Thursday, January 30, 2014

Best Screenplay Nominee: HER

HER nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Original Screenplay

LOGLINE - Existential sci-fi rom-com about a lonely man who falls in love with his operating system.

WHO WROTE IT - Born Adam Spiegel, writer/director Spike Jonze began his career as a photographer for skate magazines, then branched out to making skater videos. When a skater friend passed along one of Spike’s skateboard videos to Sonic Youth after running into them in the parking lot after their concert, the band contacted Jonze to direct their next video.

That led to more music videos for such artists as Beastie Boys, Weezer, R.E.M., Daft Punk (before their five Grammy wins earlier this week), and Björk. Though Jonze continues making skateboard videos, music videos (Arcade Fire, Jay-Z, Kanye West) and short films today, he embarked on a feature film career in 1999 with Being John Malkovich.

Jonze’s first two films, Malkovich and Adaptation, were both written by Charlie Kaufman. In 2009, Jonze released his interpretation of the classic children’s book Where the Wild Things Are. He co-adapted the screenplay with Dave Eggers. Her is Jonze’s fourth film, and his first from his own original screenplay.

Spike Jones nominated for Best Original Screenplay for HER
Spike Jones, writer/director of HER, nominated for Best Original Screenplay
In addition to writing and directing, he sometimes works as an actor, most prominently in Three Kings for David O. Russell, whose American Hustle competes against Her in the Best Original Screenplay category this year. Jonze also appeared in The Wolf of Wall Street, which competes with Her for Best Picture. And as co-creator of MTV’s Jackass, Jonze is also a credited writer and producer of Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, which is nominated this year for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

Jonze was married for four years to writer/director Sofia Coppola, who went on to win a Best Original Screenplay for Lost in Translation starring Scarlett Johansson, the voice of Her.

Spike Jonze and Sofia Coppola
Spike Jonze and Sofia Coppola

DEVELOPING HER - Jonze first started thinking about Her more than ten years ago when he read an article about an AI-driven instant messenger service. He later explored robots learning to dream and fall in love in his short, I’m Here. Sponsored by Absolut Vodka, the film debuted at Sundance in 2010. Dropping the first two letters, and the last, he was left with Her.

BOY MEETS HER - Her deals with themes of emotional connection. The first act sets up the protagonist, Theodore, as an introverted man going through a divorce, unable to let go of his failed relationship. He makes a living writing simulated handwritten letters for others who don’t have time for real human connections. Then there’s the meet-cute: He installs a new OS and meets “her,” his new love interest.

Joaquin Phoenix stars in HER

Their relationship takes Theodore on a journey into the upside-down world of the second act, where he has everything that was missing from his relationship with his wife. Ultimately, the second-act journey proves to be the wrong path for the protagonist, but helps him discover the flaws that led to his first-act problems so that he can become a whole person by the end of the third act.

WILL IT WIN - The film has an imaginative, high-concept premise. So far, it’s the third-lowest-grossing of the ten nominated screenplays (and second-lowest of the Best Picture nominees), but the idea has gotten people talking about it -- to Siri. There are plenty of comedy sequences to fulfill the promise of the premise, which also lends itself well to pop culture parody, including last week's SNL send-up starring Wolf of Wall Street's supporting actor nominee, Jonah Hill.

But the script delves deeper than a surface rom-com. It’s philosophical and poetic. It tries to comment on the human condition. That makes it a “serious” movie, despite being nominated in the Golden Globes’ “musical or comedy” category.

The screenplay has already taken home more awards than you can shake an Oscar at, including the Golden Globe, Critics' Choice Award, and prizes from the Chicago Film Critics Association, Detroit Film Critics Society, Georgia Film Critics Association, Kansas City Film Critics Circle, Online Film Critics Society, San Diego Film Critics Society, and more.

Spike Jonze wins the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay for HER
Spike Jonze wins Golden Globe for HER screenplay
In addition, Her is nominated for a WGA award and two ScripTipps Platinum Brad Screenplay Awards for Best Original Screenplay and Best Sci-Fi screenplay. (Click here to vote.)

Her is nominated for five Academy Awards in total, three of those nods (producer, writer, and co-songwriter) going to Jonze.

Jonze has circled the Oscar arena before. He was given a shot in the Best Director competition for his feature directorial debut, Being John Malkovich, but failed to make it back there for Her.

Malkovich and Adaptation both got screenplay nominations, suggesting the Academy responds more to screenwriter Charlie Kaufman than to Jonze. They wouldn’t give Kaufman a win until his Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was brought to life by a different director, Michel Gondry.

In this year’s race, Her is not expected to take home the grand prize, having missed out on nominations in the directing, editing, and cinematography categories. In the song category, Jonze will have an uphill battle to beat Frozen’s power ballad, “Let It Go.”

But despite his stiff competition from Russell and newcomer Bob Nelson’s Nebraska in the screenplay category, the Academy may just follow suit with all the other organizations that have made Her one of the award-winningest screenplays of the year.

Nicole Holofcener (writer/director of Enough Said) interviews Spike Jonze.

This is Part 3 of our 10-part series of profiles on this year's Oscar-nominated screenplays.

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