Before you write your next short, check out this list of great short films that were made in the 90s. This era is interesting right now because some of the best filmmakers today got their start making shorts in the 90s. A couple of these shorts even became features in their own right, kickstarting some seriously big careers.
Bottle Rocket (1992) – Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket was the screen debut of little-known brothers Owen and Luke Wilson. Filmed in stylish black and white, Wes Anderson finds comedy and yet also deep human empathy in two clueless young men trying to find excitement in life by attempting to be high flying criminals. Its sarcastic humour and offbeat style doesn’t represent the modern Wes Anderson we know and love, but it demonstrates the same interest in whimsy and incongruous action that work so well in his more famous films. It finally screened at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival. Its juxtaposition of stylish crime and deprecating comedy wowed James L. Brooks, big-time producer as well as developer of The Simpsons, which led to a feature film. Although unsuccessful at the box office, Anderson’s debut Bottle Rocket remains his most criminally underrated work, although Martin Scorsese listed it as one of his favourite films of the 1990s.
The Waiters (1993) – Ken Webb
Ken Webb, a student at NYU Tisch School of the Arts made this film as part of his film school thesis. He collaborated with members of a comedy troupe called the New Group, which later became the State, which later had its own MTV series. Written by Thomas Lennon and starring Joe Lo Truglio, this film represents everything good about student film, wonderfully bending structure and narrative into a weird, hilarious and artful film that was a finalist at the Student Academy Awards. It’s a film that is literally about waiting, and this universal human experience is presented in many different paradigms, to humourous and yet touching effect. Ken Webb is the only director on this list that hasn’t had a hugely successful directorial career (to be honest, the only non-auteur), having become a lecturer, although it seems he has delved back into directing more recently.
Cigarettes & Coffee (1993) – Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson already made The Dirk Diggler Story (the basis for Boogie Nights) as a 17-year-old in 1988, because life is unfair, but after dropping out of film school, he made Cigarettes & Coffee (busted, Jim Jarmusch), starring future PTA-regular and Seinfeld alumnus Philip Baker Hall. A Robert Altman style story of how many characters are connected by a $20 bill, the film screened at Sundance and formed the basis of Anderson’s debut feature Hard Eight (1996), starring Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson. The film already demonstrates PTA’s signature visual style, with a steady but fast moving camera, large cast and substitute father figures. He apparently financed the film mostly on his film school money as well as gambling winnings. Unfortunately Youtube only has a low res VHS rip.
Small Deaths (1996) – Lynne Ramsey
Lynne Ramsey’s graduation project from the National Film & Television School was Small Deaths, a series of vignettes demonstrating the staggered corrosion of innocence of a Scottish girl. It’s a quiet, nuanced film, with Ramsey’s own niece playing the little girl. Like The Waiters, it’s a film that structurally works well in short form, in this case providing a moving portrayal of external occurrences shaping the mind of a girl. It was screened at Cannes and widely acclaimed, helping to kickstart Ramsey’s career as a unique directing force.
Doodlebug (1997) – Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan made a number of short films for the film society at UCL, before making his no-budget feature breakthrough Following in 1998, regularly cited as an example of high quality films made on extremely low budgets. Like that feature, Nolan shoots Doodlebug on 16mm in high contrast black and white, with Following’s Jeremy Theobald starring as a man whose sanity is slowly crumbling before his eyes as he tries to squash an elusive bug. Doodlebug is a perfect example of Nolan’s preoccupation with mind bending mystery and twists, as well as his unique practical ability to create remarkable, believable scenes on a low budget.