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Countdown to the Oscars 14’ – Best Picture Nominees (‘Her’)

Although this film did not make my list of the potential “five” if we were playing by the old AMPAS rules, it probably would have been number six given how unique it was. And while I could probably say the same for any of “others” I let off that same list of five, none of them would have beaten out “Her.” This film has won 29 awards leading up to the Oscars, making it an easy surprise hit this season. I know when I first saw the trailer for it, it looked interesting, but I never expected to enjoy it the way I did and be talking about it during this very preview. Yeah, it’s a low budget film with a small cast, but don’t let that fool you from the underlying message about life and love in a world filled with technology. That is what drives this film, thanks to an incredible script penned by the film’s director Spike Jonze, who took five months to write the first draft; this after coming up with the idea roughly a decade ago after reading an article about instant messaging with artificial intelligence. “For the first, maybe 20 seconds of it, it had this real buzz. I’d say ‘Hey, hello’ and it would say “Hey, how are you?’ and was like whoa…this is trippy. After 20 second, it quickly fell apart and you realized how it actually works, and it wasn’t all that impressive. But, it was still, for 20 seconds, real exciting. The more people that talked to it, the smarter it got,” Jonze said during in an interview with the discussing the project’s heritage.

Joaquin Phoenix in "Her"
Warner Bros. Pictures

Just hearing that brief explanation lets you inside the mind of guy like Spike Jonze; someone that you may think you know, but won’t know from where. And that’s fair, when you figure this is only his fourth film since 1999. Yup, you can count on one hand the number of films he has been behind the camera for, starting with “Being John Malkovich,” "Adaptation.,” “Where the Wild Things Are” and ending with “Her.” But, that’s not for a lack of trying, as directing films aren’t what Jonze is really known for. He actually made a name for himself in the music industry, where he has directed over 50 music videos since the early 90’s. So, for those like me that enjoy music and movies, you can appreciate how Jonze’s directorial style for his films mirror what you may see from any of the videos he has directed over the years. And here, several times, I felt as if I was watching one of his music videos, which believe it or not was a nice change from what most directors would do with a story such as this. So, while he wasn’t nominated for directing, he very easily could have been given what he was able to do with the camera in and out of everyday situations that normally would not have been all that exciting.

Because let’s face it; even though his name isn’t attached to the nomination for Production Design, his imprint is all over this film. Both behind the camera and that script, which Jonze said in that same interview with, was inspired by Charlie Kaufman’s approach for “Synecdoche, New York.” He explained, “ “Kaufman said he wanted to try to write everything he was thinking about in that moment..all the ideas and feelings at that time…and put it into the script. I was very inspired by that and tried to do that with “Her.” And a lot of the feelings you have about relationships or about technology are often contradictory.” Ah, yes, we are finally getting into the reason why this film is in the mix, the screenplay. Just that statement alone should tell you how I feel about writer/director Spike Jonze’s chances at taking home the Oscar, but there is more to it. You see, history is on my side in this category, which surprisingly has served Oscars to ‘indie’ filmmakers’ the past 11 out of 13 years. That equals out to roughly 85%, which means you should get on board with me in picking “Her” this year for Best Original Screenplay. Sure, it might lose to a fellow ‘indie’ like “Nebraska,” but I just don’t see how you can’t reward Jonze for making this story as watchable as it was. The credit doesn’t stop there, though, as this film would have never made it this far without the performance turned in by Joaquin Phoenix. The director wanted to pull in an actor capable of pretty much anything. That’s Joaquin Phoenix, who was the one and only reason I decided to go watch this film when it first hit theaters. He’s that good to me and truly deserved to be nominated for his work in this film, but I guess Hollywood still has not forgiven Phoenix for essentially turning his back on the industry when he quit to go make a rap album.

Ironically, the last two nominations are for music and I wouldn’t be surprised if “Her” won for either Original Score or Original Song. Because as I said earlier, Jonze has directed quite of bit of music videos over the years, so to be able to use the score in the way he did here was probably almost too easy for him. And the while the music certainly helped define the emotion and spirit of this film, all the chatter will be in its ‘sister’ category for Best Original Song. That’s where we already have had some drama, losing a fellow nominated song “Alone Yet Not Alone”(from the film of the same name) when the Academy found out that its composer Bruce Broughton, a former Academy governor and current music branch executive committee member, had violated promotional regulations by contacting other branch members for support. Ouch, that one hurts for a film not found among the rest of the nominated categories, effectively cancelling any plans to attend the ceremony on March 2nd. That said, when I can picture a film from the song that accompanies it, that song probably deserves to be nominated. Seems trivial, but a great song can do that and to me, “The Moon Song” fits into that category. Written and performed by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, this song stands out as the best from a year ago. I just don’t know if it will be able to unseat the predicted winner, “Let it Go” from the film “Frozen,” which was performed wonderfully in the film by actress/singer Idina Menzel.

CLICK HERE to read my original, uncut review on “Her”

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