Short Rounds is a biweekly column dedicated to spreading the love of short film. Every other Wednesday we'll curate a number of flicks around a theme, from current film festivals to whatever is in the air. You know you've got the time.
It is impossible to see enough short films in any given year to be even remotely qualified to put together a top 10 list. Almost none of them get a commercial release of any kind, film festivals are countless and far-flung, and good work is often lost in the shuffle. On the other hand, there is so much good work. It was hard to narrow this list down from just the excellent films I’ve seen, never mind the countless extraordinary shorts that played festivals I couldn’t attend and that haven’t been uploaded to the Web. So this is a list of favorites, nothing more ambitious than that.
That being said, I could rave about each and every one of these films for days on end. They run the gamut from hilarious labors of love and nerdery to dramatic expressions of breathtaking thematic ambition. They’re animated art films, contemplative live action dramas, and tranquil documentaries. Creativity, imagination and a fun sense of inquisitiveness drive them all, whether through adorable British children play-acting or a stop-motion exploration of time itself. These filmmakers are a bold, intrepid bunch and their work should be celebrated.
10. Pac-Man: The Fan Film, by James Farr
An earnest sense of fun can go a long, long way. Sometimes fan films take themselves far too seriously, losing sight of the implicit silliness in any low-budget nerd homage. Pac-Man: The Fan Film embraces it, running with the preposterous setup that the military has been developing an enormous Pac-Man in secret, as a way to confront everything from oil spills to actual warfare. The team at Steelehouse did an excellent job bringing the maze, its ghosts and its hero into a 3D world, elevating the hilarious script and making this the best fan film of the year.
9. CatCam, by Seth Keal
With the same light-hearted spirit that brought Steelehouse to Pac-Man, a young German couple in South Carolina decided to strap a camera to a local stray cat. Mr. Lee, the feline in question, brought back photographic evidence of days spent wandering, chasing, and just hanging out with the other cats in the neighborhood. CatCam is an adorable, well-told documentary.
8. Voice Over, by Martin Rosete
Witty, strange, and a little mindblowing, Voice Over takes one of the best short screenplays of the year and brings it to life with cinematic vivacity. It opens with an astronaut crashed on a distant planet, struggling to reach his oxygen supply and survive the ordeal. Yet almost immediately it becomes so much more, slyly weaving around our expectations and ending on a high note, aided by perhaps the best short film soundtrack choice of the year.
7. Homophobia, by Gregor Schmidinger
It is very, very difficult to make an effective drama short film. Serious, emotional narratives need real time to breathe. Too many filmmakers cram rather than cut a screenplay, not understanding that no matter how powerful your idea may be on the page, rushing it will gut it. Gregor Schmidinger rises above and beyond the problem, expanding the smallest of narratives into a beautifully shot 23-minute glimpse into the troubles of a young Austrian soldier. Navigating the treacherous waters of troubled gay adolescence, he artfully sails between quiet sadness, intense sexual tension and genuine anguish.
6. Kyrielle, by Boris Labbé
Kyrielle is hypnotic, colorful, befuddling and transcendent. Rather, it is whatever you choose to make of it. Boris Labbé trickles shimmering figures onto his canvass, little by little, until suddenly we find ourselves in a torrent of perpetual human motion. Each repetitive element catches our eye at once, making every viewing a slightly different experience. It’s like watching the entire world in miniature, a throbbing, brightly hued mess of life.
5. Into the Middle of Nowhere, by Anna Francis Ewert
At first, Into the Middle of Nowhere seems like nothing much to talk about. It’s just a bunch of cute British children playing in the woods, however well shot by director Anna Francis Ewert. Yet, gradually, it becomes clear that there’s something more interesting going on here. Ewert is using her camera to capture imagination itself, the greatest virtue of childhood. We aren’t watching kids play on a pile of logs, we’re watching them mold that wood into an airplane.
The entire film is viewable on Fandor, along with the trailer.
4. Paraíso, by Nadav Kurtz
Imagine, for a second, what it must be like to work as a window washer for skyscrapers in Chicago. Are you nauseous yet? With Paraíso, Nadav Kurtz is certainly interested in the fear and danger of this high-flying occupation. Yet he also hones in on the lives of these workers, many of whom come from the same town in Mexico. What are their concerns, who are their families, what are their dreams? The breathtaking, altitudinous cinematography is coupled with the answers to these questions, creating one of the best documentaries of the year. (Note: This is the film pictured above.)
3. Curfew, by Shawn Christensen
Shawn Christensen is a filmmaker with an eye for the magic of cinema. He proved this last year with Brink, and he’s done it again with Curfew. Yet his newer film is also a sign of artistic maturation, taking the wonderment of Brink and weaving it into a larger, more human story. He captures both the constant, manic frenzy of New York City and the profound loneliness it can cause. At heart, Curfew is about surviving through others, how simply being needed by a sister or a niece can be the difference between life and death. Graceful, bold and darkly stylish, Christensen is someone to watch.
2. A Story for the Modlins, by Sergio Oksman
A Story for the Modlins is like artistic detective work. Sergio Oksman’s determined research into the lives of an American couple he discovered essentially by accident, evokes Grey Gardens just as it interacts with Rosemary’s Baby. It is the story of an actor and a painter who, after years of never quite making it in California, move to Spain and become eccentric recluses. As they get older, Margaret continues to paint and sculpt, showing her work to know one. Oksman’s film is a treasure trove of discovered life and art.
1. The Eagleman Stag, by Mikey Please
The Eagleman Stag is unlike anything that came out this year. It might be unlike anything I’ve ever seen, at least in its particular interaction of themes and artistic techniques. It has the boldness of a grand, over-two-hour art film about life the universe and everything but none of the pretention. It has some of the best stop-motion animation to emerge in recent years, built from models of extraordinary detail and precision. Mikey Please has given us a film about time itself, the science of life and the eternity of wonder. Yet it is extremely accessible, conversational and intimate with its audience rather than soaring above and daring us to keep up. Every element is on the highest level, from the astute musical score to the wry screenplay. This kind of vision doesn’t come around too often, and we should watch the hell out of it when it does.