Man and woman walking down a hall

Michael (David Thewlis) is instantly smitten by Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in the animated film Anomalisa (Paramount Pictures)

Nominations for the Academy Awards are due out this week, but a couple of the prime Oscar candidates are just now making it to Central Ohio.

  As of last weekend, we can bask in the angst and atmosphere of Carol, a lush period drama directed by Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven). Set in New York in 1952, it stars Cate Blanchett as Carol, a divorced mother, and Rooney Mara as Therese, a young store clerk who catches her eye.

  Carol is attracted to women, and Therese apparently is too, judging by the fascinated gaze she directs at this glamorous individual who shows up in her store’s toy department. Nevertheless, Carol proceeds cautiously, not only because this was a more conservative era but because she wants to remain on good terms with Harge (Kyle Chandler), the jealous ex who still supports her and her young daughter.

  The film also proceeds cautiously, to the extent that viewers may grow tired of waiting to see just where it’s headed.

  Carol is at its best during the first act, when the pair’s growing attraction is charmingly portrayed by Blanchett as the sophisticated yet vulnerable Carol and by Mara as the unsophisticated yet fearless Therese. (Cincinnati also fares well as the shooting location, being a convincing stand-in for 1950s Manhattan.)

  The film is less effective during melodramatic scenes with an increasingly angry Harge, and it nearly wears out our patience during the long road trip that constitutes its second act. Geographically, Carol and Therese cover a lot of territory, but emotionally, it takes them forever to get out of second gear.

  They do, eventually, only to discover that they were right to be cautious in the first place.

  Carol is a beautiful film, and Mara is particularly appealing as Therese, the center of attention during most of its running time. Overall, though, it’s less rewarding than an unusual flick that’s coming to town next week.  

  Anomalisa is so full of humanity that you almost forget there’s not an actual human being on the screen. Written by Charlie Kaufman and co-directed by Kaufman and Duke Johnson, it’s an animated film like none you’ve ever seen.

  There are two main characters, both depicted by three-dimensional figures brought to life through stop-motion photography. Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) is an author and customer-service specialist who arrives in Cincinnati (yes, Cincy again!) to speak at a seminar. Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a customer-service representative who has accompanied a friend to the seminar to hear Michael speak.

  Michael has a wife, a son and a prominent position, but he seems alienated from both his family and his job. In fact, he seems alienated from the rest of humanity—to the extent that everyone else looks and sounds alike. (Tom Noonan voices all of the other characters, male and female.)

  Then Michael meets humble, scarred and somewhat dumpy Lisa, and he’s delighted to find she looks and sounds—well, different. As a result, he immediately falls in love.

  For the sake of parents who think all animated films are as family-friendly as the wonderful Inside Out, it should be noted that Anomalisa is not shy about showing the carnal side of love. And for the sake of Team America fans who think all puppet sex is played for laughs, it should be noted that Anomalisa’s lovemaking is different. It’s graphic, but it’s also touchingly human.

  As fascinating and brilliant as Anomalisa is, it’s hard to summarize just what it’s about. For those who demand an explanation, a clue might be found in the name of Michael’s fictitious Cincy hotel: Al Fregoli. “Fregoli” is a delusional condition that causes someone to believe a single tormenter is portraying every other person in the world.

  Still, it’s probably best not to take this too literally. Interpreting Michael’s dilemma as simply the result of a mental condition deprives us of the ability to put ourselves in his place as he deals with an existence that he finds increasingly meaningless.

  Carol: 3 stars (out of 5)

  Anomalisa: 4 stars (out of 5)

  Carol (rated R) opened Jan. 8 at the Drexel Theatre and Gateway Film Center. Anomalisa (rated R) opens Jan. 22 at the same theaters.

Michael (David Thewlis) is having a bad day in the animated film Anomalisa (Paramount Pictures)

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