The Rome Film Festival awarded its jury prizes today. The upstart film festival, celebrating its eighth year, had a few major Hollywood offering to play this year, including Spike Jonze’s upcoming postmodern science fiction love story Her and Scott Cooper’s gritty drama Out of the Furnace, as well as Matthew McConaughey’s Dallas Buyers Club, currently playing in limited release in the U.S.
While the Italian docu-drama TIR, about a truck driver and his travels across Europe, from debut filmmaker Alberto Fasulo took top honors at the festival, the real highlight of the awards came in Scarlett Johansson’s voice only work in Her netting the Best Actress prize. Jonze’s film, which stars Joaquin Phoenix as a lovelorn resident of Los Angeles in the not-too-distant future who falls for his new Siri-like operating system (voiced by Johansson) premiered to terrific early notices at last month’s New York Film Festival, and recently played at the AFI Film Festival in Hollywood. From the start, awards pundits, critics and festival audiences have embraced Johansson’s work on the film, some even making early campaign pleas that the actress should be in the running for an Oscar nod, which would be a first for a voice-only performance. The Rome Film Festival may not make any ripples in the awards race, but Johansson (who took over the part last minute after replacing Samantha Morton during post production of the film) winning the prize gives a whisper of credibility for what would be a history-making mention.
For years now there’s been rumblings about how or if the Academy should acknowledge non-traditional acting performances, further enhanced by today’s CGI-driven film market and clouded by films like Lord of the Rings and Avatar, where fully-realized performances are stylized and animated in motion capture. In the past, critically admired performances like Ellen DeGeneres’ voice work in Finding Nemo, Eddie Murphy’s in Shrek and even Robin Williams’s work in Aladdin have charged an argument that voice-over performances could, and perhaps should, be seen as awards worthy, Williams even received a special Golden Globe for his contributions to the Disney film. The debate gets richer and decidedly more difficult when considering Andy Serkis’s CG work in The Lord of the Rings, King Kong and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, all of which spawned talk over how to honor his achievements.