If you aren’t plugged in to what’s going on with short films, you’re missing out on an insane amount of outstanding entertainment. People talk about how difficult it was to whittle down Best Of lists for features this year (Her or Gravity or 12 Years a Slave?!) but after watching almost 3,000 shorts in 12 months, it feels like the depth of talent is growing in a big way on the small side.
As a testament to the medium’s freedoms, more and more feature filmmakers are returning to it. No longer simply a calling card or an early stepping stone, shorts have an undeniable power coupled with an infinite platform that some are just now discovering.
They’re also strange to categorize. For some, the internet is a red carpet while for others, it’s a final stop after touring festivals for years. As such, some of the best short films of 2013 were made a couple years ago. The focus is certainly on new projects, but some don’t find an audience quickly even as their magic deserves mention. Plus, there are 2013 movies like Noah that would have made this list, but are now unavailable (in most cases – including Noah’s – because studios are keeping the work offline in order to have well-earned contractual conversations).
But instead of getting bogged down in specifics, please let your mind wander for a short while.
13. Truth in Journalism
Definitely one of the most popular shorts of the year, Joe Lynch’s blend of Man Bites Dog with a drooling comic villain proved that Sony has a lot to live up to. Ryan Kwanten owns the manic role and offers a Venom we can believe in.
12. One Last Dive
Clocking in at a minute, Jason Eisener’s hellish dive into the shallows provides an excellent opportunity to see how long you can hold your breath without peeing your pants.
11. The First Autumn
A captivating fairytale with depth (and skeleton dogs), Carlos De Carvalho and Aude Danset have made a magical bit of animation that weaves 3D modeling with poetry to outstanding effect.
10. Next Floor
Denis Villeneuve’s grotesque comedy about gluttons impacting their bowels without regard for the structural integrity of their dining room has been thrilling film festivals for years, but it’s finally online and demands to be celebrated with a thimble of champagne and a small leaf of lettuce.
9. The Cub
Somewhere, probably in Portland, someone is taking Riley Stearns’ absurd story of a girl blithely handed to wolves by her parents as a serious lifestyle option. A bizarre offering, this is a Sears catalog given sentience and a pair of sharp teeth.
There’s no doubt that Jonas Cuaron’s icy short got a lot of views because of its big brother Gravity, but this tale of a fisherman on the other end of a distress call has a gorgeous life of its own.
7. It’s Not You, It’s Me
Gillian Jacobs shines here as a frustrated woman with a lazy problem that becomes a bloody mess. Director Matt Spicer creates a powerful mindscape that punctuates a dark comic lesson about always having a suitcase handy.
6. Eric Goes West
Slightly melancholic with a warm whiskey heart, Dee Austin Robertson made something epic on a very small budget, anchored by a killer performance from Blaise Miller as a man lamenting lost love while out to sea.
5. West of the Moon
This short from Brent Bonacorso burst online this year with a massive imagination and the CGI chops to back it up. Cobbled together from children’s dreams, it’s a film that would make Georges Melies give Tarsem Singh a high five.
Wolves seem to be a dominant theme this year (go figure), and in Jeff Le Bars’ striking animation we meet a young boy lost in the frozen wood who meets a den mother who offers her life for his. Dreamlike and aggressive, it’s a powerful piece of storytelling.
Profoundly moving and beautifully shot, this short from Mark Buchanan focuses on a father who fails out of a Mars mission. He goes a little crazy, and his son has to keep their lives together while struggling at school.
Creepy robots, man. As we get into the Google Glass age, they’re going to overtake all the classic monsters as the main purveyors of our nightmares, and Rob McLellan absolutely nails the unnerving atmosphere of chilling romance with this obsessive, forward-looking short.
After almost a year, I still can’t get this short from Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke out of my mind. Particularly now that zombies are so overplayed, it’s amazing to see the innovation some can find within the genre, and their story of a bitten man desperate to save his infant daughter is as harrowing as it is heartfelt. If you’ve never teared up during a zombie flick, this may be your first.