“I just want to make whatever is exciting.” – Spike Jonze
American filmmaker Spike Jonze has gained a cult following over the years, starting from the time his first feature film Being John Malkovich came out in 1999 for which he earned an Academy Award for Best Director. Jonze has also worked as an actor throughout his career, co-starring in David O. Russell’s war comedy Three Kings back in 1999. He also appeared in supporting roles in Bennett Miller’s 2011 film Moneyball and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street which was released in 2013.
“When I was 20 years old, I had no plans to ever be a filmmaker,” Jonze said “Me and my friends had BMX magazines and skate magazines, and I was a photographer who made skate videos. There was just no way that would have ever even crossed my mind.”
He would go on to add: “When I’m making stuff the thing that excites me most is not the result but the process, and trying to do something I’ve never done before. I love when me and my friends don’t know how to make something – there’s that risk of failure, which should be there. If it’s guaranteed not to fail it’s something you already know how to do.”
On his 51st birthday, we take a look at the short but brilliant filmography of Spike Jonze in recognition of his undeniable talent as a filmmaker.
All Spike Jonze feature films ranked:
4. Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
Based on Maurice Sendak’s 1963 children’s book of the same name, Where the Wild Things Are is about a lonely boy Max (played by Max Records) who runs away from home in his wolf costume. He finds himself transported to an imaginary world, one that is inhabited by large, monstrous creatures who crown him as their ruler.
“‘Am I in touch with my inner child?’ I got that one a lot on this movie,” Jonze reflected. “I feel like I’m no different than I ever have been, but suddenly that became the story on this movie because it’s about childhood.
“I think it’s been written that it doesn’t have a strong narrative and I don’t think that’s necessarily true,” he added. “It just doesn’t have a traditional narrative. We didn’t want to add on some extraneous thing just to make it a movie, like Max having to save a princess on the island or something. It really came from what the book was about to me.”
3. Adaptation (2002)
An often-overlooked work in the list of Charlie Kaufman-Spike Jonze collaborations, Adaptation is a brilliant comedy-drama metafilm which is based both on Susan Orlean’s 1998 nonfiction book The Orchid Thief and Kaufman’s experience attempting to adapt the book into a screenplay while suffering from writer’s block. Nicholas Cage stars as Charlie Kaufman himself as well as his fictional twin brother Donald and Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean. It also featured Chris Cooper as American horticulturalist John Laroche.
Adaptation received awards at the 75th Academy Awards, 60th Golden Globe Awards, and 56th British Academy Film Awards, with Cooper winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Charlie Kaufman received the BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The director revealed, “As soon as I heard that idea, I knew it was something I wanted to do. I didn’t read it for another three or four months, until he had handed it in to the producers, at which point he gave me a copy to read. At that point Jonathan Demme was thinking about directing it.
“I wrote Jonathan a letter telling him I loved the movie and if he didn’t want it, I hoped he’d consider me. Then we were close to finishing the editing of our movie (Being John Malkovich), we showed it to Jonathan and Ed, and right about that time he decided to let me do it.”
2. Her (2013)
This beautiful 2013 sci-fi romance marked Jonze’s solo screenwriting debut. It follows the story of Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Phoenix), a shy writer who falls in love with an AI-virtual helper called Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). The idea for the film came to Jonze in the early 2000s after he read an article about a website that allowed instant messaging with an artificial intelligence program.
Her received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and won the award for Best Original Screenplay. Jonze also won awards for his screenplay at the 71st Golden Globe Awards, the 66th Writers Guild of America Awards, the 19th Critics’ Choice Awards, and the 40th Saturn Awards.
Jonze said, “There’s definitely ways that technology brings us closer and ways that it makes us further apart — and that’s not what this movie is about. It really was about the way we relate to each other and long to connect: our inabilities to connect, fears of intimacy, all the stuff you bring up with any other human being.”
“You know how you can order bespoke custom sneakers online that are just your size with just the colours you want? Everything’s like that,” he added. “It was trying to make this world that’s really comfortable and very easy to live in. To feel isolated in that setting hits that much more.”
1. Being John Malkovich (1999)
Being John Malkovich is a truly unique film and will always stand out as a very special part of cinematic tradition. Thanks to the directorial talent of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s brilliant screenplay, the film challenges so many genres at the same time.
It manages to create a meta-fictional exploration of the human condition through stunning narrative devices and simple allegory. Being John Malkovich answers the age-old question: “What if we could be someone else?”
Kaufman said, “I start to write without any particular game plan. In fact, the Malkovich part of this movie was not even what I was writing at first. The thing that I started with was a married man who fell in love with somebody else. That was the beginning. Everything else came later. I don’t start out by saying, ‘This is a movie about identity.’ I just have certain things that I am anxious about, and they wind up in my script.”