How did ‘Her’ suddenly become a serious Oscars contender?

I loved “Her” when I saw it a couple of months ago at the New York Film Festival, but wasn’t sure how it would go over, even with critics. After all, I had been similarly enthusiastic about Spike Jonze‘s last film, “Where the Wild Things Are,” which got solid reviews and did okay at the box office, but received just a smattering of support during awards season.

Her” has already outperformed that film, winning Best Picture from the National Board of Review and the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. Where did that come from?

Sure, “Her” is not entirely out of character for the National Board of Review, which has made edgy choices in recent years like “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012), “The Social Network” (2010), and “No Country for Old Men” (2007). However, the NBR is notable for picking films that end up on Oscar’s list of Best Picture nominees.

Indeed, NBR’s pick has at least been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars for the past 12 years in a row. And only three winners from the last 30 years (“Empire of the Sun,” 1987; “Gods and Monsters,” 1998; “Quills,” 2000) didn’t make the cut with the academy.

So does that mean Oscar voters will like “Her” more than we thought it would, or will the NBR winner miss out on an Oscar bid for the first time in more than a decade?

That “Her” won over the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn., where it tied with “Gravity,” is even more important, and not just because of LAFCA’s track record – it has only been five years since one of their winners failed to earn an Oscar bid (“WALL-E” in 2008) – but because winning two awards in the first week of an onslaught of awards brings it to the attention of academy members who might not otherwise have considered it essential viewing.

But it’s one thing to impress the critics with a futuristic romance, and quite another to impress the academy. Critics tend to embrace the new, while Oscar voters usually stick with the familiar. Will the surge of support for this film inevitably end after the critics have had their say?

Maybe not. There’s a chance the film could strike a chord even with older members of the academy wary of new technology. After all, lovelorn Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) has his own reservations of his about his cyber-love with his computer (Scarlett Johansson) and gets serious push-back from his ex-wife Rooney Mara, who may speak for some members of the audience.

But “Her” is also, first and foremost, a love story, and Oscar history is littered with those. Last year, four of the nine Best Picture nominees told romantic love stories (“Amour,” “Les Miserables,” “Django Unchained,” and “Silver Linings Playbook“), and a great number of Best Picture-winners through the ages, whatever their backdrops, were romances. To name just a few: “The Artist,” “Titanic,” “Annie Hall,” and “The Sound of Music,” and you could keep going all the way back to “The Broadway Melody,” the second film ever to win the top Oscar.

Even “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” had love in its heart: it was the first Oscar-winner to take a stand for man-elf marriage.

Bet Theodore and his operating system don’t seem that odd anymore, do they? Okay, maybe a little.

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4 thoughts on “How did ‘Her’ suddenly become a serious Oscars contender?

  1. Spike Jonze has been way too out there for me before but I already loved the trailer of Her and even though I haven’t seen it yet, I think it deserves all the attention it’s getting.

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