Midway through the Best Picture alphabet, we have “Her,” Spike Jonze’s unique love story, set in the near future, between a man and his operating system. It sounds like a joke – like exactly the sort of movie that shouldn’t work at all — but Jonze pulls off one of the movie year’s near-miracles by creating a sweet and touching story. Written by Jonze, “Her” was inspired by his encounter, a decade ago, with an artificial-intelligence program: “For the first 30 seconds, I had that buzz, like, It’s responding to me! Then it quickly fell apart and you realize, Here are the tricks, here’s how this works. But what if I could sustain that forever?,” he said, in an interview with Vulture. For the duration of “Her,” he does sustain it, taking us along for an unexpectedly moving ride.
Still in theaters? Yes, currently at Regal Thornton Place, Sundance Cinemas and the Harvard Exit.
Total U.S. box office: Just under $24, putting it next-to-last among the Best Picture nominees.
Total Oscar nominations: Five, for best picture, original screenplay, production design, original score, and original song.
Best chance for a win: “Her” is definitely a contender in the musical categories (particularly best song, “The Moon Song,” written by Jonze with Karen O), but I think its best shot is for Jonze’s screenplay — it’s the kind of unique, creative work that doesn’t win the big prizes, but that Oscar voters might want to recognize.
Odds of this movie creating some fabulous Oscar-night weirdness: The best chance already didn’t happen — Scarlett Johansson, who plays the operating system (named Samantha), had some buzz for a supporting actress nomination, which would have been the first Oscar nod for a voice-only performance. Alas, it didn’t happen. But how great would it be if Jonze won original screenplay, and had a disembodied voice accept the award for him?
Fun fact: Samantha Morton played the role of Samantha originally — but was replaced, six months after the production ended, by Johansson. Jonze discovered, in the editing room, that the relationship between Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and Samantha didn’t resonate the way he wanted it to, and he made significant changes to the film at that stage (using new dialogue for Samantha, and alternate takes of Phoenix’s performance).