One of the reasons Netflix has managed to be so successful is that its incredibly deep content library allows it to be a lot of things to a lot of people. It can be your place for fancy British dramas, hard-hitting documentaries, Oscar-nominated movies, and trashy reality shows. One area where Netflix stands apart from its streaming brethren is short films. Over the years, Netflix has shown a commitment to them, and the returns have been good! Way back at the 2017 Oscars, the documentary short film The White Helmet won Netflix its very first Academy Award.
This week Netflix debuts three very different shorts:
From writer-director Hebru Brantley, Erax is a fantasy story about an aunt and her niece who accidentally release a bunch of mythical creatures from a storybook. Jumanji vibes, to be sure, and it stars Hamilton's Jasmine Cephas Jones. (Premieres Thur Feb 17.)
Director Marielle Woods — who most recently hemped a couple episodes of Cobra Kai — brings this queer story about two young lovers whose life together is upended when one's past comes back to haunt them. (Premieres Thur Feb 17.)
Don't Kill Me
An Italian short from director Andrea de Sica (grandson of famed Italian filmmaker Vittorio de Sica) Don't Kill Me is about a 19-year-old woman who dies of an overdose, only to resuscitate and discover that she must eat living humans to survive. (Premieres Monday Feb 21.)
What these three films have in common is that they're all live-action narrative films, which sets them apart from a lot of Netflix's best shorts, since they tend to thrive in the documentary and animation realms. Still, if you were looking to program a Netflix short film festival for yourself, the above three films are a great place to start. Here are some other you may want to consider:
Sure, the Academy Awards aren't the be-all and end-all of filmmaking quality, but they're a pretty good place to start when it comes to the vast world of shorts. This year Netflix is responsible for four of the fifteen Oscar-nominated shorts, three of them documentaries and one animated.
Part sports doc and part human drama, Audible follows the story of the football team at the Maryland School for the Deaf dealing with the tragic loss of a teammate and trying to keep their winning streak active.
Lead Me Home
Co-director Jon Shenk was also responsible for last year's doc Athlete A, about the sexual abuse scandal within U.S. gymnastics. Together with co-director Pedro Kos, Shenk's latest follows homeless people living on the streets of west coast American cities.
Three Songs for Benazir
This Afghan short doc is about a young man with dreams of building a life for him and the woman he loves, although the choices he must make are pretty grim.
From Ardman Animations — the studio behind Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep — comes this heist movie about a robin raised among a family of mice.
Netflix may still be waiting to win the big one in Best Picture, but they've already taken home four Academy Awards in the short film categories over the years. All four have been impactful among Oscar voters, and all have shown that Netflix can use their widely available platform to shine a pretty bright spotlight on their nominated films.
The White Helmets
Netflix's first-ever Oscar win was for this 2016 documentary short which came out within the thick of the Syrian civil war and followed a handful of volunteers for the Syrian Civil Defence who served as first responders on the ground after attacks. The film is, as you can imagine, an intense experience, but as a document about human resilience it's essential.
Period. End of Sentence.
It often feels like the Oscar winners for Best Documentary won a competition to be the most grim, but this film is an exception. It follows a group of women in India who combat the lack of resources for women's health by manufacturing their own sanitary pads. It's both a window into another culture and a political message delivered quite entertainingly.
Two Distant Strangers
Last year's winner for Best Live Action Short generated a lot more conversation than shorts usually do, owing in large part to the film taking on major themes from the 2020 police brutality protests. The film deals with a grim take on a Groundhog Day scenario where a Black man can't find his way around a cop's intent to kill him.
If Anything Happens I Love You
This animated film from directors Will McCormack and Michael Govier is decidedly heavy, presenting — artfully, often beautifully — two grieving parents dealing with the void their daughter has left behind.
Short films are usually where you can look out for talent on the rise, but every now and then you'll get a short from an established master of cinema. Netflix has several of these selections on offer:
Thom Yorke of Radiohead released an album of the same name in 2019, and it was accompanied by a short film directed by none other than Boogie Nights and Licorice Pizza director Paul Thomas Anderson. (Anderson's most recent films have been scored by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, so it's all in the family.) This 15-minute musical short stars Yorke and his girlfriend Dajana Roncione and features cinematography by the great Darius Khondji. The film is dystopian, deeply stylish, and was nominated for a Grammy award in 2020.
What Did Jack Do
David Lynch directs this 17-minute black-and-white film released in 2020, and — true to form — it's deeply bizarre, with Lynch casting himself as a detective interrogating a murder suspect who also happens to be a monkey.
Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.