We love movies, obviously, but sometimes we don’t have the attention span for a feature length film. We want a self-contained story, with distinct worlds, developed characters, and complete plots that we can get in and out of in under 40 minutes (as per the Academy’s specifications). Short films are often free of studio meddling, since they’re generally not going to get a cinema release. The final product is much closer to the artist’s original vision, which means you generally end up with something more experimental or effective. Plus you can watch them on your lunch break. Here are 10 short films we love.
We’d understand if you expect every movie feature we write to start with glowing praise for In Bruges, so maybe you’ll be relieved to know we’re not starting this one with that. Instead, we’re starting with glowing praise for the movie that helped get In Bruges made. Six Shooter is Martin McDonagh’s first foray into the world of cinema, having spent most of his time writing and directing stage plays. His first movie uses the same kind of dark comedy his plays do, focusing on a man riding the train after visiting his wife in the hospital just after she dies. On the train, he meets a young kid, who has very little respect for his fellow travelers. The two seem to take to each other and the majority of the movie takes place in a single car on the train. As you’d expect, it can be a bit of a rough watch, but it’s well worth the anxiety it causes.
It’s not entirely clear how this indie film crew landed Nick Offerman as their omniscient narrator, though we don’t want to think about it too hard, just in case that means it stops existing. You also may have already seen this, as it made the Internet rounds a few years ago, but it’s too good to not include. It’s probably the only short film on the list that would qualify as a straight up comedy and gets most of its laughs from the way the characters interact with Nick Offerman’s god-like narrator. They play with Western and comedy tropes, somehow ending up with something that feels more like Douglas Adams’s take on a frontier saloon.
The technical description of Thunder Road (police officer gives emotional, scattered eulogy at his mother’s funeral) doesn’t do the genius of it justice. There’s so much going on in a single monologue you’d probably have to watch it five times at least to fully appreciate the complexity. And not because it’s experimental or art house or anything. It’s actually more of a comedy than anything else. The complexity comes in because the monologist acts his part so expertly and with so many layers that there’s no way we got the whole thing in one viewing. It’s called Thunder Road because that’s the song the cop tries to sing at one point, showcasing the best of his shattered thought process during the funeral.
I Know You From Somewhere
I Know You From Somewhere is sort of a fictionalization of the story of Justine Sacco. If you don’t know her story, we’ll summarize. She makes a stupid, ill-advised, offensive tweet just before she gets on a long flight to Africa and by the time she disembarks, the Internet has turned her life into a hell. No trial, no chance to defend herself, no chance to apologize. Just complete and total vilification. I Know You From Somewhere takes the core idea of that and runs with it, warping the main character’s self-fulfilling moment into a horrifying display of Internet culture. This is also one of the best ways we’ve ever seen phone usage translated to the screen. The dead-eyed stare, soft screen glow, and depressing blue of the LEDs are perfectly represented and really makes us question just how healthy our phone habits are.
For us to be recommending a cheese fest like Kung Fury, you know it’s gotta be good. At a time when cheap ’80s nostalgia is taking over in force, Kung Fury sets itself apart by actually being a good short. It makes original jokes, develops characters, and tells a real story, rather than making everything as hilariously ‘80s as possible. There’s a lot of charm in the movie too, which is another reason we watched to the end. For whatever reason, Hackerman really resonated with us, so that bought a lot of good will too.
Neil Blomkamp’s recently created Oats Studio has the potential to dramatically shake up both filmmaking in general and sci-fi specifically and Rakka proves it. It’s an excellent exercise in world building, where we get a picture of humanity after a devastating alien invasion. Think District 9, but the humans that survived are in the slums and the ones who didn’t are slapped on the Eiffel Tower. Sigourney Weaver’s here too, so if you needed another vote of confidence for Blomkamp and Oats, you have one in the form of Ripley herself.
Buster Keaton’s enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence on the Internet lately, so no doubt you’ve seen some of his work in GIF form. Cops is one of his silent films (don’t worry, there’s musical accompaniment, so it’s not completely silent) and it perfectly encapsulates the comedy Keaton was known for. Since there’s no dialogue and only a few title cards conveying spoken words, filmmakers had to rely on visual comedy, a trait that’s severely lacking in modern comedy. Pretty much everything is conveyed with body language or physical action and it’s impressive how much the actors can get across with facial expressions and slightly embellished gestures.
Incident by a Bank
There’s a huge difference between what movies tell us bank robberies are like and how they play out in real life. A real world robbery comes with a lot more wandering, tripping, threatening, dropping stuff, running, and getting tackled than what you might see in Point Break, where every bank robbery is apparently a well-oiled machine. It all plays out over a single wide shot the filmmakers digitally manipulate, switching between the robbers and the two main observers. You don’t get personal info about any characters, you just get to watch these bank robbers fumble their way through a thoroughly unsuccessful heist. Also, apparently no one in Sweden cares all that much if you’re carrying a gun.
Soft messed us up for a little while. Not many movies deal this well with the challenges of parenting, specifically balancing your own fears against what’s best for your child, all through the lens of bullying. The writer/director must have had some serious run-ins with the kind of asshole teens that constantly antagonize the general public. He perfectly captures the anxiety, tension, violence, showmanship, posturing, and post-encounter anger. Watching the father attempt to deal with the mindlessness of the teens should strike a deep chord with anyone who’s ever had to deal with people who adamantly refuse to be reasonable, respectful humans.
The Music Box
Laurel and Hardy are generally thought of as titans of comedy and The Music Box is them at their prime. The movie does technically qualify as a talkie, but the physical comedy of the silent era still features prominently. In fact, those are the strongest parts, as most of the dialogue has more to do with moving the plot forward rather than punchlines, and the dialogue that doesn’t move the plot serves to set up physical payoffs. It’s also impressive how much comedy they mine from a simple job. The vast majority of the 27-minute runtime is spent trying to move a piano, but with way more comedy than your standard moving job.