Monday, March 4, 2013

Top 10 Careers Launched by Oscar Winning Short Films

When most people think about Martin McDonagh, they recall his hilarious, heartfelt and oddly poetic gem In Bruges. Not me. Whenever I see McDonagh – standing confidently in a perfectly tailored suit, sporting spiked white hair – I immediately think of the afternoon a few years ago when I discovered a hilarious, heartfelt and oddly poetic short film called Six Shooter. The film had just won the Oscar for Best Live Action short, and after watching it, it was obvious why. Since his Oscar win, McDonagh has carved out two feature films (one, in my opinion, wildly more successful than the other), making himself a household name in the comedy crime genre.

In addition to McDonagh, here are a handful of other filmmakers who saw great success after winning Oscars for their short films.

Fred Zinnemann
Best Documentary Short, Benjy (1951)
I hope you’ll forgive the fact that the first two winners on the list are minor cheats, but so it goes. Sure, Fred Zinnemann was already well known before winning an Oscar for Benjy. Hell, he was even nominated for Best Director for helming The Search in 1948. Fair enough. But look at his career post-Benjy, and it’s clear that his short film helped launch his massive success, including three additional Oscar wins.

Popular films directed post-Oscar: High Noon, From Here to Eternity, Oklahoma!, The Sundowners, A Man for All Seasons, The Day of the Jackal, Julia

Jacques-Yves Cousteau
Best Live Action Short, The Golden Fish (1959)
Yeah, okay, by 1959, Jacques Cousteau was arguably the most famous oceanographer that had ever lived. But until researching this post, I had no idea the man directed and produced several live action films, eventually leading to an Oscar win. His career flourished pre-Oscar, and would certainly flourish after, but still, Jacques Cousteau, Oscar winner, is pretty badass.

Popular films directed post-Oscar: Mostly oceanic documentaries

Taylor Hackford
Best Live Action Short, Teenage Father (1978)
Mr. Helen Mirren’s win for Teenage Father, helped him land the biopic The Idolmaker, which led to An Officer and a Gentleman, and on and on. I haven’t liked all of Hackford’s films, but the man certainly isn’t afraid to tackle any and all genres. I’ll give him that.

Popular films directed post-Oscar: An Officer and a Gentleman, Dolores Claiborne, The Devil’s Advocate, Proof of Life, Ray

John Lasseter
Best Animated Short, Tin Toy (1988)
Lasseter certainly didn’t become the head of Pixar overnight. Upon graduating from the California Institute of the Arts (where he studied alongside Tim Burton, Brad Bird, and John Musker) Lasseter took a job at Disney, received an Oscar nomination for his animated short, Luxo Jr., before winning for Tin Toy. What has followed is arguably the single most successful career in American movie animation.

Popular films directed post-Oscar: Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, and Cars. (He’s also produced every Pixar feature, including Monster’s, Inc., The Incredibles, WALL·E, Up, Toy Story 3… you get it.)

Steven Wright
Best Live Action Short, The Appointments of Dennis Jennings (1988)
After Wright had gained some acclaim for his tedious and deadpan stand up comedy, he wrote The Appointments of Dennis Jennings to Oscar glory. Since then, Wright hasn’t directed feature films, but rather elevated his status as a comedian, and popped up in films like:

Popular film performances post-Oscar: Reservoir Dogs, Natural Born Killers, Speechless, Half Baked, The Muse, Coffee and Cigarettes

David Frankel
Best Live Action Short, Dear Diary (1996)
David Frankel doesn’t make my kind of movies, but there’s no denying the success he’s had since directing the failed TV pilot, Dear Diary. Networks may not have liked it, but Academy voters ate it up. Well played.

Popular films (and TV shows) directed post-Oscar: From the Earth to the Moon (TV), Band of Brothers (TV), Sex and the City (TV), Entourage (TV), The Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me, Hope Springs

Anders Thomas Jensen
Best Live Action Short, Election Night (Valgaften) (1998)
Jensen may be the most unrecognizable name on this list, but that shouldn’t take away from his cinematic impact. It actually took Jensen three nominations to win an Oscar for Live Action Short, but since his Election Night win, he’s penned one script for Andrea Arnold and several for the amazing Susanne Bier (whose In a Better World won the best Foreign Film Oscar three years ago).

Popular films written post-Oscar: Open Hearts, Brothers, After the Wedding, Red Road, The Duchess, In a Better World

Ray McKinnon
Best Live Action Short, The Accountant (2001)
A noted character actor before winning for The Accountant (which was produced by his friend Walton Goggins, aka the guy who nearly cut Django’s balls off), McKinnon had previously stolen scenes in Bugsy, A Perfect World, The Net, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? Post-Oscar win was merited more of the same, but better still.

Popular performances post-Oscar: Deadwood (TV), Come Early Morning, The Blind Side, Take Shelter, Footloose, Sons of Anarchy (TV)

Andrea Arnold
Best Live Action Short, Wasp (2004)
I love the films of Andrea Arnold. Love them. She has a style that is so in tune to what I appreciate cinematically, there really is not enough praise I can throw her way. Her 10-minute short, Milk was a huge influence on my film Earrings, and her subsequent shorts, Dog and Wasp are both equally accomplished. Thankfully, those three shorts are available on the Fish Tank Criterion, which is a goddamn steal if you ask me.

Popular films directed post-Oscar: Red Road, Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights

Martin McDonagh
Best Live Action Short, Six Shooter (2005)
I hyped McDonagh’s Six Shooter enough in my intro, so don’t take my word for it, watch the film, amusingly starring In Bruges’ Brendan Gleeson, below.

Popular films directed post-Oscar: In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths


  1. That is a good list. I do have those Andrea Arnold shorts in my copy of Fish Tank but haven't found the time to watch them at the moment. Even as I'm intrigued by other feature films that I'm eager to see.

    1. Thanks man. Can't recommend Arnold's shorts enough. You could crush them all out in about an hour. Very raw, very unique. Thanks as always for reading and commenting!

  2. Great list! I remember seeing McDonagh's way back when and thinking, "Wow. That guy's got a future if he gets the write script and cast". I think it's safe to say that it actually happened.

    1. Thanks Dan! It's safe to say that indeed. I wasn't the biggest fan of Seven Psychopaths, but the man definitely has his own tone, which I appreciate.

  3. Thanks for the link to Wasp. I haven't seen it yet, and I've been wanting to. I'm quite a fan of Andrea Arnold since seeing Fish Tank. Now I want to see Milk too, since you said it was a big influence on Earrings. I'm sure you know Earrings has a special place in my heart. ;-) I've seen it about 3 times and liked it better each time.

    I haven't seen most of these shorts, but I did watch Six Shooter. Very powerful.

    1. Ahh your comments always make me smile :)

      I think the only way to see Milk is on the Fish Tank Criterion, but let me tell you, in my opinion, it is damn worth it. I saw Milk durring very early preproduction of Earrings, and I was so inspired by its pain. You would find it truly devastating, for better or worse.

    2. What does it say about me that when you say "you will find it truly devastating" I say "yes, please." I can't seem to resist cinematic misery. I'll add that Criterion Collection movie to my wishlist.

    3. That is why you and I get along so well! Hope you have a chance to see it soon.

    4. "I can't seem to resist cinematic misery ... That is why you and I get along so well!" Ha ha! I was thinking exactly the same thing.

  4. Nice list man. I forgot about Fred Zinnemann and Anders Thomas Jensen winning. Knew Andrea Arnold would make it, but I'm so glad it launched her career. I need to watch Wasp on my Fish Tank DVD, but I agree with you on Milk. It's my favorite Arnold short. Can't wait to see Wuthering Heights, whenever they decide to release it on DVD.

    1. So glad to hear you're an Arnold fan, I really love all of her work. Milk is my favorite Arnold film, short or feature length. That one really hit me hard. Thought is was remarkable.