Saul Bass, Norman McLaren, Andrea Arnold, Martin McDonagh, Nick Park, Michaël Dudok de Wit…we’ve seen some famous names pick up Oscars for their short film work over the years and whatever your opinion of cinema’s biggest prize, it’s hard to argue that success in these most prestigious of awards will inevitably open up a number of important doors for the filmmakers involved.
With the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony soon upon us (April 25, 2021), a new batch of short filmmakers will be walking away with that prized statuette of a knight standing on a reel of film. We’ve already highlighted our favourites from the original longlists (two out of three are still in the running to win awards) and provided links to view the current nominees, but what about the previous winners? Where can you see them?
Oscar-winning shorts are notoriously difficult to find online. You can find a generous handful on your favourite streaming platforms – Amazon Prime, Disney+, Netflix – a worrying number of unofficial uploads on various other sites and a select few (winners & nominees) on the S/W Oscar Films channel.
Outside of that, official uploads can be tricky to unearth. So if you’re looking to take a deep dive into Oscar-winning short films, why not start with this playlist of nine choice picks below. These aren’t our favourite ever winners (a lot of those aren’t available online), but there are some important short films in this list, with a few appearances from those aforementioned famous names.
Best Documentary (Short Subject): 1941
Churchill’s Island by Stuart Legg (NFB)
The first-ever winner of the Best Documentary (Short Subject) award and the first Oscar (of many) for the National Film Board of Canada, created two years into World War II Legg’s 21-minute short captured the military strategy to defend Britain from Nazi attack. Now 70-years old, the film has the feel of archived newsreel, but its importance as the first winner in this category and its subject matter mean it was a film impossible to ignore for this list.
Best Documentary (Short Subject): 1952
Neighbours by Norman McLaren
Ignoring its odd classification as a Documentary by the Academy, McLaren’s anti-war short Neighbours has become a seminal work in the world of experimental film. Employing animation techniques with live actors, it was deemed “too gruesome and of a poor technical quality” by distributors at first, but they soon reversed their decision after the film picked up an unexpected Oscar in 1952.
Best Animated Short Film: 1990
Creature Comforts by Nick Park (Aardman Animation)
The first of Aardman animation’s three Oscars won throughout the ’90s (Wallace & Gromit shorts The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave picked up the other two), Creature Comforts adopts a mockumentary style to interview the inhabitants of an English zoo. Featuring the studio’s signature claymation style, although Aardman had success before Creature Comforts, their first Academy Award marked the start of an important decade for the infamous animators.
Best Live Action Short Film: 1994
Trevor by Peggy Rajski
Starting life as a one-man show titled Word of Mouth, this coming-of-age tale focuses on a young boy experiencing prejudice because of his burgeoning sexuality. Winning the Live Action Short Film Oscar back in ’94, the film went on to spawn The Trevor Project – a crisis intervention and suicide prevention service for LGBTQ teens and young adults.
Best Live Action Short Film: 2005
Six Shooter by Martin McDonagh
The start of an impressive career that would see him direct three critically acclaimed features (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) so far, McDonagh’s 2004 debut Six Shooter was an early indicator of the director’s talent for directing dark, character-driven dramedy. A 26-minute short centred around a man whose wife has just died, the British director tackles cot death, exploding cows and matricide and somehow makes it all wildly enjoyable and funny.
Best Animated Short Film: 2009
Logorama by François Alaux, Hervé de Crécy & Ludovic Houplain
A real favourite of the S/W team, Logorama has an eye-catching visual premise (a world made up of corporate logos and mascots – like the Michelin man or Ronald McDonald), backed up with a gripping story – a winning combination. With creator Hervé de Crécy describing it as a “strange object”, Logorama was a shock winner of the 2009 Oscar for animated short, but the 16-minute piece has become somewhat of a classic in the short film arena since that famous win.
Best Documentary (Short Subject): 2018
Period. End of Sentence. by Rayka Zehtabchi
One of the many documentary shorts snapped up by Netflix, Zehtabchi’s (a S/W alum) 26-min short, examining the stigma of menstruation in India, was released on the streaming giant’s YouTube channel in April 2020. A heartfelt, informative watch it’s easy to see why the Academy voters were won over by this essential short. Period. End of Sentence. is the most recent of the Doc winners to appear online.
Best Animated Short Film: 2019
Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry & Everett Downing Jr.
Now a best-selling book and soon to be a TV series, Hair Love has tasted unparalleled success since winning the Animated Short Oscar in 2019. With over 65-million views on YouTube, this charming tale of an African American father learning to do his daughter’s hair for the first time has captured hearts worldwide since its online release in late 2019.
Best Live Action Short Film: 2019
The Neighbors’ Window by Marshall Curry
The most recent winner of the Best Live Action Short Oscar, that we could find freely available online, Curry’s emotive 21-minute drama The Neighbors’ Window follows a mother of three, who unexpectedly finds herself becoming emotionally involved in her neighbor’s lives. With a Rear Window aspect to the storytelling, Curry’s life-affirming short tackles life, love and loss through a touching narrative, which will surely have you reaching for the tissues.