NYFF: Could Warner Bros. Holiday Entry 'Her' Be Poised To Make Oscar History?

The New York Film Festival closed Saturday night with the World Premiere of Spike Jonze‘s fourth feature, the irresistibly charming romantic fantasy Her, about a man who falls head over heels for his “operating system”. The studio held a simultaneous screening on the West Coast Saturday afternoon for L.A.-based critics and bloggers. Initial reaction was upbeat.

Whatever the December Warner Bros. release’s many attributes, its awards potential is yet to be determined. But I would say if it catches on with the Academy crowd at all, it could be poised to make Oscar history in at least one category. Scarlett Johansson, who poignantly voices Samantha the computer system that organizes Joaquin Phoenix‘s life and strikes up an intense and heartbreaking personal relationship with him, could possibly become the first solely voice-over performance to win an acting nomination. It’s never happened in the past that an actor, unseen on screen and strictly doing voice work has been able to nail a nomination from the Academy’s actors branch. But if ever it was going to happen this is the year, and Johansson’s is the performance. Her work (she replaced Samantha Morton) is exemplary. She’s also great in the current Don Jon as well. I am told by a Warner Bros. source working on the campaign that they have checked and the role is eligible. They plan to run her seriously for Best Supporting Actress and, if successful, will make the Academy history books. The idea could run into a roadblock as actors – which is the branch voting here – are notoriously shy to reward any performance that isn’t a flesh and blood role. There are any number of worthy animated feature voice over portrayals (not to mention the performance capture work of Andy Serkis) that have gone consistently unrecognized by their acting peers and a Johansson nomination would be revolutionary – a nod to the future if the actors branch even wants to go there.

Jonze, whose films Adaptation and Being John Malkovich won significant Oscar nominations and just one win (for Chris Cooper’s supporting turn in Adaptation), has made an appealing comedy for our times. It’s the kind of film that will cultivate fervent admirers but may leave others scratching their heads. So be it. The idea that a sad sack lonely guy played brilliantly by Phoenix, trying to recover from a devastating divorce, could essentially fall for his “laptop” is hilarious, but it somehow seems utterly plausible here. It’s a probing story of obsession run amok and the perfect fable for a society deeply in love with their gizmos. I have a similar relationship with my troubled Blackberry and worry constantly about our future together.

Of course comparisons will obviously be made with the 2007 film Lars And The Real Girl in which Ryan Gosling fell in love with a life-size blow-up doll. I liked that one too, but the Academy almost completely ignored it. Both Lars and particularly Her are perfectly realized examples of absurdist cinema that become oddly endearing and real.

You have to wonder if this film, which should click big with younger viewers, will sail over the heads of many Academy members who had a hard enough time just trying to figure out electronic voting last year. Nevertheless nominations for Original Screenplay for Jonze and a lead actor nod for Phoenix could definitely be in store. And if there’s any justice, the gorgeous cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema of perfectly-chosen Los Angeles-set locations should also figure into the mix. L.A. has not looked this good on screen in years and it should be a boost to new Los Angeles Film Czar Tom Sherak‘s cause to get more features filming in the City Of Angels. The supporting cast which includes the always-reliable Amy Adams and Olivia Wilde is also top notch.  Warner Bros. already has a sure thing Best Picture contender in the smash hit Gravity, and a decent chance for significant recognition for Prisoners. Her may be a more acquired taste for traditional Oscar voters  but if critics get behind it in the way early reaction seems to be going, it could build some momentum. It’s definitely a unique, and uniquely welcome, respite from the standard studio romantic comedy fare. Being different counts for a lot.

  1. It will be interesting to see if Scarlett can get recognition for this kind of performance. From the sound of it, I would bet on the Screenplay and Production Design noms, for now. I can’t wait to see it!
    Minor correction, though, Chris Cooper won Supporting Actor for Adaptation.

  2. Pete, one small correction. Writer Nancy Oliver was (quite deservedly) nominated for an Oscar for Best Orginal Screenplay for “Lars and the Real Girl”.

  3. Major correction here: while the film is set in LA, the vast majority of outdoor city shooting was done in Shamghai. So no, LA didn’t actually look that good.

  4. If Johanson’s voice-over work is being nominated over Andy Serki’s WORK then i’m never watching the oscars again.NEVER.

    1. Hype Hype Hype. We go through this with CGI/voice performances every few years. Anyone saying she will be nominated is just trying to create buzz. Will NEVER happen, not just with her, but with any voice over, animated, or CGI actor. If the Academy members don’t even have strong enough feelings on the matter to create a voice acting category, they aren’t going to nominate a voice actor.

    2. Agreed, just the thought that a voice over can win a nomination for an Oscar, is enough to make anyone wonder the legitimacy of the Academy. Lets CGI everyone and then ask them to do their voices…pathetic.

  5. Photography nerds should note that this DP’s next film is Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.

    1. INterested Observer, Christopher Nolan chose Hoyte Van Hoytema for a reason . He is no dummy . His brilliant cinematography work on Let the Right One In & Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy are absolutely breathtaking. I definitely see Hoyte winning an Oscar in the near future .

  6. which is the branch voting here – are notoriously shy to reward any performance that isn’t a flesh and blood role. There are any number of worthy animated feature voice over portrayals (not to mention the performance capture work of Andy Serkis

    Yet some say Bullock is a lock? CGI tears and all?

  7. I’m all for a Johansson campaign for a Supporting Role this year, but it should be for Don Jon (seriously, Relativity needs to campaign for its 3 stars at least for the Spirit and Globes). She was phenomenal and it would be disappointing to see her get a nom for Her because of her “accumulated” good work this year. Not to mention, Don Jon is her best work in years.

    1. Don Jon actors= over the top cartoons.
      EXCEPT for Juliana Moore who seemed like she was in another movie.

      1. Agreed. Scarlet’s Jersey accent was credible because she is from N.Y. , but her cartoonish performance made the character very caricature with little depth . I love reading Pete Hammond’s pieces , but sometimes he has the tendency to over-hype things .

      2. That was the point for the first half. When the film shifts into drama, Johansson/Moore/Levitt all deliver strongly, in my opinion. None oscar-worthy, but I was just pointing out that Johansson’s work in DJ was impressive. The fight scene, in particular.

    2. Don Jon was not that good. The script was one-dimensional. The only thing that saved the film was Julianne Moore.

  8. If Scarlett’s live action work for which she was nominated for every other award except the oscars can’t get nominated == why would her voice over work be recognized. I think the only chance is if meryl streep ever does voice over work….

  9. I saw this last night at the NYFF and thought it was a wonderful movie – original, tender and deeply personal. I can’t say enough about Joaquin Phoenix’s performance. Jonze has given him the Anne Hathaway treatment with what’s got to be over 10+ minutes of extreme closeup; you can see every tiny flicker of emotion play across Phoenix’s face.

    I can see the movie going over very well with the LA Film Critics Circle, which has a history of idiosyncratic choices but also hope “Her” will get support from the other critics groups and fervent partisans to nab the “Extemely Close” slot in the Best Picture Oscar race.

  10. The idea of falling in love with one’s laptop is a lot more appealing to journalists/critics than it is to actors. Just saying.

  11. How is that fair? You don’t see the emoting, so therefore it’s not necessarily acting. Andy Serkis was brilliant as Gollum because he was acting the character out, you saw the facial expressions. So if Johansson is nominated, that is bullshit. There is no way a VOICE is getting a nom.

  12. LMAO. People taking the piss at a voiceover performance is basically saying blind people can’t have an opinion.

  13. chuckling here picturing the people here debating– through anonymous website interaction– if a voiceover is credible enough for Oscar contention. I marvelled at the dozens (hundreds?) of animators and visual effect people in the credits of Gravity. Maybe the ship sailed on non-computer enhanced roles being bastardized.

    Maybe the Academy sees no need for a separate category until it sees a need from buzz like this kind of nomination?

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