It’s now been just over a year since Short Rounds kicked off, with one of the admittedly sillier ideas I’ve had (snowy short films for the heat of August). Yet looking back on that, there’s one thing I hope everyone has picked up from the varied ways by which I’ve tried to curate the best of short filmmaking: any excuse is a good excuse to sit back for a few minutes and take in something small and unique. Shorts are passion projects, experiments, light pieces of entertainment, and low-budget dreams. And now that we have the vast expanses of YouTube and Vimeo, there is an embarrassment of riches at our fingertips.
One of my favorite pushy excuses to watch a bunch of shorts is the advent of an ensemble film. Lawless is a perfect candidate. There’s a big, famous cast. The writer and director are both veterans of the industry, and in this case a handful of other arts as well. Almost everyone is recognizable, and almost everyone has had some interaction with short film. I haven’t seen Lawless yet, so I have no idea whether or not it’s worth watching (Matt Singer wasn’t a huge fan). However, I do know that these five films are definitely an excellent (and free) way to spend an evening. Enjoy, and thanks for reading!
First of all, a brief note about Tom Hardy and Jessica Chastain. Both have appeared in recent short films, both of which received good reviews and some festival buzz, and neither of which have found their way to the Web. Hardy’s Sergeant Slaughter, My Big Brother, mostly known because of the actor’s full-frontal opening scene, can only be found in trailer form. Chastain’s The Westerner, on the other hand, is just completely unavailable. Let’s make that happen, people. One cannot live off naked Tom Hardy screen caps alone.
I Love Sarah Jane, by Spencer Susser
Thankfully, Mia Wasikowska made the smart decision to make a film with the awesome Australian collective Blue Tongue Films back in 2008. Love them not just because their shorts are great, but also because they eventually post all of them to their YouTube channel. I Love You Sarah Jane, which is currently being adapted into a feature, has the distinction of being a “movie with zombies” rather than a “zombie movie.” It’s really about adolescence and the awkwardness of young love and lust; there just happens to be a reanimated corpse tied to a post in the backyard. Wasikowska is the best part, a young girl holding her own against both dumb teenage boys and the zombie apocalypse.
Beat the Devil, by Tony Scott
Gary Oldman, now finally Oscar-nominee Gary Oldman, might be the greatest character actor of our time. Beyond that, his contribution to the BMW short film series The Hire might be the most ridiculous part of the entire project. James Brown, whose success apparently derives from a deal he made with the Devil in his youth, now wants to renegotiate the contract with the Prince of Darkness. Oldman makes for a deranged, flamboyant Satan with a tendency toward the irate. His makeup and dialogue teeter on the edge of the boring and traditionally effeminate Devil, but he manages to keep it interesting. Tony Scott brings it together with a crazy sense of pacing and style, and you really can’t go wrong with some unhinged James Brown.
Maniac, by Shia LaBeouf
Apparently Shia LaBeouf directed a short film. It’s in French and in black and white. It stars Kid Cudi and Cage as two serial killers, on a nighttime rampage devoid of even the slightest logical progression. Shockingly, it’s actually somewhat interesting. Any longer than 10 minutes and it would be a chore, but LaBeouf manages to keep things going with an almost music video-like devotion to soundtrack. As it is, the violence increases until it begins to mess with our heads, layers of fire and shrieking music that unsettle and assault the viewer. Also, there’s something wonderful about the hilariously accented French of the two starring rappers.
The Cat Piano, by Eddie White and Ari Gibson
Nick Cave has written three screenplays, all for features directed by John Hillcoat. Not having seen any of them, I can’t quite judge his skills as a writer. However, I can prove to you now that he’s a revelation as a narrator. The Cat Piano is one of my favorite animated shorts of the last few years, a deep-blue fantasia that sticks to the back of your memory like a lingering curl of smoke. Cave’s languorous rendition of Eddie White’s poem matches the darkly seductive imagery without losing its sense of weird fun. It is a tale of anthropomorphic cats, after all. The eponymous cat piano is a nightmare, a shocking machine that uses the felines themselves as the tortured keys of an enormous instrument that in the process robs the world of its jazzy tonality. It is up to our hero, voiced by Cave, to save the day.
The Answer, by John Hillcoat
Ray Winstone is invincible. At least, a man of his imposing stature can’t be felled by a simple lightning bolt. John Hillcoat’s video for Unkle’s “The Answer” opens with such an anecdote, the actor recalling a dangerous encounter with a storm from his youth. Winstone’s survival is coupled with a hypnotic series of images, inspired by the shocking experience of coming so close to one’s own mortality. Flowers, waves, clouds and the entire animal kingdom are cut and superimposed onto one another, the colors constantly manipulated and warped. It’s one of Hillcoat’s best videos, if only because it deviates from the fairly standard alt-rock model of his earlier work. I hardly expect any of this trippy sensibility to turn up in Lawless, but who knows?