Charlie Kaufman

Film Bouquets 2016

 

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It was an interesting year for film. Here, in order of release, rather than stature – and with the benefit of hindsight – are our favourite movies of 2016.

Room

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This superb adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel got 2016 off to a cracking start. There were powerful performances from Brie Larson and young Jacob Tremblay as the central characters in a tragic yet oddly inspirational story.

The Revenant

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Alejandro Gonzalez Inaritu delivered another dazzling movie, this one as savage and untamed as the grizzly bear that mauled Leonardo Di Caprio half to death – but made up for it by helping him win his first Oscar.

Anomalisa

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Writer/director Charlie Kaufman gave us a quirky (and deeply disturbing) animation that was a Kafkaesque meditation on identity and the bleak nature of the human condition.

Dheepan

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Jacques Audiard’s fascinating study of the lives of refugees never fell into cliche. There was violence here, but it felt horribly real and totally devastating. There were affecting performances from a cast of newcomers.

Victoria

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Sebastian Schipper’s film really shouldn’t have worked. Delivered in one continuous take, the fact that it hooked us in so brilliantly was just the icing on the cake – a real ensemble piece but plaudits must go to Laia Costa as the eponymous heroine.

Sing Street

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John Carney may have only one plot but when it was delivered as beautifully as it was in Sing Street, we were happy to indulge him. This was a beautiful, heartwarming film with appeal to anybody who has ever dreamed about pop stardom.

The Neon Demon

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The fashion industry as seen by Nicolas Winding Refn is a hell hole and here, Elle Fanning as Jesse, was the latest recruit. A weird mash-up of sex, violence and extreme voyeurism, this was the director’s most assured effort yet.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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New Zealand director Taika Waititi offered up this delightfully quirky story about a troubled teenager (Julian Dennison) and his friendship with crusty curmudgeon, Hec (Sam Neill). This film reeled us in and kept us hooked to the end credits.

The Girl with all the Gifts

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Just when we thought the zombie movie had stumbled as far as it could go, Colm McCarthy’s film gave the genre a hefty kick up the backside – and there was a star-making performance from young Senna Nanua in the lead role.

Under the Shadow

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Babek Abvari’s film had all the tropes of the contemporary horror movie and a powerful political message as well. Set in post war Tehran, young mother Shideh (Narges Rashidi) struggled to keep her daughter safe from the forces of darkness.

I, Daniel Blake

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Ken Loach’s return to the screen resulted in one of the most powerful and affecting films of the year – a searing look at ‘benefits Britain’ that would have the most stony-hearted viewer in floods of tears. Should be required viewing for Tory politicians.

Train to Busan

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Another day, another zombie movie – but what a zombie movie! Korean director Sang ho Yeon gave us a galloping ‘zombies on a train’ thriller that nearly left us breathless. There were some incredible set pieces here and a nerve-shredding conclusion.

Paterson

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Jim Jarmusch presented a charming and quirky tale about a would-be poet living in a town that had the same name as him. Not very much happened, but it didn’t happen in an entirely watchable way. A delightful celebration of the creative spirit.

Life, Animated

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This compelling documentary squeaked in right at the end of the year – the true life tale of Owen Suskind, an autistic boy, initially unable to speak a word, but rescued by his love of Disney movies. It was funny, uplifting and educational – and our final pick of 2016.

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Anomalisa

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Writer/director Charlie Kaufman has been responsible for some of the most original and intriguing films of recent years – Inside John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Synechdoche New York, to name but three. When I tell you that Anomalisa is created using stop frame animation, you may have preconceptions of what it’s going to be like, but I’d advise you to go along with an open mind, because in my humble opinion, there’s never been another film quite like this one. To begin with, the animation techniques employed here are extraordinary, pushing the medium to its very limits. Sometimes, particularly in close up, it’s hard to believe that you’re not actually watching real actors. And there’s something about seeing such human tragedy enacted by puppets that somehow serves to amplify the reality of the situation.

Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) is going through a long dark night of the soul. He feels alienated from his wife and young son and stumbles through a world where everyone seems to have the same face. This is doubly unfortunate, because he’s a motivational speaker and the author of a critically acclaimed self-help book aimed at business people, intended to teach them how to deal more effectively with their customers. Michael embarks on a trip to Cincinnati where he is to deliver a keynote speech and his journey unfolds in more-or-less real time, capturing the alienating experience perfectly – the meaningless chatter of a taxi driver, the disturbingly beatific gaze of a hotel receptionist, the disconcerting anonymity of a hotel room. Michael contacts an old flame, who he hasn’t seen for years, in the hope that he’ll rekindle some passion with her, but it ends badly. She clearly still harbours a grudge. Shortly afterwards, he chances upon Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) an avid fan who has come all the way from Akron, Ohio to catch his speech. Sensing an opportunity, Michael embarks on a clumsy seduction…

There are only three voice artists at work here – Tom Noonan handles all the other roles, male and female, a move which at first seems like an affectation, but as the story moves increasingly  into a Kafkaesque meditation on identity and the bleak condition of human interaction, it all begins to make a lot more sense. A fumbling and protracted sex scene between Michael and Lisa may perversely be the most realistic coupling ever committed to the big screen, and the bleak tragedy of the film’s conclusion is particularly resonant. I sat there mesmerised throughout.

Mind you, it’s not to everyone’s taste. A woman in the row behind us loudly proclaimed that it was ‘the worst movie she’d ever seen.’ Well, she’s entitled to her opinion, of course, but I have to disagree most vehemently. Anomalisa (co-directed with Duke Johnson) may just be Kaufman’s masterpiece and much as I liked Inside Out, I can’t help feeling that this was a more worthy contender for that animation Oscar. Go see what you think, but whatever you feel about the merits of Kaufman’s work, I think you’ll have to agree that this is a film like no other.

5 stars

Philip Caveney