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Kevin B. Lee Picks the Year’s Best Video Essays

Kevin B. Lee Picks the Year's Best Video Essays

Kevin B. Lee is one of the best video essayists around, so it’s no surprise that he has an opinion about which of the year’s video essays were essential. In a post on Fandor, Lee picked 2014’s best, calling 2014 “a year unlike any other” for the form, and breaking down what makes great video essay.

One essayist Lee draws attention to is Tony Zhou, a professional editor who’s gotten attention for the popular video series “Every Frame a Painting.” Calling him the standout newcomer to the video essay scene, Lee praises Zhou’s video “Edgar Wright: How to Do Visual Comedy,” which lambasts Hollywood comedies that don’t make any effort to land their jokes visually and praises Edgar Wright for actually directing his movies.

In the video above I go into detail about what I think makes Zhou’s videos so effective—no doubt his work has brought new sophistication to this emerging form, while demonstrating an implicit understanding of how people engage with online content. My favorite is still the one that first gained him popular attention. His subsequent videos on David Fincher and Jackie Chan have relied more on found footage interviews with his subjects as a way to lend authority to his claims, but here Zhou purely relies on his own words, back by his formidable deployment of footage to make a stinging critique at the formal ineptitude of most Hollywood comedy. I couldn’t watch “The Interview” without this video playing in the back of my mind.

On a totally different note, Lee also draws attention to L.J. Frezza’s “Nothing,” a supercut that challenges the very idea that a supercut should just be a collection of fun, entertaining clips. “Nothing” takes every shot of “Seinfeld” without any people in it, starting out as a fun video and turning into a downright odd one. Lee notes that “the relentless shots of spaces with no people populated by canned laughter makes us aware that the sitcom world is constructed, how artificial it is.” 

Also mentioned at length in the video overview above, this for me is the one compilation video of 2014 that mattered most, the one that broke through the supercut’s superficial, instant gratification, like-retweet-and-forget social mechanisms, bringing us face to face with the compulsiveness of pop culture.

Other videos included in Lee’s roundup include “Fosse Time,” Matt Zoller Seitz’s essay on “All That Jazz;” RogerEbert.com contributor Scout Tafoya’s video essay on M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village,” part of “The Unloved,” his series of video essays bringing attention to underappreciated films; Indiewire blog Press Play’s own Matthew Chaney for his “What Is Composition?” essay; “Actress” director Robert Greene’s compilation “The Art of Nonfiction,” and David Cairn of the Criterion Collection’s “Anatomy of a Gag,” which takes a look at how Jacques Tati’s “Play Time” functions.

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