We’re approaching our year-end list differently this year. From 2013-2018, we gave out Best Of awards in several different categories (i.e. Best Film, Best Performance, Best Editing), but this year we’re simplifying and moving away from the term “Best.” 2019 was another record year for us - we posted 232 movies, conducted over 200 filmmaker interviews, and hosted 6 sold out screenings/parties in Brooklyn. Here are 19 films we’d like to designate as our NoBudge Short Films of the Year, films that resonated in a new way, introduced an exciting new voice, or were most representative of the NoBudge mission. Note: All films that were released on NoBudge this year were eligible, even if they were made in years past. We screened 7 feature films this year, which were not eligible for this list. Also, not all films that were originally on this list are still available to view on our platform. See below for full list.
The Zambia Space Academy prepares to launch a rocket in the hopes of beating the Americans to the moon. A fictionalized film inspired by real events, Nuotama Frances Bodomo’s “Afronauts” is an expressionistic tale of grand aspirations, bursting with style, scrappiness, and raw feeling. It originally premiered at Sundance 2014 but hasn’t been available online until earlier this year, and it holds up as one of the most striking short films of the last five years.
ALLEN ANDERS - LIVE AT THE COMEDY CASTLE (CIRCA 1987)
The fever dream of a 1980s stand-up comic who is either having a nervous breakdown or the best set of his life. Directed by Laura Moss, and written and performed by Tony Grayson (director of this), “Allen Anders - Live at the Comedy Castle (circa 1987)” is an ingenious sendup of a dated comedy special, darkly hilarious and thoroughly unsettling. Shot with a period authentic broadcast camera, delivered on glitching VHS, the film is built around a bravura performance by Grayson, perfectly mimicking the rhythm, mannerisms and confidence of a hack comedian trapped in a loop of existential dread.
THINGS THAT HAPPEN
A musician, a YouTuber, and a Tik Tok star battle their egos and depression in “Things That Happen,” an urgent new drama by Bobby McCoy. Filled with style and momentum, this disturbing depiction of young adults (or old kids) lost in a vapid and cruel media landscape tracks three young characters through the fantasy worlds of fame and influence. An up-to-the-minute portrayal of millennial cynicism and hopelessness.
On a weekend getaway, a young couple deals with a birth control mishap. Emily Ann Hoffman directs and animates “Nevada,” a meticulously crafted stop-motion relationship drama about partnership and life expectations, as well as more practical concerns like who pays for the Plan B. Hoffman improbably achieves a realistic sense of intimacy and tender-heartedness from acrylic/latex puppets combined with the naturalistic voice acting and spot-on attention to detail.
READY FOR LOVE
Told entirely through audition tapes sent into the TV dating show, “The Bachelor,” “Ready for Love” is a profound character study of our times, funny but also surprisingly heartbreaking, about the dreams and delusions of an average American woman searching for the thing she’s been told exists - the perfect man. Co-director Lauren McCune stars as Amber and the film rests entirely on her shoulders, a lively and tender, and ultimately devastating performance.
UNFINISHED, 2017 (MIXED MEDIA)
On the verge of multiple breakdowns, a New York artist faces her greatest fear: to stop making art. “Unfinished, 2017 (Mixed Media),” by director Rafael Salazar Moreno, captures a pivotal moment in the life of Elena, a woman of passion and contradiction caught in an onslaught of financial instability and diminishing career opportunity. A disorientating, frustrating, soul-sapping journey told with verve and raw emotion.
THE INCONCEIVABLE MOUNTAIN
A musicologist and her dog climb a mountain in search of an indecipherable song hoping to understand its meaning. Daniel Witkin directs “The Inconceivable Mountain,” which registers both as an homage and a satire of black and white silent films of the 1930’s. Beautifully executed with a rare combination of cinematic reverence, and strange comic beats that spill into parody.
A woman momentarily evades her discontent by adopting a stranger's identity. “Catherine,” by director Jake Kolton, is a stunning slow burn character portrait built around a masterful performance from Mascha Mareen and sumptuous Super 16mm images from Cory Fraiman-Lott. A transfixing study of personal existential crisis.
RALPH STYLES ULTRA
A faithfully recreated 1970s cigarettes advertisement unspools into a surreal satire on melodramatic marketing. “Ralph Styles Ultra,” by director Nic fforde, is an exquisitely-realized mockup complete with period-perfect performances, music, art design, costuming, and hair and make up. What could have easily become a one-note parody twists into an arousing tale of lust and jealousy, absurdly comic yet impossible to look away from.
Emilia and Martina have always been inseparable, but when their cousins come over on a hot summer day, Emilia learns that her sister's priorities might be changing. Victoria Rivera’s “Verde” is a beautifully observed coming-of-age story of sisterhood and loss of innocence. Bright and natural, and able to plunge deep into the insecurities and hurt of youth.
GOOD GIRL JANE
This immersive drama from director Sarah Elizabeth Mintz is a disturbing portrait of drug abuse that uses a fractured timeline and volatile character shifts to paint a picture of bleak disarray. Authentically grim performances from Rachelle Vinberg and Travis Tope, and assured direction from Mintz throws us into the muck, never providing easy answers, and never giving an easy escape.
THE PERSON I AM WHEN NO ONE IS LOOKING
Kailee McGee, the online persona, sets out to discover Kailee McGee, the real person, in this funny and soul-searching self-portrait of a L.A. filmmaker in flux. A film about identity, and the simultaneous quests for attention and authenticity, “The Person I Am When No One Is Looking” uses a sharply meta foundation to arrive in unexpectedly emotional territory. Cemented with a stirring dance finale, a cathartic exhale of all the toxic fumes our modern age and ego require us to breath in.
In Atlantic City on a lonely night, two strangers cross paths and share the evening together. A soulful 16mm portrait of two men and their unlikely connection, by director Chris Osborn, “True Blue” draws its characters perhaps as symbols of a faded American dream, but does so with complexity and warmth. David Warshofsky and Michael James Shaw are both riveting performers and the film built around them registers as a sad romance, to lost people and a lost place, filmed in beautifully textured images by cinematographer Jeff Melanson.
In Los Angeles, a young man working as a doumi - a host/hostess who entertains clients in private karaoke rooms - encounters a strange request. “Koreatown,” directed by Grant Hyun, is a stylish drama full of controlled tension and striking neon visuals. Hyun has a keen sense of atmosphere-building and he crafts a transfixing character study with great performances and evocative tunes.
TOO LONG AT THE FAIR
Charlie and Val, best friends and owners of a fledgling Princess Party business in L.A., meet a charming divorcee and spend the day together. “Too Long at the Fair,” directed by and starring Jessie Barr and Lena Hudson, is a playful yet complex dramedy about a spontaneous connection that unexpectedly lands in provocative territory as it tackles its themes of friendship, failure, divorce and sexual fetish.
A fourteen year-old girl on her last day before high school navigates the juncture between childhood and adolescence. Daiva Žalnieriunas directs “Farewell Winona,” a textured coming-of-age drama that vividly captures a place - rural Canada - and a period of innocence right before things start to turn complicated. Told with immediacy and sensitivity, carried by great performances and rich visuals.
A woman lusts after a marble statue, but has to settle for her human boyfriend. “Medusa,” by director India Donaldson, is a provocative but playful exploration of desire and objects of affection. Perfectly attuned to subtle shifts in behavior and mood, and led by wonderful performances from Hilary Ives and Rudy Mungaray.
Suffering a loss, a woman finds a mysterious book on a subway platform and with it fights to get control of her life. “Leaving Hope,” by director Caspar Newbolt, is an enigmatic drama shot in gorgeous black & white concerning the messy emotional state of Laine, and the lengths she goes to reestablish well-being, personal and financial.
After a devastating break-up, a guilt-ridden amateur singer seeks solace through a series of encounters with prospective partners. “Molly’s Single,” by director Ariel Gardner, is a brutal, hawk-eyed assessment of the state of affairs between young women and men, specifically of the aspiring artist variety.