The Oklahoma Film Critics Circle, a statewide group of professional film critics including yours truly, announced its eighth annual list of awards for achievement in cinema, giving top honors to “Her,” Spike Jonze’s perceptive and emotional near-future story about a lonely man who falls deeply in love with his computer operating system.
“Her” also earned an additional win for Jonze’s original screenplay.
Taking place in a densely crowded but still recognizable Los Angeles a few decades into the future, “Her” stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombly, a lonely and recently divorced man who works at a company specializing in composing custom, precisely researched love letters. When he downloads a new operating system, known as Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson), he discovers that she is sentient, empathetic and capable of love. The film explores the philosophy of relationships, identity, realness and the increasing isolation of modern life.
As a work of speculative fiction, “Her” may initially seem like an outlier on OFCC’s 2013 list, which is heavily populated by films based on histories or biographies, from the loose comedic retelling of the Abscam busts of the late 1970s in David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” to director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley’s sharp and brutal adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir “12 Years a Slave.” But among the works of complete fiction in OFCC’s Top 10 films, “Her” shares some intriguing similarities with other honorees.
“It’s long on its way to becoming a cliche, but it’s easy for people to feel alone in an age of social media,” said OFCC President George Lang, The Oklahoman‘s senior entertainment writer. “Obviously, ‘Her’ deals directly with this phenomenon, but ‘Gravity’ and ‘All Is Lost’ both focus on people who suddenly find themselves alone and entirely dependent on their survival instincts. Theodore Twombly might be surrounded by 40 million people in mid-21st century Los Angeles, but his emotional situation is not far off from what would be experienced by a stranded astronaut in orbit or an aging seafarer singlehandedly battling the elements in the Indian Ocean. Factor in the isolated characters in ’12 Years a Slave,’ ‘Captain Phillips’ and ‘Inside Llewyn Davis,’ and I think that the films in the OFCC Top 10 are reflecting this concern in the back of society’s collective consciousness.”
Rounding out the list of 10 best films of 2012 list are “American Hustle,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Gravity,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Captain Philips,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “All Is Lost,” “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Prisoners.”
Best actor honors went to Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave.” Ejiofor tapped into both the sense of hopelessness and instincts for survival that pervaded Northup’s experiences as a Northern freedman who was captured and forced into slavery in Louisiana in the 1840s.
Best actress honors went to Cate Blanchett for her performance as the title character in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.” This was a vivid portrayal of emotional unraveling — Blanchett made the character’s toxic mix of desperation and haughty disdain for everyone around her feel true and visceral.
Best supporting actress winner Jennifer Lawrence continued to assert herself as one of the best actors of her generation with her performance as Rosalyn Rosenfeld in “American Hustle,” and Jared Leto triumphantly returned to film after a four-year absence to win best supporting actor as Rayon in “Dallas Buyers Club.”
After finishing second in the 2012 voting, Matthew McConaughey earned the “best body of work” honor, given to an actor, writer or other filmmaking creative who has notched multiple outstanding achievements within a year’s time. McConaughey received the award for his stellar lead turns in “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Mud,” along with his memorable supporting role in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
“In every single one of these winning performances, you see actors dealing with portraying multiple layers of identity and defensive strategies,” Lang said. “None of these characters are exactly who they seem to be at first glance, and it takes a fully immersive actor to make them feel completely dimensional.”
Additional honorees include best director, Alfonso Cuaron for “Gravity”; best first feature, Ryan Coogler for “Fruitvale Station”; best adapted screenplay, John Ridley for “12 Years a Slave”; best animated film, “Frozen”; best documentary, “The Act of Killing”; and best foreign language film, “The Hunt.”
Then, there is the flip side of all this praise. OFCC awarded its “best guilty pleasure” category to “Iron Man 3,” a film that was a lot of fun considering how many big-budget franchises lose steam on the third outing. It wasn’t high art, but not everything has to be.
“Grown Ups 2″ won the “obviously worst film” category for not bothering with anything close to a story, a plot or a real laugh, making Adam Sandler the winner of the award for two years running. (His 2012 film “That’s My Boy” previously won the dubious honor.)
“At this point, OFCC might consider renaming this category in Sandler’s dishonor,” Lang said.
Things get interesting with the “not-so-obviously worst film” category, which is presented to a film that the critics wanted to embrace, but ultimately fell short of expectations among the majority. “August: Osage County” won this year. One of the most high-profile films in recent years to be shot in Oklahoma, the film, its writer and its actors received many positive mentions in this year’s voting process, but ultimately “August: Osage County” emerged as 2013′s most polarizing film among OFCC voters.
“Look, I see this as a testament to the professionalism of Oklahoma’s critics,” Lang said. “There’s no question that we want more filmmakers to come to our state for their productions, but our critics are not swayed by factors like home field advantage. It should be noted that many of us liked the film and just as many of us did not, and we went into this vote honestly.”
OFCC members are Oklahoma-based movie critics who write for print, broadcast and online outlets that publish or post reviews of current film releases. Among the media outlets represented are The Oklahoman, Oklahoma Gazette, Tulsa World, Edmond Life & Leisure and This Land Press. Also represented are television station KOKH FOX 25; radio station KJYO/Clear Channel; and the websites 411mania.com, ionOKmag.com, crosswalk.com, u-out.net and shadowcabaret.com.
Film buffs can find the complete list of awards, as well as frequent postings on film-related items and links to reviews, at www.Facebook.com/OklahomaFilmCriticsCircle.
OFCC 2013 Film Awards
Top 10 Films
2. “American Hustle”
3. “12 Years a Slave
5. “Inside Llewyn Davis”
6. “Captain Philips”
7. “The Wolf of Wall Street”
8. “All Is Lost”
9. “Dallas Buyers Club”
Chiwetel Ejiofor – “12 Years a Slave”
Cate Blanchett – “Blue Jasmine”
Best Animated Film
Best Body of Work
Matthew McConaughey – “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Mud,” “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Alfonso Cuaron – “Gravity”
“The Act of Killing”
Best First Feature
“Fruitvale Station” – Ryan Coogler
Best Foreign Language Film
Best Guilty Pleasure
“Iron Man 3”
The Not-So-Obviously Worst Film
“August: Osage County”
The Obviously Worst Film
“Grown Ups 2”
Best Screenplay (Original)
“Her” – Spike Jonze
Best Screenplay (Adaptation)
“12 Years a Slave” – John Ridley
Best Supporting Actor
Jared Leto – “Dallas Buyers Club”
Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Lawrence – “American Hustle”