Picture this: you’re tired after a long day, and want to sit back on the couch and watch a good movie. But the issue is, you don’t have the attention span to watch an entire two hour slog. Instead, you try a short film. Shorts are often overlooked, yet there are thousands of incredible creators making entertaining and thought provoking content in bite sized packages. Although there are dozens and dozens more films worth watching, here are ten of my favorites with links on where to watch them.
Bruiser, dir. Miles Warren
Miles Warren’s second short film follows a young African-American boy who grapples with his relationship with his father, violence, and toxic masculinity. The 11 minute short from 2021 was adapted into a feature starring Trevante Rhodes, and although the film couldn’t quite match the intensity of the original, Warren remains an immensely exciting young director. The film is heartbreaking and raw, an impressive feat considering the runtime, and the performances from Noble B. Whitted and J.D. Williams are sharp and laced with a tragic melancholy. Despite the excellent work from the two lead actors, the cinematography steals the show. Justin Derry, who also shot the feature film, mans the camera expertly, lighting each shot to perfection and blending grittiness with style seamlessly.
Interesting Ball, dir. Daniels
The directing duo of Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan who just won the Best Picture Oscar for “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” made a really, really, really funny short film. Following a series of seemingly interconnected vignettes over its 12 minute runtime, each scene contains a ludicrously hilarious concept (frat guys forming a giant beach robot, a moving fridge, and the titular dodgeball having an affair with a man’s wife, etc.) while also being imbued with remarkable humanity and a wide range of emotions. Daniels have set out to capture just about every feeling and experience known to man in 12 minutes, and, remarkably, they totally pull it off with equal parts humor and tenderness.
Three Instagram Models Have a Picnic, dir. Russell Katz and Juan HQ
I’m not exactly sure how best to describe this wonderful, weird piece of magic. At its most basic level, the short is four minutes of, as the name would suggest, three Instagram models having a picnic while trading ridiculous non-sequiturs and fighting for likes and follows on social media. It may be a bit too absurd for some, but the ridiculousness of the situation is both incredibly silly and a scathing satire of the modern addiction to fame. The film stars the über-talented Rachel Sennott and “Saturday Night Live’s” Martin Herlihy (he gets cannibalized by the models, of course), and is a delightful and terrifying romp throughout its all too brief runtime.
Ice Merchants, dir. João Gonzalez
This animated short is 14 minutes of pure magic. Nominated for the Best Animated Short Film Oscar, it wordlessly observes a father and son living in a house on the side of a cliff as they make ice, then parachute down into a nearby village to sell it. The father struggles with the loss of his wife and taking care of his son alone, while also struggling with living in a house on the side of a cliff (spoiler alert: the house on the side of a cliff does not make it through the film intact), which seems like a pretty avoidable issue, but I digress. The abstract animation is jaw droppingly beautiful, and fits the woe and regret of the tender short perfectly. The color palette of muted browns and whites paired with occasional splashes of color is a feast for the eyes, and the film’s emotional finale is likely to draw a few tears.
Death to the Tinman, dir. Ray Tintori
On a slightly lighter note, Tintori’s 2007 short is an absolute hoot. A Wes Anderson-eque ode to “The Wizard of Oz,” cloning, revolutions, and true love shot in black and white, the film takes you on a remarkable journey over the course of 12 minutes. One minute you’re laughing, the next you’re crying, and the next you’re extremely confused. Touching on everything from the pains of love to totalitarian government, the extremely low budget short is a fascinating delight paired with an incredible score by Benh Zeitlin and Dan Romer (the former of whom went on to be nominated for Best Director in 2012).
Incoherence, dir. Bong Joon-ho
I must admit, I have a slight bias towards Bong Joon-Ho, the Korean auteur behind “Parasite,” “Snowpiercer,” and several more exceptional films, and when I say slight, I mean that I think he’s the greatest living director. While still in film school, he directed a 31 minute short titled “Incoherence” that will knock your socks off. It follows three unrelated scenes of seemingly powerful men committing petty crimes. Each scene is filled with the director’s signature whimsy, occasional dark humor, and a knack for well-paced cutting. The scenes are entertaining on their own, but the film’s brief epilogue ties everything together with a clever twist that foreshadows Joon-Ho’s affinity for social satire.
An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It, dir. Lachlan Pendragon
Nominated for the Best Animated Short Oscar alongside “Ice Merchants,” Pendragon’s hilarious stop-motion short follows a telemarketer who learns the world is claymation and desperately tries to escape from his life as an animated puppet. If you couldn’t already tell, it’s chock full of meta humor and surreal fourth-wall breaks that delight and terrify in equal parts as we pray for our protagonist’s escape. There are few things more lovely than this 12 minute short, complete with interesting character designs and an exceedingly clever self-awareness.
Stolen Tundra, dir. Jonah Zimmerberg-Helms
Although this short hasn’t actually released yet (I had the pleasure of seeing an early screening), when it does, I’m certain that audiences will be captivated by it, as may be the Oscar committee. The short follows a yeti-esque creature in a vast and unforgiving desert as it attempts to escape from a pair of human hunters, and every second is mindblowing. The cinematography by Jacki Moonves is unbelievable, capturing some of the most gorgeous and emotionally evocative images I’ve seen on film in years. Plus, it’s simply a good time, as we root desperately for our lovable creature to evade its would-be-killers. The film meditates profoundly on the devastation of climate change and poaching, while also treating viewers to a pulse-pounding futuristic thrill ride.
The Long Goodbye, dir. Aneil Karia
Karia’s Oscar winning short, starring the ever-underrated Riz Ahmed (who also produced and wrote it), is a gritty and heartbreaking tale told with astounding efficiency. The first half follows the bustling household of a Pakistani-British family, before an Islamophobic militant group arrives on their doorstep. As you can tell, it’s not necessarily an enjoyable watch, but Ahmed and Karia tackle racism and xenophobia so sharply, with a startling blend of reflectiveness and pathos that makes you care deeply about its characters and messaging. The film is shot handheld with a realistic intensity and a sense of deliberateness that I unfortunately can’t get into without spoilers (you’ll have to trust me, it’s great). Ahmed gives a typically brilliant performance in the lead role, and you can see his creative fingerprints all over the short.
Anything by Kristoffer Borgli
Borgli is one of my favorite young directors, and fluctuates between his unique and fascinating shorts and the occasional feature film. He makes stellar use of shot economy and has a perfectly strange sense of comic timing that comes through in his editing, and each of his films toys with the documentary format in creative and engaging ways. I didn’t want to pick just one of his movies, so I suppose I’ll have to pick several. “Willem Dafoe” follows the ever-relatable struggle of having an actor’s name on the tip of your tongue but not quite being able to recall it, and features a hilarious lead performance by Borgli. “It’s Not A Phase,” one of his mockumentaries, documents the life of a boy-band superfan (unfortunately, the boy band disbanded years ago). “Whateverest,” one of Borgli’s forays into true documentary showcases the peculiar Marius Solem Johansen, a failed musician who spends his time concocting a potent hallucinogenic drug. Borgli never seems to pick on his strange subject, instead observing his compelling and melancholy adventures with a wise and pitiful eye. Another one of Borgli’s best, “Former Cult Member Hears Music For The First Time,” satirizes the entertainment industry in a uniquely-Borgli fashion, with long, dreadfully awkward takes and spectacular improvised dialogue from his longtime collaborator Al Warren. Kristoffer Borgli may not be for everyone, but I find his films to be intoxicating and nothing short of brilliant.