‘Anomalisa’ Shines While ‘Dirty Grandpa’ Disgusts

One of 2015's best films arrives in Pittsburgh this weekend; while it isn't for everyone, it's a whole lot better than Robert De Niro's crass comedy.


photo © paramount pictures.

 

Towards the end of any given year, I’m awash in excellent films vying for awards consideration. 2015 was certainly no exception; as the nights grew long, I was weighing the merits of “Spotlight” against the very different triumphs of “The Revenant.” In my efforts to devise my top 10 films of the year, I was contemplating how more visceral choices such as “The Hateful Eight” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” compared to elegant, complex movies such as “Room” and “Son of Saul.” In short, there were plenty of worthy movies to consider and rank.

And then a bizarre movie starring puppets blew them all away.

“Anomalisa” is a work of stop-motion animation written and co-directed (with Duke Johnson) by the brilliant Charlie Kaufman (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Being John Malkovich”). A great deal of the joy in watching it is in working out exactly what is going on, so I’ll skip the plot details; the short version is that a man with an unusual affliction takes a gravely consequential business trip.

The artfulness in “Anomalisa” is unmatched, particularly in the incredibly detailed miniature sets built around the characters. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan turn in two of the finest voice-only performances I can recall, and the script — tragically overlooked for a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination — is biting and nearly profound.

As much as I’m entranced by it, “Anomalisa” will not be for everybody. I’ve shown it to multiple people, all of whom I consider intelligent and discerning, and received mixed reports. Many will see it and, if it’s not quite to their taste, regard it as a remarkably artful if unusual (and perhaps even slightly off-putting) movie. And that’s fine. But a slim minority, like me, will find it almost singularly moving. I may be one of only a few who consider it 2015’s finest film, but its distinct voice and painstaking beauty are undeniable.

As far as I’m aware, “Anomalisa” will only be playing locally at The Manor Theatre in Squirrel Hill.


PHOTO by BOB MAHONEY. © LIONSGATE.

 

To transition from one of last year’s very best to what may go down as one of 2016’s very worst, the Robert De Niro comedy “Dirty Grandpa” arrives in wide release this weekend. De Niro stars as Dick Kelly, a recent widower out for a latter-day romp through Daytona Beach; his straightlaced grandson, Jason (Zac Efron), just wants to get home to his bridezilla-to-be (Julianne Hough). Jokes are thrown out, without regard to the individual quality of any gag, at a breakneck pace; admittedly, something like one in six hit. But those that miss really, really miss, and “Dirty Grandpa” is completely willing to make crass jokes at the expense of minorities, homosexuals, women, the mentally challenged … any group you can name, really. This doesn’t make it an equal-opportunity offender, though; it just makes it mean and clueless. Supporting roles by very funny people including Aubrey Plaza, Jason Mantzoukas and Adam Pally almost make me feel bad for saying that no one should bother with this film, but “Dirty Grandpa” is just too dumb to recommend. De Niro — who, in the scene that will assuredly grab headlines this weekend, actually uses the n-word in this film — really needs to learn how to say no to a project.

 

Also debuting nationwide this weekend, but not screened locally for critics: teen alien-invasion thriller “The 5th Wave,” starring Chloë Grace Moretz, and “The Boy,” yet another creepy-doll horror flick.

 

The Montage
“The Hateful Eight” has ended its extended run at Row House Cinema. Starting today, the theater will present a trio of Brazilian films: the animated fantasy “Boy & The World,” from 2013; the acclaimed “City of God,” which netted four Academy Award nominations in 2004; and “Elite Squad,” the 2007 action hit from “Narcos” director José Padilha … Venture Outdoors, local presenters of the Banff Mountain Film Festival — an annual collection of outdoor-themed documentaries and shorts — announced that advance sales have been delayed due to a change in ticketing services. They recommend fans keep an eye on this page, which will have ticket information as soon as it is available. The festival is scheduled for April 2 and 3 … Those who have set countdown timers marking the seconds before “Star Wars Episode VIII” is released will have to add some time to the tally. The follow-up to “The Force Awakens” has been delayed to Dec. 15, 2017. It was originally scheduled for May of that year … As expected, some Academy favorites have returned to local screens in the wake of last week’s nominations. “Spotlight” and “Room” have added a number of screens in the area, and fellow Best Picture nominees “The Revenant” and “The Big Short” are still pretty much everywhere. “Brooklyn” is back at the Galleria 6 in Mount Lebanon and will receive a run at the Hollywood Theater later this month. “Carol” and “The Danish Girl,” which netted two acting nods apiece, are at a number of local theaters as well. Continue to monitor Fandango for your Oscar preparations.

 

Categories: Sean Collier’s Popcorn for Dinner