Hollywood Contenders – Charlie Kaufman in the Oscar race again for “Anomalisa”

anomalisa 2015
I don’t think you’ll find much competition if you make the claim that Charlie Kaufman is one of the two or three best screenwriters in the business. As he transitions to directing as well, Kaufman is continuing to leave his mark as a singular talent, which is only increasing his fan base. This year, he is bringing another distinctive work to screens with the stop motion animated Anomalisa, which is unlike anything else in the race this year. Not only is it an instant high level contender for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, it has designs on some higher profile nominations as well. When it comes out in theaters at the very end of December, it will be fascinating to see if it can score with the Academy…

The film is Kaufman’s first foray into stop motion animation, centering on a depressed motivational speaker named Michael Stone (voice of David Thewlis) going through a mundane existence. He’s crippled by the nature of his life, something that a business trip does nothing to help with. Then, he comes across a woman named Lisa (voice Jennifer Jason Leigh) who shakes up everything for him. At the same time though, he’s suffering from Fregoli syndrome, which basically means that Michael has delusional condition in which he believes that everyone around him isn’t who they appear to be, but instead a single person (voice of Tom Noonan) hiding behind a number of disguises. Heady stuff, to be sure. Kaufman co-directs here with Duke Johnson and wrote the screenplay under the pen name of Francis Fregoli, while the score is composed by Carter Burwell.

So far, everyone at the film festivals where Anomalisa has played have come out raving about it, saying that Kaufman has not only done it again, but made perhaps the most human movie of the year, despite it being a form of animation. It’s been called self analysis, but then again, aren’t all of Kaufman’s works, to some degree? Here, he takes the story he originally mounted with Burwell and Johnson once as an experimental stage play and used Kickstarter to get his one made into a movie. It’s more or less a miracle that it got produced in the first place, let alone that a few pundits have discussed it as his masterpiece. Regardless, it’s coming next month and is a major contender, to say the least.

Charlie Kaufman anomalisa 2015

In terms of awards potential, it’s basically become the de facto competition in Best Animated Feature for Inside Out across the board. That being said, there’s also going to be Oscar campaigns for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay (for Kaufman) as well, so it won’t just be hoping for Animated Feature and nothing more. It’ll be interesting to see what the Academy does, as in most years this would be the new frontrunner, but right now is still stuck behind Pixar’s beloved early year release. Perhaps the second 2015 Pixar title in The Good Dinosaur will split votes and allow Anomalisa to slip in for the win? Time will tell.

When you get right down to it, Anomalisa is a hard sell that is greatly benefitting from some luminous reviews out of the fall festival circuit. If Kaufman’s latest can break free from some of the trappings of animation, it can definitely have a case with Oscar voters. Members of the Academy are a finicky bunch, but this is potentially a special movie and as such a case. We’ll see starting on December 30th when the flick gets its qualifying run, but I’m eager to see what the end result with this one is. Sit tight…

Stay tuned for more on Anomalisa between now and the end of December!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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