A woman, our unnamed protagonist, gets into boyfriend Jake’s car. After just 7 weeks of dating, they are driving to meet his parents for dinner at their secluded farm. The woman (Jessie Buckley) doesn’t particularly want to go, she’s got stuff to do, and she’s been concerned about some bizarre phone calls, but more importantly, she’s thinking of ending things. We are privy to these unvoiced thoughts as she and Jake make their snowy drive, but she keeps them from him. Or at least she thinks she does. Does she? They discuss life and philosophy in strange and circular ways, they quote poetry to each other, and we see flashes of someone else’s life, a school janitor. Whose memories are these? We don’t know.
Pulling up to the farm, Jake (Jesse Plemmons) tempers his girlfriend’s expectations with some warnings about his parents, who may come off as odd. The girlfriend starts to wonder if they’re even expected or indeed welcome, but such thoughts are quickly swept away when his mom (Toni Collette) pelts her with prying and invasive questions all dinner long and his dad (David Thewlis) seems more and more angry. Right around dessert time, what has up until now been merely creepy starts to turn toward the surreal. Time, identity, and memory start to dissolve, and as the girlfriend begins to doubt herself, so do we. Meanwhile, that mysterious janitor only seen in flashbacks (flash forwards? flash sideways?) is now watching a film directed by Robert Zemeckis, and our own director Charlie Fucking Kaufman, seems really intent that we watch along with him. But why, Kauf? Why?
Back on the road, with a blizzard coming down around them, wrapping the car in a bubble of white, we’re feeling off-kilter, disoriented, disturbed, claustrophobic. And the Jake leaves the dark and deserted road to take an even darker, more deserted road. Turn back, you want to scream, you know they should, but they don’t.
If you were a fan of the book by Iain Reid, you’ll have some idea of what awaits them ahead, but you won’t be totally right. It’s Charlie Kaufman who’s adapted this, and the dude has some IDEAS. All told, I think the movie ends up less scary than the book, but weirder, if you can believe it. And it’s Kaufman we’re talking about, so you best believe it. If you’re a fan of his, you knew you were in for a strange and unique experience, and that’s exactly what you’ll get.
There are strings pulled in the very beginning that see you through to the end if you were alert enough to follow them, and not distracted by the red herrings, or the terrific and layered performances by the cast. Luckily Netflix is the perfect home for such a movie. If you’re into this kind of thing, you can immediately give it a rewatch, searching for those breadcrumbs, reinterpreting with the benefit of a view or two under your belt. And it’s still not enough, but it’ll give you a fighting chance. Kaufman’s movies reward your due diligence. They’re meant for cinema snobs who will invest their time and energy into a story, who are willing to work for it, and work at it. Deciphering the ending is its own adventure, and in some ways I suppose you get to choose your own – it’s ambiguous, unexpected, and a little bit haunting considering Kaufman’s leaving us with his own spin on longing, regret, and the frailty of the human condition.
Going into Anomalisa, I had already seen (and greatly enjoyed) some of the strange things Charlie Kaufman creates. But even with that little bit of preparation, as I left the theatre after seeing Anomalisa, it occured to me that I may have just had the strangest experience of my movie life. And I mean that as the highest possible compliment. Duke Johnson’s animation work is unbelievable and fits perfectly with the story being told here to make a seamless whole. I have never seen animation look like this, or used to tell such a weird yet believable story. I don’t want to go into the plot at all because I think going in cold will be the best way to experience this movie. I am sure you can find details elsewhere if you want them, and i am sure the movie will be amazing either way. Just find a way to experience Anomalisa, but please don’t be like the people directly behind us at yesterday’s screening – leave your 11 year old son at home.
The writing here is remarkable. I am realizing that more and more as everyday things remind me of a part of the movie and make me laugh again at the movie’s jokes. They come quick and often here in what is not at all a happy story. The jokes feel integral to the movie without taking away from the very real and very sad journey that Anomalisa will take you on. That is a very difficult balance to strike and Anomalisa nails it.
The writing would make this a must-see on its own even if the animation was awful. But here is the remarkable thing about Anomalisa: its animation would make this a must-see even if the writing sucked. Anomalisa is absolutely breathtaking to watch. I have never seen anything like this. The two directors deliver a mind-blowing visual experience. The characters and sets are unbelievably beautiful and have such a striking visual style. Anomalisa makes absolutely perfect use of animation – almost real but not quite, which for me only added to the movie’s charm and mystery. The visuals tell us this is not necessarily our world, which keeps us wondering what is possible and what the rules are in the world we’re seeing. Anomalisa’s art is amazing and expands what I thought was possible for animation. I have no idea how this masterpiece came to be. Anomalisa totally blew me away.
Of all the great movies we saw at TIFF over the last ten days, I think Anomalisa is going to be the one that sticks with me the longest. It is unique. It is spectacular. It is brilliant. Anomalisa is a movie for the ages. Just not all ages – leave the kids at home.
Anomalisa gets a rating of 190% (because 90% just isn’t enough).
Matt wrote last week about the choices he made for his viewing pleasure (and hopefully your reading one) at the Toronto International Film Festival, slated to open with a bang (or rather, a star-studded screening of Demolition) on September 10.
I held mine back because the truth is, the TIFF selection process was not a fun one for me. TIFF has weird rules where it takes your money and then weeks later gives you a “randomly” selected window of just 60 minutes for making your choices – I’m seeing maybe 20 movies out of over 430, by my count, so that’s an awful lot of frantic sifting, choosing, replacing, and scheduling to do in just 60 minutes. It goes without saying that I was “randomly” selected to choose more than 24 hours later than Matt, which meant that a lot of my first, second, and third choices were “off-sale”. Off-sale doesn’t mean sold out, it means that they’re holding some tickets back for when they go on sale to the general public. And nothing against the general public, but I paid my oodles of money, I’m travelling in from out of town, and I don’t think it’s very nice or very fair to force me (since I’ve prepaid for tickets) to see movies that aren’t selling as well, when someone who pays a nominal $25 on the day of will have better luck than me.
I’ll stop my belly-aching now. We’re still pretty lucky to be going at all and I know that. So, without further whining about first world problems, my TIFF picks:
Demolition: I’m actually going to see this one with both Matt and Sean, so it’s a rarity, and I’m not only looking forward to seeing what director Jean-Marc Vallée can squeeze out of Jake Gyllenhaal, I also can’t wait to discuss it with my favourite movie-going friends.
The Lobster: This one is quirky as hell and right up my alley, and I never thought I’d be saying that about a Colin Farrell movie. Newly heartbroken, he checks into a hotel where he’s under the gun to find a mate within a super tight time period – or risk being turned into an animal and put out to pasture? It sounds more like a child’s drawing than a movie, but there you have it.
Eye in the Sky: We ‘re doing the red-carpet treatment of this one on Friday night, and Dame Helen Mirren is confirmed to attend. She’s looking less glamorous in the still from this movie, playing a Colonel who’s spent a long time tracking down a radicalized citizen who must be stopped. But when drone operator Aaron Paul reports that a small child has wandered into the kill zone, the team has to decide whether the casualty of this little girl is acceptable collateral damage. Yowza!
The Martian: You may know that I have been frothing about this movie for months now. I luuuurved the book and passed it along to all of my literate friends but then waved a flag of skepticism when I heard that a) it’s directed by Ridley Scott b) it’s a reteaming of Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain, lately seen together in Interstellar. But I hope hope HOPE that they “science the hell” out of this thing and blow my fucking socks off.
The Danish Girl: Eddie Redmayne is almost certainly in the running for a second Oscar for his portrayal of Lili Elbe, the 1920s Danish artist who was one of the first known recipients of sexual reassignment surgery. The trailer alone looks so lush that I’m drooping to see it – which is fortunate, because TIFF stuck me with TWO pairs of tickets to this. Woops! Anyone know someone who’s looking for a pair?
Freeheld: We’re seeing this one on flashy premiere night as well and will see both Julianne Moore and Ellen Page walk the red carpet. They star as a real-life couple from New Jersey who just want Moore’s pension to go to Page when Moore passes away. It was a huge case for LGBT rights and I’m betting that both of these ladies really bring it.
The Dressmaker: Funny story. I read this book recently, in anticipation of this movie. And I really, really liked it. Only: it’s about a young dressmaker who survives the sinking of the Titanic thanks to her wealthy employer. Knowing that Kate Winslet was set to star, I was shocked that she’d choose to go back to Titanic in this way. I mean, if anyone can put it off, it’s Winslet, but still. The more I read, the more I thought maybe she’s not playing the dressmaker, maybe she’s playing the plucky journalist. I still couldn’t believe the press wasn’t making a bigger deal out of this, but it wasn’t until I finished the book that I realized that I’d read the wrong Dressmaker. Same title, different author. Oopsie daisy again. But I’m confident this one’s good too, and it’s Kate Winslet, so we’re almost guaranteed to see boob.
Into the Forest: Here’s a movie that looks so familiar to me in the trailer that I believe I have read the book. I do not know for sure that it’s based on a book and I’m not looking it up. This way even I’ll be surprised (or, REALLY surprised!). Evan Rachel Wood and Ellen Page star as sisters who live in a remote cabin in the woods. The world is on the verge of the apocalypse and their location keeps them safe, but also leaves them vulnerable…
Anomalisa: This is the Charlie Kaufman-directed stop-motion animated ode to a motivational speaker and his bleak existence. I have no idea what to expect from it and that’s why I’m so crazy excited. It could go a lot of ways but no matter what, I do believe I’ll be seeing something special.
About Ray: Have you ever attended a red carpet event in the middle of the afternoon? Me neither! TIFF is so jam-packed with gliterry premieres that it starts packing them in at odd times just to get through them all. I’m tickled we got tickets to this (hard won, believe me) and I’m anxious to see if it’s as good as it looks, and if this and The Danish Girl will cancel each other out (though this one is also about a gender transition, it’s set in modern day, with Elle Fanning as the young woman who wants to be a young man, Naomi Watts as her mother, and Susan Sarandon as her mother.
Miss You Already: This might be a little too chick-flicky to be regular festival fare, but it’s Toni Collette so say what you want, but my ass will be in that seat at the ungodly hour of 8:45 in the goddamned morning. Toni and Drew Barrymore play lifelong friends whose friendship hits a bit of a roadbump when one discovers she’s pregnant just as the other gets a cancer diagnosis. Note to Sean: bring tissues, or an extra-absorbent shirt.
Maggie’s Plan: Starring the delightful Greta Gerwig, Maggie’s plan to have a baby on her own is derailed when she falls in love with a married man (Ethan Hawke) and destroys his relationship with his brilliant wife (Julianne Moore). I like Gerwig a whole lot but to be honest, I’m really wondering how this dynamic is going to work – and I’m super intrigued to find out how Bill Hader fits into the mix. Julianne Moore is going to be one busy lady at this festival!
The Family Fang: Directed by and starring Jason Bateman, he plays a brother to Nicole Kidman, both returning to the family home in search of their super-famous parents who seem to have disappeared. Jason Bateman is a little hit or miss for me but I committed on the off chance that the man playing his father – legendary Christopher MotherFucking Walken – might be in attendance. He’s not slated as far as I can tell, but I’d kick myself right in the sitter if he was and I wasn’t.
Legend: Tom Hardy plays real-life English gangsters. Yes, plural: the Kray twins. This dual role is getting a lot of buzz and since I seem to be mesmerized by Hardy in nearly everything he does, I’m super excited to check this one out.
Biggest TIFF regret: Missing Room. We’ll be back and forth between Ottawa and Toronto, but this particular movie only plays twice during the whole festival, and neither screening is on a day I’m there. I loved this book and am anxious to see the movie treatment. Good or bad, I want to pass judgement. I want to feast my little eyes. I am heartbroken to miss this one.
We still have some tickets to alocate. Any suggestions?
If you were in The Lobster hotel and failed to find a mate – what animal would you be turned into. Me? An otter. Definitely an otter.
We’ll be posting updates as we go, and be sure to check out our Twitter @assholemovies for photos of the red carpet premieres!
Really, Wanderer? Twins?! There’s got to be more out there than I was able to think of but I’m still drawing a complete blank. Well, an almost complete blank. I came up with these three.
Dead Ringers (1988)– I rarely know what to say about a David Cronenberg movie even immediately after watching it so the fact that I didn’t get a chance to rewatch this bizarre story of twin gynecologists with a bizarre relationship puts me at a huge disadvantage. What I do remember is that both twins- one devilishly charming and the other wracked with social anxiety- are played to perfection by the great jeremy Irons. They may look exactly alike but we can always tell them apart by their posture and body language.
Adaptation (2002)– Speaking of werid movies about twins, weird screenwriter Charlie Kaufman dreamt up a twin brother for himself and got that nut Nicolas Cage to play both of them. Much like in Dead Ringers, Charlie is socially awkward and especially shy around pretty girls while Donald has an almost pathological lack of anxiety. Donald may be a big goof but Charlie has a lot to learn from him. Adding to the weirdness, fictional Donald Kaufman gets a writing credit on Charlie’s screenplay (and even gets nominated for an Oscar because of it).
The Skeleton Twins (2014)– The gimmick of having the same actor play twins can be a lot of fun but if that doesn’t work casting two actors who were born five years apart and look nothing alike will work too. Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader play estranged twins who reunite after Milo’s (Hader) suicide attempt. I’m still not completely clear on why their relationship is so strained or why both twins are pretty messed up but the sincerity of both SNL alumni surprises even a fan like me.
You’ll have to bear with me. I’ve been back from California for less than 12 hours and I’m alittle jet lagged. Nothing like meeting a gropey Doc Brown from Back to the Future at Universal Studios two days ago to get me thinking of my favourite science fiction movies though.
Blade Runner (1982)– Director Ridley Scott makes my list two weeks in a row. Blade Runner never seems to get old though and, more than Alien or Thelma and Louise, I would say this is his best work. The best sci-fi mixes genres and this noirish detective movie take on artificial intelligence still feels unique even when viewed over thirty years later.
The Matrix (1999)– Speaking of mixing genres, the Wachowskis throw all their favourite things- comic books, Eastern philosophy, kung fu movies, Western religion, and John Woo movies- into their story of A.I.’s enslavery of the human race. There are at least a dozen iconic images in this movie and seeing it for the first time was one of my all-time favourite movie theater experiences.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)– For those of us who like a little romantic comedy with our science fiction, Charlie Kaufman dreamt up his most beautiful story yet about Joel (Jim Carrey) taking advantage of a new technology to erase all memories of Clementine (Kate Winslet). It’s mostly a heartbreakingly funny exploration of how memory works and how our painful memories make us who we are but, of course, the movie also centers around a technology that hasn’t been invented yet and ponders the consequences of said technology so I am submitting what I often refer to as my favourite movie of all time as a science fiction pick.