Despite all of the numerous terrible things that have happened, 2016 has at least given us some truly original films. We’ve seen such leftfield ideas as a punk rock siege led by neo-Nazi Captain Picard, Brian Wilson dragging around the corpse of Harry Potter, Sophie from Peep Show turning single people into animals (for our American readers at least), and hotdog orgies. In both a narrative and a technical sense, however, Anomalisa comes out pretty close to the top of the pile in terms of sheer originality.
The use of 3D printers to create the models in a stop-motion feature film was inevitably going to happen at some point, but we’re lucky all the same that it was Charlie Kaufman who got one of the first seats at the table. His boundless creativity and originality focuses not just on the narrative of Anomalisa but also on the form of stop-motion itself, weaving the two together in a trademark Kaufman style. The level of physical detail that 3D printing can afford allows Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson to create startlingly lifelike ‘actors’ to work with; both the protagonists Michael and Lisa, as well as the other people filling the world, move in such incredibly natural and lifelike ways that you would be forgiven for forgetting they’re only a foot tall. Despite such realism, the directors consistently remind the audience of the fabricated nature of the world.
A fracture runs across the face of every character at their eyeline, something that seems like an oversight when you start watching the film, but you stop noticing it after only a short while due to the lifelike movements of the models. A closeup of a face may draw your attention back to it briefly every now and then but again, you soon stop seeing it. That is, until Kaufman shatters the verisimilitude of the world by deliberately drawing full attention to this mark of artifice, by actually writing it into the story itself. The use of 3D printing also allows an idea Kaufman played for laughs in Being John Malkovich to be used as a narrative device: every character in the film, other than Michael and Lisa, looks absolutely identical. In addition to looking identical, everyone else in Michael’s world shares the (ironically) unique voice of Tom Noonan.
Noonan’s rich voice is cut through with a slightly unnerving and suspect edge to it, like honey mixed through with fish – the ideal casting choice for such a wide range of identical supporting players. The leads he’s supporting are both captivating vocal performances as well; David Thewlis is wonderfully grouchy (at least until he meets Lisa), his natural Lancashire accent further accentuating his disconnect from the people around him, a stranger in a strange land, while Jennifer Jason Leigh is outstanding as Lisa, giving voice to her clumsy, naive and oh-so-sad soul. For only three actors to paint such a rich auditory landscape almost entirely in the confines of a single hotel, via the medium of 3D-printed mannequins, is astounding.
The two central characters are so humanly realised, flaws and virtues alike. Michael is clearly in the midst of a major personal crisis, but he’s also kind of a dick as well. Lisa is insecure and has no self-confidence, but she’s sweet and genuine. Despite the fact Michael is cheating on his wife with Lisa, you’re still incredibly invested in their short affair while it happens, as it’s a brief moment of perfection and happiness in both of their lives, both of which they are struggling through in different ways. They are two people trying to survive in a harsh and uncaring world in any way they can.
Since the release of Anomalisa at the start of 2016, the world has become a darker place for millions of people; a pervasive feeling of dread and disquiet has descended upon many and settled there like silt in the pit of the stomach. Watching the film again at the year’s end, that feeling is echoed perfectly by Michael Stone. Although Michael is selfish and self-centred in many ways, and much of his disconnect seems to stem from dissatisfaction on a more individual and personal level, that doesn’t mean his feelings are any less relatable.
Many world-shaking global events have hit particularly hard on both a societal and a personal level for a great number of people this year – a vast generational divide became very apparent, and for many that divide was even within their own family. These personal concerns combined with the consistently toxic, suffocating climate of hostility and aggression that’s been stirred into a frenzy by political powers this year, it’s not difficult to relate to Michael’s inability to distinguish the individuals he interacts with in daily life – sometimes it’s just too exhausting.
Towards the end of the film Michael does demonstrate he isn’t entirely concerned with himself, rallying against the US President and a failing education system he claims is purposefully creating a society of uneducated and easily-led idiots. For many, that will hit particularly hard as the year draws to an end. Despite Anomalisa not being an overtly political film (though Charlie Kaufman has made his stance pretty clear), the reasons for Michael’s apathy and alienation towards his fellow man are only hinted at. This ambiguity gives audiences room to project their own state of mind onto Michael, and examine their own position within society and their own disconnect from each other. We’ve all experienced similar feelings at some point this year for one reason or another, and with Anomalisa Charlie Kaufman once again opens each of us up to ourselves and shows us how we’re all broken.
So to recap, here’s our Top 20 to 8…
N.B. As our site is UK based, we work off the selection of films released in cinemas in the UK in 2016
20 – The Witch
19= Son of Saul
19= The Hateful Eight
18 – Midnight Special
17 – American Honey
16= Embrace of the Serpent
16= Captain America: Civil War
15 – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
14 – Creed
13 – Hail, Caesar!
12 – The Revenant
11 – Weiner
10 – Everybody Wants Some!!
9 – Zootropolis
8 – Anomalisa
Stay tuned each and every day for the remainder of 2016 to read more on our Top 10 films of 2016!