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Meet ‘Anomalisa,’ Cincinnati’s Other Oscar Contender

Author Michael Stone in his Cincinnati hotel room in "Anomalisa."
Author Michael Stone in his Cincinnati hotel room in "Anomalisa."
Author Michael Stone in his Cincinnati hotel room in "Anomalisa."
Credit Paramount Pictures
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Author Michael Stone in his Cincinnati hotel room in "Anomalisa."

Move over, “Carol,” here comes “Anomolisa.” Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion film, nominated for a best animated film Academy Award, opens Thursday at the EsquireTheatrein Clifton.

Kaufman wrote and co-directed the film about a mundane, out-of-touch Los Angeles author who comes to Cincinnati to address a customer service conference. In Michael Stone’s world, everyone looks and sounds the same -- except a young woman from Akron named Lisa.

She’s an anomaly. She’s Anomalisa.

Actor DavidThewlis(RemusLupinin the “Harry Potter” films) provides the voice of Stone. Jennifer Jason Leigh does Lisa. And TomNoonan(Det. Victor Huntley on “Damages”) provides the voices of everyone else.

Kaufman, best known for his “Being John Malkovich” screenplay, wrote this script 10 years ago as a radio play. Dino Stamatopoulos, a friend from their days working on NBC's short-lived 1966 “Dana Carvey Show” (with writers Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Louis C.K. and Bob Odenkirk!), asked if he could make “Anomolisa” into an animated movie.  

It was funded by a 2012 Kickstarter campaign which raised $406,000. Kaufman co-directed with Duke Johnson.

Michael and Lisa walking down a Cincinnati hotel corridor
Credit Paramount Pictures
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Michael and Lisa walking down a Cincinnati hotel corridor

Kaufman, born on Long Island, has never been to Cincinnati. That’s obvious by the endless Vegas-size hotel corridors in the film, and a Manhattan-style skyline with miles of rooftops.

So why set it in Cincinnati?

“I don’t really know that I have a very good reason,” Kaufman told me in an interview which will air on “Around Cincinnati” 7 p.m. Sunday on WVXU-FM(91.7). “It was in 2005, and it’s a little bit blurry for me to try to recall. I wanted it to be in that part of the country. I liked the way the word Cincinnati sounds. I did a little reading online about Cincinnati, and found out about the famous chili and about the zoo, I thought that was kind of fun stuff to write about.”  

Says Johnson, a St. Louis native: “I think I’ve y driven thru Cincinnati, actually, but I haven’t stayed overnight.”

Co-directors Duke Johnson (left) and Charlie Kaufman
Credit Paramount Pictures
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Co-directors Duke Johnson (left) and Charlie Kaufman

Are they saying that Cincinnati residents are a bunch of boring people who look alike and sound alike?

“Not at all. But you may be -- because I’ve never been there, and have no way of knowing,” Kaufman says with a smile in his voice.

“It’s not at all about Cincinnati. It was a place to place it. I felt like that part of the country was a place for Lisa to live. It felt right for Lisa to be from there. She’s from Akron, from that part of the country. It felt good, so and I think that’s the primary reason why I set it in Ohio.”

This is Kaufman’s fourth Oscar nomination. He was nominated for writing “Being John Malkovich” (2000) and “Adaptation” (2003), and won best original screenplay for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004) starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet.  

The Oscars will be presented on ABC Sunday Feb. 28. "Carol," theCateBlanchett-RooneyMara movie filmed here last year, is up for six Oscars.

You can hear my entire interview with Kaufman and Johnson 7 p.m. Sunday on "Around Cincinnati." They describe the painstaking stop-action process, shooting only one minute of animation a week using 12-inch tall puppets on 18 sets in a huge studio.  Here’s the trailer:

https://youtu.be/DT6QJaS2a-U

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