Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Trailer for Spike Jonze's "Her" Suggests the Year's Strangest Romantic Couple

Joaquin Phoenix
It will be tough for me to disassociate anything Joaquin Phoenix does from The Master, if only for the fact that it was the inspiration for launching The Oscar Buzz. With that established, I will admit that maybe my frenzy was a little too enthusiastic during the past season and while yes, Daniel Day Lewis didn't deserve it, I still stand by my belief that Phoenix is if not one of the best, one of the most ambitious performers currently working. Just check out how he sabotaged his career for satire in the discriminating underrated I'm Still Here. Even his poise at this year's Oscars ceremony suggests someone thinking outside the box. That is why, more than anything, it is exciting news to see that he has a new film, and it is with director Spike Jonze called Her.

I am hoping that as the Oscar season heats up, I won't get into my fever for Phoenix again. I love the guy and this is exciting news. Even then, unless the Academy wants to risk upsetting him two years in a row, we may have an unfortunate departure between Phoenix and the Oscars. Of course, it would have to be really political and a violent outburst to reach that level. Two of the most notorious winners: George C. Scott (Best Actor - Patton) and Marlon Brando (Best Actor - The Godfather) famously refused to accept their awards. In one case, Scott refused to even be nominated for Best Supporting Actor in The Hustler. While neither went on to win after the matter, each had a few nominations to their credit. 

Of course, the bigger difference is that with technology and that infamous Elvis Mitchell interview so public, the times have changed. If a performer decides to demean the ceremony, there is a better chance that they will be "overlooked." While Phoenix's post-interview behavior suggests that the quote was taken out of context, it still suggested a man who wasn't wanting to deal with nonsense campaigns. Whether it was because people believed Daniel Day Lewis would have won anyways or not, it made sense. While The Master walked away empty-handed, I am hoping that the performances give inspiration for further consideration. 

But onto Her. As most people should be aware, Spike Jonze may be one of the most distinct and successful music video directors of the 90's. His ability to turn everything into shape-shifting magic has created some of the most exciting cinema of the past 15 years. The Academy has even noticed, landing him a Best Director nomination for his first film Being John Malkovich as well as more nominations in writing and acting. He also received some for his second film Adaptation. To date, his films have garnered seven nominations. At very least, it is enticing to see a director with original stories so abstract receiving high regards.

Of course, his latest venture with Her continues to see the director go into strange, new directions. The first trailer was released today, and it may be one of the most bizarre major releases of the Fall:

Pretty crazy, huh? What is fascinating about it is that it looks to be a romantic comedy between a man and a phone (Scarlett Johannson). In a way, this reeks of relevance to our modern relationship with technology. In case the trailer wasn't clear, the plot is:
"A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly-purchased operating system that's designed to meet his every need."
This could either be one of the greatest films of the year, or one of the most misguided. However, with Jonze's strong track record, I am willing to bet that it will be the former. The cast is even exceptionally impressive, as it also includes nominees Amy Adams (who is having a terrific year), Rooney Mara (Best Actress - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), as well as Olivia Wilde and Chris Pratt. It is an impressive line-up that could call for a great movie. Also, it could just be a coincidence, but Pratt has starred in a Best Picture nominee the past two years (Moneyball, Zero Dark Thirty). There is a good chance that he has become a good luck charm, which may be proven untrue with The Guardians of the Galaxy next year, but it was fun while it lasted.

What do I see this film doing in terms of Oscar potential? Frankly, as much as I like Phoenix and I am sure he will do great, his performance in The Master was exceptional on a comeback scale. In Her he appears to be more nuanced and while the race is too loose to predict right now, it doesn't feel like a very showy role. While the Jonze films that have been nominated have landed performers nominations in the past, this doesn't feel like an exceptionally Oscar Buzz competitor. Even the directing feels a little more nuanced. Of course, it could just be the footage that is seen, but it doesn't seem like it will top the other predictions I made. 

I do, however, see the film keeping Jonze's track record going in terms of Best Original Screenplay. Having been nominated for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation in the category, he already has proven that the Academy likes his stories. He makes compelling visions of abstract narratives come to life. Provided that the film is a success, there is a good chance that it could stem a nomination on being a relevant look at our relationship with technology. There's plenty of positive buzz that could be built around that.

While I will personally say that it looks great and could be one of my favorites of the year, I don't feel like this will break Jonze's record of not being a Best Picture nominee. Even with the 5-10 sliding scale, there isn't much chance for the quirky indies to succeed. My notable example is the surprise success of Moonrise Kingdom, which got a Best Original Screenplay nomination, but didn't land any other category. Even if Jonze is more established than Wes Anderson was, this film will have to be visually too impressive to even stand a chance.

Of course, it would have to do better than Jonze's last film, Where the Wild Things Are, did at the ceremony. It walked away with no nominations, and it felt like a travesty. Either way, Her looks to be a pretty fun, original movie with a lot to offer in ways of story. However, for all of the prestige and momentum behind it, I don't feel like this will be making more than a few nominations at best at the Oscars next year. Even Joaquin Phoenix, who could do amazing, would have to prove himself pretty strongly to try and wipe away the comments made last year. 

Does Her stand a chance at a Best Picture nomination? Is Joaquin Phoenix doomed from ever getting nominated again? Will Spike Jonze ever win an award for writing?

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