Each year around this time, all across Los Angeles, teams of filmmakers compete to make the best short film in just 48 Hours for the official 48 Hour Film Holiday Project. Every team is assigned a genre, a prop, a character and a line of dialogue which must be included in the finished movie, as well as a holiday such as Christmas, Thanksgiving or Halloween. The film judged best of the competition moves on to compete at the annual Filmapalooza event where the best 48 Hour film of the global competition is crowned.
This season, Los Angeles held its shooting weekend on November 4-6, 2016. Nearly thirty teams entered the competition, with twenty-five movies ultimately playing the two screening dates. Of those twenty-five films, seven were turned in late and are therefore not eligible for the judged competition… but they are eligible for my “best of” list!
Before I get into it, my hats off to all of the teams who participated. I know how incredibly difficult and challenging it can be to make a film in such a limited amount of time, having participated in ten 48 Hour Film Project competitions myself. Congratulations to everyone who contributed to any of the films that played this year’s festival. Narrowing the list to just ten films was not easy. Some very good movies had to be left off the list.
On that note, I should also say that I’ve excluded my team’s film from the rankings. If you’re curious about what we created in 48 hours this year, I recommend you go visit the official Facebook page for the Team Crowned Prince Productions entry: Three Point Tony
Here then, are my top 10 favorite movies from the 2016 Los Angeles 48 Hour Film Holiday Project!
#10.) The Clock on the Wall by Michael A. Bina and Team Stage 2 Media
Genre: Fish Out of Water
Holiday: Valentine’s Day
Two men argue and say their bitter goodbyes in this heartfelt breakup movie with a twist. A subtle sound design and solid performances from its small cast make this the most sincere drama of the competition.
#9.) THRESHOLD by Silvia Epure and Team VOXX STUDIOS
Easily among the most visually arresting films of the competition, Threshold depicts a secret nightmare world of violent assimilation while playing with themes of gender and sexual politics. Definitely a movie to watch more than once!
#8.) Elf-Improvement by Alex Kamb and Team Cali Mindset
Holiday: New Year’s
Two bad elves get creepy revenge on Santa’s favorite elf in this hilarious story of X-Mas comeuppance that straddles a fine line between awkward and absurd. According to IMDb, the film was shot in Massachusetts and is one of eleven movies directed by Alex Kamb in 2016! It’s totally legal to make your film in another city as long as one person on the team is available to pick up and drop off in the competition city, and I for one love to see it. Of course I love it all the more when the movie is this good. My vote for the funniest movie of the competition.
#7.) The Red Circle Society by Lila Baghzouz and Team Demi-Drôle
Holiday: 4th of July
Three victims of misfortune are invited into a secret society whereby they’re granted the ultimate chance at revenge in this supernatural morality tale about the choice between good and evil. A shoe-in for best ensemble cast, but also a stylishly directed thriller and an interesting script. Expect quite a few nominations and wins from this one!
#6.) Satan’s Valentine by Dan Koontz and Team Quality Pictures International
Genre: Silent Film
Holiday: Valentine’s Day
Satan summons the most evil people in the world to compete for a special valentine in Hell, in this eye-popping black and white homage to silent horror and German Expressionism, with a direct nod to Häxan (1922). I love this movie, and I dare say this may be my all-time favorite “silent” film of all the 48 Hour Film Projects I’ve seen.
#5.) We’re Elves by Collin Insley and Team Digital Natives
Genre: Road Movie
This was the surprise film of the fest for me. A breezy, funny and wholly likeable Christmas stoner comedy about Elves on a road trip to Santa. My pick for best use of prop!
#4.) All In by Frank Mohler and Team Slushpile Entertainment
Holiday: 4th of July
A workaholic comic strip artist is neglecting his family’s holiday picnic when his creation – a smart alecky cat with a gruff demeanor – comes to life on the page to explain what’s truly important in life. An impressive charmer that deserves to win best use of character. (And probably an armful of other awards too.)
#3.) The Pilgrimage by Nathaniel Nauert and Team Red Vines Productions
My favorite of the late films, by far. Had this been delivered on time, it’d surely have taken home plenty of awards, especially best ensemble cast and quite possibly best screenplay or even best picture. The girls of an all-girl college are trying to hide a love-struck boyfriend without being caught by an authoritarian nun and watchful security guard. Much laughs, suspense and charm ensue. Seek out this crowd pleaser if it shows up online or at a festival near you.
#2.) Cookie Monsters by Travis Greene and Team Scuzzo Productions
A murder investigation takes a shocking turn in this delightful mystery/drama about two little girls, their Santa-suited father, and a mother who definitely had a few too many egg nogs this holiday season. Quite possibly the best film of the fest, but certainly the most satisfying in terms of story.
#1.) Don’t Knock the Hustle by James McCune and Team Bad & Classic
Genre: Buddy Film
This noirish Christmas caper centers on two criminals who follow a femme fatale’s hot lead and wind up crashing the big crime boss’s holiday poker game. If you’ve ever seen Across 110th Street (1972), then you know where it’s all going… but it’s a neck-twisting, entertaining ride the whole way there.
Honorable mention to three very close runner up films, all of which were selected by the judges for the “Best Of” screening and all of which narrowly missed a spot on my top ten list: Secret Valentine by Sherry Berg and Team Go Go Guppie Productions, Love is a Narwhal by Bryan Forrest and Team Iron Relic Entertainment, and Thanksgiving Hush by Jim Martyka and Team Hold For Plane Pictures!
Many of the above mentioned films are playing on Sunday, December 4th, 2016 at the “Best Of” LA 48 Hour Film Holiday Project Award’s Screening and Ceremony in Burbank, California. (See below for the official “best of” lineup, aka the judges picks.) You can and should get your tickets HERE.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you on the red carpet!
Ryan Stockstad is a Los Angeles filmmaker with a passion for horror, documentary and experimental cinema. He has written articles for HC Magazine, Mostly Harmless Magazine and various blogs and websites. He has lectured on topics as diverse as low budget filmmaking, short story structure, and the influence of the Spanish Civil War on surrealist cinema. He hosts new episodes of Pop Culture Beast's Halloween Horror Picks every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in October.