Oscar mystery: Will R-rated ‘Anomalisa’ inspire more nominations for adult animation?

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Charlie Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson‘s “Anomalisa” is certainly an anomaly: it’s an R-rated animated film geared to adults. That makes it unlike any film ever to compete for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, but it doesn’t look like that will stop the idiosyncratic toon. It ranks second in our predictions behind “Inside Out” from awards juggernaut Pixar.

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There had been mature films nominated for Best Animated Feature in the past. PG-13 contenders “The Triplets of Belleville” (2003), “Persepolis” (2007) and “The Wind Rises” (2013) as well as the unrated “Chico and Rita” (2011) and Wes Anderson‘s wry “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009) weren’t strictly kids’ stuff, but “Anomalisa” would be the first R-rated nominee.

Animation on the big screen is largely perceived as the domain of family films, with occasional exceptions for foreign and art-house entries in the academy’s lineup. But it’s mostly feature films where that’s the case. The Best Animated Short category often nominates adult-oriented films. What’s more, edgy animation is a regular fixture on TV, where kid-unfriendly shows like “South Park,” “Family Guy” and “Robot Chicken” are Emmy-winners.

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So can “Anomalisa” change the perception for feature films? It’s a stop-motion drama about Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), who writes books about customer service and has been invited to speak at a conference. He has trouble connecting with people because he can’t differentiate voices (almost all other roles are played by Tom Noonan) until he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who sounds blissfully different.

oscar odds animated featureOscar voters have often been kind to live-action filmmakers who try their hand at animation. In addition to Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Tim Burton has been nominated for “Corpse Bride” (2005) and “Frankenweenie” (2012), and Gore Verbinski won for “Rango” in 2011.

Out of the 23 Oscar Experts we’ve polled, 18 predict a nomination for “Anomalisa” and one (Gold Derby’s Themla Adams) predicts a win (click the chart on the right for all of our Experts’ Oscar picks).

It would be the first nomination for Johnson, but the fourth for Kaufman, who earned screenwriting bids for “Being John Malkovich” (1999) and “Adaptation” (2002) and a win for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004). This is Kaufman’s second film as a director, following “Synecdoche, New York” in 2008.

If “Anomalisa” proves successful, perhaps it will inspire more adult-oriented animation, especially if Oscar could be the reward.

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