Movie Reviews

31 Days Short Film for January

Brighten up the dark days of winter with this collection of compelling one-a-day shorts – from big-name directors such as Jane Campion to Beyoncé and Chris Ware

January can feel like the longest month: a full 31-dayer to begin with, of course, but also inordinately stretched by its sense of constant renewal. New resolutions to be kept, new standards to be met, new taxes to be filed – and that’s before we factor in Omicron, which looks set to make it an especially testing start to the year. All in all, it’s a good time to investigate new ways to entertain ourselves and nourish our minds.

Cue the 31-day short film diet, a sequel to last January’s much-loved literary diet. This one-a-day starter pack – to form a different, more pleasurable kind of new year habit – is aimed at enriching our lives, not depriving it of small joys. Most of us don’t think of ourselves as regular watchers of short films per se, though we can be without realising it: what is a YouTube cat video, after all, if not a short film of some description?

We’ve kept to a broad remit in defining short films for this collection. Some are cinematic by design, others made by and for mobile phones. There are works by big-name film-makers such as David Lynch and Lynne Ramsay, while viral stars such as Mufasa feature alongside musical headliners including Beyoncé and Thom Yorke.

High contrast is the goal: if you feel disoriented transitioning from an animated Nazi-hunter thriller one day to an ebullient viral dance video the next, all the better to keep you on your toes.

What the shorts do have in common, we hope, is a certain spirit-lifting sensibility. They’re not all necessarily feelgood or inspirational in the conventional sense (though some, like the Netflix triumph-over-adversity doc Zion, certainly meet that brief), but they all offer a stimulating dose of beauty, invention, expansive thinking or occasional concentrated joy. We’ve tried to stick to free content – though some require a Netflix subscription or trial, or a free sign-up to Vimeo – and to steer away from outright downers, but themes of loss, prejudice and the climate are woven through in unexpected ways. Happy watching, and happy new year.

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21 January
The Man Without a Head (Juan Solanas, 18 mins)
So, it’s New Year’s Day, you might be feeling a tad delicate, and what you need is a soothing bit of beautiful whimsy to ease into 2022. Argentine director Juan Solanas’s unexpectedly tender, retro-futuristic mini-romance is just the ticket, despite its seemingly morbid premise of a headless man seeking love and self-completion. Turns out the head isn’t everything.

22 January
Taking Stock (Duncan Cowles, 4 mins)

At a loose end professionally, an aspiring documentary film-maker resolves to make an easy buck by shooting stock footage – while drolly talking us through his fraying state of mind. A witty dedication to any creatives and freelancers who aren’t where they want to be in life, and resonant to everyone experiencing the “what am I doing?” January blues.

23 January
Anima (Paul Thomas Anderson, 15 mins)
Paul Thomas Anderson, whose new film, Licorice Pizza, hits cinemas in January, has long dabbled in music-video directing, making striking clips for the likes of Fiona Apple and Haim. But this Netflix-produced collaboration with Thom Yorke is his most polished and haunting effort in the medium, an overnight Prague dream odyssey from Orwellian dystopia to gentle human contact.

24 January
The Cat Piano (Eddie White and Ari Gibson, 9 mins)
TS Eliot died on this day in 1965, and while this beguiling Australian animation isn’t a direct tribute to him, one suspects the poet of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats would have been charmed by this verse-based, Nick Cave-narrated imagining of the decadent, jazz-hip nightlife of our feline friends. If these guys had made Cats, it might have all worked out.

25 January
The Kármán Line (Oscar Sharp, 25 mins)

This Bafta-nominated short finds an initially absurd but strangely moving metaphor for the gradual wrench of terminal disease, as Olivia Colman’s middle-class housewife is struck with a rare condition that causes her to lift off the ground at an ever-increasing, irreversible rate. But that’s not the only uplift infusing proceedings: there’s beauty amid the devastation.

26 January
The Driver Is Red (Randall Christopher, 15 mins)

Animation doesn’t seem like the obvious medium for a documentary short about the 1960 capture of on-the-run Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, but with its sharp, austere ink-sketch aesthetic, this gripping mini-thriller proves otherwise. The visuals convey a suitable sense of subterfuge, but also the fragility of history, vulnerable to fading and being redrawn.

27 January
Mufasa’s Friday Dance (Mufasa and Hypeman, 1 min)
Like it or not, social media dance videos have become their own generational art form, amplified by TikTok during the pandemic – though many of them are now so polished and rehearsed that they lose their sense of fun. Scruffily shot, this early viral example explodes with manic, elated energy, inviting chronic repeat viewing. Your weekend starts here.

28 January
Brown Skin Girl (Beyoncé and Jenn Nkiru, 6 mins)

Beyoncé upended the form of the music video with her recent series of visual albums, merging art, activism and the simple pleasures of a good bop. Exquisitely conceived by the singer herself and British artist Nkiru, this celebratory 2020 ode to the power and pride in black and brown skin is the most joyful thing she’s made in ages.

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