FEELS REAL: CHARLIE KAUFMAN
Charlie Kaufman wonders, what's the big deal? Sure, he's an Academy Award winning screenwriter of strangely human stories like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation and Being John Malkovich.
Why is anyone surprised that Kaufman's latest flight of neurotic fantasy is populated by puppets?
Kaufman and Duke Johnson's Anomalisa is a stop-motion marvel now nominated for the best animated feature Oscar generally conceded to Disney-Pixar's Inside Out. It's typically Kaufman-esque, finding shards of beauty in the mundane details of a one night stand in Cincinnati. Each frame of Anomalisa feels real, despite its artificial veneer, which is Kaufman's point.
"Live action movie making now, at least on the studio level, is absolutely the most unrealistic stuff out there," Kaufman said by telephone from Miami. "It's superhero movies or giant thrillers or action movies that are all about special effects. No one ever seem to question that: Why is live action in essence doing CGI?
"There's this assumption that animation should be used for fantastic storytelling but there's no questioning why live action, supposed naturalism, is filled with effects and supernatural elements. Even in my own movies I've had no shortage of surrealism in my live action stuff, weird situations, impossible realities and all that stuff. But the line is blurred between the two in a way that I think is good."
Anomalisa is Kaufman's first foray into feature animation, deferring most of the technical stuff to Johnson, known for his stop-motion contributions to the sitcom Community.
"This not something I knew anything about, other than in a cursory way," Kaufman said. "I learned everything. I mean, I didn't learn everything about stop-motion but I pretty much went from zero to whatever, maybe a three out of 100."
Stop-motion animation involves shooting one frame at a time, with tiny puppet adjustments creating an illusion of movement. The process is painstaking, and dailies are usually snippets rather than entire scenes.
"It definitely took a lot of patience, and it took time for me to know in what direction this was going," Kaufman said. "But you get these little pieces that are beautiful and exciting, and it kind of feeds you until the next one comes along. And the cool thing is, you keep getting them.
"The hardest part for me is that animation is so front-loaded. So many decisions about the production — what the film is, even the post-production — have to be made before the film is actually shot. You can't do multiple takes of things, you can't experiment.
"So much of the other stuff I've done has been figured out in post (production), in the editing process, that it made me anxious to do it this way. Luckily for us, it kind of works."
Anomalisa opens Friday at Woodlands Square 20 in Oldsmar.
ALSO OPENING: Multiplex filler
Academy Awards season is under way, meaning campaigns for nominees are priorities for studios, while squeezing every box office dollar from Oscar's attention by adding theater screens.
This isn't a good time for studios to release high-quality movies that could upstage the Oscar process. At the same time, there's money to be made between now and Oscar night, Feb. 28. Not everyone is interested in artful cinema.
The solution? Dump inferior yet easy-to-sell product into theaters; smutty comedy, teen-driven adventure, horror flicks. Take the weekend money and run. A good example is this weekend's lineup of newcomers.
Dirty Grandpa (R) fits the raunch requirement, with Robert De Niro as a recent widower joining his soon-to-be married grandson (Zac Efron) on a road trip to Florida for spring break. Of course, "Daytona Beach" is actually Georgia's Tybee Island since Florida's production incentives program is broken.
The MPAA rating is due to "crude sexual content throughout, graphic nudity, and for language and drug use." That and Efron's abs should draw a few million undiscerning moviegoers into theaters.
THE 5TH WAVE
For teenagers, there's The 5th Wave (PG-13), based on Rick Yancey's YA sci-fi novel and starring Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass). Moretz plays Cassie Sullivan, a intrepid hero like Katniss, Tris and every other young, female literary savior of a cruel fantasy world. Cassie's is being destroyed by aliens, and she's trying to protect her little brother Sam (Zackary Arthur) from becoming death-ray mush. Yancey wrote three novels on this preposterous topic, so Columbia Pictures is hoping for a Hunger Games-type franchise success but will likely settle for half of a Maze Runner.
That leaves the horror component, filled by The Boy (PG-13). Actually he's a life-sized doll but his parents treat him like flesh and blood, replacing their child who died 20 years earlier. All of this unsettles their new nanny (Lauren Cohan, The Walking Dead), who starts believing the doll is supernaturally alive.
in theaters: our Top 5
Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:
1 The Revenant: Twelve Academy Award nominations including best picture, actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and supporting actor (Tom Hardy).
2 Anomalisa: Stop-motion animated ennui from the creator of Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In other words, a strange and beautiful film.
3 Star Wars: The Force Awakens: The Skywalker saga returns full Force, picking up five Oscar nominations
4 Room: Nominated for four Oscars including best picture, actress (Brie Larson), director and adapted screenplay.
5 Carol: Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are Oscar nominees playing lovers in 1950s Manhattan.
(dates subject to change)
Jan. 29: Kung Fu Panda 3; Fifty Shades of Black; The Finest Hours; Jane Got a Gun
Feb. 5: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; Hail, Caesar!; The Choice
Feb. 12: Deadpool; How to Be Single; Zoolander 2; Where to Invade Next
Feb. 19: Risen; Race; Viral