For the 4th consecutive year the editorial team at Short of the Week is pleased to highlight (what we think are) the very best short films released online. Culling from the over 150 short films featured on the site in 2014, the SOTW Awards honor the current breadth of excellence in the short form. Prizing innovation and storytelling above all, the SotW Awards have become a pinnacle honor for short films, as they are the only prizes to distinguish themselves by coming not from a random celebrity jury or from a largely indifferent academy, but instead from the world’s foremost connoisseurs of the form.
For viewers, all you need to know is that here are 11 exquisite short films that represent the best of the best of 2014. Click on the film titles to be taken to their individual review pages. Catch up on previous winners here, and discuss the winners in the comments or on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #SotwAwards.
Without further delay, the winners!
It’s true, when This is It, our ingenious Comedy winner, was submitted to us we had an internal conversation—was this an SotW film? We usually cast a skeptical eye at the many many (many!) brief comedy sketches that the internet specializes in, we prize storytelling first and foremost after all. But upon close and repeat viewings we realized this film was different. Despite relying on a jokey premise of repeating questions, This is It tells a rich and hilarious narrative which covers more ground than many films 30 times it’s length. It’s simply so tight and well-considered that increasing it’s length would be superfluous. With close to 1 million views since it’s SOTW premiere, we’re glad y’all agree.
Arriving with no fanfare, from the fairly unknown Korean studio Alfred Imageworks, Johnny Express took the internet by storm in May. The best Futurama episode that never was, this dark comedy felt so light due to the slickest 3D animation we saw in 2014. Just about a perfect short film, planetary genocide has never been so fun.
Perhaps the biggest festival heavyweight of our honorees, the legend of Junkyard slowly grew throughout 2012 and 2013. A 6 year labor of love that was also a mature, adult story of friendship, violence and regret? Our appetites were whetted. As gushing reviews arrived and awards piled up, hope sank—surely a work this notable would be gobbled up for Euro TV, or toil away in obscurity on an instantly forgotten DVD collection right? When Hisko finally relented to Rob’s pestering for an online release, celebratory fireworks went off in our imaginary SotW HQ.
Winner of the Jury Prize for Animation at Sundance 2014, Bernardo Britto’s heart-rendingly sincere portrait of a deeply personal apocalypse is the type of film that many viewers cannot help but get emotional about. It received the most first place votes of any of our award recipients, and despite its medium is undoubtedly the most human of the films honored today.
The year’s absolute best example of misspent grant money! UCLA student Mark Columbus received a small sum from Adobe in order to learn green screen work. His After Effects skills were so poor however that instead he had his father, the “Jimi Hendrix of Fiji”, simply sit in front of that chroma draping for the majority of the film. This anecdote is only one interesting facet of this formally fascinating film which bravely plays with ideas of film authorship, personal narrative and screen artifice. In the end though it is the raw drama of family relationships that draw it all together and imbue it with soul.
Such a sharp and excellently crafted piece. Cinematically, Josh Izenberg’s doc is without equal, however it the seamless marriage of arresting visual with subject that elevates Slomo onto this list. Californian eccentric John Kitchin dropped out of the rat race to chase his own peculiar muse, and whether we can imagine ourselves following his path, to hear him tell his story makes for arresting viewing.
A funny thing happened in 2014—that polarizing genre of the “proof of concept short”, sometimes referred to derogatorily as a “teaser”, “calling card” or “feature pitch”, suddenly got some really great directors involved. In sci-fi in particular, feature deals were being dominated by VFX animators with little practical filmmaking knowledge. Films like Prospect and Manifold this year however showed a path for thoughtful filmmaking that was subtly informed by VFX rather than the other way around. Bag Man, by the directing duo TWIN, is our winner though. Gorgeously and sensitively built through its long unfolding, the film has all the trappings of a prestige drama—only to wrongfoot you with the most gasp-out-loud twist of the year. Josh and Jonathan mentioned their feature ambitions in our Q&A, and we’d be shocked if they didn’t get a chance to realize that vision.
We talk a lot in the Short of the Week editor’s circle about how important it is that longer shorts manage to enthrall and captivate for their entirety. We haven’t come across many better examples than Stephen Fingleton’s SLR. Riddled with tension and drama throughout, this 23-minute short embroils its audience in a series of moral dilemmas as the film’s protagonist is forced to choose between protecting his family or confronting his addictions. From the hundreds of films we featured in 2014, SLR was the only one to make it onto the Oscar shortlists and even showed off an innovative storytelling approach by being released alongside companion film Selfie – a short that expands on the story of one of SLR’s supporting characters.
The DANIELS have long been figures of cult adoration on the internet, but 2014 was a breakout year by any measure. Turn Down For What broke into popular consciousness on its way to becoming the duo’s most popular work yet, and they also received massive critical acclaim for the interactive film Possibilia which singlehandedly revived this viewer’s excitement for the lagging medium (it would have made this list if only it was publicly available).
Yet, in spite of a feature on the horizon, the duo had time for Interesting Ball as well, their most ambitious narrative effort to date. Why innovative? We designate it such mostly due to its ramshackle construction as an informal creative anthology. Constructed out of “orphan” ideas culled from their creative community of LA filmmakers, DANIELS harvested concepts too weird or sick, or silly to work on their own, and ended up making a quintessential film—an absurd highwire piece that only they could make, as buried within its hyperbolic and effervescent surrealism is an unmistakably earnest heart. We now know that the DANIELS can spin gold out of anything.
A confluence of so many things we love! A celeb-filled fashion film that is delightfully self aware, Bianca Giaever’s film for designer Rachel Antonoff is exceptional filmmaking that is more interesting than just its surface gloss. A documentary retelling of how Antonoff’s parents met, Crush utilizes charmingly offbeat re-enactments that frequently break the 4th wall and, of course, showcase the Rachel Antonoff line to stellar effect. On the heels of 2013’s break out hit, The Scared is Scared, Crush proved that whimsical formal experimentation comes naturally to Bianca. With the recent release of her high-profile collaboration with This American Life, Ms. Giaever’s star is rising.
SHORT OF THE YEAR!
What? You expected something highbrow? No way, this was a year for outrageous comedy and The Gunfighter by Eric Kissack did it better than anyone.
When Eric Kissack reached out to us about debuting his latest short we were, of course, immediately receptive—we had previously covered Blessing in Disguise and recognized him as a potentially breakthrough comedic voice. Also the film was just a couple days removed from winning the Audience Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival. That seemed a good sign. Yet, while we always have hopes, we couldn’t anticipate how nearly how much we loved it, nor how much you’d love it. With well over 1 million plays, it is not only the film we deem best, but also the most trafficked page of the year for us.
We like some ol’ fashioned bawdy humor as much as the next site that exclusively specializes in online shorts, yet I’d suggest the unexpected success of this gem of a film is subtly more complicated than it appears. The meta-implications of an omniscient Nick Offerman are as disturbing as the results are funny. Questions of free will, fate and even God abound. In addition to the philosophical implications, the concept of a blood-crazed cosmic puppet master is frankly pretty horrifying! Yet it all goes down easy thanks to bestiality and anal sex jokes…oh my.
Bless this short, oh omniscient narrator in the sky.