The Lynx, Dan Harmon, 2006, 3:30
The Lynx is a short about a depressed person whose bizarre and complex masturbation routine turns him into a crime fighting man-lynx. The man, played by and named for the short's writer-director, is hired by Doug Shoehad, also played by Harmon, to take out the Fillipino mafia family. Harmon turns into the Lynx, kills all of the Fillipinos (two men who share a plastic gun) and returns to Shoehad with the good news. He goes home and is happier.
I talk about the plot so simply for two reasons: it's really that simple, and, more importantly, it sticks to Joseph Campbell's monomyth. Harmon has written about his respect for Campbell and the monomyth and references Campbell in interviews often. The monomyth is a basic structure that nearly all stories follow, whether or not the stories' writers knew they were following said structure. Harmon outlined the monomyth in a now-deleted post on the Channel 101 forum:
"1. A character is in a zone of comfort,
2. But they want something.
3. They enter an unfamiliar situation,
4. Adapt to it,
5. Get what they wanted,
6. Pay a heavy price for it,
7. Then return to their familiar situation,
8. Having changed."
Not only does The Lynx follow this structure tightly (leaving out only the "heavy price" step), Harmon wants you to know that it is following it-- he places text at the bottom of the screen to let you know when every step is hit.
Dan Harmon is now famous for being the mind behind the TV show Community. Before Community, his largest artistic achievement was co-creating Channel 101, a monthly short film festival that he regularly contributed to. Harmon made a living moving between media projects (including co-creating The Sarah Silverman Programme, which he was fired from and which is referenced in The Lynx). When he wasn't making television and movies on other people's terms, he would return to Channel 101 and make insane little shorts like this. He challenged himself to both make something wild and stay within the monomyth structure.
The Lynx is a joy to watch because Harmon puts seemingly tight restraints on himself and then proves that the restraints weren't all that tight. There isn't any fat on The Lynx and none of it feels forced. There are jokes that would be clever on any budget (the exchange about the Filipino family's last name, the "dead pixel" note that pointed exactly to a dead pixel on the original theater's screen) and there are jokes that make fun of how little Harmon was able to spend on his short (the clearly fake gun, the Lynx 'costume'). The Lynx is a filmmaker proving that a complete story can be told and told well in three and a half minutes.