Mike’s Favorite Animated Shorts of the Decade (30-21)
This might be the one list I was most excited for. It’s the last one I came up with, too. I had all the others and then, I don’t know, about two weeks before I unveiled that I was gonna be doing all this, I thought, “Animated shorts would be a really terrific list to pull off.” Because, like songs, animated films are something that we all can consume pretty quickly and easily and have real opinions on. And each year, it’s one of my favorite categories to delve into when we get to awards season. And all too often do we forget about all the great ones we watch and never go back to them. When in reality, a perfectly crafted animated short of is one of the greatest viewing experiences you can ever have.
This was also a list I had to do the most homework for. Because aside from what gets shortlisted for awards, there are also dozens of other shorts that come out each year that most people don’t even know about. Occasionally they’ll be highlighted on a video site or get press, but most of the time they come and go without anyone knowing about them. So I really tried to dig and find stuff that I wouldn’t have otherwise known about in the hopes of making a list that was truly worth discussing. I almost wanted to be as inclusive as possible and go to 100, but in the end, I felt 50 was the way to go. Because I’m really happy with the 50 that I chose.
I’m gonna try to make this a point going forward, that I’m going to seek out more animated shorts on a yearly basis, and make them a part of my repertoire for watching and showing people things. Here’s what I’d suggest we all start doing — before you sit down for a movie night with friends or family or your children or whomever… just put on one animated short before your film. Like Disney and Pixar do. They give you a short film, and then the feature starts. I think it’s a great way of doing things and exposing yourself to great, compressed stories that you wouldn’t otherwise get to see.
So, in the spirit of that, here are my favorite animated short films from this past decade:
Note: All of these films should be widely available to find online. I haven’t posted links just because of how often these things get taken down. But with a simple search, I bet you can find most, if not all, of the films on this list. And do look them up, because they’re all worth seeing.
This is another short that fits under the heading of ‘childhood reminiscence’. It’s about the director’s childhood, and what he remembers after the divorce of his parents. Weekdays spent living with his mother and then weekends going off with his father to his apartment in the city. It’s beautiful in the sense that it has these images and visual and audio cues (“Money for Nothing” being the big one) that clearly are the result of thinking back to one’s childhood and having those handful of things that you remember above all else. Plus, it’s a really nice story of a child of divorce that I imagine will strike of a chord among all of those people who remember having to split time between parents and trying to figure it all out at a time when everything seems so strange and it feels like you’re lost. It’s a really great short.
This isn’t a straight short so much as it is a visual and auditory experience. You know that early segment of Fantasia where they take Beethoven and portray it through sound waves and various abstract designs? That’s this short. This is almost like watching the iTunes visualizer for five minutes. It’s a stunning experience that is exactly the kind of short I love, because it’s not about
28. Late Afternoon
Another short that falls into the realm of ‘person slipping into dementia’. This one is set during an afternoon as an old Irish woman sips her tea. And as she does, she slips in and out of memories from her past. The film is presented quite beautifully, creating this beautiful dreamlike state for her memories that are quite affecting. It’s ground that’s been tread before, but the way they do it here works better than a lot of the others.
27. Negative Space
I love this short so much. It’s very simple and there’s not a lot to it, but it just really affected me in a profound way the first time I saw it. It’s another ‘childhood reminiscence’ film, about a man remembering how his father used to go on all these business trips and would teach his son the proper way to pack. And the whole thing plays out in stop-motion as we see it. We watch all the items get folded in the proper way and fit inside this suitcase so as to optimize the space. And ultimately it becomes about this man remembering his father, ending with the moment of him at his father’s funeral, seeing him in the casket and going, “Look at all that wasted space.” It’s a film that’s about the things we remember and the things that get through, despite all the other experiences and things we learn from our parents. I really love this one a lot.
26. Gloria Victoria
This is Theodore Ushev again. You’ll recognize the visual style from Blind Vaysha. This film, though, is told Soviet montage style, which is pretty amazing. And it’s an anti-war film at that, which is also great. It’s a film that uses all sort of abstract art styles to portray war and it’s just stunning to see. If you’re familiar with Soviet montage, you’ll know that it’s not about the story so much as it’s about the feeling you get while seeing all the different images spliced together. So consider that along with the abstraction of images and the way he shows you this and it’s just a really impressive feat. The idea is to make you feel bombarded by sound and image, almost as if you, the viewer, is at war. It’s tremendous.
25. Dcera (Daughter)
The style of this short is just so immediate and visceral. It’s stop-motion, but this is the first time I’ve seen them use a handheld-style camera for shooting this type of short. It starts with the little girl running up the steps and the camera is shaking all over the place and you can barely have any particular image to focus on, but somehow at the same time, it feels like you’re that little girl. And what’s amazing about the film is that it’s a series of moments that show all of the things that go unspoken throughout life and throughout relationships and all the things that we carry with us because of the tiniest moments. It’s one of those films that you can read a lot into or just watch as it is and let the feeling of the way the characters are drawn and the way the film is shot wash over you. Because it’ll get you to the same place. You can understand this entire short and what it’s trying to say even if you’re not entirely sure what’s going on as you watch it. That’s the power of animation.
24. Garden Party
As a narrative short, it’s kind of a one-note, setup/punchline kind of short. It’s about a bunch of insects hanging out in this house, which you slowly start to realize is a mansion and the sight of an obviously drug-related murder. And that’s fine and that’s fun, but really the interesting thing about this short, as you can see from the above image, is just how photoreal the whole thing is. You could almost swear that you were watching something really happening. I can’t get over that every time I see this. Look at how real that all looks. And yet, at the same time, you’re also aware that it’s animated. I don’t know how they do it, and honestly I don’t care. I just like looking at this short.
Speaking of Photoreal, this is Pixar. I’ve never been overly enamored with the story of the short, which is about a young bird living on the shore that has a traumatic experience with water and is afraid to go near it, but eventually befriends a baby crab and learns to overcome that fear and also fend for itself and find food. It’s cute enough, as far as story goes, but it’s the animation style that really sticks out. Look at how tactile the sand and water in that photo feel. You could almost swear you were looking at the beach in that image. It’s stunning.
Another Google Spotlight story. This one is more in the realm of a sensory experience than a straight plot. It’s more of a free flow, moving from one life form to another, one sound to another, and it’s just a really great experience. There’s a simple beauty to this short that shows that animation doesn’t have to be complex plots and high emotion — sometimes it’s just about creating beautiful art that moves you with nothing more than sound and image.
21. World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts
This is a part two of the World of Tomorrow ‘series’ if you will. If you haven’t seen either of them, trust me, go see them now. The first one will appear further on down the list. They’re both terrific. They’re by Don Hertzfeldt, who has made a career of very offbeat, dark-humored shorts. The two famous ones, for me at least, are Billy’s Balloon and Rejected. What he does here (and I’m speaking broadly about both parts of this story now), is take dialogue recorded spontaneously from his four-year-old niece while she was coloring and edit that into this story, which is about a young girl getting a visit from her future self, who is explaining what things are like in the future and what her life is going to become. So you have this very trippy set of visuals and this older character who is explaining all of this really high-concept futuristic stuff and then the responses are from this child who is saying stuff like, “I like flowers.” It’s absolutely hilarious. This second part doesn’t capture the magic of the first one, but it’s still amazing. Both need to be seen. They’re some of the best shorts we’ve gotten this decade.
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