As a film critic, I spend many hours thinking and writing about performances each year. Yet when the
Their reasoning: She did not have a physical presence on screen. That we can agree on. But she did have a very real presence nonetheless. "Her" would not be the same film without her. The decision has an arbitrary, old-fashioned feel to it in this new techno-centric age.
It seems particularly ironic given the topic writer-director
As an operating system that dubs herself Samantha, the character is not only mere sound but the very spine of Jonze's story. I was hooked as quickly as
As Jonze examines it in the film, "intelligence" — nature or artificial — is about understanding and adaptation, adaptation means change and choice, and all of it implies thought and contemplation. Samantha's very existence — whether visible or not — brings that home powerfully.
Johansson certainly represented something specific for the director. Jonze first cast and shot the movie with
There were other performances that caught my attention this year that we also didn't see but which certainly factored in to the success of their films.
Physically what we see in
And, oh, what a voice. Smaug sounds not a bit like Sherlock Holmes in the
Let me not forget
The time seems right for a serious reconsideration of what defines a performance, whether flesh and bone is a requirement. After all, technology is not going away, it's only going to get more sophisticated, pushing filmmakers and actors into new territory. Shouldn't we celebrate the risk-takers willing to go there first?
What about motion-capture? An actor in front of a green screen, sensors transmitting his movement into a computer that builds the image we see. "Avatar's" Na'vi would have been nothing without it, or certainly not the stunning blue creatures they were. Is that acting because we can see it? Or because of its effect? Or some amalgam of both?
Let me leave you with this. What I experienced from these three exemplary actors was something tangible. Something real. Something noteworthy. So until Hollywood sorts it out, consider this my awards for the best disembodied performances of the year.
The gold for best unseen intelligent being goes to Scarlett Johansson for "Her." The prize for stellar villainous vocalizations belongs to Benedict Cumberbatch for Smaug. And the winner of the finest inner-voice of a comically cartoon character is Josh Gad, hands down.