By C. Molly Smith
Updated October 31, 2015 at 05:15 PM EDT
Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

Dani Trant in The Man In The Moon, Tracy Flick in Election, Jill Green in Friends, Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, June Carter in Walk the Line, and Cheryl Strayed in Wild are only some of Reese Witherspoon’s roles that were praised at the 29th Annual American Cinematheque Award tribute on Friday at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles.

Witherspoon received the American Cinematheque Award, which recognizes “an extraordinary artist in the entertainment industry currently making a significant contribution to the Art of the Moving Picture.” Previous recipients include Steven Spielberg, Jodie Foster, Al Pacino, Julia Roberts, and Matt Damon. Witherspoon is the fifth woman to be recognized.

The actress was grateful and emotional upon accepting the mid-career award at the ceremony, which acknowledged her producing credits on films such as Gone Girl and Wild, in addition her numerous comedic and dramatic roles. “Some days I still can’t believe that I get to do this, that I get to be a storyteller in this world,” she said. “It is the greatest privilege of my life.”

Matthew McConaughey, who co-starred with her in Mud and was last year’s recipient, presented Witherspoon with the award. “When I accepted my Cinematheque Award last year I called what we do a magic trick,” McConaughey said. “I said what we do is we [play make believe], and when we do it well we make people believe. That’s what you’re doing, Reese. From when I first saw you on screen, I’ve been and still am a believer.”

Other presenters included Jennifer Aniston, Alexander Payne, Kate Hudson, Jennifer Garner, Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, T Bone Burnett, Bruna Papandrea, Jean-Marc Vallée, and Sofia Vergara. Video messages from Chris Pine and Robert Downey Jr. were also played, and Kenny Chesney performed his song, “Wild Child.”

A big theme throughout the night was Witherspoon’s fervor for feminism. That shone most brightly when she discussed Pacific Standard Films, the production company she founded with Papandrea with the intention of creating more leading parts for women. “Women are 50 percent of the population, so we should be 50 percent of the roles on screen,” she said. “We need to see more female surgeons, astronauts, soldiers, supreme court justices on screen, not just mothers and girlfriends of famous men.”

Earlier in the evening, DreamWorks Animation head Jeffrey Katzenberg was also honored, receiving the first annual Sid Grauman Award for his major contributions to the film industry. The award is named after the founder of the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theater, in addition to Los Angeles’ Chinese and Million Dollar Theatres. In his speech, Katzenberg took the award’s namesake to heart and he spoke to the undeniable appeal of seeing movies in theaters.

“Life’s distractions are sealed off outside those four walls as our field of vision becomes filled with the vision of a filmmaker,” he said. “Dramas have more impact, thrillers have more thrills, comedy more funny, and every once in awhile at the end we do something really remarkable — we applaud. We don’t applaud at our televisions, we don’t applaud at our iPhones, we don’t applaud at our iPads, but after a great movie, we applaud. That’s the power of the movie going experience.”