So, who woulda thunk that not one, not two, but THREE of the more interesting animated features of the past couple of years would come out of the Middle East?? First, the Iranian filmmaker working in France, Marjane Satrapi made the superlative PERSEPOLIS -- and, with this past week's events, it's worth revisiting for it shows some of the seeds of rebellion that has lead to the protest marches. Then, came last year's Foreign Language film nominee, WALTZ WITH BASHIR out of Israel.
Now, there's $9.99, made by another Israeli, this time working out of Australia - Tatia Rosenthal. $9.99 got a brief, ill-fated Oscar qualifying run in December in NYC and L.A.. It is now back in those two cities before, hopefully, opening wider across the country. *(see Oscar rant below)
$9.99 is a well done claymation feature which weaves some short stories by writer Etgar Keret into an entertaining composite story centering around an "angel" and how he interacts with the inhabitants of unnamed small city. Don't expect a strict narrative and some of its best moments are just that - moments in time. It has a bit of the hallucinatory effect of Richard Linklater's animated features - SCANNER DARKLY and, especially, WAKING LIFE. Really hard to describe because the plotting is so loose that to give away many details both ruins the effect, and don't do the film justice. Best to let its brief 78 minutes just wash over you.
The Claymation (augmented with CGI) is interestingly done, with an oddly effective sculptured look to the characters. Australians including Geoffrey Rush as the Angel and Anthony LaPaglia head up a solid voice cast. And, this must be the year of animated male member. First, there was the big blue meanie in WATCHMAN, and now, a clay one here. Yes, this is an R-rated film - also, for some language, clay-sex and drug use.
* Oscar Rant. As noted, $9.99 played for a week in NYC and L.A. in order to qualify for the Animation Oscar category. So, not only didn't $9.99 not get a nomination, neither did WALTZ WITH BASHIR. But, BOLT did!?? The members of the Animation branch should be utterly embarrassed. What?!! Did these two films split the Israeli animation vote? Of course, animators in Hollywood further humiliated themselves by voting for the lite-weight KUNG FU PANDA over WALL-E at their Annie awards (in fact, a near sweep of their many categories).