Spike Jonze

Films

2013
her 82
[ Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a “sad, mopey” letter writer who’s going through a divorce. While he’s feeling lonely and vulnerable, he buys a new operating system for his computer and smartphone that uses artificial intelligence and that basically takes the form of a virtual person: Samantha (the voice of Scarlett Johansson). He instantly feels like he can truly relate to her and they become friends, and then more than that… Which brings up all these existential questions about the nature of being and about our relationship with technology. We already have such a close bond with our computers, smartphones and whatnot that, if they were to take on this more personal and intimate form like in the film, it does feel like you could ultimately connect with them on a deeper level. We all feel a little lonely sometimes and we use our devices to reach out into the world via social networks, but what if the device itself became the thing we reached out to? Set in the near future, “her” is technically a science-fiction film, what with all the technology that’s not quite there yet, but it seems all too possible that it’ll be here soon enough. As written and directed by Spike Jonze, it’s an insightful and sensitive picture not unlike “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” that uses a technological metaphor to explore the way relationships work. Featuring a moody, minimalistic but effective score by Arcade Fire, “her” is a somewhat melancholy piece that makes us ask ourselves if our own feelings are real or programmed and whether our past is “just a story we tell ourselves”… In the lead, Joaquin Phoenix is endlessly endearing and relatable, and he develops genuine chemistry with Scarlett Johannson, who seems so lively and funny and complex even though we’re only hearing her voice. As Theodore’s ex-wife, Rooney Mara also conveys a lot even though, in her case, she almost only appears in dialogue-free flashbacks. And Amy Adams makes a strong impression as well as a friend of Theodore’s character who also is in a relationship of sorts with an operating system. Speaking of which, it’s interesting the way the premise – man falls in love with an OS – tends to be routinely accepted by people in the film, even though at the same time, it’s obviously a bit crazy. Yet they accept it and so do we. If only for that, “her” is clearly something special. ]

2011
Scenes from the Suburbs 88
[ This Spike Jonze short film, which he co-wrote with Will and Win Butler from Arcade Fire, totally wipes the floor with “Super 8” as far as coming-of-age stories go. There’s no stupid monster, no over the top destruction scenes, no fucking lens flares, just some great young actors struggling to maintain their friendship as they grow up in a world they don’t understand. I love how no explanation is ever really given as to why the suburban town where it takes place is overrun by the police and army, and how the tale is told through a series of moments… memories… dreams? The cinematography is gorgeous, and the music of course is amazing as well. This doesn’t quite reach the genius level of Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are”, but it’s still a must-see. ]

2009
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE 94
[ review ]

2002
ADAPTATION 83
[ review ]

1999
BEING JOHN MALKOVICH 93
[ review ]

Music Videos (selected works)

2010
THE SUBURBS – Arcade Fire 90
[ With “Where the Wild Things Are”, Spike Jonze created one of the best films about childhood ever and with this music video, he’s perfectly captured the feeling of being a teenager in the suburbs in the mid-1990s… Or is it the near future? Because between the bicycle rides, misdemeanors and romantic foibles, we see glimpses of the “suburban war” Arcade Fire is singing about… Smoke on the horizon, a helicopter flying across the sky, cops and soldiers in the streets, etc. Like all the best music videos, it reflects the lyrics and feel of the song, but without being too literal about it. This is the kind of video you watch over and over, discovering new things about it every time. Bravo. ]

2005
TRIUMPH OF A HEART – Björk 88
[ This is my favorite song off Medulla, and this video is just as great. Björk has rarely looked better, whether she’s drinking too much and singing her heart out with a bunch of party people or going back home to her cat husband and having a little dance-off. ]

2000
WEAPON OF CHOICE – Fatboy Slim 85
[ Christopher Walken is always enjoyable, so this is pure joy. Mofo can DANCE! ]

1999
WHAT’S UP, FATLIP? – Fatlip 57
[ Low-budget hip hop video has precious little to offer at first sight beside a clown outfit and dumb pratfalls, but once you’ve watched the half-hour “What’s up, Fatlip?” documentary in which Jonze gets the former Pharcyde MC to pour his heart out, this goofy little video is infused with endless pathos. ]

1998
PRAISE YOU – Fatboy Slim 91
[ This is the ultimate anti-music video, just home video footage of the “Torrance Community Dance Group” performing for of a befuddled crowd in front of a movie theater. This is gloriously lame – every time you think Richard Koufey and his dancers can’t come up with more ridiculous moves, they do, oh, do they ever! ]

1997
DA FUNK – Daft Punk 69
[ A walking and talking dog wanders through the “big city nights” while catchy electro music blasts from his boom box. You can already feel the balance of quirkiness and melancholy that would inhabit “Being John Malkovich”. ]

1997
ELEKTROBANK – The Chemical Brothers 46
[ Sofia Coppola nearly ruined her father’s “Godfather 3” and her own movies are ridiculously overrated, but she’s a pretty impressive gymnast – if that’s really her doing all these moves. ]

1997
SKY’S THE LIMIT – The Notorious B.I.G. 62
[ Exactly like every other hip hop video (fish-eyed lens, big cars, half-naked babes, bling bling), except that every part is played by little kids! Cute. ]

1995
DROP – The Pharcyde 44
[ The backwards gimmick is OK, but Weird Al did it better in his Amish Paradise video and, as hard as they try, the Pharcyde guys ain’t no Beastie Boys. ]

1995
IT’S OH SO QUIET – Björk 90
[ This must have at least in part inspired “Dancer in the Dark”, which is priceless, but on its own this homage to Technicolor musicals (and tire shops) is a treat. ]

1995
CALIFORNIA – Wax 61
[ Dude on fire runs in the street, one not-so-long shot, in slow-motion. Pretty basic, but oddly compelling to watch, and the unexpected melancholy little girl at the end is a nice touch that would be echoed in the last shot of “Being John Malkovich”. ]

1994
SURE SHOT – The Beastie Boys 64
[ The Beastie Boys are so damn cool and fun that you don’t need to do much to make one of their videos entertaining, you can just put them in front of a camera and let them fool around here, as they do here. Good times. ]

1994
IF I ONLY HAD A BRAIN – MC 900ft Jesus 7
[ Half-assed Bloodhound Gang, something about a box, zzz… ]

1994
SABOTAGE – The Beastie Boys 91
[ This is the coolest damn song and the coolest damn video… I’ve seen this hilarious and exhilarating spoof of cheesy ‘70s cop shows a million times and it still makes me as giddy as the first time. Mustaches, man, mustaches. ]

1994
UNDONE (The Sweater Song) – Weezer 65
[ Aaah… This song might be the most vivid musical memory I have of high school. The video just shows the boys playing in front of a blue screen, which should be boring but, HEY, DOGS!, and that song is just too great. ]

1994
FEEL THE PAIN – Dinosaur Jr. 15
[ There’s a fine line between clever and stupid. This golf-themed video is stupid. ]

1994
BUDDY HOLLY – Weezer 83
[ Would Weezer have been such a hit if Spike Jonze hadn’t seamlessly integrated them in a Happy Days episode in this wonderful hipster/geek video? Is the Fonz cool? ]

1993
CANNONBALL – The Breeders 50
[ This song is so good, whatever happened to these chicks? The video itself is a bit generic, though, at least by Jonze standards. ]