPrism

There is a reason why ScreenPrism topped my personal list of favorite video essays last year for Sight and Sound—they make some of the best, most in-depth, interesting, and thorough video essays on the internet. I'm not sure why this particular one stuck out to me in 2018...maybe it was the subject matter that tugged on my heartstrings or maybe it was the expert way in which they broke down character development in a totally straightforward and easy-to-understand Pixar way, but all I know is that I definitely came away from it a better writer. 

You Know It's the Coen Brothers IF... - ScreenPrism

Another one from ScreenPrism. (Yeah, they're that good.) If you're someone who likes to learn all you can about individual directors, their philosophy, their approach, and how they work, then ScreenPrism's series "You Know It's ----- IF..." is right up your alley. They go over dozens of trademarks of some of history's greatest filmmakers, explaining in great detail how and why each director uses their signature cinematic maneuvers.

This one about the Coen Brothers is fantastic.

Zodiac: The Unofficial Reading List - Hint of FIlm

Video essayist H. Nelson Tracey of Hint of Film made our list last year with his "Unofficial Reading List" for Matt Ross' Captain Fantastic, and this year he has once again appealed to our inner literarian. In this video essay, he lists all of the books, articles, music, films, and pop culture memorabilia that appeared in David Fincher's 2007 mystery-thriller Zodiac, providing the most perfect reading list for fans of the film, as well as aspiring cryptographers.


See all of our 2018 Year-in-Review coverage.     

Your Comment

3 Comments

I rarely am impressed by internet essays.
The old adage rings true - "those that can't, teach".
If you truly knew what you were talking about, you would be making money from being a film critic, or a filmmaker.
Not sitting in your bedroom with ample free time to produce and edit something like an essay together.

January 5, 2019 at 8:52AM, Edited January 5, 8:52AM

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I rarely am impressed by negative internet comments.
The old adage rings true - "Don't be mean, it is silly to be mean, you silly."
If you truly knew what you were talking about, you would be making money from being a film critic, or a filmmaker.
Not sitting in your bedroom with ample free time to produce and edit something like a nasty comment together.

No. To be honest, I love these essays. Not all, obviously, but a bunch of them, the medium is excellent and inspiring. Keep up the good work essayists and thanks for NFS for bringing these up from the vast wilderness of internet where howling commentators roam free.

January 5, 2019 at 4:31PM

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Antti Kairakari
Director slash a ton of other jobs
46

This list is seriously payed to promote (from creators already paying a lot to promote themselves), where is Wolfcrow, Criswell or even Film Riot? bonkers!

January 11, 2019 at 1:59PM

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