10. Anomalisa (2015)
One of the few adult animations, and the only stop motion for mature audiences nominated for the
Academy Award, Anomalisa makes you question reality and perception in creative ways.
Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a customer service expert and speaker who suffers from the Fregoli delusion, which makes the person with the disorder believe that different people are only one single person in disguise. This belief is usually accompanied with a paranoia that this person in disguise is out to get them. In the film, everyone Michael sees and interacts with shares the same face and voice (Tom Noonan). While staying at a hotel in Cincinnati for a conference, Michael meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the only person he has ever met who looks and sounds different. For him, this changes everything.
From the writer-director behind other mind-bending pictures such as Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa makes you question whether or not what Michael experiences is real. Stop motion is the perfect medium for this story as it reveals the artifice of the world through his eyes. Kaufman and co-director, Duke Johnson, don’t hide the imperfections of the animation style, making the film feel more offbeat and intimate. The repeated use of the same voice and puppet’s face for each character is isolating and unnerving, almost too unnerving to be enjoyable but fascinating all the same. Anomalisa was the first animated film to win the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice International Film Festival in 2015, but lost the Oscar for Best Animated Feature to PIxar’s Inside Out.
9. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2021)
An unusual bid for the animation Oscar with its combination of stop motion and live action, this passion project from Dean Fleischer Camp and Jenny Slate is a truly special film about life, love, and loss.
Marcel (Slate), a one-inch-tall shell, lives in an Airbnb with his grandmother, Nana Connie (Isabella Rossellini). Dean, playing a fictionalized version of himself, stays at the house and starts to document the small shell’s life, learning that there was once a large community of shells that disappeared one day when the old homeowners left. The filmmaker uploads videos of Marcel’s resourcefulness and observations of life online and, after becoming an internet sensation, Marcel is invited to tell his story to Leslie Stahl (as herself) on ’60 Minutes’ in the hopes of finding his long lost family.
Despite the tiny size of its protagonist, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is an unwaveringly sweet, heart-warming and profound meditation on life and death, human connection, loss, and personal strength. Fleischer Camp builds a magical world of small shell homes complete with a tennis ball transportation system and Alan, a pet lint ball. The cinematography is unpretentious and beautiful, picking up on small details like dust and sunlight, and Slate and Rossellini deliver stunning voice performances. Unfortunately, it’s tough to compare this film to full stop-motion pictures from masters of the craft, but there’s so much we can learn from this little shell with trainers.
8. Corpse Bride (2005)
Tim Burton at his best for a decade, Corpse Bride stretches the gothic as far as it can go and produces a richly dark modern fairy tale.
Victor (Johnny Depp) and Victoria (Emily Watson) are engaged to be married, but their plans come to a halt when the groom disappears into the forest to practise his vows and accidentally weds Emily the Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham-Carter). He must find a way to rescue his betrothed from the clutches of the sinister Barkis Bittern (who has his sights set on Victoria) without hurting Emily’s feelings. Based on an old Jewish folktale, it is a tragic and moving love story.
The production design is stunningly macabre, with the auteur’s quintessential skeletal character design and a dark, lifeless colour palette above ground giving way to bright colours and warm lighting in the world of the dead. Once again, Burton betrays the influence of German Expressionism and classic horror on his work, including a niche reference to actor Peter Lorre in the shape of a maggot (Enn Reitel) living in Emily’s skull. The film engages with the director’s usual themes, overturning our perception of monsters with the Corpse Bride as the most likeable and sympathetic character.
Recommended for you: Tim Burton Movies Ranked
7. Isle of Dogs (2018)
Often overlooked for Wes Anderson’s more popular stop motion, Fantastic Mr. Fox, this original story is a masterclass in the director’s attention to detail from the animation and mise-en-scène to character development and the originality of its story.
In the futuristic fictional city of Megasaki, Japan, the domineering mayor, Kenji Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), banishes all dogs to the isolated Trash Island following an outbreak of canine flu, his evil plan being to exterminate the beloved pets. The mayor’s nephew, Atari (Koyu Rankin), commandeers a small plane and travels to the island to find his dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber), with the help of a gruff stray, Chief (Bryan Cranston), and a pack of other dogs voiced by Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Murray. It’s a race against the clock as the hounds and sympathetic humans work together to stop the mass extermination and reinstate dogs as man’s best friends.
Anderson’s meticulous design permeates the entire film, and a gripping story keeps you on the edge of your seat. The movie is also unusual since most of the humans speak in Japanese with no subtitles and only the dogs are intelligible to English-speaking audiences. It’s important to note that critics are split on whether or not Anderson’s film appropriates Japanese culture: Justin Chang at The Los Angeles Times criticized its inclusion of a ‘white saviour’ figure in the exchange student, Tracy (Greta Gerwig), while Moeko Fuji at The New Yorker praised its sensitive depiction of Japanese culture and language. Still, it’s a beautifully crafted film that will warm the heart of any dog lover.