Director: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams
This film was one of the last Oscar contenders that I needed to see; I was more excited to see it than many others, it just worked out that I was seeing it late. So I heard all the good press, the rave reviews, and knew that it was up for Best Picture. But that didn't mean too much to me. Everyone and their brother thinks that Gravity is the best thing since french toast; I barely even liked it. The Academy thinks that Inside Llewyn Davis isn't even worthy of a nomination; I think it's the best film of 2013. So I was as much in the dark about Her as I would have been had I not heard a thing; would it live up to the great things I'd heard or would I be left alone disliking another nominee that everyone else thought was the second coming of Citizen Kane? As it turns out, I somehow disagree with everyone, but not in the way I thought I might. It's not a great film after all; it's phenomenal. And it doesn't deserve one major nomination; it deserves three. Her is one of the best films of the past year, pushing Llewyn, in my book, for the very top spot.
The main character of the film and the hub of all action & emotion is Theodore Twombly. He lives in L.A. in the near future, works for a company that writes hand-written letters of love for paying customers, enjoys video games & internet porn, and is incredibly lonely. His volatile wife Catherine has filed for divorce and a marriage that Theodore had devoted his entire self to is suddenly dissolved. He's depressed, alone, unsure; until he meets Samantha. She's the girl of his dreams, the perfect companion, gets all his jokes, talks with him late into the night, turns him on like no one has before. But she can't be beside him, can't curl in bed with him at night, because she's not human. Samantha is an operating system, a computer capable of artificial intelligence, learning human emotion and every fact in the world at an unimaginable speed. Her relationship with Theodore starts out as any other does; hesitantly, thrillingly, all-encompassing. But soon the pair realize that their love will never be "normal", that they will never be truly together, and that her destiny might be too great to be held in the hand of one man.
There is so much to discuss about this film, so many aspects that make it amazing and one that I could watch again right away. The sci-fi element of the story was brilliantly done. The future wasn't unbelievable, it was meticulously crafted to seem plausible and right-around-the-corner; touch screens, automatic lights, earpieces, voice recognition, mass transit, urban centers. Everything imagined is partly in existence now and no technology took a leap of faith to accept. Even the AI of Samantha and the other OSes was acceptable, fascinating, perfectly constructed but never explained in detail. And so the world in which Theodore lived was fantastic enough to allow us to believe in the possibility of a computer that could feel, but not so out-there that we felt disconnected from the story. Because, in the end, the story was what mattered. It was a love story, a tale of star-crossed lovers in a way, a film about immature emotion that can be so exciting and so confusing all at once. The innocence of Samantha and the desperation of Theodore were both so compelling and so real that I found myself emotionally involved in the plot and sharing their passion for each other. There were pieces of their love that we can all relate to, mistakes that they made that we've all made before. And the story that evolved became so real, so wonderful, that it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that it blew me away.
Despite all the praise for the film and its shot at Best Picture, Spike Jonze does not have a chance to claim Best Director. I think the Academy got that one wrong; he deserves it much more than Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave or even Alexander Payne for Nebraska. This film was beautifully shot, well thought out, and I felt his presence here in a very positive way. And an even greater snub would be not nominating Joaquin Phoenix for Best Actor. He was at his best, delivering a character that was so amazingly deep and also so relatable. And he was on his own for much of the film, conversing with an earbud and making audiences believe he was truly in love. Scarlett Johansson, the voice of Samantha, was never seen, was always just a voice. She and Amy Adams, who was in many ways the straight man, were complimentary actors; the burden of the film was on Phoenix and he has never been better. My votes were going to be for Oscar Issac and the Coen Brothers until I saw this film; now they would go to Phoenix and Jones. I still think that Llewyn is the best film of 2013, with Her right behind, regardless of what the Academy thinks. They were very different films, but both combined heartbreaking stories with honest comedy to produce movies that continued to play in my head as I left the theatre and for days after.