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Good news: Your weekend moviegoing needs have been simplified. Every Thursday morning, our What To See guide will highlight the new releases opening in New York City and NYC repertory screenings that are most worth your time.
Here's your guide for the weekend of January 8 – January 10.
The existential, sex-scene-including stop-motion character study of your dreams is finally here…
Directors: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson
Stars: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan
Anomalisa features 2015’s most poignant sex scene—because it’s in a Charlie Kaufman movie, the scene is also the strangest. The fornicators are middle-aged motivational speaker Michael Stone and his younger, insecure, frumpy superfan Lisa. Mostly fueled by a mutual drunkenness, their sexual rendezvous is somewhat clumsy but also softly passionate; neither participant is particularly confident or physically attractive, yet they both disrobe and display their far-from-supermodel birthday suits. Their tryst is beautifully staged—and, thanks to the fact that Michael and Lisa are both stop-motion puppets and not actual humans, extremely bizarre. The weirdness only lasts for a second, though; the scene's honesty is what truly resonates. Leave it to stop-motion characters to give us cinema's most heartwarmingly genuine sexual encounter in ages.
An existentialist dramedy that’s both sweet and unnerving, Anomalisa, co-directed by Kaufman and veteran stop-motion filmmaker Duke Johnson, has an oddness that’s Kaufman-esque but is also atypically simple. Michael (voiced by David Thewlis) checks into a nondescript Cincinnati hotel for a speaking event while in the midst of a midlife crisis. He comes across as coldly detached while on the phone with his wife and child; in a desperate move to both feel something and kill time, the emotionally numb Michael arranges a drink date at the hotel’s bar with an old lover that goes disastrously wrong. His misery ceases, though, when he meets Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), who gains his attention because, for one, she has her own unique voice—literally, since Kaufman cleverly has actor Tom Noonan, with his calmly silky tenor, voice every other character, from Michael’s family members to the hotel’s employees, whether male or female. Their one-note sound accentuates Michael's inability to care about any one person more than another, or more than himself—other people are indistinguishable in his self-centered life.
In the previous films written by Kaufman, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich, high-concepts keep getting higher and storylines continually morph, but Anomalisa is quietly grounded. It’s like a slightly twisted amalgamation of Lost in Translation and Up in the Air, repurposing the simplicity of those films' grown-man-stuck-in-an-emotional-rut plots with stellar animation. Through its inhuman aesthetic, Anomalisa captures the universally human feeling of loneliness better than any film starring hand-moved puppets probably should. Johnson’s creations all have their own recognizably human-like distinctions, whether it’s Lisa's flabby curves or Michael’s, er, below-the-belt attributes, yet every person Michael meets aside from Lisa shares the same mechanical outlines on their faces, as if they’re all stitched-up dolls in a waking nightmare he’s living through.
Which, in a way, they are. Anomalisa hauntingly blurs the line between the real world and a dream state without ever overtly channeling Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine-like kind of disorientation. It's surrealism mainlining truthfulness. For anyone who’s ever felt alone, watching Anomalisa is like looking into a mirror that reflects back one’s puppet counterpart.
Now everyone can see Leonardo DiCaprio eat an actual raw bison liver in the name of Oscar gold…
The Revenant (2015)
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson, Paul Anderson, Kristoffer Joner, Forrest Goodluck
While it's not 2015's best movie (*cough* Sicario *cough*), The Revenant is definitely the year's most assaultive cinematic experience. Watching Oscar-winning director Alejandro González Iñárritu's fictionalization of the infamous 1820s fur trapper Hugh Glass' survival efforts in the Montana wilderness is like being slugged in the gut for two and a half hours straight, which actually doesn't seem so bad when you consider that Leonardo DiCaprio and his co-stars spent eight months shooting the film outside in the harshest of nature's elements. The Revenant is an uncompromising piece of punishingly in-your-face filmmaking, but it's also so incredibly shot by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and meticulously directed by Iñárritu that it's impossible to look away from—and easy to admire.
DiCaprio puts himself through the ringer to play Glass, a stoic outdoorsman who has the worst day ever, barely making it through a horrifically vicious bear attack that leaves him unable to speak or move, and subsequently watching his mixed-race, half-white/half-Native American son get murdered by Glass' sadistic traveling companion, Fitzgerald (played with strikingly deranged mania by Tom Hardy). Left to die alone by Fitzgerald, Glass overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds, including run-ins with French soldiers and hatchet-wielding Indians and freezing-cold weather conditions, on a one-track-minded revenge mission.
For all of its thematic and narrative bleakness, The Revenant is a singularly beautiful film thanks to Iñárritu and Lubezki's technical collaboration. With everything shot in natural light, Lubezki finds the soulfulness in the savagery, lending the film's gruesome, arrows-to-your-eyeballs action a distinctly haunting effect—it's poetic brutality. Inarritu, for his part, pushes you directly into Glass' predicaments with an immersion that's comparable to the kinetic climax in his pal Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men, except that Inarritu expands upon Cuarón's phenomenal scene orchestration for The Revenant's entire 150-minute duration.
Where to see it: Opening in wide release
Be among the first to see new award-winning Latin American movies…
Neighboring Scenes: New Latin American Cinema
A new year, an all-new look for the Film Society of Lincoln Center's programming.
Now in its milestone 15th year, the NY-based film institute Cinema Tropical has joined forces with the Film Society to launch "Neighboring Scenes: New Latin American Cinema," a weekend-long series of premieres from the next wave of filmmakers hailing from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, and Guatemala. Among the 11 films are award-winners fresh out of big-deal festivals Cannes, Berlin, Venice and Locarno, as well as a standout from last year's Fantastic Fest—that last one is The Club, the latest from Chilean director Pablo Larraín (No, starring Gael García Bernal), about four ex-priests dealing with the sudden suicide of a fifth former clergyman.
Elsewhere in the series, the genre vibes continue with The Gold Bug, or Victoria's Revenge, an Argentine-Swedish homage to both Edgar Allan Poe and Treasure Island, and A Monster With a Thousand Heads, a slick and compact Mexican thriller about a pissed-off woman bring hell to the insurance company that's blocking her dying husband's medical treatment. Neighboring Scenes' hits even higher dramatic heights with a pair of youth-based highlights: Guatemala's Oscar entry, Ixcanul, in which a sheltered teenager rebels against her tyrannical parents after unexpectedly becoming pregnant, and the black-and-white Bleak Street, a true-life-based drama about two prostitutes who rob and drug a pair of twin dwarf luchadores—indeed, reality is always stranger than fiction.
Where to see it: Film Society of Lincoln Center
Catch up with Kristen Stewart in this 2015 Tribeca Film Festival world premiere...
Director: Tim Blake Nelson
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Sam Waterston, Glenn Close, Corey Stoll, Gretchen Mol, Michael K. Williams
In actor-director Tim Blake Nelson's new thought-provoking drama, a well-loved Columbia University professor of philosophy, Walter Zarrow (Sam Waterston), is violently mugged on the doorsteps of an apartment building. Nelson delves into the chain of events that precipitates the attack, and the lives of the characters the incident brings together: his son (Tim Blake Nelson), daugher-in-law (Jessica Hecht), a troubled student (Kristen Stewart); a philandering husband (Corey Stoll), and a man fighting drug addiction (K. Todd Freeman). Glenn Close, Gretchen Mol, and Michael Kenneth Williams round out a stellar cast in this meditation of city life that examines the inextricable and unforeseen forces that bring a group of disparate individuals together in a world where many people are, as Professor Zarrow lectures, "beautifully, achingly alone." —Brian Gordon
Where to see it: IFC Center