Friday, April 7, 2017

Best of the Decade - Her (2013)

I often get asked what my favorite movies are, and as everyone probably knows when they're asked that question, it's never quite a simple answer. The range and variety of films that are out there are so immense, it's hard to break it down to even a top 5 let alone a single favorite movie. I usually deflect into saying my favorite director and asking theirs, since I think you can get a better idea of what kind of movies people value the most by examining the body of work from their favorite filmmaker (for example, mine's Paul Thomas Anderson). But I also think another great way to look at someone's movie tastes is to see what their favorite movies of the decade are (so far at least). Movies that are being made right now are the most culturally relevant as well as emotionally reflexive of our society that we live in today. Like noir's dark tone coming as a result of two great wars and a depression, perhaps there's a little more to movies like Get Him to the Greek than we realize. SO, what I'm going to write about every so often is my favorite films of the decade and why I feel they deserve to be called such. I would like to point out in advance that Moonlight is very much amongst my favorites right now, and I already talked about it in my review, so if you want an idea of another movie I really value, check it out. So here it is my first favorite movie of the decade: Her.

Briefly, Her takes place in an undisclosed future Los Angles (my man!). We follow Theodore (played by Joaquin Pheonix), a man who's job is to write love letters to significant others on behalf of the, well, one of the others. This forces him to deeply analyze traits and quirks of a relationship thus exposing and immersing him in all of these love stories. Ironically he is suffering from a love loss himself, as he is fresh off a very serious and emotionally damaging relationship. Shortly after we get a sense of his character, a new technology is introduced in the film, having the most efficient and life-like personal AI be available for consumer use. The story then follows how Theodore falls in love with his AI, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). First of all, I am just in love with the whole premise, and how it was executed. Without any context, the way I just explained what the movie was about could be construed as weird and creepy. However, as most who watch the film can attest, there is absolutely nothing creepy about it. This is mainly due to the fact that the relationship that Theodore and Samantha have is probably one of the most realistic and authentic relationships I've ever seen portrayed in a film. And I'm not talking about like, "oh they have good chemistry" or like, "oh she's not as robotic as I thought an AI would be," I mean how we see the relationship begin from its inception and watch it grow, going through the exact ups and downs of many (post) post-modernist relationships these days is about as authentic and accurate as it gets. Like it hits every single beat that someone would probably go through in a new and nonsuperficial relationship. I found myself taken back by how real things got in the film, and it really puts you in a position to reflect on yourself, your past relationships, what they meant to you then, and what they mean to you now. And like, I might be screwing my format and pacing here by getting to the big picture before the end of the article *cough cough*, but if a movie makes you feel a real emotion that you know isn't fabricated or disingenuously produced, you have a special film that was made with a lot of thought and effort (that's what all these movies I'll be talking about will have in common). This movie, in my opinion, has scienced down what it's like falling in and out of love.

And that's the whole point of this film. It brings the question(s) into the forefront "What is love? Does our partner need to be a human in order to form and maintain an authentic relationship? Who defines the constraints of what we're allowed to emotionally invest ourselves in (besides the law lol)?" Because the film is totally self-aware of how weird this concept can be. Theodore vents with Amy Adam's character about if it's socially acceptable to fall in love with their OS (the AI). And if you consider yourself to be a fairly open-minded person, I'm almost certain this film will make you reconsider what is and isn't acceptable. Getting into the other details of the film, first of all, I think every decision and choice made for the film was perfect. And that's all thanks to writer and director Spike Jonze. Jonze won the best original screenplay for this film at the 2014 Oscars, and you could make the case he should have won more. It's evident that every detail and idea were planned and fleshed out to it's fullest extent. For example, undisclosing how far in the future this move took place was a brilliant choice. The point of this film is not "if" or "when" this is happening, it's more that it could happen. And not disclosing the date helps mask the illusion and not put a Back to the Future 2-esque pin on the film's predictive abilities. Much like the background characters in the film, it may happen while we're not even looking. And that's another thing by the way. The people surrounding these characters are all citizens of Los Angeles who are totally sucked into their phone or OS. The film doesn't make a big point about it at all, and you kind of just have to notice it. I think this is a great social commentary on the kind of people we've become since smart devices have been introduced into our mainstream. It's highlighted subtly acts as a reminder that this is who we are when we're always on our phones, and if we aren't paying attention, we might not notice our society becoming "full time" with personal devices. Going even further, one could say that Theodore's relationship with Samantha is a metaphor for us being in love and dependent on our technology. We all have a special relationship with our devices, and in a weird way, Samantha could just be the personification of it.

Another great choice on Jonze's end was picking alt-rock band Arcade Fire to do the movie score. It's honestly one of my favorite scores in a 2000's film. The piano pieces perfectly match the emotions and feelings of the relationship as they occur. It sets the tone beautifully and poignantly. It's one of the few Soundtracks I was trying to go out of my way to buy, but they unfortunately never released it (!!). But oh well I can't be too mad, more excuses to go back and watch the film (yikes that's corny). The casting was P E R F E C T. Everyone in this film was their character. Like seriously, even Chris Pratt's small role had me believing he was a part of that world. This being Jonze's first film that he wrote, I could tell a lot of care and detail was put in to make sure his vision was fully realized. Not having the right person play the character you've spent so much time creating and developing would have been such a waste. Thankfully Jonze knows exactly what he wants, and exactly what he's doing. The cinematography as well... like damn. A lot of movies these days I feel piggyback off Her in how things are shot and framed in films today. It has that look that a lot of indie-house and oscar bait movies are having these days. This weird ultra focus yet fluid motion in the camera work is spectacular. I'm not saying Her was the first movie to do this, or that it's never been done before, but only that a lot more films started to do it after this movie came out. The color palettes are great too, giving both the look and feeling of warmth and love, yet also having this feeling of uncertainty and insecurity. Costume design too is just on a new level. They practically invented a new fashion look that is completely believable for us as a society to potentially trend towards in the near future. Like he sold this world so well you guys. And LA in the future looks like an LA in the future. They shot parts in Shanghai and digitally added in some buildings to the establishing shots in post, but I never once was taken out by saying "this doesn't look like LA in the future."I feel like there's so much I'm missing that I have to say, but I think a lot of this gets the point across anyways.

One last thing I'd like to bring up is Theodore's flashbacks. Now any future filmmakers reading this blog, THIS is the gold standard for how you develop a character through flashbacks. Instead of going back in time to a new scene where we see specific events play out exactly how they went, Theodore's flashbacks are spontaneous, quick, and quiet. They happen in moments where he's reflecting on events or relating to his past relationship. What's great about this is that they play out in the exact same way and length as most real memories play out. And the best part about all this is that, only once in the movie mind you, there was a part where we see him on a date play out fully, and then he later reminisces on it and his flashbacks do not match what we saw exactly. IDEALIZED*clap*MEMORIES*clap*.  This is how we think back on anything fond or formative in our life, it's not exactly what happened, it's an alternate, idealized, or skewed interpretation of what's going on (AKA most of our memories involving relationships @LaLaLand). Meaning that all his other flashbacks are just like this, idealized, so we don't really know how his past relationship played out. He's basically an unreliable narrator. But these memory flashbacks really help me as a viewer relate to this film and buy it's message so much more. I can relate my experiences and how they've unfolded with me and see an authentic and genuine congruence that this film has presented and is trying to convince me to believe in. And it worked. This is how storytelling is supposed to be. Do what you can to show and not tell. That's what makes the best movies, in a spiritual sense.

And thus ends my love letter (eh more like a mind dump) to the movie Her. I think you get a good idea of why this movie moved me the way it did. I really like to us this film in my list of films that I use to hold other films to a higher standard (hi I write good). This is how you do a love story. Rom coms are nice hyperbolic escapisms and a good easy way to bond with a date/lover, but watch this movie with someone you love and I think there will be a stronger connection formed. Movie's like the Notebook are great for what/who they serve, but at the end of the day it's not an authentic love story, it's more like a fairy tale. We're in 2017 and I think we're craving a bit of real in our everyday diet. So if you haven't given this film a watch yet, I implore you. Go do it with all this in mind. (still waiting for a good movie to watch and review in 2017 haha !!!)