Spike Jonze doesn't waste any time introducing us to the technology at the center of Her. "An operating system that can mimic human sentience?" a dangerously lonely Joaquin Phoenix wonders after catching glimpse of an ad in a transit station. "Don't mind if I do!" (He doesn't actually say that, don't worry.) But by the time we're meant to believe that such a world can seamlessly integrate characters like Scarlett Johansson's automated voice Samantha into the lives of living, breathing men and women like Phoenix's Theodore, we're already established residents of this arresting, icy, quivering world the filmmaker has built. We meet Theodore midway through his recitation of a "handwritten letter" he penned on behalf of a woman to her husband of many years. That's his job — tapping into his own unique sensititivies to play ghostwriter for people hoping to adorn their spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, and children with personal notes of personal affection. Theodore is no independent contractor; he's part of a thriving company, and we almost get the feeling that the folks on the receiving end of these letters are in the know. Before we ever encounter Samantha, we're embedded in the central conceit of the movie: emotional surrogacy is an industry on the rise.
What makes Jonze's world so palatable is that, beneath its marvelously eerie aesthetic, this idea is barely science-fiction. Theodore, humbled and scarred by a recent divorce from lifelong love Catherine (Rooney Mara, who contrasts Johansson by giving a performance that, for a large sum of the movie, is all body and no voice), accesses the will to go on through interractions with video game characters and phone-sex hotlines. But the ante is upped with Samantha, the self-named operating system that Theodore purchases to stave off loneliness, deeming choice a far less contorting one than spending time with old pals like Amy (Amy Adams)... at first.
Samantha evolves rather quickly from an articulate Siri into a curious companion, who is fed and engaged by Theodore just as much as she feeds and engages him. Jonze paces his construction of what, exactly, Samantha is so carefully that we won't even catch the individual steps in her change — along with Theodore, we slowly grow more and more enamored and mystified by his computer/assistant/friend/lover before we can recognize that we're dealing with a different being altogether from the one we met at that inceptive self-aware "H-hello?" But Jonze lays tremendous groundwork to let us know this story is all for something: all the while, as the attractions build and the hearts beat faster for Samantha, we foster an unmistakable sense of doom. We can't help but dread the very same perils that instituted one infamous admission: "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."
But Jonze's sci-fi constructs are so cohesively intertwined with his love story that our dread doesn't exactly translate to an anticipation of HAL's hostile takeover. Her wedges us so tightly between Theodore and Samantha that our fears of the inevitable clash between man and machine apprehend a smaller, more intimate ruin. As Samantha's growth become more surprising and challenging to Theodore, to herself, and to us, the omens build for each.
And although all three parties know better, we cannot help but affix ourselves to the chemistry between Theodore and Samantha, and to the possibility that we're building toward something supreme. A good faction of this is due to the unbelievable performances of Phoenix — representing the cautious excitement that we all know so painfully well — and Johansson, who twists her disembodied voice so empathetically that we find ourselves, like Theodore, forgetting that we have yet to actually meet her. The one castigation that we can attach to the casting of Johansson is that such a recognizable face will, inevitably, work its way into our heads when we're listening to her performance. It almost feels like a cheat, although we can guarantee that a performance this good would render a figure just as vivid even if delivered by an unknown.
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In this way, Her is as effective a comment on the healthiest human relationships as it is on those that rope in third parties — be they of the living, automated, or greeting card variety. In fact, the movie has so many things to say that it occasionally steps on its own feet, opening up ideas so grand (and coloring them so brightly) that it sometimes has trouble capping them coherently. Admittedly, if Spike Jonze had an answer to some of the questions he's asking here, he'd probably be suspected of himself being a super-intelligent computer. But in telling the story of a man struggling to understand what it means to be in love, to an operating system or not, Jonze invites us to dissect all of the manic and trying and wonderful and terrifying and incomprehensible elements therein. Just like Samantha, Her doesn't always know what to do with all of its brilliance. But that might be part of why we're so crazy over the both of them.
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In the realm of cinema, especially in the major awards circuit, there is one category that often gets shafted to the background: animation. With the assigned stigma that an animated movie is necessarily childlike and uncomplicated, animated pictures rarely get the respect they deserve come Oscar season. But thankfully, there is the Annie Awards, an institution that turns 40 this year.
The International Animated Film Association's award enterprise has announced its nominations for achievements in the year 2012. Recognized above all are the far-reaching greats of the year: Pixar's majestic adventure Brave, the video game celebration of Wreck-It Ralph, and the respective claymation love-letters to horror cinema of the 1950s and early 1980s: Tim Burton's Frankenweenie and ParaNorman. Check out the complete list of nominees below. Best Animated Feature Brave Frankenweenie Hotel Transylvania ParaNorman Rise of the Guardians The Pirates! Band of Misfits The Rabbi’s Cat Wreck-It Ralph Annie Award for Best Animated Special Production Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 Before Orel – Trust Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem Disney Tron: Uprising – Beck’s Beginning Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury Justice League: Doom Best Animated Short Subject Brad and Gary Bydlo Eyes on the Stars Goodnight Mr. Foot Kali the Little Vampire Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare’ Paperman The Simpsons Best General Audience Animated TV Production For Preschool Children Bubble Guppies - ‘A Tooth on the Looth’ Chuggington - ‘Magnetic Wilson’ Jake & The Never Land Pirates - ‘Peter Pan Returns’ Doc McStuffins - ‘The Right Stuff’ Justin Time - ‘Marcello’s Meatballs' Best Animated Television Production For Children Adventure Time- ‘Princess Cookie’ Dragons: Riders of Berk- ‘How to Pick Your Dragon’ LEGO Star Wars- ‘The Empire Strikes Out’ Penguins of Madagascar -‘Action Reaction’ SpongeBob SquarePants -‘It’s a SpongeBob Christmas!’ The Amazing World of Gumball -‘The Job’. The Fairly OddParents- ‘Farm Pit’ The Legend of Korra- ‘Welcome to Republic City’/’A Leaf in the Wind’ Best General Audience Animated Television Production Archer - ‘Space Race, Part 1’ Bob’s Burgers- ‘Earsy Rider’ Motorcity- ‘Blond Thunder’ MAD - ‘FrankenWinnie/ParaMorgan’ Robot Chicken- ‘DC Comics Special’ South Park -‘Raising the Bar’ Animated Video Game Borderlands 2 Family Guy – Back to the Mutiverse Journey Skullgirls Best Student Film Can We Be Happy Now– Tahnee Gehm Defective Detective– Avner Geller & Steve Lewis Head Over Heels– Timothy Reckart I Am Tom Moody– Ainslie Henderson Ladies Knight– Joseph Rothenberg Origin– Jessica Poon The Ballad of Poisonberry Pete– Karen Sullivan Tule Lake– Michelle Ikemoto Animated Effects in an Animated Production Andrew Nawrot, Joe Gorski, Grant Laker - ParaNorman Andrew Schneider - Ice Age: Continental Drift Andy Hayes, Carl Hooper, David Lipton - Rise of the Guardians Bill Watral, Chris Chapman, Dave Hale, Keith Klohn, Michael K. O’Brien - Brave Brett Albert - Wreck-It Ralph Jihyun Yoon - Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted Joel Aron - Star Wars: The Clone Wars Animated Effects in a Live Action Production Jerome Platteaux, John Sigurdson, Ryan Hopkins, Raul Essig, Mark Chataway - The Avengers Stephen Marshall, Joseph Pepper, Dustin Wicke - The Amazing Spider-Man Sue Rowe, Simon Stanley-Clamp, Artemis Oikonomopoulou, Holger Voss, Nikki Makar, Catherine Elvidge - John Carter Willi Geiger, Rick Hankins, Florent Andorra, Florian Witzel, Aron Bonar - Battleship Character Animation in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Dan Driscoll - SpongeBob SquarePants: It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! Jennifer Dickie - Justin Time: Yodel Odel Day Keith Kellogg - Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Revenge Forrest Savelen - SpongeBob SquarePants: It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! Shi Zimu - Dragons: Riders of Berk Sihanouk Marinona - Before Orel: Trust Teri Yam - Dragons: Riders of Berk Yan Jiazhuang - Dragons: Riders of Berk Character Animation in a Feature Production Dan Nguyen - Brave David Pate - Rise of the Guardians Jaime Landes - Brave Phillppe LeBrun - Rise of the Guardians Pierre Perifel - Rise of the Guardians Travis Hathaway - Brave Travis Knight - ParaNorman Will Becher - The Pirates! Band of Misfits Character Animation in a Live Action Production Erik de Boer, Amanda Dague, Matt Brown, Mary Lynn Machado, Aaron Grey - Life of Pi (Orangutan) Erik de Boer, Matt Shumway, Brian Wells, Vinayak Pawar, Michael Holzl - Life of Pi (Tiger) Jakub Pistecky, Maia Kayser, Scott Benzu, Steve King, Kiran Bhat - The Avengers Mike Beaulieu, Roger Vizard, Atushi Sato, Jackie Kochler, Derek Esparza, Richard Smith, Mac Tyrie - The Amazing Spider-Man Character Design in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Andy Bialk - Dragons: Riders of Berk: Alvin and the Outcasts Andy Suriano - DC Nation-Plastic Man: The Many and the Fowl Bryan Konietzko, Joaquim Dos Santos, Ryu Ki-Hyun, Kim Il Kwang, Kim Jin Sun - The Legend of Korra: Welcome to Republic City “C” Raggio IV - Kick Buttowski: Petrified Derrick Wyatt, Chap Yaep, Steven Choi - Ben 10: Omniverse: The More Things Change, Pt. 2 Gordon Hammond - T.U.F.F. Puppy: Dudley Do-Wrong Robert Valley - Disney Tron: Uprising: The Renegade, Part I Thaddeus Paul Cauldron - Secret Mountain Fort Awesome: Secret Mountain Uncle Grandpa Character Design in an Animated Feature Production Bill Schwab, Lorelay Bove, Cory Loftis, Minkyu Lee - Wreck-It Ralph Carlos Grangel - Hotel Transylvania Carter Goodrich - Hotel Transylvania Craig Kellman - Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted Heidi Smith - ParaNorman Yarrow Cheney, Eric Guillon, Colin Stimpson - Dr. Seuss' The Lorax Directing in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Howie Parkins - Jake and The Never Land Pirates: Peter Pan Returns! John Eng - Dragons: Riders of Berk: Animal House Mark Cabalero, Seamus Walsh - SpongeBob SquarePants: Its a Spongebob Christmas Mic Graves - The Amazing World of Gumball: The Job Michael Chang - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Never Say Xever Zack Keller - Dick Figures: Kung Fu Winners Directing in an Animated Feature Production Genndy Tartakovsky - Hotel Transylvania Johan Sfar, Antoine Delesvaux - The Rabbi's Cat Remi Bezancon, Jean-Christophe Lie - Zarafa Rick Moore - Wreck-It Ralph Sam Fell, Chris Butler - ParaNorman Music in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Adam Berry - Penquins of Madagascar: Private and the Winky Factory Alf Clausen - The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XXIII Frederik Wiedmann - Green Lantern The Animated Series: Into the Abyss Guy Moon - T.U.F.F. Puppy: Really Big Mission John Paesano - Dragons: Riders of Berk: How to Pick Your Dragon Michael Rubin - Bubble Guppies: Bubble Puppy's Fin-tastic Fairytale! Music in an Animated Feature Production Alexandre Desplat - Rise of the Guardians Bruce Retief - Adventures in Zambezia Henry Jackman - Wreck-It Ralph Joel McNeely, Brendan Milburn, Valerie Vigoda - Secret of the Wings John Powell, Adam Schlesinger, Ester Dean - Ice Age: Continental Drift John Powell, Cinco Paul - Dr. Seuss' The Lorax Mark Mothersbaugh - Hotel Transylvania Patrick Doyle, Mark Andrews, Alex Mandel - Brave Production Design in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Alberto Mielgo - Tron: Uprising: The Stranger Ian Worrel - Gravity Falls – Tourist Trapped Lynna Blankenship, Sean Coons, Hugh Macdonald, Debbie Peterson, Charles Ragins, Lance Wilder, Darrel Bowen, John Krause, Kevin Moore, Brent M. Bowen, Brice Mallier, Steven Fahey, Dima Malanitchev, Karen Bauer, Eli Balser, Anne Legge - The Simpsons: Moe Goes From Rags to Riches Nick Jennings, Martin Ansolebehere, Sandra Calleros, Ron Russell, Santino Lascano, Derek Hunter, Catherine E. Simmonds - Adventure Time – The Hard Easy Peter Martin, Chris Grine, Ira Baker, Ramon Olivera, Scott Brown - hoops & yo yo's Haunted Halloween Scott Brandon James, Lee Keith - Justin Time: The Rubbery Dumplings Production Design in an Animated Feature Production Kendal Cronkhite-Shaindlin, Shannon Jeffries, Lindsey Olivares, Kenard Pak - Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted Marcello Vignali - Hotel Transylvania Nash Dunnigan, Arden Chen, Jon Townley, Kyle McNaughton - Ice Age: Continental Drift Nelson Lowry, Ross Stewart, Pete Oswald, Ean McNamara, Trevor Dalmer - ParaNorman Norman Garwood, Matt Berry - The Pirates! Band of Misfits Patrick Hanenberger, Max Boas, Jayee Borcar, Woonyoung Jung, Perry Maple, Peter Maynez, Stan Seo, Felix Yoon - Rise of the Guardians Rick Heintzich - Frankenweenie Steve Pilcher - Brave Storyboarding in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Andy Kelly - Doc McStuffins: Righty-On-Lefty Cole Sanchez, Rebecca Sugar - Adventure Time: Lady & Peebles Doug Lovelace - Dragons: Riders of Berk: Portrait of Hiccup as a Buff Man Holly Forsyth - Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess Irineo Marramba, Ciro Nieli - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: I Think His Name is Baxter Stockman Robert Valley, Kalvin Lee - Tron: Uprising: The Reward Ryan Kramer, Paul Linsley, Kenji Ono, Le Tang, Alice Herring, Mike Mullen, Aaron Hammersley - Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness: Enter the Dragon Tom Herpich, Skyler Page - Adventure Time: Goliad Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production Emmanuela Cozzi - ParaNorman– Focus Features Johanne Matte - Rise of the Guardians– DreamWorks Animation Leo Matsuda - Wreck-It Ralph– Walt Disney Animation Studios Lissa Treiman - Wreck-It Ralph– Walt Disney Animation Studios Rob Koo - Madagascar 3: Europes Most Wanted – DreamWorks Animation Voice Acting in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production James Patrick Stuart as Private - Penguins of Madagascar: High Moltage– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Jeff Bennett as Keswick - T.U.F.F. Puppy: Pup Daddy– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Jessica Walter as Malory Archer - Archer: Lo Scandolo– Weissman Markovitz Communications for FX Network Kevin Michael Richardson as Willem Viceroy - Randy Cunningham:9th Grade Ninja: Gossip Boy– Disney TV Animation Kristen Schaal as Mabel Pines - Gravity Falls: Tourist Trapped– Disney TV Animation Mae Whitman as April ONeil – - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Rise of the Turtles– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Sam Witwer as Darth Maul - Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Revenge– Lucasfilm Animation Ltd. Tom McGrath as Skipper - Penguins of Madagascar: The Otter Woman– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production Adam Sandler as Dracula - Hotel Transylvania– Sony Pictures Animation Alan Tudyk as King Candy - Wreck-It Ralph– Walt Disney Animation Studios Atticus Shaffer as “E”Gore - Frankenweenie– The Walt Disney Studios Catherine OHara as Weird Girl - Frankenweenie– The Walt Disney Studios Imelda Staunton as Queen Victoria - The Pirates! Band of Misfits– Aardman Animations Jim Cummings as Budzo - Adventures in Zambezia– Saltzman Communications Jude Law as Pitch - Rise of the Guardians– DreamWorks Animation Kelly MacDonald as Merida - Brave– Pixar Animation Studios Writing in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Doug Langdale – Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness: Kung Fu Day Care – Nickelodeon Animation Studios Eric Horsted – Futurama: The Bots and the Bees – Gracie Films in Association with 20th Century Fox TV Gabe Garza – - Penguins of Madagascar: Endangerous Species- Nickelodeon Animation Studios Ian Maxtone-Graham, Billy Kimball - The Simpsons: How I Wet Your Mother– Gracie Films in Association with 20th Century Fox TV Kacey Arnold – - Robot and Monster: The Blimp– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Mike Teverbaugh, Linda Teverbaugh – Dragons: Riders of Berk: Animal House – DreamWorks Animation Stephanie Gillis - The Simpsons: A Tree Grows in Springfield– Gracie Films in Association with 20th Century Fox TV Trey Parker – - South Park: Jewpacabra– Central Productions Writing in an Animated Feature Production Chris Butler – ParaNorman – Focus Features Gideon Defoe – The Pirates! Band of Misfits – Aardman Animations Hayao Miyazaki, Keiko Niwa, Karey Kirkpatrick – From Up on Poppy Hill – GKIDS John August – Frankenweenie – The Walt Disney Studios Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi - Brave – Pixar Animation Studios Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee – Wreck-It Ralph – Walt Disney Animation Studios Editorial in an Animated Television Production Bret Marnell - Puss in Boots: Three Diablos– DreamWorks Animation Chris Hink - Robot and Monster: Cheer Up Mr. Wheelie– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Hugo Morales, Adam Arnold, Davrik Waeden, Otto Ferraye - Kung Fu Panda: Monkey in the Middle– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Hugo Morales, Adam Arnold, Davrik Waeden, Otto Ferraye - Kung Fu Panda: Enter the Dragon– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Jason Tucker - Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Revival– Lucasfilm Animation Ltd. Lynn Hobson - Dragons: Riders of Berk: Animal House– DreamWorks Animation Pieter Kaufman - Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess– Disney TV Animation Steffie Lucchesi, Matt Steinauer, May Blaisdell - Dan Vs Monster Under The Bed– Film Roman Editorial in an Animated Feature Production Catherine Apple - Hotel Transylvania– Sony Pictures Animation Joyce Arrastia - Rise of the Guardians– DreamWorks Animation Mark Rosenbaum - Secret of the Wings– DisneyToon Studios Nicholas A. Smith, ACE, Robert Graham Jones, ACE, David Suther - Brave– Pixar Animation Studios Tim Mertens - Wreck-It Ralph– Walt Disney Animation Studios JURIED AWARDS Winsor McCay Award– Oscar Grillo, Terry Gilliam, Mark Henn June Foray– Howard Green Ub Iwerks– Toon Boom Animation Pipeline [Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures] More: 'Moonrise Kingdom' Takes Top Prize at Gotham Awards Seth MacFarlane Says Non-TV-Friendly 'Family Guy' Movie is (Probably) Happening 'The Hobbit': The Dragon Attacks, Bilbo Fights Fire with Shire — VIDEO
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Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.