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The 8 Ball 7.21.14: Top 8 Scarlett Johansson Roles
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 07.22.2014

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!

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Top 8 Scarlett Johansson Roles

Welcome one and all to the 411 Movie Zone 8 Ball once again! Jeremy Thomas once again, and this week we're taking a look at one of the better actresses working in Hollywood today. Scarlett Johansson is one of those actresses who have shown she can play it all, from romantic comedies and serious dramas to action blockbusters, indie films and more. Johansson has had one hell of a 2014 so far and she's back once again this coming weekend as she stars in Luc Besson's sci-fi actionfest Lucy. With that in mind, this week we're taking a look at the best roles that we've had the pleasure of seeing this versatile and talented woman take on.

Caveat: As with my previous lists looking at an actor or actress' roles, I considered all of Johansson's fictional narrative performances for this column, with the exceptions of roles where she played herself. Obviously cameo and supporting performances got much less weight than leading roles and that's why for the most part they're not here.

Just Missing The Cut

Barbara Sugarman (Don Jon)
Griet (Girl with a Pearl Earring)
Janet Leigh (Hitchcock)
Olivia Wenscombe (The Prestige)
Cristina (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)

#8: Nola Rice (Match Point)

First up on our list is a role that may not be her most high-profile, but is certainly one of her better ones. Johansson has worked with Woody Allen on three films so far, and Match Point is definitely their best collaboration yet. Allen may be a giant in the film industry, but no one can argue that he muddled his way through the first part of the twenty-first century with misfires like Anything Else, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion and Hollywood Ending. Match Point was his first real success since Small Time Crooks and no small part of that was thanks to Johansson and her character, a woman who gets involved with her boyfriend's brother-in-law. Johansson had already turned a lot of heads for her work up to this point but it was as the sexy but insecure Nora that she really started getting heavy critical acclaim. The multi-layered performance and transition from confident to crazed is a mix of Allen's writing skill and Johansson's acting abilities, which would prove to be a potent mix for two other films. (Yes, even the otherwise mediocre Scoop.)

#7: Jordan Two Delta (The Island)

I know that we love to trash Michael Bay, and he deserves it for a lot of his recent work. But he is a talented filmmaker and there was a time--before the debacle of the Transformers franchise and the way Platinum Dunes ruined several horror franchises with reboots--that he was considered one of the better action directors in the business. The Island is a great example of that, a high-concept action sci-fi film that is remarkably thoughtful. Ewan McGregor commands the most screen time as Lincoln Six Echo, but it was Johansson who really took control of the film by giving Jordan Two Delta a level of complexity and nuance that, frankly, we don't expect from Bay's films even when he's at his best. The actress was well-matched up with McGregor and they generate quite a bit of on-screen chemistry while the action sequences would later forecast the kinds of blockbuster films she's started taking over the last few years. Hate on Bay all you want, but he gave Johansson something really memorable to work with here and she made the most of it.

#6: Francesca Curtis (The Perfect Score)

Some of you may scoff at the inclusion of The Perfect Score on any list of great anythings, but I stand defiant. This 2004 teen heist film is vastly underrated for its humor and wit, with Johansson's Francesca providing a major direction for the plot along with most of that wit. I acknowledge that the film is by no means an all-time classic but the performances by Erika Christensen, Chris Evans and Johansson (among others) really help elevate it. (Admittedly, not so much Darius Miles but hey, no cast is perfect.) Johansson in particular seems innately comfortable in the snarky, fun role and does another good job of striking up considerable chemistry with a co-star, in this case Bryan Greenberg. This was a film that showed Johansson's versatility; she could handle the comedic beats just as well as she could take on dramatic weight or action choreography. Sure, it's essentially a twenty-first century Breakfast Club but it works fine and Johansson came out of it smelling like a rose no matter how panned it was.

#5: Rebecca (Ghost World)

A lot of people immediately think of a certain redhead when the words "Scarlet Johansson" and "comic book" come together. And there's a damned good reason for that. But it was hardly the actress' first foray into comic book adaptations. That actually came with Ghost World, based on Daniel Clowes' graphic novel. There are no superheroes or explosions, but it counts. Johansson and Thora Birch play Becky and Enid, two best friends who are dealing with that tricky period of life where you're becoming an adult and finding that you're heading down a different path than that of your comrades. Birch is great as the more misfit Enid but Johansson's cynical eye rolls are a thing of beauty, and the two of them provide a fantastic set of lead performances for what is clearly one of the best non-superhero comic book adaptations. This role really helped push Johansson toward bigger things and it demonstrated that she was an actress to keep an eye on for the future, a potential that she's certainly lived up to since.

#4: Lead Character (Under the Skin)

Johansson's character in Under The Skin has no name; she is credited in the film as "actress." That's just one way in which the Jonathon Glazer film is unconventional; it's a disturbing and thought-provoking film that centers around Johansson's amazing work here as a (not quite) woman who lures Scottish men to their deaths. Of course, it goes without saying that the actress has been labeled a sex symbol and I think we can all agree that the label applies. Here she uses that appeal, but it's muted down. Everything is tone back and yet it's not an underacted role; it's simply that anything else wouldn't have fit what the character is going through. It's hard to talk about this one much without getting into spoiler territory but suffice it to say that when the character starts to pick up a bit of humanity, you understand it because of the way Johansson processes it. There aren't any histrionic, theatrical moments in the performance and that's why it works as well as it does. She anchors this tale of humanity and isolation, delivering a performance that is easily on par with any that she's given to date.

#3: Samantha (Her)

It was lots of fun trying to find a picture for this one, let me tell you. Spike Jonze's tale of a man who becomes romantically connected with his AI phone operating system doesn't show us Johansson in any physical capacity; instead all we have is her throaty voice to go off of. And using just that one instrument, the actress delivers a performance that is as fully realized as any from last year. There was a lot of criticism thrown at the Academy Awards for not nominating her, with many believing it was because she wasn't on-screen. Whether the reasoning is true or not, this was a huge misstep by the Academy in my estimation. Jonze took the fairly standard tropes of your garden-variety romantic dramedy and tweaked them just a bit, particularly that of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. As Samantha, Johansson is actually more fleshed out that the average cookie-cutter wish-fulfillment girl and manages to subvert that stereotype in the process. It's one thing to be a voice actor when you're taking on an animated film because there is still something visual for an audience to focus on. Here Johansson doesn't have that luxury and has to work doubly hard to hold viewers' attention. She makes it look easy and in fact becomes the best thing about a truly remarkable film.

#2: Black Widow (Marvel Cinematic Universe)

If there's one role that fanboys closely associate Scarlett Johansson with...oh, let's face it; it's not even close. The irony of course is that Johansson nearly wasn't our Natasha Romanov; Jon Favreau originally cast Emily Blunt to play the role for Iron Man 2 but she was contractually obligated to Gulliver's Travels and was forced to drop out. That worked out in everyone's best interests except Blunt...but hey, she kicked ass in Edge of Tomorrow so everyone got their due. In any respect, Johansson clearly got the character of Widow right from the start and while Iron Man 2 has a couple issues, she isn't one of them. She found the balance between seductive and badass to play the role and by the time The Avengers came around she was firmly within the Russian superspy's skin. The scene in which she tricks Loki into revealing his plans was a sublime moment that showed just how skilled the character is, and she played it to the hilt. It's in Captain America: The Winter Soldier where she really came into her own though. This was the role where we got to see the character as more than just a tough espionage agent; the hints of the greater person underneath that were flashed in Avengers really came to light and she was as much the star of that film as Chris Evans. Without Johansson's work in the role, I sincerely doubt we'd be hearing even the rumblings about a solo film that we hear these days and she deserves a lot of credit for that.

#1: Charlotte (Lost in Translation)

There's only one role that could really top Johansson's body of work, and that's the young Charlotte in Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation. Here's another role which, in some aspects, could be viewed as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl but doesn't quite fit the mold and in fact subverts it (or would have, if the term hadn't been coined four years after this one came out). Johansson gives a fantastic performance as the melancholy newlywed college grad who doesn't have a hell of a lot to say, but still manages to find a powerful connection with Bill Murray's Bob, a film actor who has been relegated to whiskey commercials in Tokyo. Coppola's ability to make the dynamic between the two work at several different levels really makes this film great and Johansson is able to communicate a lot through her performance. The scene in which she and her husband run into Anna Faris' Kelly is a brilliant bit of performance, the way that she says maybe a few words but communicates in her looks and subtle shades of expression exactly how she feels about this situation. It's rare that you find a romantic dramedy like this in which the story is equally about the man and the woman; with Coppola's writing and Johansson's acting, that parity is achieved and it helps to make this her best film role to date

Disguise of the Episode

Current Series/Season: Season One (2001 - 2002)
Episodes Watched: 18
Last Serial Completed: Masquerade - While on a case to track the activities of Khasinau, Sydney runs into her ex-lover, Noah Hicks, who broke her heart and left without saying goodbye five years earlier. Meanwhile, Sydney tells Sloane that she wants to find her mother; Jack is ordered to see a CIA psychiatrist to help him deal with his churning emotions after discovering that his wife may still be alive. Will and Francie become suspicious of Sydney's activities after finding one of her airline ticket stubs.
Episodes Remaining: 87

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.


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