Good things come in small packages (or so my wife assures me), and that can certainly be the case when it comes to films. Part of the genius of short films is that when theyre good they are just as entertaining and rewarding as something twenty times the length, and when theyre bad, well, at least theyre over quickly. In all walks of life theres a satisfying beauty to brevity, and in filmmaking its nearly always the case that less is best - as anyone who has sat through Judd Apatows self-indulgent snore-fest Funny People can attest (surely Irritating People would have been a better title?). But I digress - Im here to praise, not malign, and so below Ive compiled a little list of what I consider to be among the five best short films of all time. Of course, like a lot of best of lists its entirely subjective, but whether youre new to the format or a seasoned short film buff, the work below should provide you with at least a couple of bite-size nuggets of viewing that you can savour time and time again:
The Lunch Date - Adam Davidson - 1989
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epuTZigxUY8 A well-to-do white lady on a day trip to New York finds herself out of her depth when she misses her train. After ordering a salad in a diner she returns to her table to find an intimidating black man eating her food. What follows is a wonderful, humorous and heartwarming tale about the nature of perception, suspicion and prejudice. Despite featuring almost no dialogue, the film maintains a playful sense of humour throughout and the pay off at the end leaves the viewer a warm, life-affirming glow. This was director Adam Davidsons first ever short film and deservedly won him both a Palme DOr and an Oscar in the best short subject categories.
Blood and Chips - Ryan Phillips - 2006
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doIxqOPBHbg With a running time of just three minutes this charming, and very brief, short is set in that most English of locations - the Fish and Chip shop - as the country swelters under a heatwave. The film focuses on a surly bigot bemoaning the state of the country while waiting for his takeaway, but his presumptions may well be his undoing. Blood and Chips effortlessly captures the simmering menace of violence that bigotry foments, as well as the sense of kinship and community that exists between people for good or ill. Witty, realistic and uplifting, the film is a wonderful celebration of multicultural Britain that gets its message across without being in the least bit preachy.
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge - Roberto Enrico -1962
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7n4LeRB6js Set in the American Civil War and based on an Ambrose Bierce short story, the Oscar-winning An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge tells the tale of a man about to be hanged from the titular structure. But just as the man is pushed to his death, the rope around his neck snaps, plunging him into the creek below and beginning a remarkable journey in which we follow our hero as he desperately attempts to escape his pursuers and find his way home. The film is wonderfully cinematic, wearing its European influences proudly on its sleeve, and despite being over twenty minutes long it remains taught, dramatic and extremely moving. The film is also inventively shot and expertly edited throughout and this helps it to maintain a tone that creates the tension the films subject matter demands. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge takes the viewer on a desperate and thrilling journey before delivering a shocking ending that has been oft mimicked but never bettered.
Le Batteur du Bolero - Patrick Leconte - 1993
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQbQGlhVjOI&feature=related It is extremely daring of a filmmaker to present viewers with what is pretty much an eight minute static shot, and yet through an inventive choice of subject matter Leconte gives his audience an original and engaging film that offers first time watchers a totally unique experience. Filmed almost entirely in a single tracking shot that quickly settles on the eponymous drummer, the static camera allows the hypnotic music of the Bolero to weave a spell over the viewer whilst the wonderfully expressive face of the sadly departed Jacques Villeret brings comedy, intrigue and suspense to the tale. But what makes Batteur de Bolero great is the way it challenges the audience - the entertainment of the film takes place not on screen, but in the mind of the viewer. Its a film where you very much get out of it what you put in, but therein lies its brilliance: everyone experiences it differently (and its score of 6.6 on IMDb
suggests there are clearly those out there who experience it with far less enjoyment than I). Ok, so I am of going against my savour time and time again pledge here as the film doesnt really stand up to repeat viewings, but few films can both mesmerize and entertain their audience as much as this one does on first view - and thats the reason its on my list.
The Hearts of Age - Orson Welles and William Vance - 1934
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXKIMag5hHE A skull burns as a man hangs himself, a hand clutches at a cross in a graveyard, an old woman sitting atop a ringing bell is approached by a nightmarish figure who endlessly descends a staircase - yes ladies and gentlemen, youre watching the first film made by undisputed genius of cinema Orson Welles. The Hearts of Age divides critics: some see it as a deliberately obscure and surreal masterwork, others as the product of a few friends in make up gooning around. No matter how it came about, few can deny that the film makes a captivating watch: it is in turns unsettling, cryptic, and amusing and it is full of fascinating symbolism and imagery that analytically-minded film buffs can dissect to their hearts content. You can find several versions of the film on YouTube, each with their own soundtrack (which alters the viewing experience somewhat) but regardless of what you think of The Hearts of Age it is impossible to ignore the fact that if Welles hadnt picked up his camera and made this film, the entire landscape of modern cinema would be totally different. Well, those are five of my faves, but maybe you know better - after all, I missed out the fantastic The New Tenants and the groundbreaking Luxo Jr, so why should you listen to me? Its always good to hear about great new (or old) shorts, so if you know of any feel free to put forward your suggestions in the comments below. But a word of warning - anyone shamelessly promoting their own work will be tracked down and forced to watch a Modern Times Forever, Cinematon and Matrjoschka triple bill!