Staff Selects: Short Films

Perfectly (and unintentionally, we promise) coinciding with the release of David Lynch’s latest short film What Did Jack Do? this week, our staff highlights some of their favorite short films:

Goldman v Silverman (2020)

“Favorite short film.” Now those are some words that filled me with a fair bit of dread. Not that I don’t enjoy or appreciate short films – they are often exciting ways for new filmmakers or filmmakers with low budgets to introduce themselves to the world or work on projects they couldn’t turn into something feature length – but my knowledge of them is extremely limited compared to their feature-length counterparts, as I rarely see more than just the Oscar nominated ones, though this year I saw the whole Cannes lineup and made an effort for a while to watch some of the acclaimed ones available on Kanopy. This past year, we were also treated to some wonderful short films from celebrated directors like David Lynch, Paul Thomas Anderson, Jonathan Glazer and, in the case of the one I’ll be talking about as it was on my mind when this became our chosen topic, the Safdie brothers. Goldman v Silverman sees the directors of Uncut Gems reteaming with Adam Sandler for a six-minute tale of warring street performers. Though the runtime is short, the brothers infuse it with their signature style and take us to yet another part of New York City that would’ve been much harder to fully bring to life in a feature. As with many of the short films from established directors, it mostly serves as an exercise in style and seemingly as an excuse to have a good time with some friends, and it succeeds immensely at both of those goals and brings another strong entry to Adam Sandler’s filmography. [Henry Baime]

Watch here [7 min]

Welcome Home (2018)

Spike Jonze is one of the most brilliant filmmakers of all time. From his (too few) feature films to his legendary music videos to even his product advertisements, he always uses whatever platform is provided to him to indulge in his unfathomably creative impulses. Welcome Home, his 4-minute commercial for the Apple HomePod, is his magnum opus. The short film stars experimental R&B artist FKA twigs (whose own short film M3LL155X easily could have placed here) as a woman whose monotonous day-to-day life is upended when, through the aid of her HomePod speaker and an infectious tune by Anderson .Paak, she discovers that she can alter her surroundings through dance, expanding her apartment and revealing a colorful hidden dimension lying within her normal environment. Far from your standard television ad, Welcome Home is delightful, energetic, and imaginative display of pure creativity and joyous self-expression – a wonderful diversion from our own monotonous lives, even just for a few minutes. I’ve watched it an absurd amount of times and it still never fails to brighten my day. [Kern Wheeling]

Watch here [4 min]

Apocalypse After [aka Ultra Pulpe] (2018)

Bertrand Mandico’s 2018 short, Apocalypse After, is 36 minutes of gorgeous visuals and sumptuous soundscapes folded into an abstract piece of expressionism, serving as an exploration of the all-consuming passions of desire and longing, sexuality and eroticism, film-making and taboo. Aesthetically, it’s the stylistic love-child of The Neon Demon and Lost River, with French heritage responsible for the thematic interpolation. It’s a striking work, and as I watched I could almost feel the ethereally cosmic vibrations pulsating as this dream-like amalgam of reality and fiction washed over me. Mandico impressed with his 2017 feature, The Wild Boys, but Apocalypse After sees him almost completely abandon a sense of narrative cohesion to create an ever more stimulating mood piece. 
Unfortunately, I am not sure how easy this one will be to track down and watch. At one stage it was combined with two other short films (directed by Yann Gonzalez and the partnership of Caroline Poggi and Jonathan Vinel respectively) to form Ultra Rêve, and had some showings at various film festivals and programmes, but since it’s initial release I have only seen it pop-up on MUBI. Suffice to say, if you can find Apocalypse After anywhere, you owe yourself the 36 minutes it will take to submerge yourself in this luminous, liminal bath. [Chris Barnes]

Zygote (2017)

By now, my readers should know that I’m a big fan of John Carpenter, Lovecraftian lore, and Dead Space. All three of those elements can be found in Neill Blomkamp‘s body horror short film, Zygote. The fifth short by his 2017 created Oats Studio, a free (open to donations) streaming artistic space creating mostly experimental sci-fi shorts with Blomkamp’s and some of his star power friends’ aid. Oats’ primary goal is to experiment with projects worthy of the full-feature treatment, Zygote of which I’m quite hopeful of. Zygote is a sci-fi horror short led by Dakota Fanning, who plays a highly advanced worker android who must team up with another survivor to escape a monster-infested Arctic mine. Filled with some Blomkamp trademarks – practical effects, unique designs, top tier weapons innovation, and plenty of background world building – it’s a bloody good time that rivals and even surpasses many full budget feature length films. Fellow fans of the South African filmmaker should need no more to be convinced by its premise. But it’s worth noting that Lorne Balfe also serves as the musical composer for the short. [Lee]

Watch here [23 min]

I Am Easy to Find (2019)

We are born, we live, and then we die. And in between those, there are a lot of moments, big and small, that happen and make us who we are. Mike Mills‘ newest short film that also works as a visual album of The National’s — one of the best alt-rock bands today — I Am Easy to Find, presents those in-between moments by mapping the life of a nameless woman (Alicia Vikander) from the minute she feels the air for the first time until the last breath she ever takes. Though there are no plots or dialogues, Mills, who’s familiar with curating moments into music videos before, is able to evoke so many emotions because what we’re offered here is a reflection of our own life, presented beautifully by Vikander’s moving performance that enriches the already stunning monochromatic visuals. By the time we get to the end, I Am Easy to Find will remind us that there are no insignificant moments in our life, regardless of how small they are. And that is very powerful. [Reyzando Nawara]

Watch here [27 min]

Marguerite (2017)

Simply one of the most pleasant shorts about queerness out there. Filmed in Canada and shot in French, Marguerite is an elderly woman with a home care nurse named Rachel. When Marguerite finds out that Rachel is a lesbian, she confronts her own past feelings for a woman that she once knew. In the wrong hands, a short like this could have been played up to levels of annoying melodrama, with the elderly woman vehemently denying her past because that isn’t right, or something dumb and hateful like that. Writer/director Marianne Farley has little concern for such a dramatic existential crisis, and she makes Marguerite’s journey of self one of comfort and becoming whole. She doesn’t lose a part of herself when confronting her instead finding something that was always there. It ends on a wonderful note of reconciliation between the two characters as Marguerite becomes content with her past, despite a newfound longing for what might have been. [Jen]

Watch here [19 min]

World of Tomorrow (2015)

It just works. The 88th Oscars were the first ones where I made an effort to see all the films nominated; I just got a car, a job, and I knew how to scour the internet. I saw all fifteen short films from that year and the years since, but when I look back, the only one I remember is Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow. I didn’t love it then, but over the years, this sci-fi shrine to ignorance has burrowed into a hole in my brain only reserved for films like Synecdoche, New York or The Irishman. In early 2015, 16-year-old me had a difficult time trying to explain World of Tomorrow to people. The film is cobbled together using real dialogue from Hertzfeldt’s four-year-old niece, and is visually little more than stick drawings with screensavers and other nice colors behind them. It’s an experiment I didn’t totally understand then. All I could say was “it just works,” and writing about the film now, after rewatching it, with tears forming in my eyes, I have nothing more to add. It just works. [Davey Peppers]

Watch here [17 min]

Dusty Stacks of Mom: The Poster Project (2013)

Jodie Mack‘s Dusty Stacks of Mom: The Poster Project is a work of experimental film with immense tactility. Similar to the works of Sara Cwynar, Mack’s recent films are an assemblage of objects in stop-motion, the barrage of constant sensory experience brings the message to the forefront better than a narrative would. Timed to a Pink Floyd album, the collage rock opera follows the rise and fall of a family poster business. Incorporating pop-culture touchstones, it weaves in and out of a story through objects, showing how we connect with a world growing more and more digitized. Paper is ripe with cultural history, harder to destroy with a single click. The words are as precise as the meticulously stacked poster warehouse, and the music spirals in all directions, even featuring kazoo solos. It is passion for media put to film, with playful references and tangential jaunts to last obsessions, including a minute of film dedicated to Al Pacino. This poster business is family, it’s a memory book of shared interests and clashing subcultures. It’s a reminder of physicality, of how touch and texture can transport is, and of the visual iconography of our pasts. [Sarah]

Lights Out (2013)

Although I’m not the biggest fan of all David F. Sandberg’s films, his short films are an entirely different story. I remember one night I binged them all and I genuinely couldn’t sleep, and not because they’re particularly scary, but the premise of each one seems to be based off everyday fears and is oddly plausible. Lights Out—his most notorious short, later expanded into a feature film—is essentially about the fear of darkness and the possibility that evil can only be seen this way (they disappear once you turn on the lights). While it’s very short (just under three minutes) it’s a nail-biter, and if you haven’t seen it you should definitely check it out for yourself. [Vincent]

Watch here [3 min]

Scorpio Rising (1963)

Kenneth Anger’s experimental short film sounds simple on the surface: it’s about a group of young leather bikers preparing for a night out on the town. Described by some critics as the first extended music video, the film contains a soundtrack exclusively comprised of 60s pop: Elvis, Bobby Vinton, and Martha & the Vandellas all show up to guide the viewer through the mashup of biker culture, extreme masculinity, and Nazi imagery. Marlon Brando and James Dean appear next to Christ and swastikas as Anger freely blends varying forms of virile occult strength throughout history. 

It ends with a tragic and real motorcycle crash, as homerotic male tension explodes into sheer unadulterated violence. Perhaps uncannily, The Wild Ones was on television while the tragedy was captured on film. Anger, who was one of America’s first openly gay filmmakers, made the blueprint for the careers of titans like Scorsese and Lynch. Scorpio Rising is his career peak: a bold, energetic, endlessly creative whirlwind of rock & roll, leather, and gay sex. “You’re the devil in disguise,” Elvis croons on the soundtrack. Is he singing about the bikers, or us? You decide. [Cole Duffy]

Watch here [28 min]

Staff Selects

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