Two of the year’s best movies also happen to be among the weirdest movies we’ve seen in ages. Just insanely weird.
The Lobster is about humans who must find a mate, or they’ll be turned to animals. Anomalisa is Charlie Kaufman’s latest movie, and it’s all about highly articulated puppets ruminating on family, life and love. Each is unlike anything you’ve ever seen and also truly special, and part of the reason why it’s worth making the trip to Fantastic Fest.
Fantastic Fest is a genre-heavy film festival with an attitude all its own. It’s currently in its 11th year based at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas and is best-known for showing never before seen genre insanity as well as highly touted oddballs from the festival circuit.
The Lobster and Anomolisa had both already premiered at other film festivals, but it’s almost as if they were made for Fantastic Fest, a place where anything goes.
First up is The Lobster, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth). Colin Farrell stars as David, a man who has just split with his wife in an odd, kind of alternate reality that’s never explained. Because David is now single, he checks into a hotel where, if he doesn’t find a suitable mate in the next 45 days, he’ll be turned into an animal. In David’s case, a lobster.
I don’t mean figuratively either. I mean literally, the hotel has a room where they take people who fail at their mission and they’re turned into animals. The film suggests all the world’s animals are people who couldn’t find a mate. And things just get weirder and weirder from there.
The entire film is played straight. Too straight. Scary straight. The cold expressions and dialogue delivered by every character beg for your laughter, as the story continues to raise the absurdity levels. At the start, the film explains why it’s so important for human beings to have a mate. Later, it shows the opposite viewpoint, a place where solitude is prized. These two worlds are somewhat at war with each other, and they get linked by David’s story.
The supporting cast includes Ben Whishaw, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly and Lea Seydoux, each of whom are just as creepy and hilarious in buying into this bizarre world as Farrell. However, the question becomes, what is The Lobster trying to say? What is this world? Where did it come from? As the film ends, you’re left with tons of fascinating questions, as well as just the pure joy of having seen something crazy original and weird.
That description can also go for Anomalisa, the latest film from the twisted yet brilliant mind of Charlie Kaufman. He wrote Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Synecdoche, New York, which was his directorial debut.
Kaufman co-directs here with stop-motion director Duke Johnson. Why an animator? Because Anomalisa is entirely told with puppets. However Team America or The Muppets this is not. Kaufman uses the odd medium to tell what, on its surface, is a very straight-forward story.
Michael (voiced by David Thewlis) is a semi-famous author who goes to a conference in Cincinnati. Away from the wife and kid, he tries to act on some illicit desires, and slowly begins to realize that his world may not be all it seems. His best clue is a woman named Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) who has something about her—something that’s best kept secret—that truly distinguishes herself from the rest of the world. And Michael falls for her, hard.
As with The Lobster, there’s a lot of humor in Anomalisa, most of which is mined from the monotony of life. Simple things get twisted, ever so slightly. But as Michael becomes more aware of his desires and his world, the audience starts to think about what it means to love. What it means to be have a family. How we see the world through our own eyes, but sometimes forget everyone’s has their own unique perspective.
And as odd as it may sound, the puppets give the film its humanity. Everything about this world feels familiar, sounds familiar and reacts in a familiar way. But it’s not familiar, because of these incredibly well articulated puppets. That disconnect forces the audience to truly concentrate on the the minutiae of every movement, word, and we’re rewarded for it by gaining an deep emotional connection between what’s on screen and ourselves.
Both The Lobster and Anomalisa are not for everyone. Not by a longshot. But at Fantastic Fest, a place that celebrates the weird, they’re beloved. And rightfully so. They’re definitely two of the year’s best films.
Contact the author at email@example.com.