In the midst of a never-ending award season, we present the only ones that matter. That’s right, it’s the The S/W Awards!
This is our 11th year of honoring our favorite online short films of the previous year, and our 8th edition of the awards. Hopefully you know the drill by now: The S/W Awards aren’t about hastily pulled-together juries, or anonymous academies—you respect Short of the Week for our deep knowledge of the form, and for our taste, so why outsource our most prestigious honor? We pick the winners by polling the entire S/W team on the 280 films that graced our site in 2018, which themselves were plucked from the over 7000 shorts our team screened. Then the Senior Programming team of myself, Rob Munday, Ivan Kander, and Chelsea Lupkin fight it out to select the final lineup.
This year 22 films are highlighted in 10 categories, each with a winner and a special mention. Categories are frequently in flux because our goal is to honor the best films, rather than pigeon-hole ourselves into styles, so this year sees Horror, Sci-Fi and Fantasy combined into a single “Genre” award, and in a strong year for LGBTQ, Student, and WTF! films, we broke those categories out. As always we cap things off with the film most-viewed on the site in 2018, and finally our coveted Short of the Year.
Like the short film community itself—gritty, resourceful, and committed to artistic quality, the stakes maybe low, but the glory is high, as these select few filmmakers receive the validation of the premier short film curation site—a badge they can proudly wear for life.
So here they are, 2019 SotW Award Winners! – Editor-in-Chief, Jason Sondhi
We featured director Peter Edlund’s neo-noir short The New West in 2015, so he was definitely on our radar as a creative, but we weren’t prepared for Mixtape Marauders, a complete tonal change from that previous short, which at first surprised us, then delighted. Following two dead-ender friends in rural Washington state who work menial jobs and make extra scratch by dealing pot, the film transcends its depressing backdrop by being a truly heartwarming story about nerdery and friendship. Obsessed with crafting the perfect musical “mixtape” (on cd though of course), Mixtape Marauders is just a great hang, featuring sparkling dialogue, great tunes, and having the shaggy appeal of a late-nite dorm room classic. With a feature script nearly done, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Mixtape Marauders as the talk of Sundance 2020. – Jason Sondhi
Even without its incredible single-take (and, let me tell you, it’s goddamn incredible), Michael Covino’s The Climb is such a well-written, funny, and heartfelt foray into friendship, forgiveness, and love that it’s easy to see why it was a favorite at Sundance 2018. While the single long shot is clearly a technical marvel, the real magic is that it, somehow, feels effortless in its construction—a breezy “hang” as these two buddies cycle their way up a literal and figurative hill. When they finally make it to the other side, you can feel the emotional release as they coast back down and catch their breath. You’ll laugh for sure, but it’ll get you in the gut too. – Ivan Kander
As an English language website, we’re conscientious that our picks generally skew towards anglophone countries that are predominately white. That is one reason (though certainly not the predominant one!) that we were pleased to run across Pria. While its director, the Indonesian-born Yudho Aditya has a US-connection as Columbia film student, this film is overwhelming an Indonesian story, with a sense of place that’s impossible to fake. At 20min, it is very much a traditional “festival” film in many regards, but this tale of forbidden love and filial obligation is nonetheless engrossing, and frequently punctuated by devastating scenes of both human desire and grace. With what deserves to be a star-making performance from its lead Chicco Kurniawan, Pria is a film that is culturally specific, but universal in its impact. – Jason Sondhi
An impressive student film by Kelsi Phung and Fabien Corre, Les lèvres gercées explores gender identity during adolescence with a unique animation and storytelling style that could not be overlooked. As a child and mother struggle to understand one another at the kitchen table, Les lèvres gercées opens us up to the struggles and insecurities that trans people face from within the household and out, inspiring empathy in a truly powerful way. With the heavy graphic quality to its animation adding another dimension to the micro moments of the story, Phung and Corre’s film is impactful and enlightening and we’re excited to see what comes next from these talented new voices. – Chelsea Lupkin
A touching tale of a grieving family, Lucrèce Andreae’s Pépé Le Morse (Grandpa Walrus) takes an authentic narrative, injects it with surreal scenes of fantasy, and throws in some stellar craft, to make it an animated short impossible to ignore. It’s rare a film about grief handles its narrative with such flair and confidence, but Andreae’s short feels distinct, original and relatable. Having won an ‘Audience Award’ at Annecy and a César award for ‘Best Animated Short Film’, Pépé Le Morse can now add ‘Best Animated Short’ from Short of the Week to its list of accolades. – Rob Munday
At just over two-minutes in length, Anna Mantzaris’ Enough is not only the shortest film on this list, it’s one of the shortest films we’ve ever featured on our site. Yet, what it manages to achieve in its oh-so-brief run-time, can rival some of the meatier pieces we’ve showcased on Short of the Week. A funny, caustic but relatable watch, that lingers long past its runtime, this wooly animation finds a cozy spot in your headspace and refuses to leave. With her grad film Good Intentions currently touring the festival circuit, we expect big things from Anna in the future. – Rob Munday
I’ve watched enough “old home video” personal profile docs to last me a lifetime, but Charlie Tyrell’s My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes manages to break the mold. With an astonishing level of technical craft which incorporates archival material alongside really fun stop-motion animation, Tyrell creates a unique, visually inventive, and emotionally resonate story about his relationship with his distant, departed father. The film’s clickbait title gives way to a nuanced and heartfelt look on the nature of family history and how the past—both the good and bad—shapes the person we become. It’s easy to see why it was such a festival darling. – Ivan Kander
Revisiting events from over a decade ago, Ed Perkins’ powerful short Black Sheep still feels like one of the most topical films we featured on our site in 2018. This tale of a boy relocated to a strange place, where he was different from everyone else, tackles themes of race and identity in an accessible and entertaining manner. A compelling, cinematic watch, this Guardian production is amongst the five shorts now being considered for an Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) – Rob Munday
BEST GENRE FILM
Demon was my Editor’s Pick from our 2018 Year In Review and I’m excited to give it even more love with our Best in Genre award. While the film runs on the longer side at nearly 25 minutes, Caleb Slain (a multiple alum of Short of the Week), creates a highly polished chamber piece, akin to a one act play, that is gripping in both its supernatural unease and its sharp use of language. Between its single-take structure and impressive use of only moon-light in its exterior shots, Demon excels technically, even if you’re too engrossed by its script to notice. Slain, a filmmaker we’ve watched mature with each short we’ve featured, reached a new level with Demon’s slick style, strong performances—crafting a level of tension that only a seasoned filmmaker could achieve. – Chelsea Lupkin
This feels like a pitch for a feature, which I normally hate, but Do No Harm is just too badass to ignore—a fight scene with an original hook and milieu that comes off like a great set-piece from a full movie that doesn’t exist yet. I hate to be one of “those” people but Roseanne Liang might just be the next big thing in action filmmaking, and thanks to Do No Harm that possibility is looking increasingly likely. – Ivan Kander
BEST STUDENT FILM
A film that defies easy categorization, which, in turn, makes it fascinating. Is Laura Moss’ much lauded short a coming-of-age story? A dark thriller? A drama? Horror? All of the above? Moss expertly navigates tones and genres to deliver something unique and unsetting—a film both of its time and for today, relating the experience of a young female who slowly finds herself in an uncomfortable situation. It also doesn’t hurt that Ted Bundy (his execution gives the film its title) seems to be having a pop cultural moment. – Ivan Kander
Told from the perspective of a macaque mother, a group of snow monkeys must adhere to the strict rules that govern their world high on a freezing mountain top. An eight minute animation from a team of five Gobelins, l’école de l’image students, Hors de l’eau immerses us in the monkey’s harsh world in such a visceral way that we can’t help but unnervingly draw parallels with humanity and the bitter hierarchies of society. As a mother tries to do anything in her power to save her baby, territory thwarts her and an overwhelming sense of isolation and bleakness overcomes all feeling because of the filmmaker’s anthropomorphic approach. Illustrated over hand-made miniature sets further adds to its immersive effect and its a film that truly stayed with us, especially with an ending that was altogether hard to shake.– Chelsea Lupkin
Greener Grass has been criticized in some quarters as style over substance—its surreal visual style and its non-sequitur comedy a perfect WTF/Midnight crowd-pleasing combo, but ultimately papering over the fact that it’s not really about anything. Poppycock! Even if I agreed with that criticism (I don’t), I wouldn’t care. Everyone repeat: “Comedy is hard”, and when two talented ladies like Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe burst out the gate in their film debut with such a fully formed and fresh comedic POV, I stop and take notice. Others did too, as Greener Grass the feature successfully premiered at Sundance last month, and is set to play SXSW next. I caught it in Park City and everything great about the short is preserved and expanded. While distribution for the feature has yet to be announced, I have no doubt that we’ll be having these ladies in our lives for a long time to come. – Jason Sondhi
Told through a series of impressive long takes where Philip Burgers is pursued across land, sea, and air by a pair of hapless hunters, The Passage is a bizarre chase movie that delights with every unusual turn it takes. A modern-day silent film, this 22-minute short combines absurd comedy with a downright entertaining narrative, to create one of the most surprising and original pieces we witnessed in 2018. – Rob Munday
BEST SOCIAL ISSUE
Damien O’Donnell’s SXSW Grand Jury prize winning drama turned me into a blubbering mess. It’s a deftly directed film about the expectations of parenthood, carried by a fantastic central performance from Eileen Walsh. In “proper” society, parents of disabled children are only ever allowed to be noble caretakers. Not only does this film subvert that simplistic notion, it also gets us to empathize with the lead character, even as she does horrible things. It’s difficult material that is unusually thoughtful, as O’Donnell met with parent groups throughout the pre-production process to learn more about their pain, and the taboo feelings they live with. Synthesizing this feedback, he navigates potential minefields with an assured directorial hand that never veers into melodrama or overwrought theatrics. – Ivan Kander
A 10-minute short centred around a Nurse’s discomfort helping two patients experience a moment of closeness in the intimacy room, Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette and André Turpin’s Prends-Moi (Take Me) could have easily been a film we were discussing for its shocking nature. However, it’s to the directorial duo’s credit that instead this is one of the most touching shorts we featured on our site in 2018. Great stories have the power to move us, inspire us, and make us see the world from a brand new perspective, and in beautifully depicting a simple, but complicated moment of intimacy for disabled persons, Prends-Moi does all three. – Rob Munday
It’s amazing what director Sam Benenati accomplishes with such a simple set of cinematic resources. The front seat of a car. One actor. A traffic light. It equals a riveting and surreal 9 minutes. Despite its “small” scope, Red Light feels downright epic, conveying an entire lifetime—from youthful idealism to world-weary disappointment—through Jen Tullock’s perfectly calculated tragicomedy performance. – Ivan Kander
With a distinct style that’s impossible to ignore and an approach to storytelling that’s difficult to describe, Luca Toth is a filmmaker perfectly suited to our experimental category and a filmmaker we’re always excited to showcase on our site. With her utterly unique grad film The Age of Curious still haunting our thoughts (some five years after we first saw it), Superbia is further proof of the talent of this Hungarian artist. Her films will always prove a divisive watch, as she continues to push boundaries on both a visual and narrative level, but it’s work that deserves championing and celebrating and she’ll forever have a fanbase here at Short of the Week. – Rob Munday
There are times to be contrarian as a film critic, and times when you simply have to bow down to the consensus. In 12 years of following short film for this site, I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen the unanimity of praise for a live-action drama as I have for Fauve. Untold numbers of programmers have told me it’s their short of the year, and from its world premiere at Sundance, where it took home a prize, it’s been a non-stop victory lap for this Canadian short and its director Jeremy Comte—a dominant run which will climax at The Academy Awards later this month (unfortunately the film is offline for two weeks in the run-up to the ceremony, but will be back!). An undeniably powerful cinematic experience, a childhood game takes a dark turn for two young friends. Highlighted by incredible locations, breathtaking cinematography, and truly stunning performances from its two young leads, Fauve is simply indelible, and will be talked about for a long time. – Jason Sondhi
I’ve never had a film stay with me quite like Caroline did. Filmmaking duo Logan George and Celine Held are quickly becoming one of the most decorated filmmakers on the festival circuit, impressing with their real-life inspired stories. Alums of Short of the Week with their previous films Mouse, Valencia Road, and Fever, Caroline did not disappoint. Compellingly told through the perspective of six-year-old Caroline, a mother prepares for a job interview in the middle of a Texas heat wave, leaving her three small children in the car with their big sister in charge. A thought-provoking, emotional roller coaster of a film, Caroline begins with a cold open that spirals into one of the most intense and controversial storylines we’ve seen in a drama all year. – Chelsea Lupkin
SMILF is one of the great indie success stories of recent years. Frankie Shaw was a familiar face as an actress, shining as a bit player on TV and in film, but it was this, her directing debut, which catapulted her into another level of creative regard. A raunchy, personal look at sex and single motherhood, the film won a prize at Sundance, and was immediately optioned for TV development, becoming a very well-regard show on Showtime. Season 2 debuted last month, and despite a bit of behind the scenes controversy, the show continues to be a critical success. As always, our Audience Award is not voted upon, it is based on the film that was viewed the most on our site, and so the profile boost of the TV show undoubtedly helped SMILF to the top spot here (as well as the sexual subject matter & nudity…) but as both the genesis for a mainstream creative hit, and what it symbolizes as a film about female creative empowerment both onscreen and off, we’re delighted that SMILF was our most popular film in 2018. – Jason Sondhi
SHORT OF THE YEAR
In this period of political and cultural upheaval, we ask more of art than ever before. We increasingly dissect what art is about, and judge it on a moral level. Though it will never be my native language, I don’t decry the shift. Better writers than I have attempted to grapple with what is being sacrificed in losing the ability to appraise art on its merits, independent of politics, but it is impossible to shake the sense that the stakes are high in our current moment, where narratives and attitudes are coalescing that may shape our world for generations to come. So it feels right that our short of year possesses a pedagogic intent—that it seeks to comment and shape attitudes on the biggest of possible topics regarding individuals and our relation to the world.
Yet art as moral instruction suffers when it is didatic. When purity of feeling approaches literalness, and a stridency of aim overwhelms the subtlety of expression. Better than any film this year Joy in People threads the needle of these two, sometimes opposing impulses. It is a film about nationalism, the opening quote from Benedict Anderson’s famous work Imagined Communities is blunt enough in that regard, but it is not a film that serves as an overly straightforward comment about it. Instead it is an allegory, the politics of its story plainly evident, but metaphorical enough to be subversive.
Ben is not normal. Landing somewhere on an autistic spectrum, he is told by a therapist early in the film to try and connect with others, to try and find “joy in people”. He finds this sense of community at Euro 2016, the large international soccer tournament that collects boisterous crowds from many nations to bond with, or to contest one another, in the safe space of a soft nationalism. Ben is introduced to the sport through these large crowds, and while his allegiances initially latch onto his native England, in his naive way, he soon finds himself in communion with fans from other countries, rooting for different teams, in different crowds, with a promiscuous enthusiasm.
Oscar Hudson’s film, anchored by a stellar performance from Meredith Colchester as Ben, is a unique marvel. Formally daring, the film adheres to a loose outline, but is verité in execution, as Ben wades out into real-life settings to have unscripted interactions. Shot guerilla-style, immense amounts of footage were shot, and untold numbers of interactions instigated without their subjects’ prior knowledge, and edited together into a coherent, and frankly devastatingly emotional, narrative arc. With Ben as a Chauncey Gardiner-esque guide, the film is a surreal, sometimes ugly, always fascinating, look at a pure expression of nationalism. For us, our perspective filtered through his naive vantage, it is a unique opportunity to look at this topic from a place of estrangement—why do we form attachments to these theoretical constructs? What does it mean to be a member of a nation? What do these divisions provide us, and what do we lose?
The specter of BREXIT hangs over the entire film. I think it funny that a recently announced fund has been constructed to create short films dedicated to exploring the political phenomena, when the single best BREXIT film that will ever exist is already here with Joy in People. Oscar Hudson is a much lauded creator, a commercial director honored by the UKMVA’s as Director of the Year for his music video work, and while his videos are acclaimed as some of the best of the form in recent memory, it’s hard to not view this short film as his masterpiece. The blend of formal innovation and storytelling hits that sweet spot of power and profundity. I cried the first time I watched the film. I cried the second time for that matter. The naked longing of Ben, his outsider’s desire to belong so pure, but ultimately thwarted, combined with the devastating denouement at a refugee camp, adds up to political filmmaking at its finest.
Old stories are fading, and new ones take their place. Or maybe they are old stories that are taking new shape. We are fighting against forces that take refuge in tradition, in a hostility to what’s new, what’s different, which sprout up in the absence of understanding and empathy. Art is a connective tissue however, it provokes intense feeling and serves as a bridge between thoughts and cultures.
As my co-founder at short of the week, Andrew Allen, affirmed to me on the founding of this site 12 years ago, film is uniquely powerful as a medium because storytelling is how we make sense of the world, and short film is thus, at its best, an insurgent medium—a form outside the mainstream, it is at its most vibrant when it challenges the status quo via topics, forms, or perspectives. Oscar Hudson takes a big swing with Joy in People to tell a story that is vibrant, yet also vital, about our world that is in flux. In connecting the micro to the macro, he has made 2018’s most essential film, and that is why it is our Short of the Year. – Jason Sondhi