Pass the Time With Purpose: 5 Essential Film Essays

5 Essential Film Essays

Talking about movies is one of our favorite pastimes, maybe even more than the movies themselves. It’s irresistible to critique someone’s work, point out flaws, and relive some of the key moments. But, for filmmakers, talking about movies isn’t just fun—it’s essential.

As all of us well know, nothing in a film happens by accident (ok, almost nothing). So, when we notice that a film looks, feel, or sounds a certain way, then there’s a great chance it’s worth talking about. Outside of making a film yourself, examining other filmmakers’ works is probably the quickest way to learn the craft.

Most of us have a little extra time on our hands these days. So, instead of falling into the abyss of the endless scroll or rewatching the entirety of The Office for the sixth time, we wanted to take an opportunity to provide you with some valuable alternatives. 

Here are 5 essential film essays for you to learn from, plus a few channels to explore.

Thomas Flight | Chernobyl – A Masterclass in Perspective

In case you missed what may be one of the best miniseries of all time, we highly recommend stopping everything to watch Chernobyl. Then, watch Thomas Flight’s incredible examination of how to tell a story through a character’s eyes. The lessons to learn here are essential for effective storytelling, and he uses key examples of how to do it and how not to do it (sorry, Mark Wahlberg).

Nerdwriter | Mandy: The Art of Film Grain

“Time has no meaning anymore. Every aesthetic of the past is a pallet of the future.” That’s a pretty bold statement, but in this video from Nerdwriter, they do a pretty good job of backing it up. Now, there’s a lot to talk about with Mandy, but this examination of film grain is a great way to dive into how we connect with things, how aesthetics can play a role in filmmaking, and why it matters at all.

The Discarded Image | Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood | Tarantino at his Most Meta

This great essay from our friends at The Discarded Image has more “I never thought of that” moments than we can count. The video uses Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood as a launching point to explore Quentin Tarantino’s career, and how he uses our preconceived notions to subvert our expectations. There are some mind-blowing moments here, including how Tarantino casts actors based on our pop-culture awareness of them. Crazy stuff.

Hurlbut Academy | Parasite | The Look Of… 

Parasite is destined to be a “film school” film, and for good reason. Director Bong Joon-ho’s instant classic is one of the most intentional movies we’ve ever seen. Literally every decision was made to tell a story, either consciously or unconsciously, and in this essay from the Hurlbut Academy, they explore the visual decisions behind its production. They break down everything from camera choice to set creation, and how they all worked together to make a masterpiece.

Anna Catley | Die Hard: A Christmas Movie

There aren’t a whole lot of lessons to learn from this one, but this essay from Anna Catley settles the timeless debate: Is Die Hard a Christmas movie? With her characteristic humor and wit, she breaks down her argument while also reminding us why we love to talk about movies in the first place—because it’s fun. Do we really need a better reason than that?

Channels to Follow for more Film Essays

These are just a few recent examples of film essays for you to check out, but there are countless others. And, just like the classic films they explore, they’re pretty timeless as well. We can always learn lessons from the masters, which makes these channels worth revisiting time and time again. Here’s a short list of some essential video essay channels:

Still have some extra time on your hands? Check out our recommendations on 10 Movies Directed by Women You Should Watch.