Short Films

Mite Short Film

Why Watch? The twins down the hallway? Sure. The guy in the bear suit prepping for God Knows What? He’s okay. What’s really terrifying is what’s lurking in the carpet of The Overlook Hotel. The above image is a taste of the disgusting beauty in this short film from Walter Volbers, who crafted this amazing animation by himself over the course of a decade. Its location is both inconsequential and powerful, driving us through a familiar space of fear before diving deep into a new ecosystem that’s vibrant, richly formed and effective at making skin squirm away. It’s also unexpectedly funny, a sort of bizarre complete package that provides an alternative theory on what drove the caretaker crazy. More so than any specific sense of story, this is a pedestal to show off some profound CGI skills. Someone needs to hire Mr. Volbers yesterday. Every nanosecond is as detailed, fully realized and markedly shadowed as the still shot above. Stellar, astounding work. On the other hand, if you wash your hands every hour on the hour, you absolutely shouldn’t watch this thing. And now I’m staring at my rug suspiciously. Thanks, Mr. Volber. Thanks a lot.

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Blue Season Short Film

Why Watch? The official Star Wars VII cast was announced today, and between all the names that rang a bell was newcomer Daisy Ridley. So who is she? She’s done a bit of television, and she also starred in this sci-fi short film from Georgina Higgins and Lee Jones where she gets to be a badass in small doses. There are no asses being kicked, but if her physicality in Blue Season is any indication, she probably won’t be waiting at the top of any space towers waiting to be space rescued by Jedi knights. In the short, Sarah (Ridley) regains consciousness upside down in a mysterious locked room, connected by an accidental phone call to a man (Kenneth Jay) on the outside world willing to help. In another testament to the high caliber of filmmakers taking on the Sci-Fi London 48 Hour Film Challenge, this short film opens with powerful atmosphere created by dank environments and a grating high drone of music that intensifies even as Sarah works her way to freedom. On the acting front, both Ridley and co-star Jay bring a panic of intensity to a terrifying situation. She especially appears as if she spent the night hanging upside down in order to prepare to look haggard and wily enough for the role while Jay seems to be able to sweat on command in order to make his character even creepier. So, yes, Blue Season is a sign that we should be excited about Ridley’s inclusion in the Star Wars universe (and her rising […]

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Fletch Short Film

Why Watch? Fletch Ferguson is an awesome Frisbee golfer who achieved everything he set out to achieve at an absurdly young age. So what’s his next step? A career shift that will change his entire epic life. This short film from Zen Freese is a bombastic celebration of a huge personality condensed to an appropriately-long time: a single minute. As you can guess, it’s built with quick-cut editing that channels Edgar Wright’s visual style (complete with Pilgrim-esque animation), but the overall feel is a sprinting version of the “Real Men of Genius” beer ads. Everything is larger than life, except the subject. Fletch wins by sheer hyperbole. The music is delightfully upbeat, creating a constant (and repeating) thrumming that the visuals keep time to. However, the cherry on top is the radio-ready voice over narration that delivers achievements both unimpressive and mediocre as dry as you like.

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Tribeca Film Festival

This year there were well over 50 shorts screened at the Tribeca Film Festival. That’s quite a lot. Spread across nine programs, they’re a diverse bunch both in form and quality. They come from all over the world, too, though there’s a significant emphasis on home-grown New York City filmmakers. This variety makes any attempt at synthesis a little daunting, so instead of drawing any sort of overarching thematic conclusions I’ll just go ahead and tell you which ones are the best. Here are 12 of them, in alphabetical order.

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Gumshoe Short Film

Why Watch? First person POV can be tricky to pull off because of how limiting the field of view is. It’s the same thing with found footage, but even without the shaky cam (or at least a less shaky cam), it can be disorienting and leave an audience frustrated by the loss of control. When it’s done well, it can be very cool. Still a gimmick, but an entrancing one. It’s become popular over the past few years, so it’s not all that innovative to see it put into practice, although it’s almost always impressive on a technical level. What’s unique about this short film from Matt Steinauer is that he and his team have combined that newly popular technique and blended it with antique style. That’s not just because Gumshoe is drenched in noir pastiche. It’s also the POV shots matched with radio serial Foley work that make for a potent combination of young and old. The technical achievement is stellar, and the shading work is often as stunning as long legs in fishnet stockings. Luckily, it’s also good for a laugh. Which shouldn’t be surprising considering it boasts vocal talent like Maurice LaMarche (Futurama, a billion other things), Curtis Armstrong (Booger!) and Criminal Minds star Paget Brewster.

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The March Short Film

Why Watch? As a potential upside, we could be uploading our consciousness into a computer to dominate our reality like Johnny Depp (or Ray Kurzweil). As a potential downside, we could be robo-slaves kept pliant by our addiction to an alternative version of reality. Either way, it all starts with Google Glass. This sharp and brooding short film from Josh Fortune was created for the Sci-Fi London 48 Hour Film Competition, and it tells a personal story within the confines of a future history and a metal chassis. Few movies get away with voiceover as a primary vehicle, but here, a disembodied voice aching to make a connection is thematically perfect. Plus, X27′s (Jared Fortune) vocals are sufficiently world weary and gruff, acting as a consistent reminder that there’s a man inside the formaldehyde. As for the visuals, the animation is a quaint cut-paper job that evokes the sandier elements of Star Wars. It’s ambitious for a two-day production, but I wonder what kind of fantastical story this team could come up with given more money and, say, a whole week.

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Good Grief Short Film

Why Watch? This short documentary from Fiona Dalwood features five conversations about losing something vital (from limbs to loved ones) and infuses them with lighthearted stop-motion animation, rounding out and complicating stories that otherwise might be wholly somber. In truth, what’s shared is not only the initial wound of the loss, but also the lessons learned from it as it healed. Those tones blend together for a rich view on one aspect of human life — managing to avoid one-noted piety, sunshine or despair. The stop-motion, rendered with simplicity and skill, adds a buffer between us and the pain. There’s a potential to mute the impact, but it also achieves something similar to the short In Dreams, where the human face is taken away, allowing a universality to creep in. This is no longer his story, these are no longer their stories. We can somehow see ourselves more easily reflected in the details when it’s a talking spider sharing the woe. Good Grief also uses its claymation as a Trojan horse. An adorable entryway that leads to some difficult questions.

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Batman: Strange Days

Why Watch? Bruce Timm is one of those people who gets Batman. He’s got a marrow-deep understanding of who the character is, what he’s capable of, and what he evokes. Of course he’s also worked extensively with Batman for two decades. Since this year marks the 75th anniversary of the shadowy hero, Timm has animated a Casablanca-evoking short film that trades on horror classics (Mad Scientist, Monstrous Henchman, Kidnapped Damsel) while turning Batman into Sky Captain with 20% of the pastiche. The details are all important in this swift adventure. The fighting, the determination, the fear. Batman: Strange Days at once feels like it could play after a WWII newsreel and like it belongs firmly in the present. It’s also a nice reminder of why Bruce Wayne’s hometown is called Gotham. Now how about a new short starring Freakazoid? The people demand it. For now, enjoy this new/old Batman adventure.

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Helium Harvey

Why Watch? In this adventurous short from Daniel Savage (who wrote, directed and animated), a young boy swallows an entire balloonful of helium and finds himself riding the wind to lands distant and sights astounding. The animation style is dynamic and rich, layering 1950s-style travel poster scenery with a happy-mouthed mascot. On the story front, it’s a one-two punch where the kid makes a bold decision (that any of us could have or might still) and ends up spanning a globe. It’s like batting at a pinata and finding yourself on Mars. Joyous, youthfully dangerous and diminutively epic, Helium Harvey is gorgeous fun with a sweet resolution.

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The Snowman Short Film

Why Watch? An adorable snowman loses his nose, a group of mischievous (or hungry) rabbits decide they want to eat it, and a clumsy race over a frozen lake ensues. Naturally, silent film slapstick is involved. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s essentially the same thing Frozen did with its teaser trailer (plus a reindeer and minus the rabbits), and that’s why Kelly Wilson and Neil Wrischnik, the filmmakers behind The Snowman, are suing Disney. It’s a keen, sweet little short. Pleasant for all ages with simple animation and a sharp comic sense of raising the stakes that works to make the battle for a snowman’s nose smile-inducing. Also, the rabbits are fat, leading me to believe that they’ve been successful at de-nosing other snowmen before this. There’s obviously the curiosity of the suit, and Slate goes down the icy rabbit hole quite a ways on that, but you can see the short for yourself by clicking through the embed below.

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Pure X Heaven

Why Watch? This short film from Ben Kitnick has the look and feel of a standard music video, but instead of the next Abercrombie model in line for the job, they’ve chosen to follow around Corey Busboom — a man known for his hook suspension work. And, yes, there are images of hook suspension among the blissful images of carnival rides and demolition derbies. Tonally, Heaven is a lost summer. It’s childlike in its wonder, particularly because of the juxtaposition of amusement park antics and the free-wheeling spirit of soft focus, but Busboom brings a severity to it. He’s grizzled and tanned, and his final suspension act is poignant despite the easy ebb of the music. On that front, Pure X’s sound evokes a chillwave feel with Ben Kweller-like vocals and a sunny guitar strum (adding to the lost summer tonality). A smiling aural tranquilizer. The gimmick of blending real life and a music video isn’t taken to its full endpoint, and there have been others before it that tell a true story, but fortunately this pleasing, thoughtful short goes beyond the hook.

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Sintel Short Film

Why Watch? You can’t see this short film on YouTube anymore. As reported at Cartoon Brew, Sony had it taken down from the site despite zero Sony-made images or sounds appearing in it. Fortunately, you can still watch Sintel online in all its CGI glory. Directed by Pixar animator Colin Levy, it follows a tragic, obsessed warrior who is on the hunt for a dragon. Not to kill it, but to save it. Even at four years old, the animation resonates, and the story resounds powerfully. Like most action shorts, it begins with a balletic fight scene proving our hero’s dominance, but unlike most action shorts, it heads in an uneasy direction marked by ferocity of purpose and the blindness of loyalty. Such is this adventurer’s hamartia.

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Movies Starring Movies Short Film

Why Watch? This is not going to be the most profound thing you see today, but this short film from Portal Party is a pun-filled visual delight. It’s also clearly targeted at us movie fans. The premise is as basic as it gets — short,  vignettes featuring a sprinkle of tension delivered alongside  some highly talented DVDs. To be blunt, it’s dumb fun that knows how dumb and fun it is, and with any luck, you would have been sold by the header image and skipped right over my writing. Movies Starring Movies is a sweet distraction, and I’ll be looking forward to future installments.

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Meat Bingo Short Film Lot 13

Why Watch? The Meat Bingo team has done it again, creating a short film that is unsettling and not wholly explained. In Lot 13, directed by John Panton, a sparsely populated auction house achieves an uneasy silence for the items up for bid until a sealed box ignites a passive aggressive battle of bigger and bigger numbers. For one, the use of space is first-rate, creating something familiar (at least through movies and TV) and perverting into a place that feels uninviting and off-puttingly religious. Instead of dank dark, it’s overly bright. Every detail is exposed, and not all of them are pleasant. That awkward environment is established immediately, and is then pushed in a way that might make your skin win a crawling race. If crawling races are a thing. Do I wish they had a bigger FX budget? Yes. It is solid nonetheless? Absolutely. This brief stint into stark-raving insanity is an excellent example of the kind of fun that should come with blood pressure pills.

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The Last Ten Short Film

Why Watch? We start high, impossibly high, staring down into a stairwell as a living trench coat opens the door and kicks on the lights. What follows is a test of will, stretching out the time it takes to boil pasta to its breaking point with a noirish angle that Hitchcock might bust a gut at. David Higgs‘ short film The Last Ten is clever in its execution — from toying with lighting for intensity to forcing the imagination to do heavy lifting with off-screen events. It’s also excruciating in the way it refuses to give you what you want. It offers no quarter on a traditional front, on a framing front, or on an editing front, but it ends up like cringing excellence. Like being given an amazing dessert and being allowed only a toothpick to eat it with. Fortunately, while waiting for the sweet stuff, it offers some truly impressive sepia tones laced with some kind of spine-affecting drug. Plus, not only is the sound design the platform that keeps the plates spinning, Higgs found a way to mirror the noises he used (sex audio and strangulation audio are eerily, comically similar). The Last Ten is unconventional, frustratingly delightful, and it pops.

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Chrysalis Short Film

Why Watch? A cute young girl gets into a car with another boy, and a young man falls apart. Nick Rutter took that concept literally for his short film about growing up while your heart breaks. The broken heart in Chrysalis belongs to a boy whose physical appearance matches his mindset — his seams are splitting, fingers falling off and his muscles twist and snarl as if the bones have been melted. All of it is aggressively punctuated by atmospheric droning from Lapalux, thoroughly crafting an environment that’s disturbing while dipping its toes in Cronenbergian waters. It’s a chilly shawl the short film wraps around you, using a minimum of (beautifully done) gore to make you feel the loss.

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Shifter Short Film

Why Watch? Here’s the deal: this short film from The Hallivis Brothers has a lot of stupid 80s action tropes stuffed into it. Everyone is model attractive (including the Kate Beckinsale lookalike), there’s a steroid-infused bad guy, none of the characters are defined beyond being hot, a cartoonish amount of bullets are expelled, and all the dialogue is laughably cliched. But here’s the other thing: it all looks amazing. Shifter has fantastically executed action that blends neatly with some inventive CGI (the elevator cables are an inspired touch). The Inception riff is easy to spot in the form of a mystery-computer-suitcase, although the science fiction element feels silly (injected with that 80s action sensibility again) when it serves only to turn one chase scene into two chase scenes. On that front, it has an entertaining throwback quality that puts the generic in genre, but it’s difficult to deny that the complete package is built purely for speed. It thinks with its biceps, and some will find ironic enjoyment there, but there’s serious skill behind the careening camera angles, the energetic economy of the editing and the overall sheen. It’s the cinematic equivalent of parkour — which oddly enough features no parkour. All adrenaline tricks, no real substance. But clearly that was the point.

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This Is Not a Time to Lie Short Film

Why Watch? There’s a lot going on in this short film from Lei Lei. Maybe too much. Not satisfied to use a singular rectangular space, the artist instead creates what looks like a Trapper Keeper explosion of different configurations and patterns. This Is Not a Time To Lie requires a wandering eye or multiple viewings. Among the shapes that create transforming landscapes is a large-eyed hero who finds a sailboat and heads out on a trippy adventure. It’s surreal, yes, but there’s a structure at work both visually and in its poetic storytelling. There’s also an antique feel to the textures which Lei Lei uses — crafting a backdrop that resembles torn book pages and a foreground marked (and marred) by synthesized water marks and shadows.

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Enormous Web Series

Why Watch? If you were wondering what Pacific Rim would be like if we didn’t have any real technology to fight the Kaiju, the new web series Enormous promises to have an answer for you. The concept behind the series — and its first installment — is that society has been hobbled by gigantic terrors, and a debilitating virus has rocked the humans who remain. A one-two punch of bad luck. As a first chapter, it’s a snippet of things to come, but it also serves as a quick and dirty one-off. It’s a rugged introduction, although nothing so far is off the well-beaten path beyond the blending of two genres into one. There’s the group of heroes who believe that children (somehow) are the future, there’s the group of selfish banditos trying to steal from those with a higher purpose, and there’s the giant eyeball staring into the 30th floor window. Directed by BenDavid Grabinski (who did the excellent Cost of Living short), and with a script from Trollhunter‘s Andre Ovredal, the language of Enormous is pulpy and terse even in its exposition. It looks great, particularly the juxtaposition of a sunshine-lit working over and a dank high rise that offers a new hope. Unfortunately, the CGI-crafted monster is on par with what we’ve come to expect from a YouTube-dwelling budget. It’s like a cartoon beast shows up in the real world, and while it doesn’t sink the whole enterprise, the weak effects hopefully won’t show up all that often. Or, if Kaiju are going […]

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float short film

Why Watch? Yesterday we went flying with Superman, but this animated short film from Haruki Kawanaka is a flight of a different kind. float is a gorgeous, living sketch book with a score that sounds like a video game console wrote it. For the most part, it’s a blend of geometry and water color-style work that takes us over the city and across the sea as a piece of paper transforms into something else. Purely experiential, it’s a beautiful — strangely comforting — piece of visual poetry.

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