Best Short Films

Ill Kill Short Film

Why Watch? It’s not easy to pinpoint what makes this short film from Douglas Burgdorff so watchable. The music — breezy with a beat — helps. The imagery is often exotic and playful. It feels instantly inclusive. It also throws a lot at the wall in under two minutes. However, it might be the off-kilter editing that performs the real magic trick by allowing us to get comfortable before tipping over our seat. We start on the evocative image of a man in rubber boots walking down a path carrying a hand scythe. There’s a hint of a narrative taking hold before a few seconds of nature photography dominates for what feels like an eternity. Then silence. A jolt and another jolt and another jolt. Ill, Kill is not content to stay in one place. Like all experimental work, there’s a gut reaction to write it off, but there’s a genuine anchor beneath the poetry in this case. Shots of freedom and bliss are stopped short like a mental record scratch, replaced by solemnity, fog and darkness. In particular, a shot of a young black man standing purposefully in the middle of a field without the cheerful benefit of the music followed by a black bird trying futilely to escape a room whose balcony doors are just slightly open. Each new image informs the last and vice versa and so on. There’s meaning to be found in here somewhere, but even without it, Ill, Kill is a curious artifact put together with a broken […]

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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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Superman with a GoPro

Why Watch? Haven’t you always wanted to know what it’s like to fly like Superman? Of course you have. This short video is just pure fun. Corridor Digital has a first-person POV winner here, but it’s also a curious artifact on innovative technique. Not mind-blowing innovation, but certainly a sharp use of a drone and a GoPro camera. We hear a lot about how easy it is to make movies now — how the equipment is cheaper and better than ever, how the internet has opened up distribution, how creativity can be instantly rewarded. This is slight, no doubt, and it’s little more than a diversion, but it’s also cool. It’s also an example of the way that video is opening up and the unexpected ways that people are using it. The reason it’s watchable for a full 3 minutes is that they don’t merely zoom around town showing off the landscape. There’s a whisper of a story here, less in a plot-driven way, and more in a day-in-the-life way, but it’s all enough to put a Ritalin smile on your face.

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Findher Short Film

Why Watch? This short film from director Gal Ziv opens with a man and woman getting a phone call regarding their lost dog and then jumps down a rabbit hole to reveal violence, desperation and revenge. First of all, some of the shots are oversaturated — an amateur sheen — but the story is intense, the acting tight and aggressive and the photography itself (angles and composition) is often evocative. Findher is punchy, but it’s also entertaining in the twists and turns that take place on rocky streets.

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SOC 2014

Why Watch? Ah, memories that we didn’t make. It’s amazing to look back at films made a century ago — a full lifetime before we were born — and think of them as familiar. Old pals. There’s a real beauty in being able to grow up with images from bygone eras. Fortunately, The Society of Camera Operators put together this wonderful diversion for film fans to enjoy. Think of it as a moving museum wall you can check out from home.

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Torturous Short Film

Why Watch? What if the Hostel and Saw crew grabbed the wrong guy? And what if the madman wearing the leather apron and rocking an electric drill was having an existential crisis? This excellent short film from Angus Swantee finds the perfect balance between blood-soaked fear and bone dry laughs. Not an easy task, it manages to bring comedy to a terrifying situation by allowing the victim to keep his cool and the villain to react like a human. That naturalism in the face of genre rules makes for some fantastic absurdism that all plays out in a spot-on parodic set. Fantastic concept, stellar execution. No wonder it’s played a bajillion festivals.

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published: 04.18.2014
C-
published: 04.18.2014
C
published: 04.18.2014
B+
published: 04.18.2014
A

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