Last year North American, indie and foreign film distributor Film Movement did the world a favor and registered December 28th as National Short Film Day. This amazing new celebration commemorates the day in 1895 when the Lumière brothers projected a program of 10 short films to a captivated audience of 33 at the Grand Café in Paris (read more about it in Venice Gondolier Sun’s article).
To honor the igniting of a global fascination with cinema and to celebrate how far the world’s come with film, here’s a small collection of beautifully done shorts, paired off with some familiar and hopefully new reads. Grab your popcorn and your TBR list!
La Maison en Petits Cubes and Alone
Also known as Tsumiki no Ie and translating to “the house of small cubes,” this 12 minute short won multiple, international animation awards as well as the 2009 Oscar for Best Animated Short. Directed and written by Japanese animator Kunio Kato and featuring a touching score by Kenji Kondo, this story will resonate with fans of Pixar’s Up as it follows a widowed man who, instead of moving out of his flooding home, stubbornly builds room after room on top of the house. This will also resonate with those who’ve read Chabouté’s graphic novel Alone. Both these protagonists live isolated lives, surrounded by water and only seeing their supply delivery guys occasionally. Both use their imaginations to relive fond memories or create new narratives to help grieve the loss of a loved one. Both experience a moment that either triggers them into action or solidifies their decision to stay on their current path. Both are lovely and emotional.
See the full list of Kunio Kato’s shorts on IMDB.
There is so much to love in this 11 minute horror animation from Spanish animator Carlos Baena’s writing and direction (you may recognize him from his work with ILM, Pixar, and Paramount Pictures) to award-winning, Swedish composer Johan Söderqvist’s score to the insane craft of the texturing, lighting, and details by the international animation team (you can practically feel the soft fur of the teddy bear, the tears in the boy’s eyes, and the heat of the colorful string lights). The story follows a boy’s encounter with dark creatures as he works to repair a ferris wheel automaton. If you’ve ever read (or seen) Patrick Ness, Siobhan Dowd, and Jim Kay’s A Monster Calls, you know the manifestation of monsters to represent grief and healing is not a new concept, but both these narratives tell such an honest tale of what it’s like to lose someone from their protagonists’ heart-shattering breakdowns to the healing aftermath of remembering those you’ve lost and still love.
It’s no wonder this short won countless international awards (no, really...look). Do yourself a favor and sit through La Noria’s credits, 1) for the mesmerizing close ups of the ferris wheel automaton, 2) for the full emotional impact of Söderqvist’s score, and 3) to note the names of the vast and skilled animation team.
If you’re a fan of horror shorts, consider subscribing to Alter on YouTube as they post 3 short horror films a week for your spine-tingling, chill-inducing pleasure (they also have a podcast). Warning: not many of them are this PG though.
Buy A Monster Calls:
Like La Noria, One Small Step won, oh, a handful of international awards, and after watching this 7 minute animation, it’s no surprise why. Produced by the Chinese and American company TAIKO Studios, One Small Step follows a young Chinese American girl named Luna and her shoemaker father Chu as she dreams of one day becoming an astronaut. Alongside Chu, you’ll watch as Luna grows into a young astronautical student, but with life comes curveballs that aim to put an end to her greatest ambition. Major themes of achieving your goals, despite life’s hardships, and finding solace in your work are concepts that fans of Mae Respicio’s middle grade novel, The House that Lou Built, will find satisfying. Both stories also present that extra motif of not only remembering those that have supported you or sacrificed for you, but also honoring them by either achieving your individual dream or theirs.
Did you notice the score is basically a conversation between Luna (piano) and Chu (cello)? Watch Steve Horner, multi-award-winning trailer and film score composer, briefly discuss this (scroll past the short for the video).
Also, keep an eye out for TAIKO’s work on Sony Pictures Animations 2021 film Wish Dragon, and check out their other shorts Pangu and Fú (yes, this is a promotion for Airbnb, but it still may make you cry).
Buy The House that Lou Built:
As visual effects and animation magazine befores & afters rightfully puts it, the live-action and animated Rebooted short is a “love-letter to visual effects.” Written and directed by Australia based filmmaker Michael Shanks, featuring stop motion from New Zealand based animator Samuel Lewis, produced by LateNite Films, and presented by Screen Australia and YouTube, Rebooted is a high-budget, clean cut production illustrating what happens to an aged movie star when they’re cast into irrelevancy. Oh, by the way, the movie star is a stop motion skeleton named Phil, and his friends consist of an animatronic dinosaur, a rubber suit “monster from the lake” type creature (just the suit), a 2D cartoon dragon on cell paper, and a Silver Surfer like CG man. What follows is a hilarious and creative 12 minute story of botched auditions, nostalgic reminiscing, and Phil taking matters into his own boney hands when Hollywood reboots his biggest film. If you love exploring the relationship between art and film as much as the Rebooted team obviously does, give Andrew DeGraff and A.D. Jameson’s Cinemaps a read for beautifully hand-painted maps that track the route of classic film characters like Indiana Jones, Marty McFly, Jack Torrance, and Princess Buttercup and Westley.
To learn more about stop motion specifically, pick up an artbook of your favorite stop motion film, like Laika’s The Art and Making of Paranorman. If you want to see another stop motion skeleton, check out Insider’s look into the skeleton from Laika’s Kubo and the Two Strings (it’s 15 feet tall!), which you can read more about in the film’s art book.
Most people know about Pixar shorts, but have you ever seen a Gobelins short? As the oldest animation school in France and ranking among the top animation schools worldwide, it’s no surprise Gobelins continually pumps out masterful narratives filled to the brim with wonder, heartbeat, and sincerity. Memo falls very much into that last category as it tells a 4 minute tale of a retired man struggling to hold on to his autonomy as well as his memories. For those who have read Lisa Genova’s Still Alice, the man’s fierce independence will remind you of Alice’s, and the clever representation of dementia and the sweetness and subtlety of the instrumental track in Memo leaves you with similar emotions to those felt after reading certain palpable Still Alice scenes and lines.
Buy Still Alice:
Ok, it might be cheating to pair this short with the Grimm fairy tales because David Och’s freshman film for CalArts is an obvious retelling of Hansel & Gretel (it’s in the credits, after all), but hot dang, not many retellings remain as dark and gory (though cartoonish) as the original like Och does. He uses black and white illustrations that blend a nice mix of 1930s and 1990s American 2D animation styles, and the dramatic motion and caricaturing of the characters, detailed backgrounds and settings, tension building cuts and pacing, and selective use of both subtle and booming sound edits make for a captivating and gruesome 5 minutes. Though the film features two children accepting handouts from am ice cream truck, it is definitely not for children. Unless you're already a horror fan, you’ll leave this film with the “who’s hungry” question answered: not you. And that’s just how the Brothers Grimm would have wanted it.
You can watch select CalArts students films from 2011-2019 on the CalArts site.
Buy The Complete Grimms’ Fairy Tales:
As said by the creator Seoro Oh: “This is for all the people out there who suffers from a nose.” Told through insanely colorful and fluid 2D animation and jam-packed with surprisingly relatable metaphors, (OO) is a ridiculous (and a smidge disgusting) look at the activity of an individual’s nostrils from leakages to clogs to that sweet release of open nasal airways. After the 6 minute short, you may find yourself on the hunt for potential remedies or overthinking what goes on up there, but no worries. Forgotten Books has revived Adolf Ónodi’s The Anatomy of the Nasal Cavity and Its Accessory Sinuses for your reading pleasure.
Try Oh’s other stunning (and relatable...and funny) 4 minute short, Afternoon Class.
Buy The Anatomy of the Nasal Cavity and Its Accessory Sinuses:
If pairing Who’s Hungry? with the Brothers Grimm was cheating, than pairing the recent Oscar-winning Hair Love short with the picture book it’s based off of is definitely cheating. Written by former NFL wide receiver Matthew A. Cherry and illustrated by New York Times bestselling illustrator Vashti Harrison, Hair Love is a tender, 6 minute homage to self-confidence, father-daughter relationships, and loving your natural hair. This picture book not only remained on the New York Times bestsellers list for weeks, but the Kickstarter campaign for the eventual film raised over triple its original fundraising goal of $75,000 (nearly $300,000 to be exact). Definitely worth a watch and read.
Buy Hair Love:
To explore more shorts: scroll through the list of short film Oscar nominees (both live action and animated), look up your favorite actors/directors/writers and see what shorts they’re associated with, watch some of the top animated schools’ graduate films, jump down the YouTube or Vinemo rabbit hole based on one of the above recommendations (maybe follow a channel or two), or research international short film awards and pick titles out based on your favorite genre, language, or culture. There are so many more amazing shorts out there just waiting to transport you to new worlds, unsettle you, break your heart, and build you up.