Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ – Potentially Serious Oscar Contender?


la-et-mn-her-trailer-joaquin-phoenix-jonze-201-001If you’re like me, you always are looking for a new awards contender to liven up the race, even in the summer. Much like I recently wrote about with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the upcoming New York Film Festival has seemingly been a home for potential dark horse or X factor contenders. Obviously, Opening Night selection Captain Phillips is obvious awards bait, but The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (the Centerpiece Gala) wouldn’t necessarily be thought of as such, and the Closing Night pick, Spike Jonze‘s Her, sure wouldn’t either. That being said, the recent trailer debut has me now thinking otherwise.

I’ll admit, I was initially skeptical of the awards prospects for Her. Sure, Jonze is a well-respected director, but he’s yet to 100% ingratiate himself with the Academy. Factor in a high-tech plot and the fact that Jonze himself wrote the script (something he hasn’t done solo yet in his career), and this seemed to me like something I’d love, but Oscar would find to be too cool for school. Then of course, that trailer hit a few days ago and changed my mind. The film looks damn near heartbreaking, appears to feature not only another tremendous performance by Joaquin Phoenix, but a perfectly utilized Scarlett Johansson (her voice at least, which is ironic considering she stepped in and replaced Samantha Morton at the last-minute when Morton’s work didn’t jive in some way for Jonze) as well. As much as the story sounded like it could be outside of voters’ tastes (a man falls in love with Siri, essentially), what we saw suggests something much deeper, and better, than just that.

First of all, one rumor that was going around has proven to be false. Initially, it had been said that all the women in the cast would be playing the voice of Samantha, the artificial intelligence/operating system that Phoenix’s Theodore purchases and falls for. That meant that Morton/Johansson was to be joined with Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, and Olivia Wilde, which might have been a cool gimmick, but just wouldn’t have had the same effectiveness. Here, it almost seems like we’re literally watching two individuals fall in love, something I prefer. The trailer certainly suggested that the emphasis won’t really be on the technology, which will help make it play to a wider audience, potentially including those pesky older awards voters.

Going by what we’ve seen, it’s definitely fair to admit that I underestimated Her. Still, I’m not ready to actually predict it for any nominations. Honestly, it looks like the type of thing that makes a whole bunch of Top Ten lists and then winds up majorly snubbed. That may not end up the case, but it’s a distinct possibility. If it does manage to do well during the precursor season though, it could certainly show up on Oscar’s radar, where things could get very interesting.

Assuming that Her winds up in play for nominations, I think Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Phoenix, Best Supporting Actress for Johansson (a stretch, I concede), and Best Original Screenplay appear to be where the film could contend. Picture is hard to say just due to the nature of the category, while Director seems like a longer shot, same for Supporting Actress. Actor might be one to watch out for, though the category is already jam packed, while Original Screenplay seems the most logical, but likely will be crammed as well when all is said and done. This leads me to stick with predicting a snub, but between now and my next prediction update, I’m contemplating a screenplay nod and maybe even going out on a limb for a Johansson nom.

Obviously, this is very early, but I’m optimistic that NYFF has seen something special here. Much like they recognized something extra in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, I think they saw the same here with Her. We’re all super excited for this movie, which is a success in and of itself. Clayton and I will find out firsthand on October 13th if it’s a contender or a pretender, but speaking for myself, there’s only a few flicks still to come this year that I’m as excited about. It may not wind up with any nominations, but Her is one to now take seriously. 2013 may have just gotten an unexpected gem. Stay tuned…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!