The Best Video Essays of 2022
Posted 17 Jan 2023
Well, 2022 was not a banner year for the video essay. The medium seems to be in a sophomore slump of sorts, having matured enough to establish certain conventions but not quite comfortable enough to begin pushing its boundaries very often. Hopefully 2023 will be better, but in the meantime, I have once again gone back through my viewing history to find a few standout examples worthy of your time.
As before, this is by no means an objective or definitive thing. I can only speak for videos that I actually watched, which are themselves a subset of the videos that YouTube deigned to recommend to me. And this year brought an increasingly unreliable YouTube algorithm that often failed to highlight videos from creators who I explicitly follow, so I have no doubt there were many good videos that I never saw at all.
But here are some that I thought were good. I hope you enjoy them as well. As you can probably guess, those marked with a star are particular standouts. For convenience, here is a playlist with all of them, in no particular order because that would be a big pain.
Film and Television
- The Decline of Tim Burton by Broey Deschanel. How Tim Burton went from maker of iconic hits to yet another of Disney’s interchangeable henchmen. (0:45)
- The Dystopian Nightmare of MOTEL MAKEOVER by Maggie Mae Fish. The intersection of gentrification, reality TV, and AirBnB. It’s as bad as it sounds. (0:22)
- Elvis (2022) and the Utter Mediocrity of Biopics by Broey Deschanel. I’ve never much cared for biopics, and thanks to Broey, I finally understand why. Also, this is as good a place as any for me to note my observation that Elvis seemed to be the most popular movie to watch on airplanes this year, speaking as someone who spent a lot of time on airplanes. (0:40)
- The Lesbian Gaze by verilybitchie. A look at lesbian movies directed by men, and how those depictions differ from those directed by women. And finally, someone manages to articulate some of the reasons I hated Blue is the Warmest Color.
- ★ The Lion King (Part 1) by YourMovieSucksDOTorg. The video essay has largely evolved beyond its original predominant genre of “grown man is angry about children’s movies”, but this years-in-the-making (and long-anticipated) examination of the “live-action” Lion King remake was well worth the wait. Adum has been running his channel “Your Movie Sucks” for a long time, and this is probably his best work to date, bringing his usual hallmarks of exhaustive research, dry wit, and clever editing to explain not only why the remake is bad, but why the original is superior. I will admit I’ve never particularly liked the original Lion King myself, and after watching this I feel like I appreciate it a little better. Watch for Part 2 in my list of the best of 2024, probably ;). (Also, don’t miss Adum’s definitive debunking of the claim that The Lion King was a ripoff of Kimba the White Lion, which preceded this video by a couple years.) (2:30)
- ★ Oscars 2022 and the Death of Cinema by Broey Deschanel. Broey takes a look at how the Oscars are becoming self-aware of their own cultural irrelevance, highlighting the disconnect between popular opinion and critical appraisal, and what that means for the future of film as an art form. I’ve been thinking about this video a lot in the past months, especially as advertisements have been popping up around LA encouraging the Academy to consider Marvel’s Wakanda Forever as a prestige film worthy of Best Picture. (0:27)
- Paw Patrol’s Dark Secret, Explained by Skip Intro. Skip Intro’s ongoing “Copaganda” series turns to the world of children’s television to ask the big questions: does ACAB apply when the C is an adorable* puppy? What exactly are kids supposed to learn from all this? And why does everything look like it’s made of cheap plastic? (*Puppy is actually not very adorable) (1:20)
- Saurian Cinema: Capitalism Killed the Dinosaurs (And We’re Next) by coldcrashpictures. The latest installment in coldcrash’s Saurian Cinema series revisits the 90s weird puppet-based sitcom Dinosaurs and reveals it as the surprisingly prescient satire that it apparently always was. (1:10)
- Trash Disney Remakes by Big Joel. The Disney live-action remake continues to be the gift that keeps on giving, at least where video essays are concerned. No hard-hitting analysis here, but who doesn’t want to spend an hour with lovable scamp Big Joel as he seeks out increasingly ridiculous places to film himself talking about Disney’s ongoing destruction of its legacy? (0:50)
- The Visual Effects Crisis by the Royal Ocean Film Society. A good examination of visual effects, and how widespread misperceptions have led to VFX artists becoming one of the most overworked and underappreciated sectors in the film industry. (0:20)
- Light up a Torch of Freedom: Cigarettes by Knowing Better. The history of the cigarette industry and its century-long campaign to cultivate addiction while concealing its incredibly harmful effects. (1:30)
- ★ The Man Who Tried to Fake an Element by BobbyBroccoli. A surprisingly engrossing tale of academic fraud from the high-stakes world of advanced particle physics. Meticulously researched, and explained clearly enough that you’ll be able to follow along even if you don’t know Rutherfordium from Livermorium. (1:20)
- The Kidnapped Filmmakers of North Korea by Atrocity Guide. The true story of a husband and wife who were abducted by the North Korean government in an attempt to jump start the country’s film industry. (1:00)
- Mar-a-Lago - Trump’s Criminal Resort by Renegade Cut. What exactly is Mar-a-Lago anyway? A short explanation of the resort and its surprisingly long entanglement with the Oval Office. (0:11)
- The Part of History You’ve Always Skipped: Neoslavery by Knowing Better. When did legal slavery end in the United States? The answer is less clear than you might expect, and ultimately boils down to the harrowing conclusion that slavery, at least in certain forms, is still legal. (1:17)
- ★Why Koko (Probably) Couldn’t Talk (Sorry) by Soup Emporium. Koko the gorilla was famous for her mastery of American Sign Language. Except maybe she didn’t speak it at all. A close look at the case reveals endless amounts of wishful thinking and cherry picking on the part of Koko’s supposed caretakers, and a good deal of extremely questionable “science.” See also the podcast You’re Wrong About, which released an episode about Koko back in July of 2020. (0:50)
- ★ Was Helen Keller a Fraud? by Soup Emporium. Mr. Emporium’s previous video (see above) on Koko the Gorilla resulted in many people writing in to request that he “debunk” Helen Keller. Except, as he here demonstrates in exhausting detail, she was not a fraud, and anyone who thinks otherwise ought to take a long, hard look at themselves and the path that brought them to such a shameful conclusion. A masterful exploration not just of Keller’s admirable life, but of the dangers of internet groupthink and its elevation of unorthodox “hot takes.” (1:20)
- A Deep Dive Into The Cinemassacre Backlash by Lady Emily. 2022 didn’t bring much new work in the field of Doug Walker Studies, but occasional Doug Walker scholar Lady Emily did produce this investigation into the career of related internet personality The Angry Video Game Nerd. What follows is the sad story of a man trapped in a prison of his own success. (1:55)
- A History of Spam on the Internet by We’re in Hell. Spam! What is it? Where did it come from? Where is it going? An entertaining history of the unsolicited advertising online and the strange people who have inflicted it upon us. (1:20)
- ★ ROBLOX_OOF.mp3 by hbomberguy. “They didn’t get rich because they used your sound effect! They got rich by being evil!” What was the origin of a half-second sound effect in a popular children’s video game? The short answer is that they accidentally copied it from an existing game, but the long answer involves the shenanigans of a very ridiculous rich dude, the illegitimacy of the Guinness World Records, and the exploitation of child labor by the aforementioned popular video game. (2:00)
- ★ Line Goes Up - The Problem With NFTs by Folding Ideas. Wherein the crypto market meets its greatest nemesis: Dan Olsen explaining at length what all its terminology means, what its adherents think, and how the entire thing is a gigantic grift. At 10 million views this video hardly needs my endorsement, but it’s definitely one of the year’s standouts, an important dismantling of a dangerous trend. (2:20) See also: Why are NFTs so Ugly? by Solar Sands. (0:17)
- Transvestigation: The Conspiracy Theory That Everyone is Transgender by Mia Mulder. Everyone’s favorite investigator named Mulder is back, this time to examine a very strange Internet subculture devoted to proving that everyone is transgender (except them). Why would they think this? Well, you’ll see. (00:55)
Online masterclass grifting
One unexpected trend this year was a series of high-profile videos about the highly lucrative scam of selling online courses that promise to teach you to become a rich and famous Influencer.
- Influencer Courses are Garbage: The Dark Side of Content Creation by Super Eyepatch Wolf. The video that kicked off the trend, an examination of the predatory nature of selling artistic success in the form of expensive training, and an impassioned plea to value art for its own sake. (2:00)
- Contrepreneurs: The Mikkelsen Twins by Folding Ideas. Dan Olson takes a detailed look at the “online parasites” who promise that they can make you rich by teaching you how to spam Amazon with low-quality ebooks. (1:15)
- I took Ninja’s Masterclass and it ruined my life by Drew Gooden. Gooden is more a humorist than a video essayist per se, but his first-hand account of trying to become a popular video game streamer via an expensive course (and failing despite already having a degree of internet fame) is a case study that speaks for itself and perfectly rounds out this impromptu trilogy. (0:40)
- How the Sports Betting Industry Quietly Consumed America by Wendover Productions. An important examination of how a few large corporations have been building an exploitative gambling empire, with Australia serving as a cautionary tale. (0:20)
- The End of Art: An Argument Against Image AIs by Steven Zapata Art. This isn’t a video essay so much as a monologue that plays over footage of a drawing being made, but it’s one of the more sophisticated and cogent discussions of the issues surrounding AI “art” that I came across this year. 2022 was undoubtedly the year that AI suddenly went from comically inept to disconcertingly capable. The genie is out of the bottle, and I can only hope that we have enough people like Steven Zapata to help guide is through what comes next. (00:47)
- Should Trans Women Be Allowed In Women’s Sports? by Mia Mulder. I wish we could stop hearing about this ridiculous non-issue but as long as people keep harping on it I’m glad Mia Mulder has taken the time to produce this lengthy and nuanced examination. (0:53)
- Skid Row, Explained by Johnny Harris. Los Angeles’s Hotel Cecil made a name for itself this year as one of America’s Most Haunted Places. But there’s nothing supernatural going on here, and this video amply isolates the true cause of the Cecil’s mysterious events: the Skid Row district, where LA has been attempting to corrall the disadvantaged for decades. (0:12)
- Bioshock Critique: After the Shrug by Monty Zander. Much ink has been spilled on Bioshock’s account already; is there somehow still more to say about this game? Apparently so! Zander presents a detailed look at the game, covering everything from its design to its thematic intent as a critique of Ayn Rand. Zander also posted videos on its sequels, Bioshock 2 and Bioshock Infinite, which I didn’t finish on account of not having finished those games, but those are probably well worth a look as well. (2:00)
- Developing by Game Maker’s Toolkit. Technically begun in 2021, but throughout 2022 it’s been fun to watch as game developer Mark Brown documents the development of his new game project, covering the intricacies of the process in great detail. Seeing him fail, succeed, and persevere through numerous creative challenges has been an inspirational and thought-provoking journey, and I look forward to seeing how his project progresses in the coming year. (This series also included the novelty of an interactive essay, which probably merits special mention in this list but I am a bit ashamed to admit I never got around to trying it.)
- Dishonored Ten Years Later: A Return to the Plaguelands by Beregond13. 2022 was the year that YouTube’s algorithm realized that I would watch any video in which someone discusses Dishonored at length, and thus it sent me quite a few of them. To be honest I’m having trouble remembering which were which, but most of them actually weren’t from 2022. This one was, so I’ll throw it on here, what the heck. I think it was one of the good ones? Probably not of interest to anyone unfamiliar with the source material, but I’m the one making this list! (1:17)
- Facebook Games are So Bad by Billiam. Billiam is primarily a comedic YouTuber but this was a very good overview of the kind of games that proliferated on Facebook years ago, and how their lineage can be traced directly to Mark Zuckerberg’s current quest to build The Metaverse. Also includes hilarious footage of Billiam being schooled in the ways of the metaverse by literal children. (0:42)
- How Bisexuality Changed Video Games by verilybitchie. Many video games include storylines in which the player character can pursue a romance with another in-game character. But what does it mean when the “romanceable characters” are open to said relationships regardless of the gender of the player character? Are these functionally bisexual characters without subtext, as the game developers seem to think, or does this depiction send a message of its own? (1:00)
- ★ How Souls Games Save You by Daryl Talks Games. Can the notoriously punishing Dark Souls games cure depression? Anecdotally, many people seem to think so. Daryl presents a solid hypothesis about why that might be the case, backed by solid scienfitic research. (I have never played a Souls game, so I guess I have myself to blame for my persistent depression, haha.) (0:23)
- Uncovering a Cancelled 90s “Metaverse” by Cathode Ray Dude. A surprising discovery on some old VHS tapes reveals a strange video game that never existed. (0:35)
- Why Games Lie to You - The Fallacy of Fairness by Adam Millard. How video game designers use selective dishonesty to affect the player’s experience. (0:17)
- Yeah Yeah Beebiss I - The Longest Unsolved Video Game Mystery by All Things Lost. Years ago, some video game catalogs claimed to be selling a game with the hilarious title Yeah Yeah Beebiss I. Now numerous internet sleuths have gathered together to solve, once and for all, whether such a game ever actually existed, and if not, where this bizarre title came from. (0:15)
- Honorable mention to Jacob Geller, who created plenty of good videos this year in his usual territory at the intersection of video games, literature, and philosophy. But I am very bad at remembering exactly what they were about once a few months have gone by, so I didn’t want to try to pick out favorites at this time. Just go watch them if that’s what you’re into, I’m sure they’re all good.
- Can’t Help Myself and the Death of the Author by We’re in Hell. A piece of conceptual art becomes viral online after someone writes about his interpretation of it. But his interpretation differed from the artist’s intent, making it an interesting basis to discuss the concept of Death of the Author. (0:37)
- ★ The Canvas of Babel by Solar Sands. “There is a website, right now, that contains a picture of your funeral.” Solar Sands delivers another pop-philosophy gem, an exploration of order, disorder, and the all-encompassing nature of randomness. Pairs well with Jacob Geller’s video “The Soul of a Library” from two years ago. (12:00)
- Google TV Beta - The Elaborate Hoax That Fooled Thousands by Michael MJD. An amusing story from the early days of online video: some practical jokers and their legacy of completely nonsensical yet convincing computer tutorials. (0:35)
- ★ Harry Potter by Shaun. Whether this is a video essay or just a monologue is up for debate, but you don’t want to miss everyone’s favorite bespectacled skull talking at length about the weird morality of the Harry Potter universe. In particular the fact that it’s full of slavery apologetics. Oh JK Rowling, we can’t take you anywhere! (1:45)
- How this font became the face of Chinese food in America by Linus Boman. A brief history of “ethnic fonts,” where they came from, and what they imply. (0:20)
- ★ It’s Embarassing to Die: The Immortalist Story by Atrocity Guide. A fascinating look at the people who’ve decided that death is optional. Some of them are into cryonics, others simply believe they’ve opted out. Let me know how that works out for you, guys! (0:55)
- A Massive corporate fraud scheme: The Miniscribe Brick disaster by Tech Time Traveler. A tale of corporate malfeasance culminating in a company putting literal bricks into boxes and calling them hard drives. (0:22)
- A Narrative Analysis of The Spider-Man Musical by Lady Emily. Finally, the deep dive on the bizarre storyline of Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark that we all needed. (1:00)
- The REAL Reason McDonalds Ice Cream Machines Are Always Broken by Johnny Harris. At 11 million views this is by far the most popular video on this list, and as such it arouses my natural suspicion of popular things. Nevertheless, it’s solid investigative reporting on this seemingly trivial issue, in which (no big surprise) the villain turns out to have been capitalism all along. (00:30)
- The Where’s Waldo Legacy by Solar Sands. A fun look at Martin Handford (creator of Where’s Waldo) and the other artists working in the same vein. (0:14)
That’s all, folks! And in case you missed it, here’s 2021’s list.