Spike Jonze's off-beat romantic-drama Her was unexpectedly named best film of the year by the National Board of Review on Wednesday (December 4, 2013). The long-established and well respected educational organisation also gave Jonze the best director award for the movie, which stars Joaquin Phoenix as an office worker who falls in love with his computer system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.
Joaquin Phoenix in Spike Jonze's 'Her'
Jonze also wrote the script, but was denied an awards hattrick when the NBR's best original screenplay award went to the Coen Brothers for Inside Llewyn Davis. The Martin Scorsese-directed The Wolf of Wall Street took the award for best adapted screenplay, capping an evening of surprise winners that must all now be mentioned in Oscars discussions. Until now, the likes of 12 Years a Slave, Gravity and Captain Phillips had dominated nominations talk, though with American Hustle winning best movie at the New York Critics awards earlier this week and Inside Llewyn Davis beating 12 Years a Slave at the Gotham Awards, we probably need to start rethinking our speculation for the major ceremonies.
Another surprise at the NBR's came in the acting sections, with Emma Thompson scooping best actress for Saving Mr Banks (Cate Blanchett was the favorite for Blue Jasmine) and Bruce Dern winning best actor for Alexander Payne's black-and-white road movie Nebraska.
Still, Jonze probably should hold off cracking open the champagne given five of the last movies to win best film from the National Board of Review have failed to win best picture at the Oscars. Zero Dark Thirty was beaten by Argo last year, while Hugo was never seriously considered a contender despite winning in various technical categories. David Fincher's The Social Network was beaten by The King's Speech and Jason Reitman's Up in the Air lost out to The Hurt Locker. In fact, we have to go back to 2008 for the last time a winner of the NBR won best picture at the Oscars: that was Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire.
Joaquin Phoenix in 'Her'
Nevertheless, confidence is high in the 'Her' camp, particularly after Scarlett Johansson's win for best actress at the Rome Film Festival. The Golden Globes have ruled her ineligible for nomination, and the Oscars will likely do the same, though people are talking about Jonze's curious little movie and Warner Bros will be more than happy with that.
Boasting a particularly healthy score of 94% on review aggragating website Rotten Tomatoes, Her is well placed in the awards race.
"Her is told from Theo's perspective, and all he can ever really know about Samantha is that she's infinite-and when it comes to another person, what's more real than that?" said Film Comment Magazine.
"With his new movie her... Jonze creates the splendid anachronism of a movie romance that is laugh-and-cry and warm all over, totally sweet and utterly serious," wrote Richard Corliss of Time Magazine.
Spike Jonze's 'Her' Is Beautifully Shot
"Spike Jonze's singular, wryly funny, subtly profound consideration of our relationship to technology - and to each other," wrote Scott Foundas of Variety.
"A screwball surrealist comedy that asks us to laugh at an unconventional romance while also disarming us with the realization that its fantasy scenario isn't too far from our present reality," said Ed Gonzalez of Slant magazine.
Her gets a limited opening in the U.S. on 18 December 2013 to make it eligible for Oscars and Golden Globe consideration, before playing everywhere from January 14, 2014.
Watch the trailer for 'Her':