This year has been a weird, wild, and kind of horrible one. Between the election, refugee crisis, global economy, David Bowie, Prince, Ebola, Brexit, Carrie Fischer, and mass shootings, it's been hard to find the light. Thankfully, it didn't affect any of the films that were released online because they are still pretty outstanding (and, technically, weren't actually made in 2016). At any rate, it was hard to narrow down the list from the more than 2,000 short films I've seen this year—some of which I've written about for this site—but I was able to do so by placing them into categories and setting a few ground rules, which go as follows:
- 1–40 minutes in length, per Academy standards (not that 40 minutes is particularly short)
- Released online in 2016 (the production year can be earlier, but it must have still been traveling on the festival circuit)
So, without giving too much thought to the inherent ridiculousness of year-end "best of" awards, here I go:
The "I'm So Glad This Isn't Happening to Me" Award
Winner: The Procedure. Probably one of the strangest and most horrifying "what if" torture scenarios ever put on tape, The Procedure is equal parts shock and stomach-busting laughter. It also garnered the 2016 jury prize for fiction filmmaking at Sundance.
Runner-up: Her Friend Adam. I've never been able to decide if one should or shouldn't watch this film if you're in a relationship. It is pure jealousy and anxiety put on-screen. Grace Glowicki's performance as the titular "her" puts When Harry Met Sally's Meg Ryan to shame.
The Your Dead Mom Award
Winner: I Think This Is the Closest to How the Footage Looked. Winner of the 2014 Sundance jury prize for non-fiction, this short documentary by Yuval Hameiri is unlike anything you'll have seen this year—or other years. Using a number of household items, he attempts to recreate the last moments of his mother's life. It's raw, handmade, and unbelievably moving.
Runner-up: Thunder Road. You know that moment when your mom dies and you're supposed to eulogize her in front of all of her friends and family and then everything goes horribly awry? Well, Jim Cummings, who writes, directs, and stars in Thunder Road, knows it—or else is able to imagine it convincingly—and the evidence is in this impressive and wonderfully cringe-inducing single-shot film. Winner of the 2016 grand jury prize at Sundance and a host of other international prizes, Thunder Road will make you laugh, squirm, and shake your head.
The Extremist Documentary Award
Winner: Speaking Is Difficult. Five years of American mass shooting 911 calls and footage from those places in the present make up this haunting and devastating short. Director A.J. Schnack calls his short "open-started," referring to how he has continued to add more calls to the beginning as they continue to happen. It's super heavy, but very powerful and sobering.
Runner-up: Born to be Mild. On the entirely opposite end of the spectrum of "extremist" is this short about the most dull men on earth. These old farts just lay back and literally watch grass grow, and yet Andy Oxley's 15-minute doc reveals the famously tedious activity to be as interesting as it is entertaining. I've already joined the Dull Men's Club, and it feels great.
The Dealing with the Refugee Crisis Award
Winner: 4.1 Miles. One of the most eye-opening and heart-wrenching documentaries about the refugee crisis was made by Daphne Matziaraki, a recent graduate of UC-Berkeley's School of Journalism. It's about a 4.1 mile stretch of water between the Turkish coast and a small Greek island and the Coast Guard who patrols it, saving hundreds of lives in the process. It's currently shortlisted for an Academy Award.
Runner-up: Over. Blending fact and fiction, Jorn Threlfall's wildly acclaimed short Over is a decidedly different take on refugees. Told in reverse and running just under 14 minutes, the film makes the audience jump to many conclusions and has a more shocking ending than Memento.
The Animated Fever Dream Award
Winner: Manoman. Whenever I'm feeling down and I want a good old fashioned pick-me-up film, where I can see puppets scream, fuck, fight, and piss all over one another, this is my go-to. By the end, you'll be a primal scream therapy convert and a chanter of their mantra: "MANOMAN, MANOMAN."
Runner-up: Symphony No. 42. Réka Bucsi is one of the most talented and imaginative young animators working today. Her ideas and characters come together in such strange and surprising ways that it's less than a delight to watch what unfolds. She has a new short on the circuit this year called Love, and it's been taking festivals by storm. After screening around the world, it will be at next month's Sundance.
The WTF Award
Winner: Short Stories About Love. Boys do cry, and this video is proof. Here is my monkey brain at work, and this is the best one to end on.
See you in 2017!