Few actors have dominated movie screens in quite the same fashion as Scarlett Johansson, who will receive the 35th annual American Cinematheque Award on Nov. 18. The American Cinematheque will be honoring Participant Media with its inaugural Power of Cinema Award.
Able to bounce back and forth between massive worldwide blockbusters (“Black Widow,” “The Avengers,” “Lucy”) and critically acclaimed independent productions (“Under the Skin,” “Don Jon,” “Chef”), the Oscar-nominated Johansson landed Academy consideration for 2019’s “Marriage Story” and “Jojo Rabbit,” and has cemented herself as one of the most iconic women on the screen, making her a natural fit for the honor. Upcoming is the animated “Sing 2” in which she voices Ash, the female crested porcupine, one of the main characters of the toon.
Having done comedy, romance, action-spectacle, and nearly everything else in between, she never pigeonholed herself into one genre, opening herself up to various cinematic possibilities.
“Whenever she graces the screen with her luminous presence, the audience knows that they will see a dedicated artist at the height of her powers. We can’t wait to share in the next phase of Scarlett Johansson’s marvelous career,” says American Cinematheque chair Rick Nicita.
Johansson’s screen debut was in Rob Reiner’s 1994 comedy, “North,” which quickly led to more high-profile pre-teen roles, before Robert Redford cast her in his 1998 drama, “The Horse Whisperer,” in which she stole scenes against numerous veterans in an emotionally intense picture.
But it was the one-two indie punch of 2001’s “Ghost World” and 2003’s “Lost in Translation” that got critics paying close attention to her talents, and which led to an unbelievable run of projects. In a recent interview with Variety, Johansson commented on how she values her artistic process. “I never feel like my work is done,” she said.
“I still think of new ways I could try lines from movies I shot 10 years ago.”
Her eclectic filmography shows an actor ready for anything. She sandwiched a Michael Bay thriller (“The Island”) between two Woody Allen films (“Match Point” and “Scoop”), and worked with visionary filmmaker Christopher Nolan on his most undervalued effort, “The Prestige.”
She provided some of the most memorable voice work in recent years in Spike Jonze’s 2013 tech-relationship film, “Her,” which found her utilizing that trademark smoky voice as a way of infecting Joaquin Phoenix’s lovesick headspace. Voicing the AI character inside Phoenix’s computer and smart devices, she gave a subtly tricky performance that balanced audience expectation and the absolute unknown.
Writing for Variety at the time, film critic Scott Foundas said of her performance, “It’s Johansson who pulls off the trickiest feat: She creates a complex, full-bodied character without any body at all. Detached from her lethally curvaceous figure, the actress’ breathy contralto is no less seductive, but it also alights with tenderness and wonder as Samantha, both here on Earth and up there in the Cloud, voraciously devours literature, philosophy and human experience.”
But it was her high-energy role as Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, who held central prominence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe over numerous films and made her a full-blown international movie-star. Though the character made the ultimate sacrifice in 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame,” last summer saw the successful release of the standalone adventure, “Black Widow,” which showed the origins of her character and tied into everything that had come before it. (Johansson also made headlines and garnered support for filing a breach of contract lawsuit against Disney over the film’s payday; the suit was settled in September.)
Even at this point, Johansson was learning new things about the character. While appearing as a guest on the Variety podcast “The Big Ticket” with Marc Malkin to discuss “Endgame,” Johansson said, “I have a greater understanding of this character than I ever possibly did before.”