The 10 Cleverest Internet Films of 2012

by Eric Spiegelman

For the last two years, I dedicated this list to videos that stirred the heart. This year’s list is made up of those films that give the mind a little twist, providing that tiny moment of escape that comes from seeing things a bit differently than usual. These are the ten cleverest Internet films to cross my various social media dashboards over the past year. They’re presented here in no particular order, although the first one is a particular favorite.

• Jake Dolgy & Jake Ross might be the first directors in history to accurately portray people using the Internet in a fictional film. In “Online Now” (above) there are no beeping keystrokes, no animated envelopes to indicate an email is being sent, and no law enforcement officers demanding “enhance!” Instead, there are people so immersed in their mobile devices in public that they appear as zombies, singles who manage their online personae in the hope of getting laid, and commenters who objectify someone at her most vulnerable. And then, alongside all of the gross and dissociated Internet habits, the two Jakes show the one thing that redeems the entire medium — the Internet can make you feel less alone.

• Clever is something we reward. This is especially true in advertising. Two of the most clever videos this year were selling something. The first one, “Henry & Aaron — IT’S A SNAP!” did not work on me. I will not be matriculating to the Central Institute of Technology. But that’s mostly because I have enough degrees already and I don’t live in Australia.

• The second one, though, did work on me. I am now a proud member of the Dollar Shave Club. And I’m not the only one. This video, “ — Our Blades Are Fucking Great,” was so immensely popular that the Dollar Shave Club team was caught off-guard by their own success. In an email sent to customers a week after the video went viral, they confessed how unprepared they were, noting that their entire shipping department consisted of a single Dymo LabelWriter 450.

• Speaking of videos that sell something, 2012 was an election year. I could write an entire ebook about the satirical political videos that competed for our attention over the past twelve months, but, mercifully, I will not. Instead I will highlight just one, the most clever of the lot: this Mitt Romney campaign ad beautifully recut by YouTuber Hugh Atkin, which he calls “Song of Mitt’s Self.” It is a masterwork. “I think the American people have different views, and I agree with the American people!” Indeed, sir. Indeed.

• This year, BuzzFeed hired the high priest of clever Internet videos, Ze Frank, to work his brilliance on its YouTube account. One of his first productions there hit the bulls-eye right in the center. “The Perfect Guide to Holiday Etiquette” is indeed perfect in its simplicity — it’s really just a couple dozen shots of a plate with food on it — and the hilarity that derives from this is what makes it so .

• Next on the list is a favorite YouTube talent. His account name is ignoramusky, he’s Russian, and he takes cat videos and gives them a full musical score, edited to the action of the video, often ominously so. This year he returned with another amazing work in the genre, a 20-second thriller entitled, “The Cat Is Planning Something Evil.” It’s impossible to watch this fewer than a hundred times.

• There is so much to like about this next one, a sketch from the team at College Humor called “Batshit Crazy Acting Teacher,” made in the style of a PBS educational series. This is my favorite funny video of the year. It’s the most precise satire of an acting teacher I’ve ever seen — but that’s only part of the reason it made this list. The thing that elevates this video over all the other clever sketches I saw online this year is the meatball joke, which kills me.

A year ago, I declared that the genre of the time-lapse video had achieved everything it could possibly achieve. I was wrong. So wrong, in fact, that the three videos left in this list are all time-lapse videos. Each one succeeds in a different way, and each is uniquely clever. The first, “Rear Window Timelapse,” by Jeff Desom, does something that nobody has ever done before. The video is essentially a diorama constructed entirely out of scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, showing what the actual, complete view from Jimmy Stewart’s rear window looked like.

• I’ve seen just about every film that treats the city of Los Angeles as a living character in the script. Usually the city is glorified, in an almost apologetic attempt to rebut its negative stereotypes. But no cinematic work has ever portrayed Los Angeles as beautifully as “Nightfall” by Colin Rich, the second time-lapse to make this list.*

• The final cleverest video of 2012 isn’t particularly clever in its execution. It’s a time-lapse, as previously stated, and time-lapses, as also previously stated, have mostly been done to death. This one stands out for two reasons, however. First, it tells the story of one of the most delightfully clever little engineering feats of the year, the navigation of the Space Shuttle Endeavor through the streets of Los Angeles. Second, I’m pretty sure it counts as journalism — which seems so obvious a purpose for time-lapse photography that I’m surprised I can think of so few examples of it. In fact I can only think of one other — the new film Chasing Ice, which might be the first time-lapse feature documentary. So with that, I leave you to marvel at the incongruity of the Space Shuttle gliding below an apartment window, as captured by the Los Angeles Times videoographer Brian Chan. (Click the photo to go to the LA Times site and watch the full video.)

* City of Angels, from 1998, is a close second.

Previously in 2012 In Review: The Year In Internet Outrage

Eric Spiegelman is a web producer in Los Angeles and the proprietor of Awl Music.