FIVE OF THE FUNNIEST
Directed by Wes Anderson. Starring Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson. 13min
Originally shown at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival to little fanfare, this was the seed from which the careers of Wes Anderson and the Wilson brothers grew. A low-budget black-and-white story of two small-time crooks, it’s filled with the sort of warmth and idiosyncrasies that have become hallmarks of their later films. Watch it here.
Directed by Jim Cummings. Starring Jim Cummings. 13min
Forget about Joaquin Phoenix in Joker or Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story; this is the best performance you’ll see all year. Jim Cummings plays a police officer giving the eulogy at his mother’s funeral. It is a barnstorming, multi layered, riotous and heart breaking one-man show, made all the more impressive for being filmed in a single shot. A huge hit on the festival circuit, it has been hailed as one of the best short films ever made. Watch it here.
A Reasonable Request
Directed by Andrew Laurich. Starring John Ennis, Stephen Ellis. 8min
What would you do for $1 million ? This harmless playground question is taken to disturbing and hilarious depths over the course of a taboo-busting and uncomfortable eight minutes. With two brilliant performances and a superb script, the film continually defies expectations, ending with a pitch-perfect punch line. Put it at the top of the list of films to never watch with your parents. Watch it here.
Directed by Vin Diesel. Starring Vin Diesel. 20min
An autobiographical tale about a struggling actor shown through a series of humiliating auditions, this is a brilliant and personal account of racial identity in Hollywood. Financed and directed by Vin Diesel, who was on the brink of giving up acting, it was seen by Steven Spielberg, who subsequently cast him in Saving Private Ryan. It is strange seeing someone known for one-note, meat-headed action roles give such a nuanced and honest performance. Watch it here.
Directed by Martin McDonagh. Starring Brendan Gleeson, Rúaidhrí Conroy. 26min
Brendan Gleeson stars as a recent widower having the day from hell in this 2004 Oscar-winning Martin McDonagh short. A brutally dark and violent comedy, it takes place mostly on a train, where various lives, including those of a grieving couple and a psychotic young man, tragically intersect. That a story peppered with infant death, exploding cows, suicide and matricide can leave you laughing is as impressive as it is disturbing. Watch it here.
Directed by Michel Gondry. Starring David Cross, Michel Gondry. 7min
Upon leaving a public toilet cubicle, Michel Gondry is followed and harassed by his own human-sized turd. The turd, played with a jarring combination of child like innocence and obnoxious hate speech by David Cross, slowly morphs into a motivational Nazi general, with Gondry ultimately failing to escape his tormentor. Perhaps it’s about learning to accept the literal shit-talker that lives in us all. Watch it here.
Gregory Go Boom
Directed by Janicza Bravo. Starring Michael Cera. 17min
Michael Cera stars in this beautiful and disturbing film as an obnoxious paraplegic looking for love. The sight of a racist, homophobic and wheelchair-bound man being unceremoniously dumped out of a second-storey window sounds in slightly bad taste, but it’s all strangely sympathetic. The pitch-perfect score sets a tone of ominous dread, so the laughs are tinged with a general feeling of unease. Watch it here.
Directed by Calvin Lee Reeder. Starring Christian Palmer. 3min
If the idea of a man being drugged and strapped to a table with his eyes clamped open while an exposed anus is slowly lowered towards him doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you really have to ask yourself if you even like short films. This tale of the world’s weirdest experiment won the g rand- jury a ward at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, proving once and for all that there is still a tiny bit of justice left in the world. Watch it here.
Directed by David Lynch. Starring Richard White, Dorothy McGinnis. 34min
Even by his own impeccably surreal standards, this 1970 David Lynch film is exceptionally strange. Here are some things that happen: a boy and his parents wriggle out of the ground and crawl around in the dirt. The boy’s parents beat and abuse him. The boy finds and plants a seed , and a grandmother then grows from it. The grandmother loves him but then dies. The boy goes to sleep. Or possibly kills himself. Who knows? Watch it here.
Too Many Cooks
Directed by Casper Kelly. 11min
What starts as a perfect pastiche of a 1980s family- sitcom intro soon expands into an all-encompassing, mind-melting montage of every TV stereotype you could imagine. And then it descends into utter madness, with a creepy serial killer invading each scene and brutally murdering the happy-go-lucky actors. The theme song will be stuck in your head for months, if not years. Watch it here.
FIVE OF THE SCARIEST
Directed by David Sandberg. Starring Lotta Losten. 3min
Sweet Mary, mother of God. I should not have watched this in the dark, with headphones on , just before bed. A Swedish film that sadistically and cleverly preys on our innate fear of the dark, Lights Out manages to do in three minutes what most horror films can’t do in 90 . If you live alone, get ready for a hefty electricity bill, because you’ll be sleeping with the lights on. Possibly for the rest of your life. Watch it here.
Tuck Me In
Directed by Ignacio F Rodó. Starring Luka Schardan, Mark Schardan. 1min
Clocking in at a mere 60 seconds, this is the cinematic equivalent of a terrifying campfire ghost story. As a father tucks his son in at night, the boy says, “You forgot to look under the bed.” To say any more would spoil things, but repeat viewings reveal hidden depths of terror. Watch it here.
The Smiling Man
Directed by AJ Briones. Starring Abbi Chally. 6min
There is no beating around the bush with this one. It is pure, unadulterated horror. A little girl at home alone comes face to face, and as the tag line succinctly puts it, with pure evil. Apart from the disturbing imagery, the real fear lies in the psychological damage being done to the child. Absolute nightmare fuel. Watch it here.
Directed by Jon Knautz. Starring Trevor Matthews. 9min
An exhausted-looking young man, popping pills and guzzling coffee, is driving through a small town when he runs over someone . . . or something. Getting out of the car, he finds the town is populated by creepy mannequins who seem intent on harming him. What elevates this beyond a bad Buffy episode is the terrifically sinister ending, which lingers long after the credits roll. Watch it here.
Directed by Neil Blomkamp. Starring Steve Boyle, Nic Rhind. 27min
Most short films, almost by definition, have a simple idea and a small budget. Firebase has neither. Neil Blomkamp, most famous for District 9 (based on his own ludicrously ambitious short), delivers balls-to-the-wall action in a Predator esque horror film set during the Vietnam War. The production values and CGI are on a scale almost never seen in these kinds of films, but if you have an aversion to extreme gore, this is one to avoid. Watch it here.
The Red Balloon (Le ballon rouge)
Directed by Albert Lamorisse. Starring Pascal Lamorisse. 34min
One of the most beloved short films of all time, T he Red Balloon is as vibrant and joyous now as it must have been in 1956. The bright titular balloon follows a young boy through a grim post war Paris, perfectly encapsulating childhood innocence and optimism. After watching it you may find yourself gazing out of your kitchen window, smoking an unfiltered cigarette and thinking distractedly of your own childhood. Watch it here.
The Big Shave
Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Peter Bernuth. 5min
This unpleasant film, shot in 1967, shows nothing more than a man shaving, yet by the end you’ll barely be able to watch. A visceral scene of self-mutilation works as an obvious and highly effective metaphor for American involvement in the Vietnam War. Scorsese wouldn’t release Taxi Driver for another nine years, but the visual template was set with The Big Shave. Not for the squeamish or faint of heart. Watch it here.
A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la Lune)
Directed by Georges Méliès. Starring Georges Méliès. 13min
Containing one of the most recognisable images in the history of cinema, this French science-fiction film from 1902 is still a delight to behold. Inspired by the stories of Jules Verne, it follows a group of scientists who travel by rocket to the moon, where they encounter a group of particularly tribal Martians. The sets still look brilliant, and the sight of the rocket splatting into the eye of the moon remains disturbingly joyous . Watch it here.
Meshes of the Afternoon
Directed by Maya Deren, Alexander Hammid. Starring Maya Deren, Alexander Hammid. 13min
This black- and-white American film from 1943 was light- years ahead of its time in using experimental cinematic techniques to represent inner turmoil or psychological suffering. Filled with strange and disconcerting imagery, it is considered of such cultural and aesthetic significance that in 1990 it was preserved by the Library of Congress, and the original 16mm film is now held by MoMA in New York. Watch it here.
Directed by Chris Marker. Starring Davos Hanich. 26min
I know, another French science-fiction film. This one, set in a post nuclear Paris where everyone lives underground, sees a time-travelling prisoner attempt to find a solution to mankind’s predicament. If that sounds familiar, it is because Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys is based on this film. (T he story and concept have been lifted wholesale.) Shot in black and white, and consisting solely of still images, it is singularly beautiful . Watch it here.
Directed by John Kahrs. 6min
A gorgeous black-and-white film from Disney Studios, Paperman seamlessly blends traditional animation techniques with state-of-the-art computer technology. The result is a heart-warming romantic comedy up there with the studio’s best work. Set in 1940 s New York, it follows an office worker’s attempts to get the attention of the woman of his dreams using a fleet of paper aeroplanes. Your heart will swell. Watch it here.
Directed by Adam Elliot. Narrated by Geoffrey Rush. 22min
Another Oscar winner, this Australian stop-motion tragicomedy sits at the opposite end of the aesthetic spectrum to Paperman. Following Harvie Krumpet, a Polish-Australian immigrant, through a life plagued with misery and bad luck, the film draws its power from his unflappable optimism and determination to enjoy life’s little gifts. A story bursting with so much humanity you’ll forget the main character looks like a clay goblin. Watch it here.
Directed by PES (Adam Pesapane). 2min
The shortest film to be ever nominated for an Oscar, as well as the most viewed Oscar short of all time, Fresh Guacamole is the result of a simple idea combined with unbridled imagination. Using the stop-motion technique of pixilation, it is a step-by-step guide to making guacamole, where objects are not as they seem, and almost every frame contains a visual pun. Watch it here.
The Meaning of Life
Directed by Don Hertzfeldt. 12min
At first The Meaning of Life looks like a simple animated comic strip, but it doesn’t take long to reveal how special it really is. Don Herzfeldt’s masterpiece consists of tens of thousands of individually drawn frames, covering everything from our emergence from the primordial soup to our distant future on the far side of the universe. Unexpectedly philosophical, it is often cited as one of the greatest animated shorts of all time, as well as drawing comparisons with the work of Terrence Malick and Stanley Kubrick. Watch it here.
Directed by Fabrice O Joubert. 8min
Consider this your feel good dose for the day. A French film from the former Dreamworks animator Fabrice O Joubert, it is about finding kindness in unexpected places. A snooty businessman orders a coffee in a Parisian cafe , but when the bill comes he realises he doesn’t have his wallet. Rather than owning up to the embarrassment he continues to order coffee, delaying the inevitable, and increasingly expensive, outcome. Watch it here.
FIVE OF THE MOST HEARTBREAKING
Directed by Juanita Wilson. Starring Igor Sigov. 17min
Winner of the Ifta for best short film in 2009, Juanita Wilson’s beautiful, searing work explores a father’s attempts to come to terms with the fallout of the Chernobyl disaster. Stunningly shot on location in the Ukrainian ghost town of Pripyat, it is a moving drama that poignantly highlights the personal cost of the wider catastrophe. Films like this remind us that behind the statistics of these disasters are ruined lives and broken families. Watch it here.
About a Girl
Directed by Brian Percival. Starring Ashley Thewlis. 10min
A girl walks through housing estates in the grim landscape of industrial Manchester, talking about her life, music and hopes for the future. Her desperate holding on to childish things belies darker truths of neglect and abuse. The shocking, graphic and controversial final scene will stay with you for days; be warned: it is thoroughly and genuinely upsetting. Watch it here.
Directed by Toby Halbrooks. Starring Mallory James Mahoney, Jonny Mars. 10min
As far as metaphors go, digging a hole is a good one. It can represent life’s ultimate futility, for example, or a frustrated relationship. But it can also mean just about whatever else you want it to. And so it is with Dig. A man digs a hole in his back garden while his curious daughter looks on. Beautiful and poignant, this is a film about the tender relationship between a girl and her dad, growing up, and letting go. Watch it here.
Directed by Lynne Ramsay. Starring Lynne Ramsay jnr. 11min
The Scottish film-maker Lynne Ramsay’s graduation project, Small Deaths won the jury prize at the 1996 Cannes film festival, heralding the arrival of a unique voice in British cinema. Three snapshots of a young girl’s life, each vignette is mesmerisingly impressionistic, with striking imagery, very little dialogue and unusually naturalistic sound design. It makes you feel as if you’re watching someone’s real memories, and a girl losing her innocence. Watch it here.
The Strange Thing about the Johnsons
Directed by Ari Aster. Starring Billy Mayo, Brandon Greenhouse. 29min
This is not an easy film to watch. Nor is it easy to categorise. It could be considered a horror, a scathingly uncomfortable satire or a nail-biting thriller. Above all it is a heart breaking story of abuse and shame. In a stunning and borderline-comical subversion of expectations, Ari Aster presents an upper-middle-class family hiding the most horrific secret imaginable. This film almost broke the internet when it was leaked, in 2011, and it remains unmatched in its ability to shock. Watch it here.