A musical puppet show, an animated short about our fear of death, and Spike Lee's documentary about Mo'ne Davis all made our list.
This year was great for shorts. Whether you were learning about the most dangerous sport on earth, what it's like to be stuck in prison, or what it'd feel like to be part of a deadly Western joke, there was something for everyone. Presented below is a roundup of some of my favorite short movies from 2014. This list includes older films as long as they were released online this year, and it doesn't include any titles that have already been highlighted in my weekly I'm Short, Not Stupid column.
Let the short film screening party begin!
Don't Hug Me I'm Scared 2
The second installment of the online puppet series Don't Hug Me I'm Scared is all about time, which proves to be a ripe topic for directing duo Becky Sloan and Joseph Pelling. The irreverent and sometimes disturbing children's show parody works incredibly well thanks to a great song, fantastic practical effects, and a hilarious and well-distilled message. Check it out if you have any questions about why time exists.
Mo'ne Davis: Throw Like A Girl
I'm just going to go ahead and put Spike Lee's latest on the list. But I'm not doing it because of him or because it's exquisitely crafted. I'm doing it because Little League pitcher Mo'ne Davis is amazing. This 16-minute doc effectively communicates her story and allows her personality to shine. She's a natural and she just gets more likable the more you know about her.
Untrained child actors, an improvisational camera style, no lights, and a stark storyline give Julius Avery's short film Jerrycan a grittiness and a gravity. Close, quick, and fluid shots capture the tension of the characters and sometimes coyly expose the nervousness of the actors. The plot concerns a gang of boys' shifting hierarchy and the resulting peer pressure. The kids must all ask themselves how much they are willing to risk to gain the respect of the others and themselves. It won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2008 and was an honorable mention at Berlin and Sundance, the film is well vetted and ready for your consumption.
Flowers and blades of grass dance a dark and twisted ballet in Eager, a short animated film where mutated horses and wispy ghost women join the plants. Watching these creatures transform, blossom, grow, die, and regenerate in clay is like sliding comfortably through an enlightening acid trip. Its morphing colors and choreographed clay shapes and figures are inexplicably beautiful and set to an excellent score by Aaron M. Olson. Artist and animator Allison Schulnik, perhaps best known for her Grizzly Bear music video, has created her most stunning and mature work yet.
Rat Pack Rat
This film is about a severely disabled man played by Steve Little of Eastbound & Down who wishes Sammy Davis Jr. would play a private set of songs in his bedroom for his birthday. There are strange encounters with candy bars, fart duets with Davis, and a haunting rendition of the song "Candy Man." Rat Pack Rat, directed by Todd Rohal, won the hearts of the Sundance Film Festival's jury earlier this year and won a prize for Unique Vision. This is a strange and weirdly wonderful film.
Deeper Than Yesterday
Winner of prizes at Cannes, Sundance, and a dozen other film festivals, Deeper Than Yesterday is a film packing major pedigree. The short premiered in 2010, but has just now been released online in order to promote director Ariel Kleiman's debut feature, Partisan, which will be premiering at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Filmed in a real decommissioned submarine, Kleiman's short tracks the madness of men who have been sequestered on a sub for years. The camera captures both the claustrophobia on board and the crew's slow descent into their baser instincts. It's a powerful tale of moral corruption and it's told marvelously by a filmmaker to watch.
The Missing Scarf
The Missing Scarf is no simple animated skit. It explores our fear of the unknown, failure, rejection, and death. With narration by George Takei, the short is funny, engaging, and surprisingly profound. Eoin Duffy's film transcends the short package to become one of those iconic big and wonderful things that comes in a small package.
Dean Fleischer-Camp's short film Catherine might be the most unusual film on this list—its sheer mundanity makes our very existence seems like a joke. Jenny Slate (Obvious Child) stars as the titular character in what can only be described as the most deliriously boring film this year.
I saw Junkyard back in 2012 at a festival and have been waiting for it to come online ever since. The director Hisko Hulsing's arresting animated style and bold storytelling imbues this short about friendship gone astray with an undeniable power. With minimal dialogue and little exposition, Hulsing manages to elevate the more banal actions with vibrant, revealing animation to create something almost more real than a simple live-action narrative.
My Favorite Picture of You
My Favorite Picture of You is a nostalgic trip into a couple's past—memories fade, others become more vivid, and time keeps pressing on. With hundreds of images—still and moving—directors TJ Martin and Dan Lindsay beautifully compose a visual narrative around a short interview between Martin's aging parents. Life is wearing them down, but it hardly keeps them down. Love, experience, and joy emanate from the pictures and rapport shared on screen between the Martin family. It's a true short film gem from this Academy-Award winning filmmaking duo.
Jeffrey Bowers is a tall mustached guy from Ohio who's seen too many weird movies. He currently lives in Brooklyn, working as a film curator. He's the Senior Curator for Vimeo'sOn Demand platform. He has also programmed at Tribeca Film Festival, Rooftop Films, and the Hamptons International Film Festival.