Oscar Primer 2014: There’s Something About Her

During the lead up to this year’s Oscar’s on March 2nd I will be covering a lot of the nominees for the upcoming Academy Awards. This will not be your usual Oscar primer, but in fact more of a “catching up to speed” series. I will be dissecting a major film (a best picture nominee) and one or two smaller films in each installment. I will be going over what the nominees are, and what chances it stands to win. In the last installment HERE I covered “American Hustle” and “Prisoners”. This time I will be talking about “her”, “The Invisible Woman” and “The Croods”

Our own Sean Chin and Andreas Babiolakis discussed “her” on the Capsule Podcast found HERE.

“her” was directed by Spike Jonze, produced by Annapurna Pictures and released on January 10th. The film has five nominations.

–       Best Picture- Spike Jonze, Megan Ellison and Vincent Landay

–       Best Original Screenplay- Spike Jonze

–       Best Original Song- Spike Jonze and Karen O

–       Best Original Score- Will Butler and Owen Pallett

–       Best Production Design- K.K. Barrett (Production Designer) and Gene Serdena (Set Decorator)

When the Academy expanded the number of Best Picture nominees from five up to ten, it was called “The Dark Knight” rule, since everyone was upset it did not get nominated for Best Picture. The rule is so unconventional films like a Hollywood blockbuster in the mold of “The Dark Knight” stands a chance, but also really odd ones like “her” make the grade. I think if there were only five nominees “her” would have missed the cut. To further confirm this look at the nominations for Best Director, and you can assume those five would have been the Best Picture nominees, and how Spike Jonze is absent.

Take a second to describe this film to someone else without giving too much away. “Uh, well, it’s about a guy in the not too distant future, and his life is reeling out of control due to a recent divorce. And… he starts to date this ‘Siri’ like computer, except it is sentient. But trust me it isn’t weird or creepy!” It sounds weird and creepy doesn’t it? Well Spike Jonze directing from his original script made this potentially the most touching love story of the year. While some people deride the dating of OS’s (Operating System’s), others are fine with it, as they understand relationships are already tricky things to navigate so why bother wasting time condemning someone else. There is a super fine line that could have been crossed for this film not to work, but it excels where other directors, writers or actors would have failed miserably.

The film won Best Original Screenplay at the Golden Globes and was nominated for Best Picture. I really think it stands the best chance to win the Best Original Screenplay category for two reasons. First, the Academy likes to give this award to weird or odd films that they wouldn’t dare give Best Picture too; secondly this screenplay is rock solid. Its biggest obstacles are probably Woody Allen’s script for “Blue Jasmine” and David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” solely because the Academy loves these guys. As far as Best Picture goes, since it wasn’t nominated for Best Director it doesn’t really stand much of a chance unfortunately.

The film takes place in the not too distant future, which means that the characters aren’t yet living in space pods and wearing shiny silver moon suits. What the film does is take a mix of modernism designs with a dash of 70’s era retro colours and patterns. The film was shot primarily in Shanghai, perhaps one of the most futuristic looking cities. The film is littered with Apple-like products, from computers to video games amongst other interesting gadgets. I like the look and aesthetic of the film, but I wonder if it is enough to get a win as everything about the design is made to look just subtly different enough to not be the present, especially comparing it to all the glitz and glamour of “The Great Gatsby”.

The score is fantastic, as is when you have Will Butler from Arcade Fire working with Owen Pallett who has worked with Arcade Fire and Grizzly Bear among others. They composed a beautiful moody soundtrack using minimal electronic music to enhance the vision of the future. Arcade Fire composed the song Supersymmetry for the closing credits and it later appeared on their latest album Reflektor. I fear this is another minimalist part of the film that may be over looked by the Academy.

‘The Moon Song’ was written by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Jonze, and it is a crucial part to advancing the plot. Joaquin Phoenix’s character Theodore Twombly is playing his ukulele while having a conversation with Scarlett Johansson’s operating system, Samantha, while they are on a cabin getaway vacation alone. He asks her to make up a tune to some chords he is playing and she comes up with ‘The Moon Song’. A ditty about how her lover is a million miles away while she is waiting on the moon for him, a plot that resembles the movie. Samantha’s breathless delivery is one of the tenderest moments in the film. Seeing how happy Theodore is listening to her makes your heart melt and understand how a man can be in love with a computer.  This song deserves to win, but it is never a safe bet to go against the House of Mouse, where “Frozen” has a nomination in the same category.

I know the Academy hates Phoenix, but outside of Matthew McConaughey and Chiwetel Ejiofor, he is the most deserving actor and should have been nominated. Frankly it was a travesty he did not win for last year’s “The Master” which was a master class level of acting (along with Phillip Seymour Hoffman). If it wasn’t for Phoenix’s ‘crazy years’ and his comments about how he thinks the Oscar’s are “bullshit”, he would not only be nominated but also a threat to win. A few years back during the height of the “Lord of the Rings” and “King Kong” era, there was much consternation that Andy Serkis should have been nominated for his motion capture performances as Gollum and King Kong. Unfortunately there was too much debate about whether his performance was his acting, or the work of CGI animators. I feel Johansson’s performance suffers from a similar fate, as she should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her voice only work. During filming Samantha Morten was originally cast and performed on set as Samantha and during editing Jonze didn’t feel her voice worked perfectly and cast Johansson instead. This was no ordinary voice work, probably the most subtle and in depth voice acting performance I have ever seen (heard?). This makes both Joaquin and Scarlett’s performances stand even taller.

“The Invisible Woman” was directed by Ralph Fiennes, produced by BBC Films and was released on January 17th. The film has one nomination.

–       Best Costume Design- Michael O’Connor

This is a period piece, and naturally any self-respecting period piece will devout most of the budget to customs and set design, since without authentic garb the viewer will never believe that the film is set in the 1850’s. The film does an interesting job charting Charles Dickens love affair with his mistress Nelly Ternan who was 18 at the start of their relationship. Fiennes who is a fine actor and turning into a fine director, handles the love affair very gently. The film is as poetic as Dickens prose, which is shown in scenes quite often.

Oh right, I am here to talk about the costumes. They are fabulous. From Nelly’s gorgeous light green evening dress, up to peasants and prostitutes wearing torn up rags from time appropriate fabrics. The gentlemen are dressed in dashing dinner suits and fancy top hats. There are numerous play-within-film moments and for the ‘professional actors’ it appears as a professional seamstress of the time made their outfits. There are some scenes of young children at a school performing a play and they look like the young boys were in charge of making their own outfits and applying their own makeup. It is quite adorable to say the least. No one appears uncomfortable in the era as they say that a costume is what makes a character real for an actor. O’Connor was also nominated for a BAFTA for his work. During the last ten years all but two films that won Best Costume Design were true period pieces, only “The Aviator” and “Memoires of a Geisha” were not too distant past subject matter winners. Unfortunately due to the in-your-faceness of “The Great Gatsby” and the Best Picture supported “American Hustle” and “12 Years a Slave”, “The Invisible Woman” might get lost in the shuffle even though it is a very deserving film.

“The Croods” was directed by Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders, produced by Dreamworks and released on March 22nd. The film has one nomination.

–       Best Animated Feature- Kirk DeMicco, Chris Sanders and Kristine Belson

While I have yet to see frontrunners “Frozen” and “The Wind Rises” I can safely say this is the worst of the five nominees. The story is bland and unoriginal. The saving grace of this film is the world that was created for the pre-historic world is stunning. The creative licensing of Darwin-izing of animals, such as a turtle with wings or two lemurs that share one long connecting tail was the best part of the film. A lot of moments come from ‘Hey look at us we are making inventions that won’t be around for several thousand years from now!’ A scene where fire is introduced to the cave men goes on for several minutes too long to show they are all idiots that need saving from the human. The film goes on a depressing tangent on the last third where it seems like the family is going to allow Nicolas Cage’s father character Grug to sacrifice himself while saving everyone else. Unfortunately he invents a plane using a land whale’s skeleton and tar to have flying piranhas carry him across forcefully. Grug sounds like Woody from “Toy Story” after chugging five Redbulls. This is a pseudo kid’s movie, not a family movie like what Pixar makes. Apparently Dreamworks is pushing hard to do last minute promoting to steal the Oscar away from Disney, but I really can’t see that happening.

About author

Music Editor at Live in Limbo and Host of Contra Zoom podcast. Dakota is a graduate of Humber College's Acting for Film and Television. He now specializes in knowing all random trivia. He writes about music, sports and film. Dakota's life goal is visit all baseball stadiums, he's at 7.