17 votes

Your favorite video essays of 2020

As a bit of a change of pace, I want to ask you all what your favorite video essays were on YouTube in 2020. Taking some queues from this Polygon article, The best video essays of 2020, here are some guidelines for a video essay.

  1. The video must be scripted. Momentary improvised asides are fine, especially if they come in the form of voice over added in editing, but the video must otherwise follow a written script.

  2. The video must have a thesis, and that thesis must be more than “this is good” or “this is bad.” The thesis should concern the impact of the subject matter, not just its content.

  3. The video also shouldn’t be a documentary (like NoClip’s documentary about the making of Pyre). The focus should be a subject from an analytical standpoint, not an interview standpoint.

  4. But this doesn’t mean the video should necessarily aim for pure objectivity; personal video essays are, in fact, a thing.

16 comments

  1. [4]
    dubteedub
    (edited )
    Link
    Here is a quick rundown of my top five video essays of 2020. In Search Of A Flat Earth - 1:16:16 Dan Olson's (YouTube account Folding Ideas) video on Flat Earth is just sublime for me. He starts...

    Here is a quick rundown of my top five video essays of 2020.

    Dan Olson's (YouTube account Folding Ideas) video on Flat Earth is just sublime for me. He starts off with just a very well down debunking of the flat earth conspiracy by traveling to a nearby national park with a gigantic miles long Lake Minnewanka and shows the curvature of the Earth. However, the video takes a huge left-turn about halfway through that is just fantastic. If you are interested in another excellent Flat Earth video, I also recommend HBomberGuy's Flat Earth: A Measured Response.

    I really enjoy the Some More News channel (and their podcast Even More News) and this was their best video of the year which was entirely put together in just about two weeks. It is a fun longform discussion on how 80s/90s movies discussed fascist leaders and usually jokingly used literally Donald Trump stand ins to do so. The format is set up as a long gag about time travel in movies and stuff that is fun. It is definitely long, but easy to watch in chunks.

    This was just a really well done breakdown by a smaller YouTuber Renegade Cut digging into how black sitcoms of the 90s framed discussions around police. It was extremely timely given the continued protests and activism for civil rights and law enforcement.

    Another great video this year by a smaller YouTube channel was Jack Saint's deconstruction of the systematic failures of Bon Appetit due to racial discrimination and inequitable pay and treatment of minority staff. I think that Jack does an excellent job showing how the Bon Appetit brand's attempt to make their personalities seem like friends ended up bringing about such a strong backlash in the end. If you are interested, he also did a 30 minute follow-up video about Bon Appetit once the brand resumed posting videos.

    I really enjoy Contrapoints videos and her video on internet cringe culture was fantastic. I thought she did an excellent job breaking down the different types of cringe and discussing their online popularity and impact.

    12 votes
    1. [2]
      Omnicrola
      Link Parent
      FYI you appear to have accidentally embedded some timecodes into the URLs that make them not start at the beginning. Excellent list, going to watch them all!

      FYI you appear to have accidentally embedded some timecodes into the URLs that make them not start at the beginning.

      Excellent list, going to watch them all!

      5 votes
      1. dubteedub
        Link Parent
        Ah damnit, thanks for the heads up. All of the links should be fixed now. I'm glad you liked the list!

        Ah damnit, thanks for the heads up. All of the links should be fixed now.

        I'm glad you liked the list!

        4 votes
    2. AnthonyB
      Link Parent
      I love Some More News and I think their essays are brilliant, but the humor is a bit of an acquired taste which makes it difficult to share their videos. I almost skipped the movie because of the...

      I love Some More News and I think their essays are brilliant, but the humor is a bit of an acquired taste which makes it difficult to share their videos. I almost skipped the movie because of the jokes in the beginning, and I was already a huge fan of their content. I'm glad I didn't though because it ended up being one of my favorites. If anyone reading this has had the same issue, I promise it is worth watching.

      I second everything on this list. The only thing I might add is Justice part 1 from Contrapoints, but the lack of part 2 has driven me crazy. Natalie has a pretty good excuse for that, so I hope she has an easier year and can get back to posting more incredible content (and feel good about herself, obviously that is the most important thing). She is undoubtedly the best YouTube personality/political commentator in my opinion.

      2 votes
  2. [4]
    JRandomHacker
    Link
    Tom Scott is pretty well-known, but his YouTube's Copyright System Isn't Broken. The World's Is was quite good, even by his standards. It's an in-depth look at how we got to where we are from a...

    Tom Scott is pretty well-known, but his YouTube's Copyright System Isn't Broken. The World's Is was quite good, even by his standards. It's an in-depth look at how we got to where we are from a digital perspective, without being extra ranty or hyperbolic (and also features some great cameos)

    It wasn't a video essay per se, but 3Blue1Brown's Lockdown Math livestream was a really interesting look at maybe what math education could be? Plus Grant is just genuinely a joy to listen to talk about math.

    Game Maker's Toolkit is (in my opinion) the best mechanics-focused games analysis channel, and his Commanding Shepard is a great examination of the way that player agency vs storyteller control act with and against each other in RPGs, focused on the original Mass Effect trilogy.

    Adam Millard's Architect of Games is a lower-profile channel similar to GMTK (and he sometimes makes cracks about this fact) that I've appreciated for his very specific topic choices. His video on the game The Longing made me appreciate a game that I would have never found on my own, and the way that mechanics can tell a story in a way that other media probably couldn't.

    Games as Literature does what it says on the tin - in contrast to GMTK and AoG, Games as Lit focuses on the narrative aspects of video game storytelling. His videos are less-frequent but all very good, and this year had a longer analysis of Final Fantasy VII.

    7 votes
    1. [2]
      tunneljumper
      Link Parent
      I love 3blue1brown because he fools me into thinking I'm way better at math than what I actually am.

      I love 3blue1brown because he fools me into thinking I'm way better at math than what I actually am.

      3 votes
      1. cfabbro
        Link Parent
        It does the exact opposite for me; It makes me realize how terrible I still am at maths, since despite them dumbing it all down I often still struggle to fully comprehend the concepts they cover. :P

        It does the exact opposite for me; It makes me realize how terrible I still am at maths, since despite them dumbing it all down I often still struggle to fully comprehend the concepts they cover. :P

        2 votes
    2. dubteedub
      Link Parent
      Thanks for sharing these. I had not heard of any of these channels or videos before and I will definitely be checking out the copyright system one for sure.

      Thanks for sharing these. I had not heard of any of these channels or videos before and I will definitely be checking out the copyright system one for sure.

      2 votes
  3. Omnicrola
    Link
    One of my favorites this year was "In Search of a Flat Earth" by Folding Ideas (1hr 16min) While it does spend some time discussing the refutations of the flat-earth theory, it is more of a...

    One of my favorites this year was "In Search of a Flat Earth" by Folding Ideas (1hr 16min)

    While it does spend some time discussing the refutations of the flat-earth theory, it is more of a discussion and analysis of the culture surrounding the people who believe in the theory(s). The author does an excellent job of breaking down the journey into the flat-earth swirl of ideas, and then at about 37min does an excellent segue into an observation of how the flat-earth 'movement' has mutated into the Qanon phenomenon.

    6 votes
  4. Kuromantis
    (edited )
    Link
    I don't watch a lot of video essays and it was uploaded for patrons last year, but as mentioned by u/rogue_cricket: The war on Christmas: A measured response by hbomberguy is very high-quality....

    I don't watch a lot of video essays and it was uploaded for patrons last year, but as mentioned by u/rogue_cricket: The war on Christmas: A measured response by hbomberguy is very high-quality.

    It's basically a 3-stage video talking about how the war on Christmas came to be historically, why it is made up rhetorically and then how people like Alex Jones and Dennis Prager use the war on Christmas for their own ends and how it's particularly great for sites like InfoWars, then how this general feeling of persecution conservatives seek with stuff like this is why the war on Christmas is so popular and something that's used in lots of other ares for these people to keep believing in conservatism.

    6 votes
  5. TheJorro
    Link
    Into The Omegaverse: How a Fanfic Trope Landed in Federal Court - Lindsay Ellis I'm super glad to see Dan Olson getting a lot of love finally. If you haven't already, check out Lindsay Ellis'...

    Into The Omegaverse: How a Fanfic Trope Landed in Federal Court - Lindsay Ellis

    I'm super glad to see Dan Olson getting a lot of love finally. If you haven't already, check out Lindsay Ellis' channel, they're frequently writing partners and Dan Olson was with her on her trip to New Zealand that led to her Hugo award nominated "duology" Hobbit essay/documentary. This year, her journalistic effort has resulted in a very detailed account and breakdown of an absolutely insane fanfic drama that resulted in court cases across multiple states that are still continuing. Features some stellar voice acting from Dan Olson, Jenny Nicholson, Princess Weekes, and more. There's even a followup!

    5 votes
  6. [2]
    rogue_cricket
    Link
    This one is a bit more specialized and silly, but I really enjoyed Fallout: New Vegas Is Genius, And Here's Why from hbomberguy. He did a great War on Christmas video that was meatier, but as a...

    This one is a bit more specialized and silly, but I really enjoyed Fallout: New Vegas Is Genius, And Here's Why from hbomberguy. He did a great War on Christmas video that was meatier, but as a fan of New Vegas I thought the FNV one was really fun and it was nice to have something positive (robot cowboy YEAH!!).

    I also liked PhilosophyTube's video on Amy Coney Barret (although it is more about originalism and law in general, I think).

    4 votes
    1. dubteedub
      Link Parent
      Hbomb's FNG video was fantastic. I think I have watched it three times since it came out now lol. If you have not checked it out, it is a great complement to his original Fallout 3 is Garbage and...

      Hbomb's FNG video was fantastic. I think I have watched it three times since it came out now lol. If you have not checked it out, it is a great complement to his original Fallout 3 is Garbage and Here's Why video.

      3 votes
  7. kfwyre
    Link
    Shame | ContraPoints (NSFW) I'll qualify this with the fact that I don't watch a whole lot of video essays, so I'm not exactly someone who can speak to what's "best" out there. I'll also say that...

    Shame | ContraPoints (NSFW)

    I'll qualify this with the fact that I don't watch a whole lot of video essays, so I'm not exactly someone who can speak to what's "best" out there. I'll also say that I don't think you can go wrong with pretty much any ContraPoints video, and I legitimately debated which one of hers I should include in this thread.

    I ended up picking this one because I think it explores an emotional space that I haven't really seen conveyed well (if at all) elsewhere. Wynn here addresses a complex, intimate, and personal queer experience that is both uniquely her own but also resonant to nearly anyone who watches, no matter their orientation. Furthermore, I think she does a remarkable job of remaining self-aware of the narcissism involved in self-exploration while also acknowledging that it is this very narcissism that gives our own experiences their profound emotional depths.

    4 votes
  8. admicos
    Link
    I am not entirely sure if these count as video essays, but I'd like to share Tantacrul's "Music Software & Interface Design" series: Music Software & Interface Design: Propellerhead’s Reason 13:24...

    I am not entirely sure if these count as video essays, but I'd like to share Tantacrul's "Music Software & Interface Design" series:

    Yeah only the latest one is made in 2020, but still, they're good.


    Also, wow I need to bookmark this thread, a lot of these videos y'all are posting look pretty interesting (but it's 3 AM if I start watching one I won't stop till the sun comes up)

    4 votes
  9. tunneljumper
    Link
    I can't pick just one, but Jacob Geller's channel is a gold mine of video game commentary and how that relates to our everyday lives. A five-part series on the Seattle Mariners from Dorktown's Jon...

    I can't pick just one, but Jacob Geller's channel is a gold mine of video game commentary and how that relates to our everyday lives.

    A five-part series on the Seattle Mariners from Dorktown's Jon Bois and Alex Rubenstein: https://youtu.be/6pkVu6Kw00M

    Joseph Anderson learned Polish just so he could play The Witcher series and read all the books in their original language and made a NINE HOUR video critiquing and analyzing The Witcher 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtrAx-rVgco

    3 votes