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Short films are the Rodney Dangerfields of the movie world — they just can’t get any respect. That is to say that while shorts can be more or equally intellectually stimulating, aesthetically innovative, and emotionally complex as feature-length movies, they generally go ignored in the mainstream media.
Here’s a list of amazing, respect-deserving shorts that make the collective case against that stigma — and, best of all, each film is instantly streamable.
1. Six Shooter (2004, dir. Martin McDonagh)
Four years before his breakout feature, the genius 2008 In Bruges, Irish playwright and humorist Martin McDonagh won an Academy Award for his brutal first film, Six Shooter. Starring the incomparable Brendan Gleeson and even featuring Gleeson’s son, Domhnall, the short somehow makes closing your eyes and cringing while all hell breaks lose on a cross-country train seem fun rather than harrowing. A tricky feat only McDonagh’s wit could pull off.
2. Logorama (2010, dir. Francois Alaux, Herve de Crecy, & Ludovic Houplain)
The French filmmaking collective H5 made one of the funniest and most disturbing films of all time entirely out of animated brand logos. Featuring a murderous Ronald McDonald and a truly stupid Pringles Original policeman, Logorama manages to satirize capitalism, Hollywood, and the nature of mediocre art-cinema all at the same time. Not bad for 16 minutes.
3. The Dante Quartet (1987, dir. Stan Brakhage)
Speaking of hell, Stan Brakhage’s The Dante Quartet is a visualized rendition of just the place. Brakhage is widely considered the ‘grandfather of the avant-garde,’ and the overwhelming beauty of this six-minute paint-on-film short supports the nickname. Wise, sad, and complicated, the video thankfully concludes in paradise.
4. The Video Dating Tape of Desmondo Ray, Aged 33 and ¾ (2013, dir. Steve Baker)
How long does it usually take a film to make you cry? An hour? Thirty minutes? No heart is safe and no eyes leave unwatered in the span of this 2014 SXSW Film Festival hit, often referred to simply as Desmondo Ray, which runs three minutes and twenty-two seconds. Prepare the tissues!
5. Reindeer (also known as Reindeer Wrangling by Nowness, 2012, dir. Eva Weber)
The desolate landscape of Lapland is not one often seen in the Western mediascape. Can you recall the last time you saw footage from Scandinavia without either a volcano or Ben Stiller as Walter Mitty? I can, and I’m grateful that it was in Eva Weber’s 2012 short Reindeer, made for the Nowness group and nominated for the 2012 Short Film Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
6. Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (1980, dir. Les Blank)
Upon the passing away of famed documentarian Les Blank in 2013, my mind turned immediately to this singular and aptly titled film. We can hardly believe our eyes when Werner Herzog — who lost a bet with fellow master-filmmaker Errol Morris — literally eats his shoe, but even more surprising is that little beat your heart skips at the sight.
7. The New Tenants (2009, dir. Joachim Back)
Moving into a new apartment is a stressful journey in the first place, but you’ll be grateful for the mildness of your personal experiences when you see the 2009 Oscar-winning, darkly comic short above, written by Anders Thomas Jensen.
8. Two Cars, One Night (2004, dir. Taika Waititi)
The emergence of Maori filmmaker Taika Waititi onto the world comedy scene was abrupt and exciting when his short, Two Cars, One Night was nominated for an Academy Award in 2005. Waititi has since gone on to write and direct Eagle Vs. Shark, Flight of the Conchords, and the amazing 2010 feature Boy. What a start he had here.
9. Stalker Guilt Syndrome (1998, dir. Jonah Kaplan)
Ever wondered what the odd guy who’s following you from street to street is thinking? Jonah Kaplan and comedian Marc Maron developed an absurdist inner dialogue that captures the experience perfectly in this short.
10. While The Night Slept (2012, dir. Mitchell James O’Hearn)
This film and the one below represent two of the most impressive recent works by filmmakers who were still in school while making them. In this case, writer/director/editor Mitchell O’Hearn dredges up feelings of real grief and loss in less than seven minutes of screen time. It’s an abstract film, but a deeply powerful one. Click above to watch it on Vimeo.
11. Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight (2011, dir. Eliza Hittman)
The same could also be said of Eliza Hittman’s gorgeous 16mm Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight, the title of which comes from a classic Bonnie Tyler song you’ll be unable to get out of your head post-film. Hittman, who’s received significant acclaim for her award-winning 2013 indie It Felt Like Love, staked her claim on coming-of-age stories with this gorgeous short, an Official Selection of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
12. Nostalgia (1971, dir. Hollis Frampton)
Don’t be scared off by the director Hollis Frampton’s association with the American avant-garde cinema movement of the 1970s. Though Frampton is an experimental genius, his 1971 epic Nostalgia is comprehensible, simple, and extremely focused. Thirty-eight minutes of personal memorabilia burning might not sound riveting, but it’s a landmark commentary on material culture and the plague of nostalgia in American society.
13. The Meaning of Life (2005, dir. Don Hertzfeldt)
I won’t pretend to know what the meaning of life is, and you perhaps shouldn’t either. That isn’t because you don’t know — which you might — but because it’s unlikely you could ever animate a film on the subject as idiosyncratically or as virtuosically as Don Hertzfeldt did in his award-winning 2005 short.
14. Spiritualized – “Hey Jane” Official Video (2012, dir. A.G. Rojas)
The line between a ‘music video’ and ‘short film set to music’ is often a thin one, but it’s rarely been so blurry as in the first video for Brit pop band Spiritualized’s single, “Hey Jane.” I like the song very much, but it’s the incredible vision and final tracking shot set up by director A.G. Rojas that really tickles my personal fancy. Warning: NSFW, except for cinephiles.
15. What Do We Have In Our Pockets? (2013, dir. Goran Dukic)
Perhaps the best collage film ever made, Goran Dukic’s 2013 lark is a quaint little inner-city romance. Try too hard not to smile and you’ll have an aneurysm.
16. Meshes of the Afternoon (1943, dir. Maya Deren & Alexander Hammid)
No amount of Freudian psychoanalysis can truly penetrate (excuse the pun) this dream-like, intricate black-and-white masterpiece. Surreal, beguiling, and somehow disturbing, the 1943 short announced the arrival of multihyphenate experimental director Maya Deren to the American film industry.
17. The Snowman (1982, dir. Raymond Briggs)
Welcome your childhood back with this widely beloved masterpiece by the writer Raymond Briggs and director John Coates, a story of companionship and closeness between a young man and his snowy pal.
18. Hotel Chevalier (2007, dir. Wes Anderson)
Wes Anderson’s 2007 film The Darjeeling Limited came with a surprise iTunes-only companion film that’s since won arguably even more acclaim than the feature it accompanied. Featuring beautiful dialogue between Jason Schwartzman and a young, very nude Natalie Portman, Hotel Chevalier may be short as Anderson’s work goes, but it’s no career side note.
19. The Terrys (2011, dir. Tim Heidecker & Eric Wareheim)
I grant you that the comedy duo Tim & Eric are not for everyone. But when they hit the laughs, they hit them hard, as in their somewhat disgusting but uproarious story of two freakish weirdos who produce a ‘special’ kind of child. Gross-out genius.
20 and 21. Gregory Go Boom (2013, dir. Janicza Bravo) and Brazzaville Teen-Ager (2013, dir. Michael Cera)
The freshest of all the voices listed here, Janicza Bravo managed to nab some of the career-best performances from comedy stars Michael Cera, Sarah Burns, and Brett Gelman for this 2013 short film for the comedy website Jash. But Gregory Go Boom is best watched as a companion piece to Michael Cera’s short film Brazzaville Teen-Ager, which premiered a month before on the same website. Together, the films represent a massive step forward for Bravo and Cera, successfully demanding a reevaluation of any typecasting we might have forced on the actor.
22. Social Butterfly (2013, dir. Lauren Wolkstein)
A sensual mood, a meticulous eye, and a sharp performance from indie stalwart Anna Margaret Hollyman distinguish Lauren Wolkstein’s lovely 2013 short from several others with which it screened as a selection of the Sundance Film Festival. Keep your eye on Wolkstein — she was listed as one of the 25 Faces of Indie Film, and her most recent short as a producer, Jonathan’s Chest (dir. by Chris Radcliff and co-produced with Autumn Tarleton), is equally impressive.