On-screen best bets: ‘Anomalisa,’ ‘Mustang’


By the time you read this, the Academy Award nominations will be out and both of this week’s best releases will likely be among the honorees.

This photo provided by Paramount Pictures shows, David Thewlis voices Michael Stone, left, and Jennifer Jason Leigh voices Lisa Hesselman, in the animated stop-motion film, "Anomalisa," by Paramount Pictures. The film opens in U.S. theaters in Jan. 2016. (Paramount Pictures via AP)The first, which you’ll likely see on the lists for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Screenplay, is Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s “Anomalisa,” a stop-motion meditation on motivational speaker Michael (voiced by David Thewlis), whose life has become monotonous to the point where everyone he encounters — his wife, his son and random strangers — all look and sound the same.

Breaking through his unvaried existence is Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), who becomes the instant object of Michael’s affection. Their troubled, burgeoning relationship is complicated by a series of dramatic turns that will not be unfamiliar to anyone with a casual familiarity to Kaufman’s various works, especially “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

While many of the ideas and visual gags (especially the myriad strangers Michael encounters, all bearing the same visage) aren’t groundbreaking for Kaufman, “Anomalisa” is perhaps akin to Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” in that it becomes a single-film greatest hits of tone and storytelling. (Rated R. Running time: One hour, 30 minutes.  Opens Friday at the Mayan in Denver. Four stars out of five)

The second film will probably be among the candidates for Best Foreign Language Film and is a safe bet to have you scratching your head.GU.Mustang.011416

“Mustang” is set in Turkey with Turkish actors speaking Turkish, but it’s technically France’s submission for the foreign film Oscar.

But more importantly, it’s a top-notch drama from director Deniz Gamze Ergüven about five orphaned sisters who seek out a normal teenage life while living under the conservative rules of their remaining family members, who are setting up arranged marriages for the girls.

Superbly edited and not hung up with tons of back story, “Mustang” is straightforward and lively — a perfect antidote for viewers who have found dark, violent, male-centric flicks like “The Revenant” and “The Hateful Eight” to leave them cold. (Rated PG-13. Running time: . Opens Friday at the Chez Artiste. Four stars out of five)