I watched over 500 shorts this year, give or take. That’s no different from 2017, 2016, or any of the five years before that. You know what was different? The number of those 500 that broke form. From Caron Clancy’s unflinchingly odd and wonderfully jarring My Show to Matt Barats and Anthony Oberbeck’s acid trip Reveries to Bobby McCoy’s tri-paned Cool Ass Dank Ass Shit, the creators who shone brightest this year were those who did something different. They recognized that the world of web video has changed and is continuing to change. Simply making digital shorts is no longer novel. Just look at all the impromptu shutterings of streaming apps promising to champion new voices and media conglomerates who’d done just that for years … before now. Scary stuff, but we will not lose hope. This is evolution.
So, too, must we evolve.
In years past, we’ve recapped and repackaged only content we’d covered over the preceding 11 months and some-odd weeks. This year, we’re doing that, and also featuring new work we’ve missed, because we are unashamed to embrace our staggering fallibility in an ecosystem where there are so many talented people figuring out new ways to get their respective dues. Now, enjoy five looks backward, and five looks now … wards.
Oh, and happy holidays!
Five We Hit
5. Flip the Script, by Ally Iseman, Joey Ally, Deena Adar, and Kai Collins
Every single episode in Ally Iseman, Joey Ally, Deena Adar, and Kai Collins’s Flip the Script — the Women in Film–championed wake-up call to Hollywood misogyny — was based on a true event women experienced at the hands of men. From stealing ideas and passing them off as their own to demanding that the lead in an otherwise well-crafted film be more fuckable if it was ever going to get off the ground, the true stories that inspired Flip the Script’s four-episode catalogue were, you guessed it, flipped, and delivered by women playing the factually male roles. The result is both fun and very depressing.
4. Dreamer, by Eddie Mujica and Chris Sturgeon
I ran into Chris Sturgeon this year at a film festival. He approached me and thanked me for writing a piece on Dreamer. “Of course,” I told him. “I really loved it.” I’d pegged it as a festival standout from the jump and was sure he was at this fest to collect a smattering of awards that surely came from its screening. I was wrong. He was there with another project, and much to my surprise, Dreamer hadn’t garnered the kind of response I, or he, expected. No matter — it should’ve. Mujica’s timely concept and Sturgeon’s methodical direction provided a winning commentary on issues of Latinx identity and have left an indelible mark worth celebrating. That last reveal?!
3. Branchburg, by Daniel O’Hare, Brendan O’Hare, and Cory Snearowski
Branchburg may well have been the most innovative short of the year. Really, it was a series of shorts, a compilation of the kind of video interstitials any sketch group would froth at the mouth to play in between setups at their live show. With this rumination on suburban life, O’Hare, O’Hare, and Snearowski offered an ode to low-budget filmmaking juiced from some sort of futuristic three-way mind meld between the Duplass brothers and Matt Groening.
2. Weird Movies, by Steven Markow and Felipe Di Poi Tamargo
I’ve watched this video more than any other on our list this year. Something about its mix of unforgettable joke specifics, schizophrenic composition, and haunting animation made it so that I felt compelled to share it with anyone who would watch. At just 30 seconds, Markow and Di Poi Tamargo have managed a staying power that justifies short-form content and provides a strong counter to anyone who equates ultraquick video with Gen-Z Snapchat mindlessness.
1. Astronomy Club, by Shawtane Bowen, Jonathan Braylock, Ray Cordova, Caroline Martin, Jerah Milligan, Monique Moses, James III, and Keisha Zollar
Comedy Central Digital’s six-episode foray into the warm waters of Astronomy Club was as close to web-series perfection as we saw this year. That’s especially impressive in an age where network digital-series orders may be harder than ever to come by. Amid hot competition, Astronomy Club’s eponymous contribution was as deft as it was boundary-pushing. Not many creators could’ve toggled with such ease between a slave-ship sketch that saw a horny captive ignoring the horrors of his situation to make advances at a nearby woman, and a down-the-middle infomercial that introduced us to an unscrupulous funeral hustler named Dookie.
Five We Missed
5. Jamie’s Car, by Austin Tolin
Austin Tolin already got a column shout-out this year with his Detective Calzone. Still, we couldn’t help but elevate Jamie’s Car past the mere mention provided in that piece. It’s too quick, too dumb, too exemplative of Byron Brown’s untapped talents. Now, there’s no timely commentary here, no earth-shattering contribution to our collective consciousness. It’s just a guy in a car, dressed in all teal, inquiring about the hiring process at a restaurant called Mama Fu’s while he sips on a teal flask. Consider it a palate cleanser before headier brews, or just consider it.
4. If Men Had Periods, It Wouldn’t Be Gross, by Cynthia Kao
Okay, we really missed this one. By three years. This Cynthia Kao–written and directed jam features Colton Dunn annihilating a sidewalk cypher about his … flow, Josh Covitt giving Wayland McQueen some time off from work for his time of the month, and many other little gems. While musings about the very real gender inequalities that could be exposed in hypothetical situations in which men become women (and vice versa) aren’t totally novel today (look no further than Flip the Script), they were pretty few and far between in the digital video scene a few years back. Old or not, Kao’s contribution has managed a specific commentary on the sex of “cool” here that I’ve yet to see anyone match.
3. The Loneliest Boy Band, by Natalie Falt and Arne Gjelten
With their attention to small, heartbreaking human moments, and daring yet restrained treatment of our titular subject, Natalie Falt and Arne Gjelten introduce us to a man (Gjelten) we believe is as real as the ‘N Sync–inspired dance moves he performs on sidewalks in between attempts at finding love online. Much like Jordan Firstman’s Call Your Father, The Loneliest Boy Band is unforgettable as much for its droll comedy as for its throat-knotting portrayal of despair.
2. Metta World Teeth, by Jesse Lamar High and Nik Harper
Commercial and music-video directors Jesse Lamar High and Nik Harper should do more comedy. Inspired by a Lakers locker-room interview from 2011 wherein Metta World Peace (a.k.a. Ron Artest) launches into a pontification on God’s foresight in creating adult teeth, the duo made a short that’s equal parts Drunk History and Kanye West album art. Whoa, that’s a lot to unpack. And it’s worth every goddamned second you give it. As you watch, please remember: These are all real things Metta really said. He was asked about neither baby nor adult teeth at any point during the interview that serves as this short’s source material.
1. War for Dogs, by Felipe Di Poi Tamargo
We had to bring him back. This time, we’re celebrating one of Felipe Di Poi Tamargo’s solo efforts, in which he animates, directs, and voices the entire short. In doing so, Di Poi Tamargo shows any skeptics that the Vimeo Staff Pick awarded to Weird Movies was far from a fluke. In this post-dog-pocalyptic story about a society that has done away with all canines, is warring over who may’ve exterminated them, and also doesn’t even really know what dogs are, Di Poi Tamargo establishes himself as something of a visionary. Of any feature on this list, War for Dogs may represent filmmaking innovation in its most memorable form.