Scarlett Johansson Awarded for 'Her' But Will Oscar Jump on Board?
by Joey Magidson
November 19, 2013
In case you missed the recent news, Scarlett Johansson just won the Best Actress award at the 2013 Rome Film Festival for her voice only role in Spike Jonze's amazing film Her. Normally one single award means very little in the grand scheme of things (as I wrote about here), but to at least some degree Johansson and her performance is a bit of a special case this year. If she were to emerge from the Oscar race with an improbable Best Supporting Actress nod for Her, it would be a historic nod to say the least. While the odds aren't exactly in her favor, her chances of a nom have definitely been boosted. If nothing else, this gives me another excuse to talk about my favorite movie of the year so far (and maybe one for all-time).
For those of you who don't know, I'm perhaps even more in love with this film than Alex is (he raved about it here and I wrote about its initial awards viability here while also waxing poetic about it a bit), which is saying something rather strong. From Jonze's writing and direction to Joaquin Phoenix's lead performance, all the way to Johansson's captivating supporting turn, it's all really quite perfect. If it only came down to quality, we'd have our Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, and Original Screenplay Oscars sewn up, along with technical nominations pretty much across the board. Sadly, it rarely only comes down to quality with the Academy.
In the case of Johansson and Her, the biggest hill to climb is that she's never on screen. The Academy has never nominated a voice only performance, nominated a motion-captured performance, or gone for anything other than a traditional performance that you can both see and here. Most think that if Robin Williams in Aladdin, Ellen Degeneres in Finding Nemo, and Andy Serkis in whichever Lord of the Rings movie you prefer (or in my case, King Kong) couldn't score a nomination, it's never going to happen. Johansson isn't the most obvious candidate, but she may get closer than expected.
What helps her is quite simply how memorable the performance is. She's as much the heart and soul of the picture as Phoenix. You fall in love with her "character" of Sam, looking at her as much more than just an operating system, but damn near like a human. The complex emotions on display in the film come out within yourself as well. Johansson's work in Her brought me to tears on more than one occasion, and not only is it the crowning achievement of her career so far, but also my favorite (and I'd argue best) supporting performance of 2013 to date, male or female. If voters feel like I do, she could wind up with a lot of votes.
On the flip side, what hurts her is that some voters might feel that she's working off of a template established by Samantha Morton, who originally recorded the role before Jonze opted to go in a different direction and recast the part. That could keep just enough votes away from her, rightly or wrongly. I'm not sure it would come to this, but it's the sort of thing that factors in behind the scenes, so it'd be foolish not to consider it at least a bit.
Keep in mind that she's yet to be nominated too, despite coming close a few times with Lost in Translation and Match Point. Was it just bad luck or did the Academy choose to make her wait? If so, does that mean this is their chance to honor her or are they over her already? This sort of narrative is something you'll hear more about if she gets closer to a nomination, though it's always hovering in the air whenever a performance of hers begins to get any form of buzz.
Who exactly is she competing with at this point? Well, Best Supporting Actress is a category with room for her, since right now only Oprah Winfrey for Lee Daniels' The Butler, Lupita Nyong'o for 12 Years a Slave, and June Squibb for Nebraska seem locked in. That leaves Johansson fighting for one of the final two slots with the likes of Sally Hawkins for Blue Jasmine, Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle, Carey Mulligan for Inside Llewyn Davis, Julia Roberts for August: Osage County, Lea Seydoux for Blue is the Warmest Color, and a few other longer shots. I'd say that Johansson has a better shot than one or two of these, but she's still got a ways to go before she can be close enough to a spot for it to become a likely nomination.
For Johansson to have any chance, she'll need to go on a precursor run, not just getting nominated, but winning a fair amount of awards too. A festival prize is nice, certainly, but it's not the same. She'll need to do well with the critics groups and somehow not be ignored by all of the big awards. If she were to get a Golden Globe or Screen Actors Guild nomination, that would change the game in a big way. Honestly, if she were to get in with SAG, she'd become highly likely for a nod at the Oscars. Basically, that would be her trump card.
I will say that this festival award is significant because it's not looked at as a supporting win, but a victory over every lead contender as well. The Best Actor prize at Rome went to Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club for comparison, so maybe they're hoping to give both of them a boost in the race? They both could use it, though there's no arguing that McConaughey is in a better position by far than Johansson is. These wins don't hurt though, I can assure you of that.
In the end, I don't think she'll wind up nominated, but I am toying with predicting her, so that must mean something, right? Ultimately, it'd be a long shot prediction that's meant to keep her in the conversation, but staying in the conversation is essential for her at this point. I keep my personal feelings out of my predictions, but with a category as weak as Supporting Actress is (and with a few open places still), it's possible that it could happen for her (and Her). The next month or two will tell a lot. History could be made, though I wouldn't necessarily bet on it. Trust me though, I'd be smiling from ear to ear if it did.