In one form or another Short of the Week has produced an annual roundup of the best work showcased on the site for the nearly 10 years. Whether it is a Top-10 list, or more recently the #SotwAwards, it’s a great opportunity to reflect on the state of short film on the internet and to enjoy the marvelously innovative and creative work that the future stars of film have been producing. This past year was our busiest ever, as you can see from our site recap for 2016, and we’ve got a bunch of exciting new developments for 2017 that we’re eager to share. But, for now, enjoy the films that our editorial team has deemed the best internet releases of the last year. We’ve expanded our categories from previous iterations of the awards with the winners now comprising a de facto Top Ten list. But, with runners-up honored in each category, and a few Special Mentions, there is a ton of great watching ahead of you.
Without further delay, the 2017 SotW Award Winners!
The film I personally shared more than any other in 2016, if we gave awards for best “WTF!?” or “Best Rewatchability” or “Most Quotable”, then Seth would’ve have cleaned up all those as well. Instead writer/director Zach Lasry will have to settle for simply “Best Comedy” for this clever, silly, and subversive farce that features a star-making performance from Logan George as one very, very, odd boy. – Jason Sondhi
The top-dog at Sundance 2016, this short saw Jim Cummings make a leap from up-and-coming indie producer to an established indie do-it-all, starring, writing, and directing this tonally odd single-take short. While receiving wide-spread internet and festival acclaim, Thunder Road also confused more audiences than any other short this past year. The emotional intensity of the circumstance depicted, and the fact that Cummings plays it straight the whole way implies drama, but we find it to be horrifyingly funny. – Jason Sondhi
Although Sequin Raze had laudatory festival run, it only just made its online debut this year. It was worth the wait. Writer/director Sarah Gertrude Shapiro helms one of the most unique shorts of recent memory, a film that walks the fine line between comedy and drama—lampooning modern reality shows but also giving pathos to its protagonist, a self-proclaimed feminist who hypocritically makes her living manipulating women. As such, Shapiro not only crafts an “inside baseball” look at the sausage of the entertainment industry, but she writes characters and a story with real, affecting emotional stakes. It’s no wonder this film served as the source material for the Lifetime Network show, UnReal. – Ivan Kander
Director Benjamin Kegan’s MFA film from Columbia University is a remarkable exercise in drama. What starts as a story concerning a dysfunctional teacher and the odd relationship between one of her students, quickly spirals into a dark tale that hints at a seedy underworld. It’s expertly crafted: structurally perfect and visually stunning. The First Men is one of the rare short form dramas that manages to not only touch upon important issues (drug abuse, the education system in America), but also enthrall, entertain, and surprise on a genre level. – Ivan Kander
Hand-drawn animation, miniature sets, puppets, live-action Kung Fu and explosions combine in this vivid retelling of how a teacher protected a church basement full of middle school students when a motorcycle gang crashed their dance. Action-packed, exhilarating and innovative, Fraser Munden’s 13-min animated doc The Chaperone blurs boundaries and is one of the most original and exciting shorts we witnessed in 2016. – Rob Munday
A darling on the animation-festival circuit, Hungarian Réka Bucsi shows off her fantastic imagination in this collection of absurd vignettes on the collision of nature and humanity. While the style is lovely, the film is long for its type, and the non-sequitur nature may wear on some viewers. Yet it is that exact profligacy that is so damned impressive, as the slow accumulation of cleverness overwhelms. – Jason Sondhi
Technically simple, but conceptually brilliant, Victoria Mapplebeck’s 160 Characters is a stellar example of the narrative first storytelling we look to champion here on Short of the Week. The story of a relationship, from its sweet beginnings to its troubled end, Mapplebeck’s film uses text messages to tell its emotive tale and raise questions over how we communicate in an increasingly electronic world. – Rob Munday
Centred around the true story of a young gay woman’s desperate survival after a shooting on the Appalachian Trail, Austin Bunn’s hybrid-documentary follows lone-survivor Claudia Brenner as she returns to the trail for the very first time. A gut-wrenching short that mixes Brenner’s retelling of events with dramatic reenactments, Bunn’s film is a difficult, but unforgettable watch that truly captures the horrors of such a mindless attack. – Rob Munday
The VR backlash has begun, as the initial buzz around 2016 being “The Year of VR” has turned into what technology observers refer to as, “the trough of disillusionment“. We’ve got the headsets now, Oculus and the HTC Vive have hit the commercial markets, but they are still in few hands, and much of the best content is locked up in proprietary marketplaces.
However, if you’re looking for free VR on the web that is worth your while, Pearl is the best experience to start with. Hatched out of Google Spotlight Stories division, this work from Oscar-winning animator Patrick Osborne (Feast) is an emotional father/daughter tale that looks great, and tugs on your heartstrings. The fixed vantage of the film is an innovative approach to the problem of editing in VR, and the film’s release strategy points a way through the medium’s distribution quandary—a 2D version played festivals and is nominated for this year’s Oscar, the 360 version is on YouTube, and, if you have a headset, there is an ultimate version that allows for limited depth and perspectival shift. – Jason Sondhi
Due to the challenge of its ever-shifting tech, top-shelf VR storytelling has largely been restricted to specialized production companies. But, what’s great about short film as a medium is that a whole host of diverse and gifted creators can play in the space. Thanks to a grant, gifted documentary filmmaker Ben Steinbauer was able to take a stab at VR with Superlative Light, an interesting artist profile doc made even more interesting due to the competing versions produced—a 2D and 360 version. The differences prove illuminating as to the differences in the mediums, and how indie filmmakers can approach the promise of the new form. – Jason Sondhi
No film in 2016 was as pleasant of a surprise as Dust. Despite performing well on the genre festival circuit, this passion project from digital media house Ember Lab was off my radar before dropping online. In a world of cookie-cutter futuristic and post-apocalyptic proof-of-concepts, Dust distinguishes itself for both the depth of its storytelling and world-building. Drawing off anime and environmentalist influences, Mike Grier creates a longshort that is as interesting to ponder as it is beautiful to look at. – Jason Sondhi
A multiple-time SotW alum for shorts in both live-action and animation, we were psyched when Emily Carmichael’s latest genre-bender Stryka arrived online thanks to Condé Nast. While runner-up in this category, if we were to give an award for “Brightest Future” Carmichael might just take the crown. With a gig scripting Pacific Rim 2, and an attachment to direct major studio projects like Powerhouse, and the comic-book adaptation Lumberjanes, 2016 was a breakthrough year for the talented writer-director, and we can’t wait to see her style of relentless and subversive genre reinvention play on a larger canvas. – Chelsea Lupkin
If you’ve ever needed proof that 3D animation can be more than cutesy, “family friendly” fare look no further than Geist from Giant Animation Studios. Helmed by a trio of directors—Alex Sherwood Ben Harper, and Sean Mullen—Geist is a taut, suspenseful, emotional ride that is dripping with atmosphere. Rarely does a horror film look this unique and grab you so viscerally on an aesthetic level. – Ivan Kander
Originality is something we’re always searching for in our short films picks and if a Norwegian NSFW Nunsploitation flick isn’t ticking that “unique” box, originality must have a new meaning. Following a reclusive nun’s dream of becoming a curvy, voluptuous woman, Fredrik S. Hana’s Sister Hell is a 15-min short overflowing with practical FX and buckets of WTF. – Rob Munday
The formation, and success, of Field of Vision is the finest development within shortform non-fiction filmmaking in the last several years. However this film, which pairs emergency phone calls taken in the wake of mass-shootings with placid everyday footage of those sites months, or years, afterward, is scarcely a film—instead Speaking is Difficult is much more like a ruminative work of political art. It is an exhausting viewing experience, and the narrative does not play out on screen, but instead in the viewer through the act of watching. Continually updated, the work is, tragically, a never-ending project. – Jason Sondhi
A controversial winner at the Ottawa International Animation Festival, this latest film from Polish master Piotr Dumała is extremely provocative, depicting acts of sexual violence and infanticide. Adapting the behavior of hippopotamuses in the wild to humans, the animation team received blowback for perceived cynical and exploitive motives. Yet the classical animation style and ritualistic beauty of the movement, paired with the on-screen barbarity, proves viscerally emotive and prompts interesting reflection in those who wish to seek it. – Jason Sondhi
Part of the celebrated “Women’s Tales” series from Italian fashion house Miu Miu, breakout star Crystal Moselle (The Wolfpack) creates our branded film of the year, a feminist ode to the magic of NYC, skateboarding, and finding your tribe. I call Moselle our latest, greatest chronicler of the downtown scene, and the way she makes art that fluidly traverses boundaries of documentary and fantasy in collaboration with her youthful subjects hits at a deeper “truth” than any traditional approach could. – Jason Sondhi
John Kahr’s directing followup to the Oscar-winning Disney short Paperman is a branded animation that is way better than it has any right to be. Created for the ride-sharing service Lyft, the story was sourced from a the company’s user-base of drivers and tells an incredibly sweet story of an elderly woman discovering both autonomy and community her later years. And, as you can imagine from Kahrs, it’s told with a lot of style. – Jason Sondhi
SHORT OF THE YEAR
For the year 2011 we granted a unique experience our coveted “Short of the Year” designation. A question at the time however though was, is it a film? Perhaps it’s a type of game, or a fancy website? We didn’t care too much about the semantics, we just thought it was awesome. And yes—it was all of the above. It is called Welcome to Pine Point, and it was the first project of a hyped new form called “interactive” that really blew our socks off.
Interactive as a new medium for visual storytelling has had some ups and downs in the subsequent years. We’ve seen fun and unique work come and go, but we didn’t see anything that captured our imagination like Welcome to Pine Point had. In the process the hype cycle on interactive began to peter out, subsumed by excitement over virtual reality and innovations in gaming. Showcases in the independent film world for the medium such as Tribeca Interactive or Sundance’s New Frontiers, have, in recent years, scarcely showcased any interactive projects of the like that were envisioned in 2011.
Yet despite this downturn in interest, 2016 saw the online release of the single best interactive experience to date. It did not come from technologists, but instead rare and shining film talents, the DANIELS. In contrast to the medium’s long association with non-fiction storytelling, Possibilia bills itself as the first narrative interactive experience, and, in the hands of the prodigiously talented directing duo, the endeavor is a massive success—a deeply satisfying experience on an intellectual and emotional level, one that is novel, and endlessly rewatchable.
As chronicled recently in a deep, and fascinating New Yorker article, the DANIELS were able to succeed by deeply probing the paradox within interactive storytelling between the agency of choice that is at the core of interactive as a medium, and the established desire of audiences to relinquish control to gifted storytellers. Partnering with technology company Interlude, they used an established interactive framework, “channel-surfing”, to thus create a resonant break-up story that split perspective, but featured linear and unchangeable dialogue and outcome. As they phrase it there is “…something funny about not being able to change the story—about making an interactive film that is thematically about your inability to change things.”
Whether Possibilia breathes new life into interactive as a medium, it seems clear that the intellectual and storytelling tools developed within will have broad applicability to all aspects of digital life, as services and experiences are increasingly able to use massive data to tailor themselves to individuals. A key hurdle to overcome however will be navigating the dualities inherent at the heart of Possibilia—between universalism and particularity, between agency and surrender. In VR, the inherent immersion of the medium will necessitate questions of implication and responsibility within experiences, and how will storytelling deal with the angst of choice? In what sense can experiences incorporate engagement and yet still be coherent stories? We’re a long way off from figuring out the answers to these questions, but Possibilia and the model of tasking innovative young filmmakers to grapple with these questions is a good way forward.
In the future, when looking back upon 2016, the film we might recognize as making the most impact is this concept film from Keiichi Matsuda. Aside from the large audience it garnered (over 3M views) it is unusual for a film, short or otherwise, to have such a role in shaping mainstream perception of the world. Augmented Reality is a familiar buzzword in tech circles, but its potential use cases and the benefit (or harm) it can, and likely will, have in our lives is still opaque. By richly visualizing a dystopia of gamified AR, Matsuda produces a futuristic vision that is sure to be referenced for a long time to come. – Jason Sondhi
A 9-chapter 47-minute short might not be exactly what you’re expecting to find on the Short of the Week ‘Best of the Year’ list, but like most things prolific director Vincent Haycock puts his hands to – The Odyssey is simply too good to ignore. Inspired by Dante’s Inferno and Homer’s Odyssey, Haycock’s visual accompaniments to tracks from Florence and the Machine’s latest album ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’ were some of the best music video seen throughout 2016, but things really got interesting when the collection of videos were released as one complete short. – Rob Munday
Late Night Work Club: Strangers
The second iteration of the celebrated internet-animator team-up shows that the first installation was no accident. With a largely new cast of animators, but under the capable lead of project originator Scott Benson, the anthology is another 40+ min showcase of boldly experimental work from some of the leading lights of indie animation (including SotW-writer Jeanette Bonds), as well as shows off the sustainability of a model that other creators would be wise to emulate. – Jason Sondhi
The brain-child of Kickstarter’s former Head of Film, Dan Schoenbrun, anthology fever hit the live-action indie-space with this daringly experimental feature-length collection of shorts from SotW-acclaimed filmmakers like Frances Bodomo, Lauren Wolkstein, and Lily Baldwin. Each of the five filmmakers adapted a dream recorded by by a different colleague, and the result landed the group a sold-out SXSW premiere. Uncompromising in its vision of of short film as a unique space for non-commercial innovation and play, the team shocked some by releasing the full film for free online in August. – Jason Sondhi