Best Short Films

L4st Short Film

Why Watch? This short film proves that at least one filmmaking collective in Finland is obsessed with the fungus-murdering “The Last of Us.” Mikko Löppönen and company have created a slick action set piece that earns its haunting atmosphere with navel gazing music and uncomfortably long shots of a decrepit location. L4ST barely has any dialogue, and it doesn’t exactly need what it has. It’s a brief anxiety attack, shot in a way that forces you to try to look around corners even though you have no control over the scene. That echo of video game views helps sell the survival, but the short’s greatest strengths are the choreography and execution of its fight scenes. Quick, sharp and simple, they mirror the ferocity necessary to survive in a world with few supplies and many dangers. Someone give these people a bigger budget.

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Man Short Film

Why Watch? This short film from Richard Hughes is sweat and gristle. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a fist. Yet like most outstanding explorations of manhood, Man proves the power and pure muscle are not enough to make you whole. It focuses on a middle-aged sheep shearer who’s one bad afternoon away from being sent to pasture. He takes a young kid under his wing, trying to teach him to stay on the right path, but the young troublemaker has the unfortunate solution to the old man’s problem in a tiny plastic bag. Man is aggressive and unrelenting — with evocative shots that place us firmly in the dirt and heat of the barn to a storming performance from a feral Shane Connor as the old man. He growls his way through a forced paternal role, anchored by strident frustration and a too big piece of himself that wants to do the right thing. There’s a strong parallel here to the Oscar nominated Bullhead, both for its subject matter, its tragic sense of fading dominion and its exhausting intensity. This is one hell of a fantastic short film.

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Game Night Short Film

Why Watch? This short film from Noah Blodgett and Jacob LaMountain defies most of the common sense ways to grab attention online. It doesn’t start off with a big dramatic scene, it isn’t sci-fi with homegrown CGI, and it doesn’t attempt to overwhelm your senses. It’s also non-narrative, focusing on two young men (played by the writer/directors) meeting up for an all-night sparring session for which we’re never told the rules of the game. Instead, it works by engaging raw, primal curiosity and doing a lot with a little. It’s not the slickest no-budget production out there, but it at least does $5,000’s worth with $50. Part of that is due to clever moves like using an RV’s windows to act as a natural split screen, and part of it is due to finding strangeness in simplicity. The best example of that is their twist on Rock-Paper-Scissors. The entirety of Game Night is like watching Calvinball. Are there rules? If not, why do these kids get together every night to chug colored water and destroy playing cards? Why are they keeping score (and how much is “red” worth)? The short casually waves as gnawing questions float by –undoubtedly out of experimental necessity. However, there’s also a practical reason: in a story universe featuring two guys getting together to play a unique game that’s old hat for them, how could you possibly exposition-dump an explanation? Yes, there are amateur elements, and yes, many will walk away from this frustrated beyond belief, but this short film […]

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Streamline Short Film

Why Watch? This short film from Dan Marcus deals with memory, but it feels more like a dream. In Streamline, a man in a suit is being chased through a traumatic series of events in his past while attempting to come to terms with a horrible father and a mysterious woman who has access to his mind. This isn’t the first time Marcus has looked at both 1) strained father/son relationships that cropped up because of 2) the mother dying. We featured his short film Wake a few years back, which boasted stirring camera work that highlighted the strength of that theme, and Streamline is no different. Fortunately it comes with a tilted take on a standardized sci-fi setup — not that it’s a mindblowing twist or anything, it’s really just a deft move of shifting expectations at the right moment. Unfortunately, the film is mellowed by amateurish, hollow acting that takes some of the hyper-real blocking and makes it feel stagey. Cheryl Graeff does well as a stalwart guide through the mind, but the main hero feels a bit comatose. Otherwise, the key components to an engaging, emotional sci-fi film are all here.

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Identity Theft Short Film

Why Watch? Fair warning: by the end of this short film, you may hate smiley faces (if you don’t already). Bryan Baca’s Identity Theft seems almost quaint after this week’s massive dump of stolen photos, but real life doesn’t take away from the monstrous tension created here as our hero Shayne tries to woo a girl through his instant messaging client. He’s nervous, recognizing a chance to be happy and not wanting to screw it up, but someone else has more sinister plans for his budding relationship. Baca and company do a great job of learning from the Kubrick school, molding a wordless, one-man script into a slowly churning nightmare where the concept of control is flipped upside down. Plus, they’ve managed to make a movie about cyber security where the villain isn’t a hacker or a Catfish or a phisher or any other of the terrible titles we give people who scam and steal electronically. Yes, it’s tense, but it’s hair-raising in that midnight movie kind of way. The practical effects need a little work, but nothing diminishes the eerie tone and the legitimate, rhetorical question that the film is bringing to life.

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Interview With a Time Traveler

Why Watch? This short film from James Cooper features a Don Draper-esque stranger who welcomes a journalist into his hotel room for an interview, only the mysterious man isn’t from the 1960s — he’s from the future. Far into it, in fact, and he has a lesson for our time. Cue chants of “Klaatu Barada Nikto.” It’s impossible to miss the touches of Interview with the Vampire in Interview with a Time Traveler, particularly the notably serious tone drafted onto a sci-fi concept that can often be fairly silly. This is a trope imbued with mortal danger. What works best about this short is the appearance of low stakes that feel incredibly high. This is a conversation capped with a question that the journalist either has to accept or reject, and while it affects him greatly (and while the language is all severe), it’s difficult to fully imagine the larger implications beyond this one moment in an anonymous hotel room. The dialogue is overblown in parts (I never trust people who speak in quotations), but it’s shot with intensity (particularly in a small space), and the overall steel-cold tone is affecting in portraying temporal jumping as something sinister and volatile.

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The Gunfighter Short Film

Why Watch? If you want to mine this short film for its most profound nugget, you’ll find a question of what it’s like to live in a completely transparent society, one where your deepest shames and desires aren’t secret. How do you live when your inner world is made public? If you don’t want to look that deep, you can still revel in Nick Offerman playing a trickster god narrator who tries his best to send bullets flying in a stereotypical Western saloon. Marked by poetic voice over, it’s also fantastically funny. Written by Kevin Tenglin and given cinematic life by director Eric Kissack, The Gunfighter twists the plot conceit of Stranger Than Fiction into a commentary on genre tropes, whiskey-slinging and itchy prostitutes. Clever and thorough in its execution, everyone on the production team is game for the absurdity, showing both the love required to truly lampoon something and the wit to find the flaws in the object of that love.

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Misinventions of Milo

Why Watch? Milo is a young boy who’s constantly working out the kinks. His garage boycave is a wonderland of DIY science equipment cobbled together using the best electronics of 1988, but his inventions never work quite right. That might be a good thing, though, because his ideas are ridiculous. His most recent absurd concept? A Reverse Microwave that doesn’t so much make food instantly cold as it sends things back in time. You might even mislabel it “a time machine.” This short film from writer/director William Whirity is fantastically endearing. A perfect representation of the kinds of childhood adventures that canvased 1980s filmmaking from Joe Dante to Amblin. Milo (played with lisping energy by Charlie Bazzell) is a really cool geek who deals with bullies, finances his inventions with a cheating scam and even has his own adorable catch phrases. From the thrilling score to the tension of a teacher’s footfalls down the hall to the sweet buddy comedy, The Misinventions of Milo Weatherby is pitch perfect. It’s a miniature Goonies with a sci-fi twist. Whirity has crafted a winning story that succeeds by amplifying low stakes into how large they feel when you’re small. (Sidenote: it’s not at all structured like a sitcom, but it would make for a great TV show where Milo and his pal Levi go on a new quest every week.)

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Gros Short Film adam taylor

Why Watch? When you’re a fat fish in a small pond, the allure of swimming across the ocean to test yourself against greater challenges is often incredibly strong. Things are more difficult when your pond only has seven hot dogs in it, though. In this short film from Adam Taylor, the largest man in an Eastern European village goes after his dream to prove himself as the largest man in the world. He’s dedicated, in love and probably weighs about 180 pounds. On one level, Gros feels like a sweeter version of Borat. More innocently naive. Our normal-sized fat guy doesn’t shake hands with the Statue of Liberty to satirize, but to find a broader sense of humor. Some surprising images and bone dry witticisms make it all possible, and the art school style offers a calm base for the bombastic to stand out. At the same time, he’s definitely making a statement about how great Americans are at consuming large quantities (and what it’s like not to give up on your goals).

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Dust Short Film

Why Watch? A disheveled man follows a little girl and her mother as they walk down the street, he breaks into their home, and soon he’s writhing around in the little girls’ bed. This man is Alan Rickman, in case you weren’t already completely creeped out. In the short film Dust from Ben Ockrent and Jake Russell, the concept of what millions of people knowingly allow into their child’s bedroom is explored with an unnerving sense of simplicity. It’s almost pure atmosphere, punctuated only by a singular goal that maintains mystery simply because we may refuse to believe that we’re about to see what the film is promising to show us. It’s all body language and intent, which makes Rickman perfect casting not only because his ease of appearing terrifying, but also because he’s committed to even small roles like this one. Granted, it’s also a short film created solely to deliver a final moment, but Ockrent and Russell use a street-level, naturalistic shooting style that surrounds us with one, powerful emotion: dread. So remember, the next time you hear a weird thump in your house, it could be Alan Rickman snorting drugs in your daughter’s bedroom.

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Humans Need Not Apply

Why Watch? If you’re feeling anxious about what the future holds, this short film from CGP Grey isn’t going to help. In Humans Need Not Apply, a horrible dystopian future present reigns over the landscape, forcing humans from their jobs as less-expensive robots become more available. If you’re certain that robots won’t be coming for your job, think again. This documentary has some startling statistics about how many fields they’re already in and will be in soon. Everyone from office workers to your neighborhood professional painter might be looking for a new gig. The caveat to all this (which the doc doesn’t go into) is that — while this revolution is wholly different from others — it will still have to abide by the basic rules of economics. Simply put, if everyone is out of work, no one will have any money to buy the products that companies need the robots to make. That’s both a chilling nightmare scenario and the safeguard against catastrophic damage as we transition to a new economy. Still, Humans Need Not Apply is  fascinating look at the future we’re currently living that recognizes both the wondrous potential for automation and the bedrock danger that it presents. Plus, if you’re Ray Kurzweil, this should put a big smile on your face.

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Multiverse Short Film

Why Watch? At the opening of this short film from Michael DiBiasio, a young woman (Rebecca De Ornelas) obsessively tucks her hair behind her ear, gets a text message and then tentatively heads for her front door. It’s a sequence that becomes overbearingly familiar as she experiences a series of hollow social encounters filled with literally blank faces. Where Groundhog Day set out to make repeated sequences entertaining and fresh, Multiverse uses quiet echoes for an opposite, alienating effect. Coupled with an agoraphobic’s eye view of abjectly meaningless jaunts into generic parties and bar scenes, we get to share in her angst to the point where tossing on some stretchy pants and staying in feels like a damned fine idea. The editing also aids the disconnected feeling — shooting us from the doorknob straight into the middle of a crowd — and the cinematography keeps focus on De Ornelas while almost always framing her slightly off-center (not to mention she’s the only set of eyes we get to see). She is unmistakably alone and surrounded. This is a great example of transforming something benign into a nerve-gripping trial. Heading down a hallway becomes the space walk from 2001. Going to see a comedian becomes the grownup version of dreaming you’re naked in school. By the end, you can easily imagine Franz Kafka watching this, putting his arm fraternally around DiBiasio and then buying him a beer.

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This Land is Mine Short Film

Why Watch? In the spectrum of using an inappropriate platform to deliver an important social message, this short film from Nina Paley (Sita Sings the Blues) reaches Monty Python levels of purity and dedication. Eschewing the typically dry, somber way that profound conflict is often portrayed (while utilizing the absurdity of action movie violence), This Land is Mine strips away everything except murderous domination in order to color a history of a land with many names. Israel, Palestine, The Levant. This short doesn’t exactly offer illumination on the current crisis happening in Gaza, but it condenses thousands of years to show one angle on and beyond the devastation. Again, wacky animation with Andy Williams boldly crooning “The Exodus Song” and a body count rising is a teaching method with teeth. It’s aggressive, semi-satirical and proves you can laugh with your jaw on the floor. There’s a read on this movie that it crassly shares a hopeless message of the land being doomed to bloodshed, but I don’t see it that way. Instead, I think of it as a simple reconstruction of reality — pared down as it may be. No, the Eastern Mediterranean isn’t defined solely by its wars (not by a long shot), but it’s powerful to see so many people singing the same song.

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Quentin and Lisa at the Grocery Store

Why Watch? Two things stick out about this comedy(?) short film from Thane Economou besides it being a single, six-minute-long tracking shot. First, it’s an intense blast of the full emotional spectrum contained in a tiny space. Second, it shrugs off its own ferocity with Dude-like, headphone-blasting zen. In Quentin and Lisa…at the Grocery Store, two fiery exes run into each other in an area built for 1.8 shopping carts to exist and proceed to brutally assail each other across the entire establishment. Things get ugly — maybe too ugly at times — but the manic energy is infectious, providing two brains devoid of rational thought a chance to collide. The comic timing is sharp, the camera movement is acrobatic enough to impress in the tight squeeze, but the short film also works largely because it focuses on a rocket blast of an argument that’s meaningless from a few feet away. It works you into a lather before reminding you that it isn’t really that big a deal. Beyond that foundation, the humor comes directly from the uncomfortable fear of confrontation, played naturally and followed by two free radicals finding their verbal fists. Let the fireworks commence.

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Dinner With Holly Short Film

Why Watch? Rob and Anna are looking to add some seasoning to their sex life, and they’ve actually been doing a good job if their need to clean the kitchen counters is any indication, but when their friend Holly comes to dinner this short film from Josh Crockett and Daniel Sinclair gets hit with Office-level dashes of uncomfortable propositioning. There are really two keys to the brilliance of Dinner With Holly. The first is the shared chemistry between its actors — Kristin Slaysman, Bob Turton and Bridget Moloney — that creates a realistic base of comfortable characters shoving well past their comfort zone while allowing for all the overwhelming emotions that naturally tag along. These are our friends and neighbors. Every decision seems rooted in figuring out what a dull suburbanite would do when faced with uncomfortable situations that are largely self-desired and self-created. They realize in the middle of their quest that letting loose has consequences beyond scrubbing their cooking surfaces. The second mark of magic is editing that is fearless in allowing pregnant silences to hang even as we’re caught tapping our toes, desperate for the scene to change. It bolsters everything the actors are doing by offering an anti-laugh track environment. Like a stranger making prolonged eye contact, we have no choice but to accept the situation or look away, and if you can handle staring something awkward in the face, this short film will yield a lot of hilarious dividends.

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Every Runner Has a Reason Short Film

Why Watch? Busting through like Rocky without the gray sweats on, Ronnie Goodman flies in slow motion down the streets of San Francisco like every sports documentary subject of all time. Just to hammer the standard tropes home, his low voice provides an autobiographical voiceover while chill wave music crawls in the background. At first, this short film is hallmarked by gorgeous photography and calm, simple sentences telling an athletic story as common as 110% showing up in a post-game, locker room chat. Then, Every Runner Has a Reason shifts, and shifts again. It’s due completely to Goodman and his personal story, marrying a common documentary method to a worthy, compelling subject. At less than 3 minutes long, it also manages to offer facts about Goodman in a specific order that challenges preconceived notions, purposefully letting the audience make assumptions about a man who is (within seconds) going to push hard against them.

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A Truncated Story of Infinity Short Film

Why Watch? Imbued with Eternal Sunshine‘s DNA, this fantastic short film from Paul Trillo makes repetition interesting and vibrant by framing a single, unimportant man on an unimportant day faced with unlimited possibilities Gorgeously dynamic visuals are to be expected from Trillo (see his previous work Salience), but not only do we get abstractions like an Escherian tea pot eternally pouring into a never-spilling cup, we also get to see the banal made fresh. Sometimes that’s through the subtlety of fingernail polish colors shifting, sometimes from a television smashing to the sidewalk. There’s also a hint of Stranger Than Fiction here, as the narrator for A Truncated Story of Infinity discusses his generic subject with dry witticism and flatly offered profundity. It’s the blend of those sweeping, plain as day observations and the beautiful photography of common paradoxes that makes this short film a wondrous delight.

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Straight Down Low Short Film

Why Watch? Almost a decade ago, Rian Johnson turned eyebrows with Brick by passionately sticking to noir conventions while subverting them just enough to breathe fresh life into a musty genre. To be fair to that genre, it’s one that will eternally and repeatedly enjoy new resurgences, potentially along the same tidal lines as the western, and Brick hit just at the right moment with all the right ingredients. This short film from Zach Wechter follows that same formula, and through doing so, reminds us that its the familiarity of the story beats that keeps entries in this seedy world so satisfying. Like Johnson’s film, Straight Down Low (announcing its genre right there in the title) asks a cast of high school students to get to the bottom of a gangland murder, and in not attempting to reinvent the wheel, he instead conducts a master class in cool. Beyond the tropes, Wechter’s movie has a different sheen to it — a modern noir told through clearer lenses and a drug-dealing plot that feels classic without feeling dated. The leading man is handsome and enigmatic (although I don’t totally buy Shamar Sanders as “nerdy”), the femme fatale is beautiful and wily (and I fully buy beautiful and wily from Daniele Watts), the bad men are very bad, and the twisty turns are told through the standard spoken poetry of our hero’s heady contemplation. You may need a stiff drink afterward. Overall, it’s a strong example of knocking one out of the park by nailing the fundamentals, and […]

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Follow Your Fears Short Film

Why Watch? To be honest, there’s a lot of schmaltz going on in this documentary short film from Live Unbound, but sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded that dreams can be both big and personal. Sometimes it’s good to remember that, damn it, you can work to achieve your own thrills in life. Follow Your Fears has everything a soft focus inspirational story needs: a crazy person attempting something crazy, a kind message of life’s brief brilliance by a beloved relative, and a money shot that requires a mental crash pad. Brad O’Neal has wanted to launch a motorcycle into the air high enough to base jump from since he was a little kid, and now that he’s a professional Motocross racer, he’s decided he has the skills necessary to make it a reality. To be specific, that means riding a motorcycle off a ramp so high that he can pull a parachute and make it safely back to the ground. Sadly, no one else seems to want to make it a reality, so it takes an education and guts into his own hands to do something that could potentially break most of the important bones in his body (all to the tune of navel-gazing post-rock). Yes, it’s a little bit funny to pump so much grandiosity and poignancy into a 2-second bike stunt, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded that there are wonderful, wacky people out there trying stuff that we shouldn’t attempt at home.

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Chaser Short Film

Why Watch? At the center of this short film from Sal Bardo is a sex scene made uncomfortable to watch not by the presentation of the act, but by the orgy of emotive facial expressions projected by the film’s star Max Rhyser. In Chaser, Rhyser plays Zach, a teacher (with surprisingly empathetically intelligent young students) who is alienated and alienates himself from a conservative family. While his brother and sister-in-law have bought a new house with enough rooms for new humans, Zach views a foundational future as something beyond his reach, and seeks comfort in a barebacking house party that offers easy sex as a temporary fix. “Fix” is a good term for what Zach is chasing — both as a solution and as a high. There is both pleasure and pain in his stripping down in an unfamiliar room and having sex with strangers, but through the act, Zach reveals that he was used up before he ever walked into the party. There are a few hiccups — notably some stagey-feeling acting (that ends up working thematically in the story’s favor) and a few amateur lighting cues — but the overall impact of the short film is potent and aggressive. I especially loved the image of a piece of paper with continuous hollow fun advertised on one side and the chance to escape the cycle on the other.

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