We’re proud to once again present the annual winners of The Short Awards, our ongoing project to honor the works that the editorial staff has deemed the best short film releases of the previous year.
All 228 films featured on Short of the Week in 2019 were eligible, these films themselves whittled down from the over 7500 short films our team reviewed for consideration last year. So, while some of these winners were World Premieres on this site, older films which just made their online premiere in 2019 after long festival runs, are also represented.
Regarding the process, each member of the S/W team submitted a top-ten which we aggregated as a shortlist. From there the Senior Programming team of Jason Sondhi, Rob Munday, Chelsea Lupkin, and Ivan Kander deliberated on the final selection—20 films in 9 separate categories, followed by an Audience Winner for the most-viewed film on-site, and lastly our coveted “Short of the Year”.
For you who follow the work we do at Short of the Week, thank you for your continued support and attention as we champion the innovative creators working in the short form, and improve on our efforts as a brand to streamline access to big opportunities for the talents that make up our community. Here’s to many more years of celebrating their art and creativity. Enjoy—here are the 2020 Short Award Winners!
Annecy awards, Oscar nominations and now an S/W prize, Max Porter & Ru Kuwahata’s (aka Tiny Inventions) near-perfect animated short Negative Space is a film more than deserving of all the acclaim piled upon its small but robust shoulders. The relatable portrayal of a father-and-son relationship, this powerhouse of a short fuses meticulous craft with emotive storytelling to make a piece with all the impact of a feature, despite being only five minutes in length. Negative Space won’t be a new discovery to anyone who was lucky enough to see it on the festival circuit, but it’s finding a whole new audience online—amassing over two million views in the six months it’s been on our YouTube channel. – Rob Munday
Pure image-making, and a joyful exercise in the aesthetic potential of animation, Slovenian filmmaker Spela Cadez and her writing partner Gregor Zorc transform a funny newspaper story of a badger inebriated on fermented fruit into a phantasmagoric adventure of light and sound in Nighthawk while still maintaining a somber core. Despite the comedy, despite the spectacle, the film is clear-eyed about the misery of alcoholism and our dismissive attitude towards it. – Jason Sondhi
Damn…Adman is clever. Very clever. And, in the crowded world of online short comedy, clever can be a very good thing. The schtick here is that it’s a short film composed entirely of fake advertisements—advertisements that link together to tell a single narrative that swings from broad comedy (ice cream sex!) to dramatic and relatable moments. It’s a film that, on its surface, shouldn’t really work, but Ben Callner (who has a background in commercial ad work) somehow makes the tonal stew of the various spots feel cohesive in its own weird and wonderful way. And, here’s the kicker: the ads are actually good! Like…this would actually be on TV kind of good. As a result, Callner is both mocking advertisements as a medium, while also making a case for them as an artform. It’s definitely the most original short comedy I screened all year. – Ivan Kander
Admittedly, I am not a huge comedy person, so the fact that Alex Kavutskiy’s Sundance and Fantastic Fest crowd pleaser, Squirrel, hit my funny bone is a testament to how good it really is—and maybe to how dark my own sense of humor is. A film that explores social etiquette after a horrific accident, Squirrel is a twisted cringe-comedy which pokes fun at performative apologies and the selfish reasons people seek forgiveness. Starring Max Jenkins (High Maintenance) opposite Andrea Rosen (Episodes), Kavutskiy’s deadpan writing hilariously comes to life in the dry performances of these talented comedians. Squirrel is sure to make you laugh, but you’ll certainly feel bad about it afterward. – Chelsea Lupkin
It’s trendy for film lovers to talk down on “new media” delivery as killing the art of cinema, but a duo of Short of the Week Alums (Zach Wechter and Mishka Kornai) have embraced the inherent restrictions of the form to give us this engaging, fresh take on the teen coming-of-age tale. This isn’t new subject matter by any stretch, but the visual approach and unflinching honesty it captures very much are. The resulting film is a frenetic collage of a teenage boy’s ADD life as depicted through the proverbial device that is always attached to his hand. Wechter and Kornai take all the things usually seen as modern-day barriers when it comes to short films (screen addiction, short attention spans) and uses them as assets to tell an old story in a new way. And, they do it without ever drifting into a rote “phones are bad” moral message. It’s one of the most inventive and compelling shorts I’ve watched this year. – Ivan Kander
S/W team-member Paul Hunter put it best in a comment when describing the implausibility of Riot’s appeal, writing “I have never once typed ‘experimental mixed media interpretive dance French art short film about social injustice’ into YouTube’s search bar….but this worked really well.” A film about injustice and rage too great for words naturally leans on all techniques at the artist’s disposal in an attempt to express the inexpressible. To witness Riot’s electrifying mix of animation, rotoscoping, music, and dance is to conclude that there could be no better way to do it. – Jason Sondhi
Charlie Lyne is one of the world’s most exciting image-makers, a documentarian eager to deconstruct his chosen format. With Lasting Marks he does so in two ways—first by adopting a vertical orientation for the film (which proved to be a nightmare at festival screenings) and secondly by reducing the archival style to its essence. Every image in the film is a photocopy from an assortment of sources: photographs, newspaper clippings, trial transcripts. At first, it’s amazing that this minimalist presentation even allows for a working narrative, but as you linger longer the appeal of the approach shines through, as it allows for a degree of agency on the viewer’s behalf to sift through the materials—a satisfying sensation in the midst of our true-crime entertainment boom, fueled by amateur Reddit sleuths. It is also fitting that a sensationalist miscarriage of justice, perpetuated through the tabloid press, can be revisited and reexamined through identical means. – Jason Sondhi
In my review of Lavender back in June I proffered that its filmmaker, Matthew Puccini, is one of the best filmmakers alive at depicting the interiority of his characters. That felt like a bit of a hot-take at the time, but with his newest short, Dirty, premiering at Sundance this week (and which is also fantastic), I think it’s a sentiment others will soon jump on. Lavender is the primary example for my case—plotwise it is a somewhat uneventful story about a younger gay man in a relationship with an older couple, yet the film relies enormously on subtle cues to fill in backstory and context. For those who look, so much story is told on these edges, both on the personal and cultural levels, as issues of race, class, and the changing mores of the gay community intrude upon this impromptu and tenuous family. – Jason Sondhi
A film perfect for the internet and a film that does EXACTLY what its title suggests, you might know what’s coming in Travis Bible’s 13-minute horror-comedy #chadgetstheaxe, but it certainly doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. Shot vlogger style by its titular protagonist, this “HE’S BEHIND YOU!” short invites you into the Williams Burrows Murder Cabin with one of the most annoying characters you’re likely to witness on screen. Propelled by a pitch-perfect central performance and chillingly effective use of on-screen comments, #chadgetstheaxe was criminally under-viewed when we released it around Halloween time, so if you’re ready to get your scare on, jump in and become a ‘Chadpion’. – Rob Munday
In a world where monsters live alongside humans, a 20-something orange furry monster named Martha is having an identity crisis in a metropolitan city. Starring Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids, X-Men Apocalypse) and Bobby Cannavale (I, Tonya, Ant Man), Christopher Weekes’ Martha the Monster is a serious exploration of discrimination and self-acceptance despite its cartoonish appearance. Weekes ingeniously embeds divisive conversations about race, class, and ingrained prejudice within his furry world, which makes it easy to draw parallel conclusions about the turmoil of our own. With absolutely seamless visual effects in a real-world city backdrop, Weekes’ high polished craft of blending a mix of facial capture with old-school puppetry, makes Martha the Monster come to life with splendor! – Chelsea Lupkin
When the coda hits and Normande softly sings lines from The Flaming Lips 2002 song “Do You Realize”, I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. I’m not saying that eliciting tears is the highest ideal for a film to aspire to, but the ability to provoke such emotion in 14 minutes is rare and splendid, and I can’t think of a moment in a short film this year that equally moved me. Guaxuma’s visual inventiveness and technical proficiency in combining several techniques: sand animation, stop-motion models, and archival photographs, allowed the film to be programmed in both animation and documentary festivals, and it is indeed fresh and noteworthy. But it is Normande’s simple ability to tell an autobiographical story of connection and loss, and to communicate that heartbreak through the screen, that is Guaxuma’s greatest achievement. – Jason Sondhi
One would expect a documentary on necrophilia to be vulgar or sensationalist. Dead. Tissue. Love is not. It’s a remarkably sensitive film that does not linger on the luridness of its subject matter, instead highlighting how “immense the loneliness and the isolation would be if a person’s sexuality was deemed to be repugnant and grotesque by society”. It’s also aesthetically dynamite—the challenges of the project (the “subject” is a composite of multiple viewpoints, and none of them could appear onscreen) unlock a deeper creativity within filmmaker Natasha Austin-Green as she leans into the limitations and doubles-down on the seductive rhythm on the voiceover, the creepy cacophony of its sound design, and the stark beauty of the photography. An unexpected experience, and also unforgettable. – Jason Sondhi
The WTF category (as awkward as the phrasing is) happens to be one of my favorites because it lets films with unconventional narratives have their moment in the spotlight. Oh What A Wonderful Feeling deserves such a spotlight (it was my favorite film of the year) and is most certainly unconventional. A surreal portrait of a young woman who finds a place within a roadside harem, François Jaros’ short is a Lynchian exercise, where the glossy cinematography and a cosmic awareness hint to something supernatural beyond the shadows. The duality between the dark comedic camaraderie of the pimp and prostitutes with the spellbinding exploration of secret desires and violence make for an altogether uncanny film that’s hard to forget. – Chelsea Lupkin
The delight of the animation festival world in 2019, Tomek Popakul’s film is a visionary example of the artistic potential of next-gen filmmaking tools filtering down to independent artists. Employing motion-capture, the film employs this base fidelity to life for the movements of its characters only to then undermine it everywhere else, as a chance encounter between two young drifters turns into a trippy, drug-fueled dive into illegal rave-culture. While long at 26 minutes, and meandering plotwise, the film nonetheless presents an indelible immersion into a realm of sensory experience. – Jason Sondhi
BEST SOCIAL ISSUE
A David and Goliath tale, a fierce activist’s origin story, an environmental issue doc, however you choose to label Kalyanee Mam’s imposing documentary Lost World, what’s clear is that this is a filmmaker at the top of her game. The story of a home threatened by capitalism, Mam’s 16-min short transports us to Cambodia and immerses us in the lives of a fishing community, but the message of the piece is likely to hit you a lot closer to home. At once specific, but also universal, Lost World it not only makes you sympathetic to its subjects, it simultaneously provokes thought around the “bigger picture”. We end the film not only heartbroken for the people at its core, but for the world and what we have done to it. – Rob Munday
Coming-of-age stories succeed because they encapsulate ubiquitous experiences. Yet this passage into adulthood is not always easy, especially for teenage girls who are faced with, more often than not, a sense of violence to their loss of innocence. From Egyptian director Farida Zahran comes Banat Akher Zaman which translates as “Youth” in Arabic. The film follows a young girl as she discovers, through the course of an evening, that she has suddenly become an object of desire. With that realization comes the recognition of power in sexuality as well as the vulnerability it poses. While set against the backdrop of Cairo, Farida Zahran’s verité-style film is a portrait of a young woman so universally relatable that it should be a required watch for all viewers regardless of gender. – Chelsea Lupkin
For a film that has been as universally praised as sometimes, i think about dying, it’s hard to find much to add to the conversation, but this Oscar short-listed film is so special it warrants repeat mentioning. It’s my favorite film I watched this year…perhaps one of my favorite shorts I’ve ever watched. It manages to do what so many shorts attempt, yet fail: get inside the mindset of a meek, interior character in a way that is both real and emotionally profound. That’s a tricky proposition because internalized conflict isn’t inherently cinematic, but Horowitz defies the odds to make it so. What results is a nuanced and honest examination of depression and social isolation. If that sounds like a total bummer, it’s a miracle that it’s, ultimately, a hopeful and encouraging look at the power of human connection. Beautiful stuff. – Ivan Kander
Highlighted by S/W co-founder Jason Sondhi as an Oscar frontrunner when we featured it back in October, Meryam Joobeur’s Brotherhood manages to be both topical and timeless with its dramatic tale of a son returning to the (not-so) warm embrace of his family home. A classical tale, told in a very classical manner, Joobeur’s 25-min film doesn’t instantly feel like a good fit for online, but what it lacks in ingenuity it more than makes us for in style and substance. Beautifully shot, you are instantly immersed in its world as you’re welcomed into this family home—however you should prepare yourself for an emotional gut-punch at its heartbreaking climax. If the Academy members like this one as much as we do, we may well see Joobeur proudly cradling a shiny statuette this February. – Rob Munday
Anyone who understands how the internet works will understand why Allie Avital’s short The Naked Woman was our Most Watched film of 2019. Putting the reasons for its popularity aside, I for one am glad we get to discuss again this subtle think-piece from an 8-time Vimeo Staff Pick recipient. A quiet film, exploring a breadth of themes, this proof-of-concept for a feature-length project provides more questions than answers and each viewer is sure to get a different reaction to its very open narrative approach. With the feature of the same name set to be shot this year, this certainly won’t be the last you hear of The Naked Woman or Avital. – Rob Munday
SHORT OF THE YEAR
If you look through the history of our Short of Year winners you’ll see a lot of singular works that bend, combine, or completely upend various classifications of genre or form. Innovative storytelling was one of the linchpins of the this site’s founding conception, and it’s enormously rewarding to see that spirit retained nearly 13 years in, as we continue to find the most pleasure in projects that utilize the freedom of short film as a license to be formally daring.
Albatross Soup by Winnie Cheung is practically the epitome of this ethos. Its strange genesis and what it represents as a fusion of storytelling forms and techniques makes it tempting to award it for intellectual reasons alone. The fact that it’s damn enjoyable is only icing on the cake.
In adapting a famous lateral thinking puzzle into a 7min film, Cheung has practically invented a new format (how’s that for established IP?). Furthermore, it borrows liberally from what is currently one of storytelling’s most fertile playgrounds—audio, and the rise of podcasts. Adapting sensibilities and techniques from this emerging medium and from creative documentary alike, Cheung then spins it all into a blender of gloriously trippy animation, while still retaining the structure and drive of a narrative mystery. Throw in a twisted and morbidly funny theme, and the interactive pleasure that comes from its encouragement of attempts to play along with its riddle, and Cheung has created a work that, all by itself, embodies 90% of our editorial preoccupations.
Yet, at the end of the day, Albatross Soup is a film. A piece of entertainment as much as it is a metatextual amalgamation, it needs to deliver on this front as well. To which we contend—is there any short film as purely entertaining this past year? With its delightfully psychedelic aesthetic, it’s eye-candy in every sense of the phrase, a parlor game…on acid. Even when the answer reveals itself and things get very, very dark, you can’t help but have a smile on your face. For being both a subtle and imaginative piece of boundary-crossing craftsmanship and a simple and compelling crowdpleaser, we’re happy to call Albatross Soup “Short of the Year”. – Jason Sondhi