Twenty years ago, Tom Hanks fell in love with Meg Ryan’s disembodied voice. Sleepless in Seattle sidestepped some traditional rom-com tropes—the leads don’t even kiss!—but still built to the moment when Ryan’s spirit becomes a realized woman. Spike Jonze now takes this to the next level: loner Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his operating system. Phoenix is more relaxed and open here than in, say, The Master. He’s sweetly awkward, like a modern Jimmy Stewart. This movie (Jonze’s third live action) is mostly conventional once we accept the premise, not smugly clever like Being John Malkovich or his wondrous Adaptation. In Jonze’s future society, people can fall for their OS, or even share friendships with them. Technology isn’t just isolating; there’s the real possibility of connection. Samantha (sensually voiced by Scarlett Johansson) soaks up her surroundings voraciously, gaining capacity for knowledge and human interaction. But she develops desires and secrets, too, and ends in a place I didn’t expect. There’s a beautiful intimacy that Jonze gets from his collaborators: an excellent Amy Adams also seeking companionship; sun-specked, muted shots by Hoyte Van Hoytema (below); and a light-rock score from Owen Pallett and Arcade Fire’s William Butler.

Screen shot 2014-01-19 at 5.29.57 PM

For Your Consideration: Best Picture; Director (Spike Jonze); Joaquin Phoenix; Screenplay (Spike Jonze); Cinematography (Hoyte Van Hoytema).

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