Rough Night hit theaters on Friday and while the reviews have been somewhat mixed, there’s been few bad things to say about Scarlett Johansson’s more straight laced performance. It’s a nice reminder of the range the actress has and due to it, we thought we’d look back at her ten best performances to date.
10: The Nanny Diaries
In between her roles that bounce between action heroine to art house wonder, it’s easy to forget that Scarlett Johansson used to weaponize her charm in romantic comedies. Few films utilized that natural charisma than in the sweet and unassuming The Nanny Diaries. The film may not be wildly impressive in the sense of story or direction really (not that that deterred this critic from owning in on DVD…) but it does have Chris Evans playing her love interest and a role that allows Johansson to possess a warmth she doesn’t often get and have fun. [Allyson Johnson]
9. Match Point
To talk about this movie is only possible if I don’t acknowledge the scummy bastard who directed it so, it’s a good thing that Scarlett Johansson was so good years ago when this critic first saw it to leave enough of an impression then. She was soulful in the way a lot of directors have relied on since her youth, possessing a wise beyond her years attitude but here she gets to play more than ingenue and imbues her character with a tangible sense of want and sadness. [Allyson Johnson]
8. Don Jon
An examination of how objectification and gender expectations affect and twist our relationships from the male point of view can turn condescending or insulting quickly, but writer-director Joseph Gordon Levitt manages to avoid both in Don Jon, and much of it is due to Scarlett Johansson’s excellent performance as Barbara, a young woman very committed to bringing the romcoms she adores to life. The result is an excellent examination of how power dynamics and unrealistic expectations gleaned from media can keep us from true intimacy and connection. Barbara is not condemned, merely shown with compassion. She, like Levitt’s Jon, is merely a product of an environment that determines value not from a person’s actions, but how they conform to a set path that’s already silently but firmly determined for them. When people inevitably fall short, the efforts Barbara makes to make Jon fit the image in her mind of what an ideal man is supposed to be, despite ample evidence that neither he, or any boyfriend could possibly live up to it, is not only insightful, they’re hilarious. In lesser hands, she would be a caricature, but with Johansson, she’s someone we can recognize and empathize with. [Andrea Thompson]
Another action movie led by a woman from writer-director Luc Besson? Yes, please. Lucy may be one of the more mainstream offerings from Besson, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some weird food for thought. Scarlett Johansson’s journey as the title character is believable, even when the circumstances surrounding it are less so. Johansson’s Lucy transforms from an ordinary, naive woman caught up in a situation far outside her control, to not only taking the control back, but transcending it completely into sommething larger than humanity itself after she gets caught in a drug deal gone bad. Soon, she finds herself transformed into a being increasingly more powerful, but also less and less human, as she struggles to retain her humanity and stay connected to the people she used to be close to. Soon her captors, who continue to pursue her, become more and more irrelevant, even as they remain determined to end her. Johansson may never get a solo movie for her Black Widow character, but in Lucy, she more than proves she is capable of carrying an action film without the usual martial arts or franchise beats other action stars are usually known for. [Andrea Thompson]
6. Hail, Caesar!
People forget just how funny Scarlett Johansson can be and while this was explored mildly in Black Widows quips or in her near cartoonish character in Don Jon it was best highlighted in the Coen Brothers Hail, Caesar! She got to play against type as a bull dog a role and she steamrolled anyone in her path. Hilarious both in her physicality and her delivery, it may have been a smaller role in the ensemble cast but it was one of the most memorable one looking back at the film. [Allyson Johnson]
5. The Avengers, Captain America 2 & 3
It’s hard to remember now, but Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow was once little more than mere window dressing. She was sometimes interesting, but she was also relegated to being Nick Fury’s sidekick and the MCU’s token action girl. Thankfully, women are much more of a presence not only in the Marvel Universe, but in the film world in general. Black Widow has yet to get her own solo movie, but she’s become one of the most important, interesting superheroes on the big screen. She more than holds her own with no superpowers to speak of, and her actions often serve as major plot points rather than afterthoughts. Recent films have delved into her complicated past and relationships, also making her one of the more complex onscreen heroines. She also often comes sans love interests, with her various team ups being based more on her abilities than her sexuality. Since she’s been given more and more development ever since the first Avengers movie, hopefully Marvel will continue to (mostly) do her justice in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War. Maybe even that solo movie will finally happen? [Andrea Thompson]
4. Ghost World
Ghost World is a sort of comic book film that hasn’t been seen before, or since. In a seemingly-typical American town, we are faced with the staunch reminder that many of our heroes are not real, and that our achievements as human beings are a preoccupation to fill the void between our cradle and grave. Or, uh, something like that? The tale of Enid & Rebecca is a portrait of the insecure, displaced sentiments that haunted Gen X-ers in the early 2000’s, and still do now. Seventeen-year-old Scarlett as Rebecca was a breakout role, portraying the spirit and sarcasm typical of so many teen girls with a painful earnesty. Her role provides a necessary and sympathetic foil to the rebellious and whimsical Enid, being just a little more popular and a little more driven and a little more mean than her struggling best friend. Just a little, but enough for it to hurt. Sadly, despite Scarlett’s genuine talent, she seemed to get typecast as eye candy as she and her career moved into adulthood, with so few directors engaging her very real and well-ranged acting chops. Though she seems to prefer big-budget blockbuster blowouts nowadays, Rebecca struggling to become the thankless adult to her friends’ teenage hijinks remains one the best roles of her career. [Jen Nooman]
“As much as I want to, I can’t live in your book anymore.”
Spike Jonze’s Her could have gone either two ways: a heartbreaking love story between a man and his computer or a very preachy PSA about people’s dependence on technology. Thankfully, it was a bit of both. Set in a not so distant future, Her stars Joaquin Phoenix as a very hipster looking nerd and Scarlett Johansson as the world’s sexiest sounding computer. In animated films, the voices are usually the last aspects that people think about. As long as the movie is good, it doesn’t matter who voices the 3D characters. When Her’s trailers came out, it was interesting to see that Johansson would costar simply as a voice and not have a physical presence. However, her voice was all she needed.
On paper, this film may sound silly because it’s about a man falling for a fucking AI. But Johansson makes that love believable. Her scenes are both funny and heartbreaking as she tries out love as if it was a computer software. Does Samantha truly love Theodore or was she just programmed that way? Jonze’s dialogue is sensual and poetic and is only intensified by Johansson’s seductive tone. [Yasmin Kleinbart]
2. Under the Skin
Appropriately enough, Jonathan Glazer’s beautiful, evocative, meditative Under the Skin is an invasive, unnerving cinematic triumphant that’ll forever disturb you. An unsettling, distinguished, demented and deliberately uncomfortable meditation on alienation, in more ways than one, Glazer’s weird but wonderful third feature film is stunning, innovative and spectacular in its conception, from its gorgeous cinematography to its incredible, inspired original score to its striking use of non-actors. But it’s truly Scarlett Johannson’s sensational, iconic, dauntless and masterfully nuanced lead turn that gives Under the Skin its ultimate prowess. Raw, tender, revealing and sometimes revolting as we’ve never seen the actress before, it’s Johannson’s boldest, bravest and quite easily one of her most brilliant performances to date. Ingeniously intimate and impeccably filmed, Under the Skin is the type of movie you’ll forget, nor want to. It’s one of the decade’s finest films. [Will Ashton]
1. Lost in Translation
People can argue that Her or Under the Skin have been her most impressive roles to date, but it’s Sofia Copoola’s Lost in Translation that remains her most definitive. Whether it’s her in her pink wig out on the town, the lost, blue orbs staring out at a city that she’s un-tethered to, or her standing in the middle of a crown, standing on her toes to whisper secrets into Bill Murray’s ear, she’s electrifying. Once again she possesses the wiser than her years charisma but this time the youthful energy shines through. She’s adrift and Johansson plays this with a sturdy gaze and subtleties that she hasn’t always gotten to explore with quite as much nuance sense. She was truly a revelation in this role. [Allyson Johnson]