by Eric Spiegelman
Of all the videos uploaded to the Internet this year, here are fifteen that found their way into my feeds and dashboards and inboxes and my bookmarked aggregators of varying stripe, fifteen that inspired me to to copy and paste their URL into a Google Doc labeled “2011 Videos Wonderful,” a title comprised of words I was likely to search for when later I couldn’t find my ongoing list, and fifteen that survived when I took that giant collection and whittled it down to ten, and then added five that were somehow similar to others in the top ten and deserved inclusion because they hinted at some kind of trend. Arduous? Perhaps. But so very, very worth it.
• These choices are in no particular order, with the exception of the one video above. “Game Deaths” by Rob Beschizza is the best Internet film of the year. The video strings together the death sequences from a score of old 8-bit video games, cut with scenes from an Atari ad of a previous era, an ad where people seem to delight in their own simulated doom. Meanwhile, a MIDI version of “Mad World” by Tears For Fears plays in the background; the lyric “the dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had” never even needs to be sung. Look how hilariously twisted we are, this video says. We’ve taken our darkest, most self-destructive impulses, hardwired into the human brain long, long ago, and we figured out how to make them fun.
• Two of the most wonderful Internet shorts this year divided the screen into two sections in two different but compelling ways. The first one is “Symmetry,” by the brilliant team at Everynone (in collaboration with WNYC’s Radiolab). This film is like “Sesame Street” for grownups. Each cut presents two images and gives you exactly enough time to reflect on the connection between them before moving on to the next pair. You should watch this video in the morning whenever the crossword puzzle is too hard. It’s a great warm-up exercise.
• Next is “Splitscreen: A Love Story,” by James W. Griffiths. The use of splitscreen here is integral to the story, providing a narrative that is ultimately made explicit by the final scene. Fun fact: this was shot entirely on a Nokia smartphone, and it won this year’s Nokia Shorts competition. Damn you, quality branded content!
• “How to Peel a Head of Garlic in Less Than 10 Seconds” is a video that changed my life. Directed by Alex Lisowski for Saveur, it solves a problem I wrestled with for years. I’ve peeled them by hand, done the whole crush them with a cutting board thing, and I even had a fancy tool from Sur La Table that didn’t quite get it right. Then Todd Coleman showed up in my browser and it was a garlic revelation.
• The best of hipster art reminds you of that awkward age where you were old enough to think about sex but nowhere near old enough to actually do it. Those were the days you had a crush on your babysitter, you got really, really wrong information from your friends, and your fantasies about classmates had plot lines from Disney films. It’s a specific kind of innocence, a curiosity about sex before you knew how sex could just ruin everything. The kid in Destroyer’s music video for Kaputt — that’s me at age eleven, imagining girls in one-piece bathing suits because bikinis were too intimidating, and also I have a runny nose so thank you for the kleenex.
• If “childlike hipster music videos with sexual undertones” is a category (and it probably is on Netflix) then the runner up to this year’s champion would be the video for Ice Cream by Battles. The lyrics are incomprehensible, the images are a random assortment of karate, desserts, and naked flesh, yet everything coheres through the magic of multiple exposure photography — a technique that may be trendy, but one that I never get sick of (and so long as Instagram doesn’t figure out how to do it everything will be okay). One last thing: the drummer for Battles looks exactly like Shooter McGavin.
• Ronen Verbit was clear with the clerk at the Apple store that he would return the three iPhones for a refund in a couple days. They were for an art project, he said. The clerk was fine with this and rang up the purchase. Ronen told me this origin story in the lobby of the Tribeca Grand, but before he finished he jumped over a table to talk to a pretty girl he’d never seen before who was on her way out of the hotel. He never came back. Anyway, “Trapped in an iPhone” is one of my favorites of the year, and I’d say it establishes Verbit as the Buster Keaton of the Internet, though I actually think his table hurdling does more to advance that reputation.
• “A large sandstorm hit the Sahara Desert, making it nearly impossible to see the sky with my own eyes,” wrote Terje Sørgjerd about his epic time-lapse film, “The Mountain.” “I was sure my whole scene was ruined. To my surprise, my camera managed to capture the sandstorm, backlit by Grand Canary Island. If you ever wondered how the Milky Way would look through a Sahara sandstorm, look at 00:32.” This video is the best argument for owning an Apple TV and figuring out how to use AirPlay. Watching it fullscreen doesn’t cut it. Watch it on a 46-inch plasma.
• The companion piece is “Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over,” edited by Michael König, shot from the International Space Station. König’s video is the science to Sørgjerd’s art, König looks down from the heavens while Sørgjerd looks up at them, and both capture things you’ve never seen before — that literally no human has ever seen before. These two may have reached the limits of what time lapse photography has to offer, so I expect to be unimpressed with everything in this category next year.
• Some artists can look at the overwhelming collection of blah YouTube videos and see an infinite resource of found footage. The master of this is Kutiman, known IRL as Ophir Kutiel, a 29-year-old musician from Israel. Kutiel started a project called ThruYOU in 2009, where he downloaded dozens of solo, amateur musical performances and mixed them into a single, seamless symphony. “My Favorite Color” is this year’s mix, comprised of 23 individual videos from people who just wanted to play something for their home camcorder, but ended up members of a extremely talented band.
• Another YouTube artiste is user Ignoramusky. His medium of choice is the cute cat video, and “Kitten vs. a Scary Thing” is a subtle and complex masterpiece. See, “Kitten vs. a Scary Thing” is a two cent video with a million dollar soundtrack. The artist painfully edited and synced the score to the action, with a level of respect normally reserved for a high-budget Hollywood blockbuster. In doing so, he elevates the entire genre of cute. “Kitten vs. a Scary Thing” is the gourmet grilled cheese of the Internet.
• Videos that make this list are generally ones I’ve gone back and watched over and over again. This usually doesn’t happen with comedy — once the surprise is gone I tend not to laugh as hard. But occasionally there’s an exception, and this year there were two. The first was “Dave Seger’s M83 Vocal Audition.” This video cracks me up every time I watch it. Seger’s timing is impeccable, and his deadpan earnestness sets the joke up perfectly. It’s a performance that follows worthily in the footsteps of Andy Kaufman lip syncing the Mighty Mouse theme on “Saturday Night Live.”
• The second one is Scott Gairdner’s “Hall of Inaccurate Presidents.” I’m a sucker for funny name humor (Awl posts like these are some of my favorites), and this video turns me into a snickering idiot. Sweeny Patch, people! Sweeny Patch!
• The final ad hoc category this year is accidental marine encounters with nature at its most sublime from the vantage point of something that requires oars. Both videos in this category have a lot to do with tools, as well: this variety of film documents something we’re unlikely to see, but for the wonderful and portable gadgetry we can have with us at all times. Although it’s unedited and largely the result of some pretty poor choices, the guy on a kayak who stuck a GoPro camera to his head and paddled into the blue whale migration lanes off the coast of Los Angeles captured something fairly incredible. The two moments it got me to hold my breath nudged it onto this list.
• On the other side of the world, Sophie Windsor Clive and Liberty Smith canoed out onto the River Shannon in Ireland and stumbled upon a hundred thousand starlings flying in two giant clouds. Even in a tiny, low resolution box on your computer screen, “Murmuration” will clear your mind in the way only a state of awe can, the way that few things seem to do anymore. What they did with the footage is impeccable. The look on that one girl’s face at the end, yeah. That’s it.
Say what you want about the vainglorious pursuit of Internet spectacle, if our insatiable desire to capture only the most awesome of awesome leads to more videos like these, I think we’ll all be the better for it. Here’s to the never-ending pursuit of the new, to chasing the dragon of that childlike wonder we so rarely have as we age, and to finding it wherever we can, even if only online.
Last Year: The 10 Most Wonderful Internet Films of 2010
Eric Spiegelman is a web producer in Los Angeles.