It is the festival's highest honor, named last year for film critic Leonard Maltin.
The prize, given annually to “an individual who has enriched our culture through accomplishments in the motion picture industry,” is presented in tandem with a career retrospective at the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara. Last year it was renamed for film critic Leonard Maltin, who moderated the event for over 25 years.
“Johnny Depp is a true embodiment of a modern master.” SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling said. “He has had a long and storied career that has shown his commitment to taking on compelling and dynamic roles. But in the gripping film ‘Black Mass,’ under the skillful direction of Scott Cooper, Johnny Depp delivers his defining performance to date.”
Past recipients include Michael Keaton, Ben Affleck, Christopher Nolan, Michael Douglas, Jodie Foster, Cate Blanchett, Diane Keaton, Sean Penn and Jeff Bridges.
Depp’s performance in Cooper’s no-frills depiction of the life and times of Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger” remains a strong contender for Oscar consideration at year’s end. And despite attempts to frame it with a “comeback” narrative, regardless of a few box office dips, he never really went anywhere.
The three-time Oscar nominee was happy to take on such notions at a lively post-screening Q&A for the film packed with Academy and Screen Actors Guild Nominating Committee members last weekend. “My process hasn’t changed,” he said. Added Cooper, “The greatest actor of his generation doesn’t need to ‘come back,'” and judging by the applause, the audience agreed.
Indeed, Depp’s performance in the film is very much of a piece with his career-long process of immersion into characters, whether they be Edward Scissorhands, Hunter S. Thompson, Captain Jack Sparrow…or Whitey Bulger.
The 31st annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival runs Feb. 3 – 13, 2016. More honorees will be announced in the coming weeks.