Directed By: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson

Starring: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan

This awards season is shaping up to be pretty intriguing with regard to animated fare.  The two films going head to head are Inside Out and Anomalisa.  In one corner, you have an innocent but brilliant exploration of the inner workings of a child's mind and the competing emotions within it.  The fifteenth film from Pixar is no doubt a landmark achievement.  In the other corner, we have something wholly different in independent romantic comedy-drama Anomalisa.  A resonant cinematic experience that grapples with struggles of everyday middle-age, it appeals to a very different generation of moviegoers for very different reasons. I don't know who will end the year as the animation champ (and I'm less inclined after another disappointing round of Oscar nominations that is anything but diverse), but I do know that both will leave indelible marks on the genre.

Loving husband, nurturing father, and successful author behind the sensation How May I Help You Help Them, Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a guy who has it all, or so we think.  There's just one glaring problem, the utterly painful monotony that characterizes every waking moment of his life.  Everyone with whom he speaks (Tom Noonan), whether acquainted or estranged, appears and sounds exactly the same to him.  This incessant and mundane cacophony of people who all look and sound the same haunts him constantly.  When he goes on a business trip to Cincinnati on a speaking engagement at a conference for professionals in the services industry, he meets a woman staying at his hotel by the name of Lisa Hesselman (Jennifer Jason Leigh).  She's the anomaly who somehow has a unique voice to Michael.  When he hears her in the hallway of his hotel, he has to meet her.  He pursues his "Anomalisa", and romance ensues.

2015 was indeed a good year for animated film, and Anomalisa is nothing but the proof. Gracefully mature and emotionally resonant, this film from directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson is unlike any other animated film I've ever seen, so much so that I'm judging it more like a live action film than typical animated fare.  There's an unmistakable depth to this film as we wander the halls of depression and loneliness with our socially disconnected lead Michael Stone.  At the same time, the film does something that's far from practical in a live action movie by making Tom Noonan everyone else.  It's as if there's a virus that's taken over the planet, and it's undeniably boring.  With beautiful stop motion animation, tender direction from Kaufman and Johnson, and heartfelt performances from their cast, Anomalisa is an undeniably excellent production that certainly should give Inside Out a run for its money this awards season.

I really have to commend the actors for delivering vocal performances that make or break the characters in some of the best vocal acting since Scarlett Johansson's turn as an operating system in Her.  First and foremost, Harry Potter alumnus David Thewlis is extraordinary as our lead character Michael Stone.  He imbues the character with soul, likability, and a certain sadness.  He's a wreck, but he's our wreck in one touching performance.  For her part as Lisa Hesselman, The Hateful Eight star Jennifer Jason Leigh gives a performance that is completely opposite her character in Quentin Tarantino's revenge flick.  Hopeful and naive to the ways of the world, Leigh's effervescent energy could be mistaken for innocence in many ways.  She brings a warmth and a vibrancy to the film worthy of the moniker "Anomalisa".  Finally, we have Tom Noonan voicing everyone else.  He is able to bring an annoying, mundane quality to each of the characters he inhabits.  It's quite skillful in a role fundamental to creating the cacophony of voices that plague our protagonist.

Many say that most mainstream animated films are made for both children and their parents.  These films offer Easter eggs loaded with mature undertones help the adults to see the films through a more appealing lens.  Smartly written, acted, and directed, Anomalisa is an animated film that runs counter to most other fare in its genre in this respect.  It's simply on a different level.  With its grace and maturity, this flick is simultaneously humorous and piercing.  It's the kind of cinema that doesn't need hidden nuggets or clues laced with dirty jokes or humor.  Anomalisa gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.