Ranking The Short Films Oscar Winners of the 2010s-Best Live Action Short
One of the ways that you can help determine the right short films to watch is through well-curated content. If it’s not a particular site then it’s through a particular list or a ranking. Another way to tell the best from the rest is what films and filmmakers walk away with the major awards this year. With COVID-19 cancelling or sideling many of the major cinema events of 2020, this is harder to do.
So we decided to go back to the biggest short content awards of them all – the Oscars! Our final category, and largely considered the most popular of them all, is Best Live Action Short. This is a tough category to rank, in particular because of how strong a selection of films we have to choose from. Each one also offers a unique look at different parts of the world, different cultures and different experiences.
When it comes to the Oscar-winning Live Action shorts, we offer a few of them to watch right now!
Without further ado, here’s our official ranking Best Live Action Short film of the 2010s, ranked!
10. Helium, dir. Anders Walter
“Helium” is an anomaly on this list for being a live-action short with many animated elements. The short tells the story of a dying boy who imagines a fantasy realm as a way to cope with his reality. While the story is rather ambitious, especially in its decision to take us to some of these imaginative realms, director Anders Walter often seems like he’s biting off more material than he can chew in a 23-minute runtime.
The animation is fairly impressive for the budget, though they often rely on darkness and shadow to obscure elements. In the end, the film ratchets up some pretty intense melodrama, which will work for some audiences and not for others.
While “Helium” attempts to soar to new heights very few short films try to, it mostly feels better suited for a feature length format.
9. The Shore, dir. Terry George
While the winner the year before, “God of Love,” was strongest in its script and its performance (particularly on a presumably shoestring budget), 2011’s winner, “The Shore,” stands out best for its high production value and epic expanse.
This film takes place in beautiful Northern Ireland. Its main writer/director, Terry George, is known for having a very prestigious Hollywood career, making many recognizable titles. Now he brings that sense of space and place to an otherwise intimate drama of brothers, starring Ciarán Hinds, an equally legendary talent.
Unfortunately, some of the film’s other elements – like the score – often works against the film’s dramatic power, cheapening the overall effect. In the end, the film doesn’t bring the kind of vital energy seen in some of the other winning shorts this decade, but it is worth visiting for the spectacle and talent.
8. Sing, dir. Kristóf Deák
“Sing” is a unique short in that it relies on an ensemble cast to tell the power of its story. This powerful story of social solidarity follows a Hungary girls’ choir that is forced to make a tough choice when it is discovered that the teacher is trying to silence one girl whose voice she does not believe is good enough.
While the 25-minute film takes time to warm up, the most interesting part of it – outside of the intriguing moral conundrum at its heart – is the time it spends with the excellent children performances. All young actors here are excellent and given plenty of camera time to show their expertise in acting.
This is also a well-edited film (edited by Mano Csillag) that uses music, and silence in the climax, to thrilling effect. While it may not be among the best on this list, “Sing” is a very admirable short with strong performances and a great message.
7. Curfew, dir. Shawn Christensen
The win of “Curfew” in 2012 first introduced us to the talented mind of Shawn Christensen. A writer, director, singer-songwriter, Christensen has proven himself successful in this business in many ways.
When it comes to the premise, we’ve seen this story before. A man at the end of his rope is asked to take care of a young girl, who has the smarts and passion of a grown adult. Along the way, the two grow to build the kind of connection only cinema can provide.
What makes this short really stand out is the chances it takes. The film opens, for example, with our main character cutting himself in the bathtub, only to receive the desperate phone call from his sister about taking care of the little girl. This sort of darkness runs throughout, but what also confirms this short’s greatness is its beautiful cinematography. Shot in a wide Cinemascope-esque framing, the otherwise intimate story feels like a David Lean epic. It’s a troubling, raw and uncomfortable look at family relations. Christensen also plays the lead and brings an organic honesty and a depth that can be hard to find in short film performances.
It also inspired the feature-length Before I Disappear starring Emily Rossum.
An idiosyncratic winner from this decade, but a strong one nonetheless.
6. The Silent Child, dir. Chris Overton and Rachel Shenton
Aside from the contents of the film itself, it’s important to note how much a breakthrough this short film was. It finally gave voice to the deaf and mute community, culminating in an emotional Oscar speech in sign language upon the film’s win. It allowed other girls, like the 6-year-old Libby, to see themselves represented on screen in a big way.
Outside of its major influence, the film’s story delivers a decent story backed by great performances. We come to feel for Libby right away, as we see that her family doesn’t understand and doesn’t try to. Then comes the social worker/teacher (Rachel Shenton) whose empathy shines through like a ray of light.
Perhaps most shocking is its rather depressing ending, showing that the co-directors chose to go with a more realistic (and sadly so) depiction of what would happen to a girl like Libby. While the film’s end credits make it feel a little too much like a PSA, the rest of the film is moving and emotional in all the right places.
You can watch “The Silent Child” on Miniflix right now!
5. Skin, dir. Guy Nattiv
“Skin” is easily the most controversial short film winner of the decade. Coming right at the forefront of a time when race relations in the United States of American were being thoroughly examined, discussed and lived out, Guy Nattiv’s explosive short takes us into the mind of a boy growing up in a racist white culture.
What follows in the film can be uncomfortable to watch, with acts of hate turning violent and gruesome. One thing that no one can deny about the film, whether they like it or not, is its ability to keep you guessing. You’re never quite sure who is going to end up getting the last word, and as the race-motivated atrocities pile up, the short moves towards an inevitably sad, ironic and poignant finale.
The performances across the board are extremely compelling – one can’t deny that the scenes feel all too real. This film may ultimately have its shortcomings, but it’s clear that Nattiv was very much trying to say something.
4. God of Love, dir. Luke Matheny
The 2010s decade in this category got off to a very strong start in “God of Love.” Written, directed by and starring Luke Matheny, this cute, irreverent and multi-layered romantic comedy would start a career that continues to shine (director behind TV shows like “Maron”). This student short (winner of a Student Academy Award as well) was what started things off for him, though.
“God of Love” feels very much of its time, comparing to 2009’s 500 Days of Summer as an example of a smart and oftentimes ironic depiction of young romance. This short really captured the off-kilter awkwardness of young love that would continue to be perfected throughout the decade in other films and television shows.
The choice to lens this in black-and-white, along with some other strong formal choices, positions this film as much an inheritor of the 1970s Woody Allen films or the gritty noirs of the 40s and 50s.
It also has an endearingly goofball premise (a lounge-singing darts champion falls in love) with some surprising results. Overall, this is an excellent entry and a nice contrast to the very serious winners that would come afterwards.
3. The Neighbors’ Window, dir. Marshall Curry
We’ve admittedly covered the most recent Oscar-winner a lot, including an interview with its director. Yet we did so for good reason. First, it’s an incredibly rich genre short, combining Hitchcockian thriller plotlines with the twist of an O. Henry short story. Throughout, the film is punctuated by moments of joy, of humor, of passion, and ultimately of great sorrow.
No one short film on this list moved so effortlessly between emotions scene to scene.
The central performances must also be mentioned here (Maria Dizzia and Greg Keller), their chemistry and complex relationship going much deeper than most shorts allow time for.
Perhaps most surprising is that this was made by Marshall Curry as a followup to a completely different type of film – an archival short documentary (and an excellent one at that). This was Curry’s first narrative film, and we sure hope it’s not his last!
2. Stutterer, dir. Benjamin Cleary
If we had to pick one short film that managed the best balance between levity and seriousness, it’d have to go to this infinitely entertaining short, “Stutterer.” Benjamin Cleary, director of the equally-amazing “Wave,” uses the brisk 12 minute running time of “Stutterer” to take us deep into the psychology of its main character, sympathizing – then empathizing – with the level of trauma over not being able to speak as everyone else around him.
You feel it all – the claustrophobia, the paranoia and the sadness. Yet this is weighed against genuinely humorous moments, like when the main character is silently making snap judgements of passersby. Propulsing the film’s plot is a sweet love story that reminds one of a Chaplin film in its silence and sincerity.
An excellent short that never takes itself too seriously – you’ll want to watch it again as soon as it’s over.
1.The Phone Call, dir. Matt Kirkby
No other Oscar-nominated or Oscar-winning short film this decade really compares in prestige to the 2014 winner about a suicide hotline.
Starring not just an Oscar-winner (Jim Broadbent) but also an Oscar nominee (Sally Hawkins), this dramatic two-hander does just about everything right for a short film. The setting is often confined to lonely rooms, while the stakes are established early on as life and death.
There’s a man wanting to commit suicide talking to a phone operator. Kirby directs every moment with restraint and patience, letting the central conversation scene play out so as to increase the dramatic tension.
The two leads, of course, deliver exceptional performances, bringing so much depth and complexity to characters we hardly know at all. The ending is moving and equally understated as the rest of the film.
“The Phone Call” is one of the best shorts of the decade not just because of its A-list names but because of the incredibly well-executed story and filmmaking that fits around it.
You can watch “The Phone Call” on Miniflix right now.
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