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Can ‘Anomalisa’ Break Out Into Other Oscar Categories?

The critically acclaimed film ought to be more than just an animated contender.

I was going to save this for next week, but today’s Spirit Award nominations raised the issue, so let’s just get into it: “Anomalisa” is more than just a best animated feature film contender. At least, it should be.

The film was nominated for best feature, best director, best screenplay and (surprisingly, but happily) best supporting actress Spirit Awards this morning. Critics will no doubt jump on the bandwagon next month; it is, after all, the most critically acclaimed film of the year at present.

But what about Academy members? Will they only think of it in terms of its own ghettoized category at the Oscars? In all likelihood, yes, though the writers branch will probably give it more thought than most.

That said, when you watch “Anomalisa,” a magical thing happens: It doesn’t feel like an animated film. It’s such a distinctly human work of art that connects with Charlie Kaufman’s signature of profundity masquerading as the mundane. Performances from David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan resonate as more than typical voice work. The humor, the drama, the emotion — it simply doesn’t play like “an animated film” (not to throw pejorative shade, or anything).

We already have “Inside Out” contending strongly for a best picture nod. How refreshing would it be to have another in the mix?

This Oscar season is pretty scattered at the moment, and that’s exciting heading into December. Traditionally, things begin to lock into place right now. But there is no real frontrunner in any race, and more importantly, there is a lot of room for movement in numerous categories. So here’s hoping that when voters get their screeners next month, they give “Anomalisa” a fair shake. Thewlis gives a performance soaked in a life’s worth of regret. Leigh, nominated today, is wonderful in an about-face from her “Hateful Eight” work. Noonan plays every other female character in the film!

Moreover, Kaufman’s work on the page — adapted from a stage play he cooked up for a Carter Burwell project a decade ago — makes for one of the best screenplays of the year. It’s perfectly of a piece with the mark he’s already left on the cinema, from “Being John Malkovich” to “Adaptation” to “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” to “Synecdoche, New York.” He was also nominated alongside Duke Johnson for best director today. The directors branch of the Academy could do a lot worse than to chalk them up as well, for drawing out the kind of resonant experience most live action films only dream of.

So, yes, “Anomalisa” is more than a best animated feature film contender. Don’t miss out, voters.

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