Under the Circuit: Scarlett Johansson

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Scarlett hasn't been nominated…yetBorn: November 22nd, 1984
Place: New York, New York
Major Awards and Citations: BAFTA Awards (2004): Nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role for ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ and Won Best Actress in a Leading Role for ‘Lost in Translation’
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards (2003): Best Actress for ‘Lost in Translation’
British Independent Film Awards (2004): Nominee for Best Actress for ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’
Broadcast Film Critics Association (2004): Nominee for Best Supporting Actress for ‘Lost in Translation’
Golden Globe Awards (2006): Nominee for Best Supporting Actress for ‘Match Point’
Golden Globe Awards (2005): Nominee for Best Actress in a Leading Role- Drama for ‘A Love Song for Bobby Long’
Golden Globe Awards (2004): Nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role- Drama for ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ and Best Actress in a Leading Role-Musical or Comedy for ‘Lost in Translation’
Independent Spirit Awards (1997): Nominee for Best Female Lead for ‘Manny & Lo’
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards (2001): Won Best Supporting Actress for ‘Ghost World’
Venice Film Festival (2003): Won the Upstream Prize for Best Actress for ‘Lost in Translation’

Oscar Snubs: ‘The Horse Whisperer’ (1998), ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ (2003), ‘Lost in Translation’ (2003), ‘A Love Song for Bobby Long’ (2004), and ‘Match Point’ (2005)

It’s always interesting to see how an actor or actress chooses their roles after attaining some degree of acclaim and/or fame.  For some, they thrive and shoot into the stratosphere.  For many though, they seem to stumble.  A few do this after winning an Oscar, much like Cuba Gooding Jr.  For Scarlett Johansson however, she seems to have somewhat fallen victim to this malaise without having the benefit of even an Oscar nomination, let alone a wine.  A major awards darling early in her career (especially the mid 2000’s, as you saw above), she seemed destined to become an Academy Award winner, not to mention a nominee.  Snub after snub occurred though, and she’s since lost some of the respect she gained then.  The purpose of this installment of the Under the Circuit series is to look back and remind everyone just how good an actress Johansson can be, as well as look forward to see if she might ever be back on track for Oscar love (it should come as no surprise that a factor in my selection of her is that I think she might have a project in contention this year.  More on that later though, but keep in mind that many of my previous selections have had potential prestige projects coming out when I wrote about them, and Mark Ruffalo became a nominee shortly after my article).  Let’s dive right in and go Under the Circuit with Scarlett Johansson!

Making her debut in 1994 with a small part in the critically loathed (yet strangely enjoy by me) film ‘North’, Scarlett Johansson came on to the scene as a child actresses with lots of potential.  For the next half dozen years or so, she’d alternate between roles that showed off her talent and ones that weren’t real big stretches for her (something that would become a habit of hers).  The former included ‘Manny & Lo’ (1996) and one of her best performances to date in ‘The Horse Whisperer’ (1998), and the latter included 1997’s ‘Home Alone 3’.  Her work in ‘Manny & Lo’ and especially ‘The Horse Whisperer’ introduced her to the awards community, and a few precursor citations for each came her way.  She was officially an up and coming young performer.  She parlayed that into two higher profile roles in 2001.  The first was a supporting part in a Coen Brothers movie, namely ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’.  The second was a big role in the comic book adaptation ‘Ghost World’.  With this flick, real awards talk began for Johansson.  While I don’t much care for the film personally (and know I’m in the minority there), I definitely admire her work in the movie.  Critics and audiences had officially taken note of her, and while she didn’t turn any heads in the campy ‘Eight Legged Freaks’ (2002), the next year would be a career year for her.
Was 'Lost in Translation' her best shot?2003 brought two roles that each brought Scarlett as much acclaim as anyone else that year.  She wowed in the period piece ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’ and topped that work with Sofia Coppola’s ‘Lost in Translation’.  I consider this role one of the best female performances of the past decade, with Johansson showing an unmistakably appealing combination of youthful wanderlust and openness to the world while also displaying a world weariness that suggested a maturity beyond her years.  She was a cipher for the audience into the story, and she did a masterful job.  The precursors took major note of both movies, often times nominating her for both performances (though she did tend to win for the latter more than the former).  The Hollywood Foreign Press made her a double nominee that year, giving her nods in both Best Actress fields.  Her work in ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’  came up short in the drama field to Charlize Theron’s staggering work in ‘Monster’, but that came as no surprise.  What was more surprising was her ‘Lost in Translation’ role losing the Comedy/Musical category to Diane Keaton for the enjoyable fluff ‘Something’s Gotta Give’.  I personally was rather shocked at the loss, and to this day still contend that it was a big blow to her Oscar hopes, but there still was the expectation that she could score a nod with the Academy.  Nomination morning came and went however, and she was snubbed.  While missing out years back for ‘The Horse Whisperer’ was more or less expected, missing out for both of these tremendous roles wasn’t.  All was not lost though, as this made Johansson someone on the verge of the A-list, and gave her access to some major roles.  2004 was going to be a busy year.
The year after the Oscar snub, she came out with no less than 5 films.  The roles ran the gamut from another shot at an awards caliber period piece (A Good Woman), a youth-oriented SAT heist flick (The Perfect Score), to a voice in a big animated film (The Spongebob Squarepants Movie) and the romantic dramedy route (In Good Company).  The other film for her that year was the underrated Southern drama ‘A Love Song for Bobby Long’.  I found the film and her performance (again so effectively filled with world weariness) to be one of the more underrated ones of the decade, though few seemed to agree.  The Golden Globes were on the same page as me though, and she received her third nomination.  No win was to be had again, but she was officially an awards darling with the HFPA.  From here, things were about to get interesting, but not necessarily in the way that people following her career at that point expected.
At this point, she made one of the few Michael Bay films to fail (The Island) and began her now well known series of collaborations with Woody Allen.  She was in luck, as this was about to be a good match for both artists.  ‘Match Point’ (2005) continued her string of capturing the attention of critics and audiences, but it wasn’t just that.  It was also Allen’s first hit in years, and Johansson was mentioned as being a surefire nominee this year, competing in the Supporting Actress category.  Like clockwork, the Globes followed suite and nominated her for this femme fatale type role, but continuing her trend of disappointment with the group, she fell short of a win yet again.  Even more surprising, the Academy again snubbed her.  Scarlett would remain on the outside looking in with Oscar.
Sadly, this was her last real shot at a nod with them, as we’ll see next.
Scarlett Johansson was about to enter a bit of a dark period.  Aside from doing good work in Christopher Nolan’s magician movie ‘The Prestige’, 2006 was a bit of a letdown.  ‘The Black Dahlia’ was a misfire on all counts, and went from being a big Oscar possibility to a flop.  There was also her second collaboration with Woody, the amusing but lightweight ‘Scoop’.  She did the Allen impersonation, and did it well, but critics weren’t on board with them this time.  There was the sense that perhaps she had peaked, at least in terms of awards fare.

Maybe this will be the year with 'We Bought a Zoo'?

Since that moment, she’s made some decent films like ‘The Nanny Diaries’ (2007) and ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’ (2009), as well as some disappointments like ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ (2008), ‘The Spirit’ (2008), and ‘Iron Man 2’ (2010).  She was adequate to good in each, but there wasn’t much of a lasting impression.  She elevated her game a bit when she paired a third time with Woody Allen in ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ (2008), but most of the acclaim went to her co-star Penelope Cruz.  The question now is…will we ever see Scarlett Johansson as a factor in the awards season again?
The answer is…maybe.  This year could actually be the year, as she could be back in the game again for her supporting role in the upcoming Cameron Crowe film ‘We Bought a Zoo’.  Not much is known about her role, but Crowe has a strong record with supporting actresses, and the role was a heavily fought over one, so the assumption is Johansson will have something good to work with.  Looking ahead, she’ll reprise her superhero role from ‘Iron Man 2’ in the upcoming ensemble hero pic ‘The Avengers’ as well as go the sci-fi route in the film ‘Under the Skin’.  Aside from that, things are open ended.  Johansson seems more comfortable with the big budget projects than the indies of her past, but this Cameron Crowe movie could be her return to the precursor game.  As someone who recognizes her talent, I sincerely hope that it is.