Each year before the Academy Awards, I whisper to myself, “I’m not watching this year. I won’t give in.” And I don’t. Instead, I just sit on Twitter pounding the refresh button, waiting for the next clip and announcement while muttering, “This doesn’t matter at all!”
This is how I win.
Anyway, the moral of the story is that watching the Oscars can take many forms: Twitter, a sketchy live stream, YouTube clips, and, yes, traditional television. However, if you’re looking for a non-traditional way to appreciate and/or better understand some of the best movies of the year, I suggest you mix a video essay or two into your Oscars diet. Of course, 2019 was a great year in film, and video essayists are only just beginning to wrap their hands around this new material, but there’s already some great stuff out there.
Below is a collection of video essays centered on films released last year, directors and other collaborators who had work nominated this year, and also a few essays on works neglected by the Academy that you should not forget about as you watch this year’s show. While some of these essays are not explicitly about a nominated work or person, they all will hopefully spark new appreciation for — and understanding of — what made 2019 one of the best movie years of the decade.
How The Irishman Builds on Goodfellas
This video by Thomas Flight is one of my favorites of the year. While its title indicates something obvious, the piece itself is a brilliant analysis of Martin Scorsese’s style, specifically the different ways he employs a tracking shot in each film. As Flight notes, the famous tracking shot where Henry and Karen enter the Copacabana in Goodfellas reveals all the good that life as a gangster has to offer. In The Irishman, the opening tracking shot through a hospital, which ends with an image of Frank alone in his wheelchair, reminds us of the “emptiness and fleeting nature of those benefits.”
2019 In Film: Directed By Women
Once again, no women were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director. While it is obviously bullshit like every other year it has happened, this year’s neglect is particularly stupid. Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir and Greta Gerwig’s Little Women are among the best films of the decade.
María Alvarez honors 24 films from last year directed by women in her brilliantly edited piece “2019 In Film: Directed by Women.” Blending sounds and images from such films as Claire Denis’s High Life and Lulu Wang’s The Farewell plus documentaries including Rachel Lears’s Knock Down The House and Agnès Varda’s Varda by Agnès, Alvarez’s piece serves as an excellent reminder and celebration of the many films the Academy under-appreciated this year.
And sticking with the theme of neglected films, my personal choice for best film of the year is Portrait of a Lady on Fire. In fact, I loved it so much I called it the best film of the decade in our list of the 100 best films of the last 10 years. In the below video essay, Oswald Iten takes a look at writer-director Céline Sciamma‘s coming-of-age trilogy: Water Lillies, Tomboy, and Girlhood.
Once Upon a Time … In The F.B.I
It’s (I assume) everyone’s favorite moment in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. Rick and Cliff return home after a day on the job, and the former turns to the latter and asks, “You uh… you gonna come in and watch my F.B.I?” We expect Cliff to say no, to make up some excuse as to why he needs to leave and go home. But instead, in one of the greatest friendship moments in cinema history, Cliff turns to Rick and says, “Why I just figured we would. I’ve got a six-pack in the back, thought we’d order a pizza.” And as if that’s not enough to make us all happy for the rest of our lives, Quentin Tarantino gives us another treat: watching Rick in an actual episode of The F.B.I.
In “Once Upon a Time…In The F.B.I.”, Nelson Carvajal takes that moment from the film and places it beside the actual moment from the original television show. It’s a short video essay that is sure to make you smile just as much as you did the first time you watched Rick and Cliff watch it together.
The Real Fake Cameras of Toy Story 4
The hardest I’ve laughed at the movies this year was while watching Toy Story 4, and if you’ve seen the film you probably know the scene I’m talking about: when two stuffed animals played by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele pitch a plan to get a key from the shopkeeper, the old “Plush Rush.” Anyway, I’ve been singing the praises of the film all year because of its humor, but in “The Real Fake Cameras of Toy Story 4,” Evan Puschak, aka The Nerdwriter, makes the case for the film’s technical brilliance. The video essay is an examination of the ways in which the animation mimics the effects of real film lenses. The video essay is also a celebration of the vision of Patrick Lin, the film’s director of photography, and the ways in which he innovates to make animation more cinematic. You’ll walk away having a new understanding of an aspect of the film you didn’t even know was there.
Bong Joon-ho: An Appreciation
No matter what happens at this year’s awards ceremony, Parasite and director-writer Bong Joon-ho have already made history. The film is the first feature from South Korea to be nominated for an Academy Award, and he became the first South Korean director to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. If you’re looking for video essays about the film, which is as good a movie as you’ll ever see, both Thomas Flight and The Nerdwriter have made great pieces. However, I figured since many viewers may be seeing Bong Joon-ho and his work for the first time, I would give a shout out to three other great video essays about his prior work.
First up is a video essay by Luís Azevedo, who examines the use of sound in the director’s films. It is part of a series of essays about sound published by Fandor (RIP). Readers who have seen Parasite know how essential sound is to the film, especially at some of the tensest moments. This video essay shows how Bong is a master of blending sound and image.
I watched Parasite for the first time this week and was lucky enough to be in a screening that afterward featured a Q&A with Bong. He talked about his fascination with the domestic, and in particular spaces like basements. Parasite takes place more or less in only two homes, and he once imaged the story taking place as a stage play. The video essay below, edited by KINO, explores the role symmetry plays in Bong’s mise-en -scène and the way it manifests in his shooting of interior spaces, especially the domestic. This is a key element of horror that Bong shares with directors like Hitchcock, the ability to turn orderly spaces into chaos.
This piece by the Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin is a superb analysis of Bong Joon-ho’s 2003 feature Memories of Murder. The film was his first collaboration with actor Song Kang-ho, who delivers a stunning performance in Parasite. To get a sense of where their partnership began, watch this video essay.
He Can’t Win
Finally, one of the many disappointments of this year’s Academy Awards was Adam Sandler not receiving a nomination for his role in Uncut Gems, especially after he said that if he wasn’t nominated he would come back and make a bad movie on purpose. I speak on behalf of all of us: please, Mr. Sandler (Can I call you Adam?), please don’t. You’re too good! And this great video essay by Adam Nayman for The Ringer shows why.