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Monday, January 18, 2016

Anomalisa vs. Inside Out: The Race for the Best Animated Film of 2015

Coming into 2015, Pixar Animation Studios was having a creative dry spell. Since 2010's Toy Story 3, Pixar released Cars 2, Brave, and Monsters University. While all of those films did make over $190 million, they were not as revered or in the same ballpark as Pixar's other classics such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, or The Incredibles. 2015 changed things for Pixar- not only did it allow The Good Dinosaur to come and go, but it saw the release of Inside Out. Inside Out is a children's film, yet it's so thematically rich and unbelievably creative that it automatically vaults itself into the discussion for one of Pixar's all time best. The film helps explain complex concepts to children while not diminishing story or characters and still remains interesting and wonderful to adults. The movie also makes you cry at the death of imaginary pink elephant made out of cotton candy. I think Inside Out is a work of brilliance and you can easily see why it's the Oscar front runner for Best Animated Film.

Yet as good of a film as Inside Out is, I don't think it touches a candle to Charlie Kaufman's Anomalisa. I have Inside Out as my 6th favorite film of 2014 at 3.5 stars, but Anomalisa is solidly in my top five at #3 with 4 stars and could very easily move up to #1 as the longer I think about it the more I love it. Inside Out is a great animated film, Anomalisa is a great film period.

Anomalisa is written and co-directed by Charlie Kaufman, the man behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, and Adaptation. It is about Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) the night before he presents at a conference as he struggles to deal with depression and the meaning of life. There are only two other voices in the film- Michael's tryst partner Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Tom Noonan who literally voices everybody else. At first Noonan voicing everybody was distracting, but at the movie and Michael Stone unravel, it just clicks why it works. There is just something so raw and emotional and poignant about Anomalisa that it just left me in awe.

At first, I was confused why Charlie Kaufman decided to make this script animated. I feel like he is powerful enough to make this straightforward script live action if he wanted to. However, in the end, it makes sense why it had to be animated. As Esquire says " [it is] the most human story of the year. And it doesn't star a single human."

However, as good as Anomalisa and Inside Out are, they are two completely different types of animated films. Anomalisa is animated to make a point on the nature of humanity whereas Inside Out is animated because it is a children's film (and also it probably doesn't work as well if it were live action). Herein lies the conundrum: How do you truly judge an animated film? (especially from The Academy's perspective). Do you judge it as a film as a whole that just happens to be animated? If that were the case then Anomalisa defeats Inside Out in a landslide. If you judge it compared to other animated films in the genre, then Inside Out probably gets the edge. Sometimes, The Academy seemingly gives a film an Oscar solely based upon the animation itself as shown in 2013 where the visually stunning, yet underwhelming story of Brave beat out the far superior Wreck It Ralph and Paranorman.

If I had an Oscar vote, I would vote Anomalisa as the Best Animated Feature Film over Inside Out. I also probably would have nominated it in the Best Picture category as well. My feeling is that you should vote for the best overall film (or nominee) in the category. Although, I suspect Inside Out will win because a Pixar film better fits the mold of what an Oscar winning animated film looks like. Also, I think Anomalisa is pretty polarizing and Inside Out is widely praised and loved.

Either way, go see both films if you haven't already.



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