An upbeat crowd of film-industry worthies got off their couches and traded their sweatpants for formal wear to fill the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Thursday evening to see Scarlett Johansson feted at the 35th Annual American Cinematheque Awards.
If the ongoing pandemic led to properly cautious protocols and the complications of slowly reopening cinemas went almost wholly unmentioned, the evening displayed a peaceful near-lassitude rather than the typical gala’s Hooray for Hollywood ethos. After all, it’s been just a few weeks since Johansson won a significant skirmish with Disney and Marvel to get her proper payday for the “Black Widow” vehicle doomed by lockdown to underpay her what should have been a bounteous backend share of the box office. (Johansson’s CAA agent Bryan Lourd — his former agency partner Rick Nicita chairs the Cinematheque Board — was in great spirits at the star’s table.)
There was virtually nothing said onstage (or in various tribute videos) in relation to either the bumpy new world of theatrical releases nor the pandemic that seemingly isn’t done with us yet. That said, Johansson’s steady, smiling engagement, matched by the easeful eloquence of her remarks (and of fellow honoree David Linde, as nicely teed up by Participant go-to director Tom McCarthy), ensured a hopefulness that managed to outlast the somewhat challenging duration of the event.
Ahead of the ceremony, the star gave thoughtful responses to each outlet on the scene, and smiled at the thought that her recent win (a rumored $40 million) might be reminiscent of Olivia de Havilland’s landmark win over the studio system in the 1940s: “I really feel very lucky that I’m someone who’s been able to kind of shoulder the burden of that, because of all the work that I’ve done. And I think, with my 30 years in the industry, there are relationships that I’ve made with the audience, first and foremost, and with that trust that I built them and within the industry, I was happy to push the boulder over the mountain. And that it’s meant that it would protect other people’s livelihoods and that I could in some way effect positive change within the creative community.”
A beaming Colin Jost — is there any other kind? — seemed content to find a spot away from the flashbulbs but in full view of her progress down the walkway in a white Versace pantsuit set off with a crystal corset. The couple have a new seven-month-old daughter, and Jost of course has his SNL “Weekend Update” duties — “he makes America laugh every week,” she later said — but, grinning, she said she informed him attendance was mandatory.
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Assembled on the carpet and for the program afterward were such co-stars and pals as Abbie Cornish and Jamie Lee Curtis, Marvel boss producer Kevin Feige, and a video array of the Marvel universe’s leading lights including Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Sam Rockwell, and, as her in-person introducer, after the goofy kudos from the rest, a seemingly overwhelmed Jeremy Renner. Jon Favreau recalled meeting her 10-plus years before as she campaigned for the “Black Widow” role. He remarked that he was struck how she not only showed up with character-apt red hair to show “she was serious,” but he soon arrived on a rehearsal stage to find her up in the rafters with the stunt crew who normally would have already taken over the action feats.
Feige noted that the present-day result is an increasing role for Johannsson in the big decisions, as evidenced by her producing role on the latest entry: “Scarlett embodied Natasha brilliantly over an incredible action-packed period spanning 11 years, eight films featuring countless stunts and fight scenes, a Civil War, an Infinity War, and dozens of different hairstyles, all culminating in one of the MCU’s most anticipated standalone movies, ‘Black Widow.’” He then dropped a hint that caused an appreciative murmur (though outside afterward he declined to elaborate). “We are already working with Scarlett on another non-‘Black Widow’-related top-secret Marvel Studios project with her as a producer.”
Emphasizing the socially conscious aspects of the Cinematheque’s mission was her fellow honoree David Linde, who dedicated the honor to Participant’s Diane Weyermann, an effectively driven producer and chief content officer who died in October.
In his remarks on stage, Linde memorialized their shared mission: “It’s that shared experience that gives us the ability to see into and empathize with the lives of others.” Speaking with IndieWire separately, he noted the topsy-turvy nature of production at the moment: “And everybody’s trying to find their place right now. Streaming, network television, cable television, movies. Where does it all go?” In the present political climate, he added, “Facts are not always accepted as a means of convincing people. But understanding somebody’s life, in a film, breeds empathy. “
As the program headed towards its end, Johansson’s twin brother Hunter impressed with his account of the good works his sister (and Hunter himself) have been able to promote, and Jamie Lee Curtis, in a zany and wildly costumed recall of her “I am Inga from Sweden” character from “Trading Places,” left the crowd almost taken aback with a paean to her ad hoc, sudden sisterhood with Johansson.
Expertly edited reels of Johansson highlights — from her childhood roles to the MCU — combined with Renner’s emotional lionizing to pump up her aura. Johansson’s gracious memories of mom Melanie schooling her in film (“I’d seen ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ about 45 times by my seventh birthday”), and a nuanced take on growing up in the trade, gave the entire evening a memorable patina of warmth and accessible gravitas.
“Every time you sit down to see a film, we want it to win. We want to feel the connection to the characters, to the setting and the story, and to feel at home in someone else’s story and someone else’s skin. It’s a process by which, in doing so, we connect with ourselves… Tonight has been an incredible gift because it’s allowed me to take pause and take it all in, to take the temperature and survey the landscape before continuing so gratefully down the path that chose me 30 years ago.”